New Jersey Jewish News
Jewish power is a force for good, says Forward editor
When J.J. Goldberg published his study of American-Jewish politics in 1996, he picked a title, Jewish Power, that angered reviewers and readers alike.
No one would read it. They used to hide it behind Playboy in the subway, said Goldberg, now the editor of the Forward, the national Jewish weekly. We dont talk about the Jewish lobby. We pretend it doesnt exist. We pretend we are powerless.
Goldberg thinks Jews should be honest about the political clout they have acquired since World War II, and in a talk Sunday night at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, he called for an open and frank discussion of the Jewish lobby as a positive force in the United States.
We need to talk about these things. We do good. We should be proud of it, said Goldberg, in a speech sponsored by the Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life as part of its 10th anniversary celebration.
Goldberg went so far as to recommend that Jewish politics be taught as part of the Jewish studies curriculum.
If you look at the programs in Jewish studies departments around the country never mind the programs at the Jewish seminaries you can learn about the Talmud, you can learn about Jewish history in the 1500s, you can learn about the Jewish theater, but what we dont have is Jewish political science, he said.
Goldberg, who was a reporter at the New Brunswick Daily Home News, Jewish Week, and the Jerusalem Report before becoming the Forwards editor in July 2000, described the milestones in Jewish political activism. They included the alliance of Jewish defense organizations and black groups that fought for civil rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s.
We use our power for good, he said.
And when Jews dont, he suggested, they might also end up in the pages of the Forward, the English-language offspring of the venerable Yiddish daily. (A separate Yiddish weekly edition continues to be published.) In recent years, he said, his staff has reported on sex abuse in synagogues and labor abuses in kosher slaughterhouses, among other unsavory topics.
We are here not to make people feel better about being Jewish, not to massage them, not to defend the good name of the Jews to the world, but to help Jews be better citizens of the Jewish community, Goldberg said. The old Forward taught Jews how to be Americans. We teach Americans how to be Jews. We are not here to make people feel good. If anything, we are here to make people feel bad. We report on corruption in Jewish organizations.
Goldberg said that part of his papers task is holding the Jewish leadership to account the same way The New York Times holds the White House and the Pentagon to account.
Our job is to tell you where your tax money is going, what the guys you pay are up to this week, he continued. From the point of view of The New York Times and the Washington Post, that is the president and the governor. From our point of view, it is the head of the Anti-Defamation League. You pay them; they represent you in Washington.
Yet he noted a disconnect between the views of many American Jews and some of the policies espoused by organization heads.
The general consensus is that the Jewish organizations are alarmist, they are way to the Right, he noted. The Jewish community votes 80 percent Democratic and yet the Jewish organizations are allied with the Bush administration. The Jewish community is more anti-Iraq war by double digits than America at large, and yet the Jewish organizations generally support the Iraq war.
Goldberg suggested that organizations are likely to dwell on Jewish vulnerability because they are uncertain how to motivate their potential members otherwise.
If you think the world welcomes Jews, if you think we are not embattled, besieged, and about to die, youve got a million ways to spend your time other than taking part in Jewish activities, said Goldberg. Fear is a greater motivator than hope.
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