Being Right Can Be So Wrong

Being Right Can Be So Wrong

Editor’s Notebook

By Michael Jacobs |

Michael Jacobs Atlanta Jewish Times
Michael Jacobs

We all know that two wrongs don’t make a right, but the Jewish National Fund-Charles Stanley controversy has demonstrated that two rights can make a wrong.

Both JNF and its supporters and SOJOURN and its allies were in the right. Unfortunately, neither was willing or able to see that the other side was addressing a different question.

JNF approached the issue with a simple yes-or-no question: Are you for or against Israel? If you’re for Israel as a vibrant Jewish state, we want you as a friend.

And JNF was right: Israel needs every friend it can get, even if we don’t want to spend any time with some of them after we finish dancing the hora.

SOJOURN also approached the issue from a simple yes-or-no perspective: Are you for or against the LGBT community’s life-or-death civil rights battle? If you want to consign every gay person to hell or see G-d’s hand in every AIDS diagnosis, you’re an enemy.

And SOJOURN was right: Stanley’s attitude is abhorrent — not because he opposes same-sex marriage, but because of his fundamental belief that gay people are choosing to be the object of his hatred. I don’t know how some of my friends could stand to spend an hour in the same room with Stanley any more than I could spend an hour eating breakfast with David Duke.

Unfortunately, there’s no middle ground connecting the JNF rightness and the SOJOURN rightness once the line is crossed and an invitation is issued.

The disconnect between “we support Israel, period” and “we can’t support a homophobe, period” was frustrating throughout the three weeks of rising anger leading up to the Jack Hirsch Memorial Breakfast and the planned Tree of Life Award for Stanley. So it seems appropriate that in the final moments of that breakfast April 23, JNF Southeast Region Co-President Alan Lubel ripped off the scab.

He declared victory over the boycotters because the room at The Temple was packed and urged the nearly 400 people there to show their love of Israel by taking up arms, in the form of pens and checkbooks, to defend Stanley as a fellow Israel lover against those who would tear JNF down.

Never mind that some people in his audience were there only because Stanley wasn’t. Never mind that the people who had criticized the breakfast plans got their immediate demand: no award for Stanley. Never mind, above all, that initially no one called for a boycott of the breakfast, led alone an abandonment of JNF. Saying you won’t attend an event is not the same as demanding that no one else goes.

But JNF leaders heard a call for boycott, a particularly loaded term in the case of Israel, and conditioned to be defensive about Israel, they naturally became defensive about Stanley. That’s why Lubel was less than conciliatory when he saw a big crowd.

He spoke after JNF’s regional director, Beth Gluck, had tried to focus on celebrating Israel’s birthday and raising money for JNF’s vital work in the Jewish state.

While she didn’t name Stanley or address his absence, she drew a lesson to guide JNF going forward: We’re about Israel for the long term, and we can’t afford to be distracted by other issues, no matter how important. Israel’s vitality is the first, last and only concern for JNF.

To my ears, that was neither a “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” attitude nor an apology for a poor choice of honoree but an acknowledgment that JNF must play it safe and even boring with its awards. That’s as close to a compromise position as anyone is likely to take, and I hope it points the way to JNF and SOJOURN remaining allies on Israel and otherwise staying out of each other’s way.

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