Herbert London: Social Justice Warriors
In a new book that provides a powerful theological basis for something now ritualistically called “the social justice movement,” Jewish reformers among others seized on the concept of “healing the world.” Leftists in the Jewish community call it tikkun olam or “healing of the world.” Believers assert that Jews must endeavor to make the world a place better than what we now experience. As a consequence, an overwhelming number of Jews embrace this movement and the actions that result from it as biblically mandated. However, there is one problem as Jonathan Newmann in his book To Heal The World? points out, the bible says no such thing.
Tikkun Olam is an invention of the Jewish left, diluted from practice and vague sentiments of “doing good.” According to Newmann, religious history has been twisted by liberals to support a left wing agenda partly upheld with Marxist ideology. Frankfurt School post modernism, SDS fervor and Gramsci logic. It would be one thing if tikkun olam actually produced a virtuous society or adherence to a common culture despite its misrepresentation, but there isn’t any evidence to suggest that is true.
It is instructive that tikkun olam has gained traction at Israeli universities yet is becoming a virulent anti-Israel screed based on the absurd proposition that all parties should have the opportunity to vent through the social justice system including enemies of the Jewish state. Included in this group are notoriously hostile anti-Israel figures such as Tony Kushner, Noam Chomsky, and Judith Butler. Moreover, among the leaders of the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) which promotes a systematic boycott of Israel are Jewish organizations such as the Jewish Voice for Peace – a group that also sides with Hamas on most matters. As this Voice for Peace notes “Taking a stance against injustice in Palestine is part of fixing this broken world.” Yet, as I and many other analysts have noted, BDS is actually an Orwellian campaign to destroy or, at the very least, demonize the state of Israel, which I as a Zionist find repellent.
So far in the direction of “fairness” and detachment have the social justice operatives gone that a sense of belonging has been denounced as bias. As a general rule the stronger your commitment to tikkun olam, the weaker your sense of Zionism and support for Israel. Hanukkah, traditionally a celebration of Jewish sovereignty and expelling invaders, is seen through the lens of social justice as a time to consider mankind’s baneful effect on the environment.
In the wake of recent murders in a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of students across the country in a united cri de coeur against guns publicly displayed their passion and rage on the issue by marching at state capitals. Directly or inadvertently, Jewish or non-Jewish, they were caught in the web of tikkun olam believing they were warriors in a quest for social justice. Yet remarkably there was not a call for a specific legislative agenda that might accomplish their goals. The appeal of social justice is that it promotes a universal morality, a beat on the dreams for change that may make the advocate feel as if he has done something when little is accomplished. In fact, it is obvious that social justice is often a pathway to alienation. Social justice doesn’t need Jews since its goals are universal and, it should be noted, universal goals rarely translate into particular actionable legislation. Hence a strong belief that gun control should be enforced will undoubtedly lead to frustration, if in the absence of specific laws, nothing the social justice warriors want gets accomplished.
To argue that tikkun olam is in an ancient tradition that must be reawakened in the twenty first century is comparable to arguing that this mission must completely coincide with the liberal wing of the present Democratic Party. Conditions should be defined for what they are: tikkun olam is the manifest form of the Left, cleverly and remorsefully imposed on schools of theology as a religious calling.
Jews should consider what it means to be a Jew, not what it means to be an acolyte of universalism. Yet it is always a challenge to respond to criticism of those who want to do good. The answer to detractors is simple: the strategy of the social justice groups should not betray basic religious doctrine or the need for steps that mediate complicated existing problems. It is worth recalling that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Jews once understood this axiom as part of their faith.
Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org
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