Thursday, April 7, 2016

Jon Moscowitz: A Reform Rabbi Who Wised Up--And Who Paid the Price for His Evolution

Mosaic magazine has an interesting piece about Moscowitz, a rabbi who was eased out of his Toronto pulpit when his pro-Israel views no longer matched those of his congregation (an experience he wrote about in his recently-published memoirs):
An outlier religiously, Moscowitz courted even greater controversy for his political positions, though it seems that in this area his rightward turn took longer to emerge. On the Israel-Palestinian conflict, as he explains here, he started out as a standard-issue dove. “I looked forward as much as anyone,” he writes, “to Israel gathering its moral courage, as I was certain it must, and yielding land for peace. I took a back seat to no one in deriding the retrograde right of Menachem Begin and company.” But over the course of the 1990s he changed his mind and his tune. Watching the 1993 Oslo accords pave the way for Yasir Arafat’s reign of terror, he found himself “stunned” by his own former “willingness to shut my eyes in the hope that my wishes for peace would come true.” 
And this delusional form of wishful thinking was hardly his alone; rather, Moscowitz sees it as still the default position both of his movement and of American Jewry at large, and he addresses it with great energy. In a piece included here, he describes his refusal to join the applause for “a rousing speech by the Israeli deputy foreign minister and Oslo architect Yossi Beilin enthusiastically endorsing the ‘peace process’ during the 1999 convention of the Union for Reform Judaism”:
As he finished his speech, Beilin hit all the high emotional notes, and the roaring audience rose up and gave a standing ovation. I desperately wanted to disappear. I wasn’t about to stand up—I knew enough to know Beilin was way wrong—but I had hoped to avoid attention. . . . 
I couldn’t. I was easily noticed by colleagues and friends. One friend, a prominent rabbi, looked down at me, a combination of disdain and affection on her face. “Why are you spoiling our party?” she asked, annoyed and maybe a bit amused. 
All I could do was mutter that Yossi Beilin was wrong. I then looked down at my feet. 
I didn’t say what I knew. I knew who Arafat was; I knew the worldview of the leadership of the PLO; I knew the political strategy favored by the Muslim Brotherhood. And I knew, strong as Israel was, that the Jewish state was in trouble. Why didn’t my colleagues know this? Or, maybe they did.
That last sentence is key, suggesting that his fellow rabbis’ zeal for the “peace process” was undeterred even by their understanding full well the implacable nature of the Arab refusal to accept a sovereign Jewish polity in the Middle East. How could rabbis supposedly concerned with the welfare of their people support the creation of a Palestinian state dedicated to the eradication of that people? This is the point at which wishful thinking shades into outright denial and a shameful absence of self-respect...
You have to admire a man who was willing to break through the cognitive dissonance even if, ultimately, it meant breaking up with the wishful thinkers with whom he thought he belonged. He is so much more admirable than, say, opportunists (not mentioning any names) who used to "get it," but who decided to veer left because, in Canada, that's where the work, moolah and shmancy cocktail parties are.

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