Beware of tikkunism and tikkunistas

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Tikkun olam, Hebrew for making the world a better place, is an important component of Jewish religion and culture. But when removed from the wider Jewish context and artificially transformed into a radical “social justice” campaign, it can become a destructive cult. In its most immoral manifestation, this “tikkunism” is used by marginal individuals whose tenuous links to the Jewish people are appropriated in the war against Zionism and Israel.

The example of Judith Butler is a case in point. Butler, a post-modernist academic icon and anti-Israel activist from the University of California (Berkeley), was recently awarded the Theodor Adorno Prize by the city of Frankfurt.

As documented by journalist Benjamin Weinthal, the offensive move triggered many protests – Adorno achieved recognition without renouncing his Jewish identity, declaring: “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.”

The decision to honour Butler is also a betrayal of Adorno’s principled support for Israel following the 1967 war, when many European “intellectuals” turned their backs on the Jewish nation after we refused to play the role of victims seeking their pity. Similarly, the officials of the Berlin Jewish Museum, who gave Butler a platform from which to attack Israel and the Jewish people, have transformed this edifice into an anti-Jewish museum.

In contrast to her façade of “social values,” Butler promotes the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks the destruction of Israel. As justification, she claims to believe in a “different Jewishness than the one in whose name the Israeli state claims to speak,” invoking what she refers to as traditions that “represent diasporic values, struggles for social justice, etc.”

Butler attributes these opinions to “a Jewish education in Cleveland, Ohio, at the Temple under the tutelage of Rabbi Daniel Silver, where I developed strong ethical views on the basis of Jewish philosophical thought.” This education was clearly minimal – Butler shows no knowledge of Jewish sources, including Prophets such as Jeremiah and Amos, whether in the rich original Hebrew or in translation.

Butler’s “diasporic values” and “different Jewishness” are entirely fictitious. If she and her fellow tikkunistas had read the texts from which they claim to derive their values, they would know that Jewish social justice is inseparable from national identity and sovereignty in the Land of Israel. These principles began 2,000 years before any diaspora, with Abraham’s journey from his father’s home, so that he and his progeny – who became the Jewish people – could be a “light unto the nations.” And generations later, after the Exodus from Egypt, the ethical commandments in the Bible were inextricably tied to the conquest of the Land of Israel and the responsibilities of nationhood.

Even post-modernists such as Butler – who “deconstruct” texts beyond recognition and whose own writing is often incoherent – would have trouble missing Jeremiah’s passionate commitment to the Land of Israel.

His intricately written testimony deploring social injustices and warning of the impending destruction is punctuated by the promise of return to Jerusalem and the restoration of the Jewish nation. Amos, another tikkunist favourite, came from Tekoah (south of Jerusalem) and preached in Samaria – both now labelled “occupied territory.” His writings reflect his intense love for the Land of Israel.

Six centuries later, following the destruction of the Second Temple, and for 2,000 years in exile, Jews prayed daily for the return to Jerusalem. When the opportunity arose, in the context of modern political Zionism, the majority of Jews around the world joined in fulfilling this mission.

Butler knows none of this – her tirades against Israel are founded on ignorance and anger. She and other tikkunistas created the term “diasporic values” to remove themselves from the collective Jewish embrace of Israel, Zionism and Jewish national self-determination, preferring, even after the Holocaust, the status of helpless victim living in exile.

Indeed, the values of tikkun olam are meaningless without Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. When these are separated, and tikkunism is used as a weapon against the Jewish nation-state, it loses its moral foundation.

Beware of tikkunism and tikkunistas

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Gerald M. Steinberg

Prof. Gerald Steinberg is president of NGO Monitor and professor of Political Studies at Bar Ilan University, where he founded the Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation. His research interests include international relations, Middle East diplomacy and security, the politics of human rights and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Israeli politics and arms control.

NGO Monitor was founded following the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban South Africa, where powerful NGOs, claiming to promote human rights, hijacked the principles of morality and international law.  NGO Monitor provides information and analysis, promotes accountability, and supports discussion on the reports and activities of NGOs claiming to advance human rights and humanitarian agendas.

In 2013, Professor Steinberg accepted the prestigious Menachem Begin Prize on behalf of NGO Monitor, recognizing its “Efforts exposing the political agenda and ideological basis of humanitarian organizations that use the Discourse of human rights to discredit Israel and to undermine its position among the nations of the world.”

Steinberg is a member of Israel Council of Foreign Affairs; the Israel Higher-Education Council, Committee on Public Policy; advisory board of the Israel Law Review International, the research working group of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), and participates in the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism (ICCA). He also speaks at a variety of high-level government sessions and academic conferences worldwide.

Publications include “NGOs, Human Rights, and Political Warfare in the Arab-Israel Conflict" (Israel Studies); "The UN, the ICJ and the Separation Barrier: War by Other Means" (Israel Law Review); and Best Practices for Human Rights and Humanitarian NGO Fact-Finding (co-author), Nijhoff, Leiden, 2012.

His op-ed columns have been published in Wall St. Journal (Europe), Financial Times, Ha’aretz,International Herald Tribune, Jerusalem Post, and other publications. He has appeared as a commentator on the BBC, CBC, CNN, and NPR.

Read all stories by Gerald M. Steinberg