Friday, May 27, 2005

Gay Rights Above All Else

The New Republic is a good magazine that is going through an extended identity crisis as it moves away from its liberal roots while still being repelled by a conservatism that is compassionate toward those who are privileged. We need a new coinage to describe TNR, something like neo-lib.

There is no identity crisis over gay rights, as the magazine embraces the movement's agenda. One of its stars is Andrew Sullivan, a gay conservative intellectual who is also a frequent contributor to The New York Times. The latest issue includes an article by Jonathan Rauch who argues that same-sex marriage "is good for kids." TNR is another illustration of the prominence of gay righters in this country's cultural and intellectual elites, a circumstance that does not deter the movement from claiming extreme victimization.

A month ago, The New Republic published a brief editorial note on the plans, since postponed because of its coinciding with the Gaza withdrawal, of gay rights activists around the world to sponsor this summer a ten-day World Pride Festival and parade in Jerusalem. The expectation is that the event will be rescheduled, so that the issues that it raises, including the enormous distress that it will give to a large majority of Jerusalem's population, remain relevant. Even as other causes have moderated their rhetoric and demands in the face of growing public hostility, this movement has upped the ante, as is evident in its ever-intensifying advocacy of same-sex marriage.

TNR's note, entitled "Reductio Ad Hitlerum" (it sounds Wielseltierian), sniped at Rabbi Daniel Lapin, president of Toward Tradition, the leading voice of Jewish political conservatism. Apparently, Lapin had compared the Jerusalem parade to the notorious march of neo-Nazis years ago in Skokie. In this instance, as in all political and ideological discussion, "Nazi" is a description that ought not to be used, if only because it distorts the issue. The magazine pounced on Lapin, calling him dishonest and bigoted and concluding that he "is a bit like Goebbels."

Of course, Lapin did not say that gay writers were Nazis, nor did he even come close to comparing them to Nazis. His point, certainly understood by the smart folks at TNR, was that the mind-boggling insensitivity of those who plan to march in Jerusalem was akin to the insensitivity shown by those who marched in Skokie. This is a legitimate point. Those who readily proclaim their fidelity to human dignity ought to be concerned about the feelings of those who would be greatly pained by a gay parade in their holy city.

That's not how most American Jews feel these days. They aren't faithful to our teachings and practices and when their notion of modernity clashes with the feelings and practices of the minority of Jews who cling to traditional values, they are intolerant and insensitive. Still, it is astounding that United Jewish Communities, the increasingly defective umbrella agency for the Federation network, announced at the end of March that "the final portion" of its summer mission to Israel "coincides with the beginning of Love Without Borders: WorldPride 2005, a ten-day festival for the international LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual & Transexual] community expected to attract thousands of participants from throughout the world. Mission participants will take part in the opening session." There were other indications that UJC was endorsing the festival and parade.

Given the support of most American Jews of same-sex marriage, it may be that UJC's identification with gay rights will yield fundraising benefits. But the organization will be harmed because such positions remove it further from its appropriate agenda and removes it further from the Jews who are most vital to Jewish continuity.

There will be collateral damage to American Jewry and to Israel. While other causes that traditionally have been labeled as liberal are rethinking their strategy and, at times, tempering their advocacy in light of the presidential election, the same-sex bandwagon marches on without regard to the impact that it is making on people who otherwise might support at least part of the liberal agenda. American Jews eagerly join the same-sex crusade, not pausing for a moment to consider whether this is good for the Jews or good for Israel. Their attitude is, we have our secular belief system and no matter how antithetical it is to the values of tens of millions of Americans, we will remain faithful to our faithless faith.

This is recklessness. Don't we care whether conservative Americans who have given important aid and comfort to Israel are turned off by our in-the-face advocacy of activities and policies that are anathema to them? So far as I know, in the six months since the election sent a regrettable message regarding the attitudes and values of tens of millions of Americans, there hasn't been as much as a preliminary discussion within our community whether this development should result in a reshaping of our strategy and positions.

When Jews and other liberals place same-sex marriage at the top of their political agenda, they are signaling, probably inadvertently, that other groups and causes are not as worthy of attention and support. Gays, a highly advanced socio-economic group, are given priority over Blacks, Hispanics, working people. Concerns about the economy and environment also must take a back seat to same-sex marriage. Liberals are losing one political battle after another because they are alienating people who might - certainly they have in the past - agree with liberal positions on other issues.

Every legal victory secured by gay activists is a nail in the coffin of traditional liberalism and perhaps also of the New Deal. In The New Republic issue that excoriated Rabbi Lapin, the venerable TRB column was by Jonathan Cohn, a liberal writer who argued that Democratic reliance on court decisions have "provoked political backlashes that have hobbled Democrats" and "in cases like gay marriage, probably set back the liberal cause by many years."