A couple of weeks ago, as my alarm went off at 7am, I was treated to the sound of Frank Diamant from B’nai Brith Canada gushing that Stephen Harper was like a “gift from the almighty” because of his support for the state of Israel. I promptly slammed my fist against the snooze button, but there was no way I was getting any more sleep after waking up to that whopper.
I never imagined that the Jewish culture that I grew up with would suddenly be en vogue. Madonna is busy building orphanages in Malawi based on Kabbalic principles. And Harper and the Christian Right are falling over themselves to profess their support for the state of Israel and for the preoccupations of Jews in the Diaspora. So far, Harper’s strategy seems to be working for him. High profile Jews like Heather Reisman and Gerry Schwartz recently tore up their Liberal membership cards and joined the Conservatives, lauding Harper’s sudden foreign policy about-face.
Hard-line Israel supporters certainly have a lot to celebrate these days. Within months of taking power, Harper cut off all funding to the Palestinian Authority and expressed unwavering support for the Israeli army’s actions during this summer’s war in Lebanon, even after Israeli jets destroyed a clearly marked UN observation post. Meanwhile, Liberal leadership contender Michael Ignatieff lost one campaign organizer and a truckload of support from the press for daring to suggest that Israel may have committed war crimes in Lebanon.
But the religious right’s love-in for Israel is actually a relatively new phenomenon. In a recent article for The Walrus, Marci Kaplan reveals how a group of evangelical pastors in the US – including Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell – met in San Antonio, Texas last February to form a new group called Christians United for Israel. In Canada, the ties between fundamentalist Christians and Conservative Jews have also strengthened over the last year. Canada Christian College president Charles McVety was a key organizer in a series of Stand With Israel rallies during the Lebanon war, and the newly founded Institute for Canadian Values (which lists Senator Anne Cools as one if its supporters) recruited former B’nai Brith staffer Joseph Ben Ami as their new executive director.
And what do all of these groups have in common, you may ask? They all oppose gay marriage, universal daycare, and a woman’s right to choose, of course! And by using Israel as a bargaining chip, they are persuading otherwise progressive-minded Jews to join them in coalitions with the precise goal of unravelling all of the rights that queer people have won for our communities over the last 20 years.
This trend would probably surprise my grandfather, who died when I was six years old. The first in his family to go to university, his engineering degree meant nothing in the 1930s when he faced “no Jews allowed policies” at every company he applied to. In one case, he was within seconds of signing a contract when the boss asked what church he went to. Unable and unwilling to hide his heritage, my grandfather worked at the family’s shoe factory for the rest of his career.
In many ways, growing up as a Jew prepared me for coming out as a lesbian. I understood what it was like to be different from the mainstream, and saw the value in creating a vibrant cultural community. We ate different food and celebrated different holidays. But the most important lessons that Judaism taught me were to question authority and to fight for social justice.
There is an important Jewish concept called tikkun olam – which means “to take care of the world.” Growing up, I always understood this value to be a pluralist one. The synagogue that I attended with my family partnered with a downtown church on Christmas Eve to serve turkey dinner to homeless people. But we never partnered with other congregations in an attempt to oppress other minorities. That would have just been so wrong – so terribly un-Jewish.
What I resent most about this emerging collusion between the radical Christian fringe and the mainstream Jewish community is that it’s attempting to force people like me to choose between two equally important cultures and identities. It’s telling us that if we question Israel’s actions, then we are somehow allowing anti-Semitism to fester. Likewise, it’s telling us that we’d better line up behind Harper if we care about the Jewish community’s survival. Implicit in this message is the idea that we should sacrifice any other value that didn’t come to us by birthright. Or to quote a recent column by Linda McQuaig, “Girls, back in the kitchen. Gays, back in the closet.”
If anything, the experiences of Jews and queers should teach us never to accept dogma, and to be skeptical when people in power are pandering to us to gain our affection.