Sunday, June 22, 2014

Korach- Dealing With Multiple Voices


Va’y’dabeir el ha’eidah leimor suru na mei’al o’holei ha’anashim har’sha’im ha’eileh v’al-tig’u b’khol-asher lahem pen-tisafu b’khol hatotam.
And he spoke to the community saying, “Depart, please, from the tents of these wicked people, and touch nothing of theirs lest you be counted among their sins.” (B’midbar 16:26)
Parashat Korach tells the story of Korach and his followers, who, seemingly consumed with self-importance, rebel against Moshe and are consumed by the earth as a sign from God. Following this punishment, a plague sweeps through the Israelites, ridding them of any other miscreants. The above admonition is issued prior to the punishment of Korach and his followers. It is the earliest form of the saying later immortalized by Benjamin Franklin, “If you lie down with dogs, you shall rise up with fleas.” More simply put- be careful of the company you keep.
The associations we keep mark us. Whether it is a teenager trying to hang out with the cool kids or Russia being shunned from the G8, now once again the G7. Our interactions and avoidances define us, both within the Jewish community and in the greater world.
Recently, J-Street, an extremely liberal advocacy group whose stated goal is to end the Arab-Israeli and Israel-Palestinian conflicts through a two-state solution, asked to join the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “The Conference of Presidents works publicly and behind the scenes addressing vital concerns with US and world leaders, key opinion molders and the public about Israel's security and vitality, threats posed by a nuclear Iran, global terrorism, anti-Semitism and the delegitimization campaign.” (CoP website) The Council voted not to allow them to join, 17 in favour, 22 against J-Street and 3 abstentions. J-Street is apparently not yet at the table of mainstream Jewish organizations. When J-Street appears to support organizations in the BDS movement, when it seems to endorse anti-Israel resolutions in the UN or oppose Iran sanctions, it steps away from the mainstream Jewish community and aligns itself with adversaries of Israel. Like Korach, the Executive Director of J-Street, Jeremy Ben-Ami, has never missed the opportunity to take a controversial position; usually one that veered close to, or even crossed the line, obscuring J-Street’s primarily pro-Israel posture.
Korach too claimed to be speaking for the community. Instead, he sowed discord and anger. Having J-Street at the table of major American Jewish organizations would affirm the reality and importance of pluralism within the American Jewish community. However, we must do so without the fear mongering and using our differing opinions as a path to power. We must ensure that our debates are productive and l’shem shamayim, for the sake of heaven, for the best of our community and not for ourselves.