'Pirate Jenny' On Election Day
11/01/2010 - 16:11
Jonathan Mark


The Jewish Week ran a story last week by a J Street college girl, "Exclude Me At Your Own Peril" (Oct. 26) in which the Columbia student complained that she was made to feel like "a stranger" in her synagogue because -- at a political event, not prayer services -- representatives of the left-wing J Street were met by "hisses" and boos.

We'll forget for a minute that J Street recently was outed as lying about taking large donations from George Soros, a notorious and outspoken opponent of Israel, or that J Street was essentially neutral and even critical of Israel while Israeli soldiers were dying in the war in Gaza.

If that isn't worthy of my own hisses and boos it is only because I am too much of a gentleman. There are people in J Street I love, and we can disagree like civilized people.

What is remarkable, though, is to hear a leftist -- and J Streeters are nothing if not leftists -- complaining about the very existence of rude behavior in response to someone's politics.

Let's go back to the election campaign of 2008. What was the reaction at just about any Shabbos table on the Upper West Side, or in any other environment where the J Street leftists have the edge, if some lonely soul would admit to liking McCain-Palin? Would a J Street person have said, "Oh, that's interesting. Tell us why?" Or would the response have been rude and blunt, "Sarah Palin is an idiot," and by inference, "Hey, mister, you're an idiot, too!"

Let's be honest. Were Palin voters ever treated with respect and engaged in thoughtful conversation in J Street circles? After all, we're told that we don't just disagree ith conservatives but that every conservative is stupid. Regan was stupid when he was running, we were told, and George H. W. Bush was stupid, and George W. Bush was stupid, called every vile and ugly name.

We're supposed to feel bad that a J Street girl was made to feel unwelcome in her own space, her synagogue? I do feel bad about that. I don't like it anyone is made to feel uncomfortable, or embarassed, for having a well-intentioned opinion, left or right. But then, what are to conclude about what happened at a Tom Chapin concert (and I usually love Tom Chapin, particularly his shows geared to children). Imagine you're a Republican and after spending good money for a pair of tickets, you're greeted with a song like this, "Go Away, Sarah Palin, Go Away." Let's assume that even 25 percent of Tom Chapin's audience voted for McCain-Palin. Was it not rude of Chapin to so mock and insult the political choice of one out of four people sitting in front of him, a captive audience who bought tickets and could not simply change the channel?

But insulting the Republicans, and Republicans such as Palin, is not only allowed, it is so normative that Chapin probably didn't think twice. Chapin, who happens to be a real mentch in most every circumstance (I know people who've worked with him), who works hard to convince children not to be mean or a bully, had no problem being mean, if not a bully, to the Palin supporters in his audience. He encouraged them to be laughed at. He created an atmosphere in which a Palin supporter would feel ashamed. Not that much difference from how that J Street girl was treated.

I'd bet the house that if a J Street person were at that Chapin concert, he or she would have laughed and cheered, never thinking for a moment that Chapin was being rude and insensitive.

The Republicans in Chapin's audience -- and we must assume there were a few -- did not boo. They were silent. But imagine the reaction by an audience of Democrats to a song making fun of Obama. The reaction would be as if a cartoonist drew Muhammed.

That J Street student writes, "As the daughter of a rabbi, I was always taught that temple was a home for all Jews, a place that embraced debate, argument and difference," and therefore she was shocked at the anger dished out at J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami.

Here's a question for that daughter of a rabbi -- Do rabbis, particularly liberal rabbis, ever care when they stump for their politics from the pulpit, when they equate their politics with incontrovertible Torah, or do they feel indifferent to making Republican congregants unwelcome (let alone distracted from their subsequent prayer)?

The same leftists that are so careful to call Indians "native Americans," or to call Down syndrome people "special friends," don't think twice about calling Republicans and Palin "retarded," even if she's actually raising a Down syndrome kid that others would have aborted. No, Palin is "retarded," stupid, because when she says she can see Russia from her house she is taken literally, because only Democrats are smart enough to know how use figures of speech and poetic imagery. 

Obama, who won't say we're enemies with "Islamic fascism," has no problem saying Republicans are his "enemies" and should be the enemies of Hispanics. Other Americans, "enemies"? It's of a piece with the ease in which Palin, or Bush can be called every sort of epithet, rather than respectful disagreement.

This Columbia University J Street student writes that the Temple was destroyed because of "groundless hatred, sinat chinam." Of course, to so many leftists, hating Republicans, Sarah Palin and her supporters is not groundless hatred, it is compeletly justified. But "groundless hatred" is never groundless to the hater. But it is hateful and creates unpleasantness just the same.

During the first Bush-Cheney campaign, Brett Stephens of The Wall Street Journal (Nov. 12, 2004) cited a project of The New York Sun (which still lives online, may it be  resurrected in print, and speedily in our time). The Sun, writes Stephens, dispatched six reporters to go around Manhattan donning conspicuous Bush-Cheney campaign paraphernalia.

One reporter, Roderick Boyd, encountered a woman in Union Square who "spat on the ground at his feet and proceeded to deliver a lecture on alleged Republican fascism and 'blood for oil.' " Another reporter, Maura Yates, "received a more personal greeting from a fellow pedestrian: He walked up and stuck his middle finger in her face."

There was a similar project in that same 2004 race, added Stephens, when Slate reporter Richard Rushfield wrote about entering a Republican neighborhood "in my Kerry-Edwards shirt." Rushfiled says, he expected to encounter rage. "Instead I encounter only shades of indifference."

And what happens in a Democratic neighborhood? He was greeted not with indifference but indignity. Rushfield says: "Reflecting on the sting of being called 'a--------' during my trips through Blue America, I wonder: If I were truly a Bush supporter, how long would I be able to endure a life filled with epithets before I gave up on the shirt?"

There's a reason America is turning right. The majority of Americans are not leftists or J Streeters or Democrats or elitists. Most Americans are conservative and traditional and feel drawn to Israel. They look at Congress and the White House and the college campus and J Street and sense the condescension and contempt.

We, who have mourned the dead and fear the next attack, don't like being told we are Islamophobic.

We, who voted for Obama in 2008, don't like being told we're racists if we disagree with him now.

We, who appreciate and admire the blue collar workers and those struggling for a better life, and fear open borders in an age of terror, don't like being told we're anti-immigrant because we're anti-illegal.

We, who care for Israel's safety and security, aren't so Orwellian as to think that those in J Street who were neutral or morally equivalent when Israel was at war; We, who defend Israel, aren't so "stupid" as to think that students trying to stop the Israeli ambassador from speaking on campus, are students who love and care about Israel the way the loyal diaspora has always loved and cared, or the way the true loyal opposition in Israel has loved and cared. 

We remember how the president, supported by his party, supported without critique by J Street, made greater demands of Israel regarding the "natural growth" of Jewish communities than were even demaded by Arafat.

We remember which party in Congress signed resolutions in support of Israel and which party -- with the encouragement of J Street -- showed real anger over the annnouncement that a Jewish apartment house would be built in Jerusalem, and no anger when Israelis are murdered on Highway 60.

Many of us don't feel we can fight back, or even get a word in edgewise, but we can vote.

You can see the new Ship of State, like that black freighter from "Threepenny Opera," avenging all of Pirate Jenny's hurts and hard times, sailing in on Election Day.

We, the People, will be cheering on the docks.

We, the People.


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I would like to see all synagogues escort out known j street members. And in time, I'd like to see special actions taken against the traders in our midst.
Where do I begin to discuss the logical fallacies of this argument? First, it is a prime example of "Tu Quoque" - the idea that if your opponent in a debate can be assumed to have done something, that makes it OK for you to do it. However, since the auther knows nothing about Abby Baker, he must set up a stray man '- "leftists". Then, despite the fact that Abby Baker is talking about being made to feel unwelcome in a synagogue - not a Subliminal concert, for instance - Jonathan Mark draws a perfect comparison between the two. The subtext is (and the continued denials that this is indeed the subject serve only to enforce that Mark knows this is, indeed what he is saying): Because some leftists do rude things to conservatives, Abby Baker should shut up about being humiliated in her synagogue. I don't agree with J-Street's policies. In fact, I destest them - as policies. Other than the fact that I think they are mistaken, I have no emotional problem with the people who hold them, many of whom are my good friends, and who are similarly sure that I am wrong in my beliefs. However, what I detest more are the self-righteous anger-peddlers that will look for any excuse to raise the temperature in political debates. I don't like it when it happens in the US as a whole - and I certainly don't like it when it occurs within our Jewish community, which has enough problems, honestly, without importing the current temperature of national politics. Mr. Mark is also not an astute reader of Brecht. Pirate Jenny - a terrifying song, if I've ever heard one - occurred in the context of murder, rape, and mass injustice raised to an ethical standard, and represented the fearful response of the utterly downtrodden. It was not meant to be, nor do I think can it be read, as the legitimate voice of a justified opinion finally coming into it's own - that song is from a place of violence and terror, and I am amazed that Mark thinks that it is a justified comparison in this case. As the Pirates ask Jenny who in the seaport should be killed, her answer is "All of them!" Is Mark claiming that it's time to disenfranchise everyone in the city except the new gang of Right Wing Politicians, and presumably, himself?
Mr. Mark— These comments are not intended to cause you personal hurt. To someone of your obvious sensitivity, I want to reassure you that these are merely constructive criticisms. 1. Upon further reflection, might you conclude that it was an error to draw a moral equivalence between questioning a Jew’s faith and threatening to spit on her in a Synagogue with political give-and-take at concerts and dinner parties? 2. Giving the matter a bit more thought, do you think that your laundry list of slights to political conservatives denies the moral validity of Abby’s challenge or excuses the conduct of the woman who verbally assaulted her? 3. In recalling matters more clearly, do you think that your suggestion that “rabbis, particularly liberal rabbis [sic]” alienate their Republican congregants is merely a rhetorical creation, rather than something based in reality? 4. With additional thought, do you really think that questioning the intelligence of a public figure like Sarah Palin has anything to do with the kind of personal attack on a private person like Abby? 5. With the benefit of time, might you conclude that your ad hominem attacks on JStreet ignore its criticism of Israeli policies that threaten its existence as a Jewish State? Alas, I will not be able to see if these questions prompt any improvement in your thinking as I cannot imagine ever again wasting time reading your drivel.
You're 100 % correct Mark. We Jewish conservatives are attacked and villified over and over and the J Street crowd don't give a damn. Although Abby's treatment was shameless, it's hard not to sneer at the hypocrisy at play here. If you(J street and it's sympathizers) want to talk about community cohesion, start at your front door first.
Dear Mr. Mark, I am deeply troubled by the logic of your piece, which essentially strikes me as follows: "Some people from "my side" wronged you, but people from "your side" have wronged me and my side many times, so you have no right to complain." It is exactly that sort of logic, Mr. Mark, that dominates the mentality of both Israelis and Palestinians, and that has allowed this conflict to continue for so many decades. Israelis and Palestinians both say to one another: you complain that my side has wronged you, but people from your side have wronged me many times in the past, so you have no right to complain. It is exactly that sort of logic, Mr. Mark, that is tearing our community apart. And as for the substance to which you say J Street deserved to be boo'ed: I don't find it necessary to respond to your points on Soros, or to your attempt to discredit J Street by taking a student's op-ed extremely out of context (if you had read the piece, you would know that the op-ed on Oren was not focused on Israeli policy but rather on expressing concern that non-Jewish Brandeis students would feel disenfranchised)- for as you know, and as I know, those are not points of substance, but rather tired political attacks that get us nowhere. However, your point that J Street should be boo'ed because "J Street was essentially neutral and even critical of Israel while Israeli soldiers were dying in the war in Gaza" is a point of substance, and thus I am interested in responding to it. Mr. Mark, I am a dual Israeli and American Citizen and an observant Jew, and I can say with certainty that J Street's stance during the Gaza war was the reason I did not give up on this issue entirely during that horrible month. You are right, Mr. Mark: ten Israeli soldiers were killed, along with three Israeli civilians, and I was deeply saddened by that. And I was opposed to the rhetoric from Palestinian groups that refused to recognize the death of Israelis as something to be saddened by. That being said, Palestinians were killed also. More than 1,400 of them. While I may not share their ideologies, or come from the same culture as them, or see the world in the same way, my life as an Israeli Jew is not worth more than the life of a Palestinian. I am a supporter of Israel, and I am a Zionist, but that does not mean I cannot criticize Israel sharply in certain situations. The war was not proportionate, it was not justly executed, and far too many Palestinian civilians were killed (Hamas' human shields do not justify the IDF's use of White Phosphorus, for example) J Street was "even critical" of Israel during the war in Gaza, because for J Street being pro-Israel does not mean being unable to empathize with or feel deeply concerned for Palestinians.
Dear Mark, As a student member of J Street U, I am offended on the general principal of your article. First, to correct your basic argument, if you had read Abby's story, I would assume you see that she did not feel a stranger by her own volition but was made to feel this way by the shouting of individuals in the synagogue to "Get Out" and the threatening of being spit on by an elderly woman. This was not the "normal" political rudeness that comes from American polarized politics; this was an unprecedented occurrence. Further, your logic is flawed. You argue through your article that leftists (assuming you are using J Street members and leftists interchangeably) made you and others feel uncomfortable for supporting Republican candidates and thus it was fully acceptable for the individuals in this situation to make a student, a young adult, feel "equally" uncomfortable in a synagogue. To begin, being Jews, are we not taught first and foremost to treat each other as we would want to be treated? Does the Torah not say "What is hurtful to yourself do not to your fellow man. That is the whole of the Torah and the remainder is but commentary"(Shabbat 31a)? And to this point, does this not matter more when dealing intergenerationally? All I have heard over the last few months is how the Jewish community needs to reclaim the youth. Is this how you propose doing it? If to treat one party badly entitles the other party to equally act badly, we are doomed to fail. I apologize that you have felt uncomfortable because of your political views over the last year. J Street's goal is to create a space where all voices, including ones like yours , have a place to be heard, and if that is not your experience with J Street individuals, I apologize. Personally, I would describe myself as to the edge of right on this issue, but am still highly involved with J Street for this reason. While I will ignore your blatant factual errors (J Street students are not represented by ONE student writing an op-ed about the Ambassador or the fact that J Street has continually released press releases stating how deeply saddened they are EVERY TIME an Israeli is killed by an act of terrorism) I want to thank you for reminding me why in fact I am involved in J Street.
I found this whole response deeply troubling and disturbing. I am not understanding why you feel it is okay to usurp Abby's testimony of her experience of the speaker event and turn it into a complete (and false) attack on J Street, J Street U and progressives in general. I think it is deeply problematic to both put what might be looked at as mistakes to some and to others freedom of speech on Abby's testimony while decrying the entire institution of the progressive movement in one foul swoop. I remember all the events you listed too and I am personally offended and feel obligated to voice my opinion in response to you insinuating that I don't care about the lives lost, the troops or this country. Those who feel there is a better way to do this and that both my American Democratic and Jewish-Israeli character not only promote but necessitate open dialogue about issues rather than fact-listing or blaming need to be welcomed. I will agree with your last sentiment. We, the People must stand up and fight prejudice. Go out and vote!
Hi Mr. Mark, I am a member of J Street U and would like to respond to your post, the tone of which I found counter-productive. I understand you to be saying that members of J Street are hypocrites: we complain when others our insensitive, but we are the ones who are in fact insensitive. You argue that liberal Jews (you seem to imply in many ways, Jews in general?) are insensitive to conservatives within their community and deride them for being "stupid." You seem to be saying that you do not feel comfortable going to shul or participating in Jewish life - or else, that you have the right not to feel comfortable. Therefore, you say, it is us conservatives who should be complaining not the liberal cronies at J Street who are the powerful mainstream in the Jewish community. I found a number of things problematic, primarily: First, the examples you cite (Tom Chapin concert, Upper West Side shabbes dinners, canvassing in Brooklyn) are not part of Jewish institutional life. What Abby experienced was direct and vitriolic attack for her views while at shul, at a synagogue sponsored event, and as part of her Jewish community. It was not that her views made her have to attend different concerts or find different dinner companions, her views made her anathema to a certain part of the Jewish community in that shul. Surely you see the difference. Jewish institutions should be open to their members and willing to hear all sides, even if some find them distasteful. Second, I agree that derision and being made to feel uncomfortable for believing something that is not the norm are problematic things. The fact that you don't feel comfortable is a problem, just like the fact that Abby does not feel comfortable is a problem. You seem to dismiss her discomfort and dismay by saying that she isn't the real victim - that conservatives are. This is a fallacy. We should seek to create a community where everyone is comfortable to air their views in a respectful, considered way (which I would argue with anyone that J Street does) and that arguments be won based upon their merit and not upon derision and booing and stereotypes. We should listen to each other sincerely. The fact that you feel marginalized is a problem and should be fixed (it isn't okay to react to anyone by making fun of them or by spitting upon them), but it does not mean that you have the right to marginalize people like Abby or myself. This type of article is guilty of exactly the derisive attitude that you seem to decry. It is reasonable that we disagree on the merits of J Street's argument. However, we should not accept a community that does not know how to disagree respectfully. We at J Street are hoping to create a new form of open dialogue that is respectful of all. While we certainly don't agree about J Street (I would argue against the fringe leftist label that you gave it), and we probably don't agree about many political issues. Even if we don't agree about what is best for Israel and the Jews or anything else, I hope that we can all agree that we should be able to create a community where different views are acceptable and, hopefully, the best, most accurate ones will be adopted on the basis of their relative merit - not based upon coercion or exclusion. This is what Abby's piece was arguing for and this is what J Street is all about.
Interesting story. Mr. Mark, what does criticizing Palin have to do with jeering at a University student? I am confused by what is being said here. I hope that you do not feel threatened by supporting Palin, but you should not support verbally attacking people in your rants.