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Sermon – Implicit Bias & Israel by Rabbi Jeremy Gimbel

Sermon – Implicit Bias & Israel
By Rabbi Jeremy Gimbel

Feb. 4, 2022

Shabbat Shalom.


One of my honors beyond Beth Israel is that I sit on a committee that is planning the upcoming Central Conference of American Rabbis convention. The committee includes Rabbis from across the country, and towards the beginning of the planning process, we had a meeting planned for 1 PM. 1 PM rolls around, I log onto Zoom, and no one is there. A few minutes after no one else shows up, I emailed the chair. Turns out, the meeting was at 1 PM Eastern time. The chair apologized for the misunderstanding, and now all of our meetings name the meeting time in the various time zones. While a minor inconvenience, Rabbi Nevarez pointed out that this is an example of implicit bias – implicit bias to those living in pacific time zone by east coasters.

We all have biases — unsupported assumptions we make about people or groups. Implicit bias, also commonly known as unconscious bias, refers to the various social stereotypes and judgments that people unknowingly assign to others based on a variety of factors, such as their age, socioeconomic status, weight, gender, race, or sexual orientation. And while these biases aren’t always negative, they’re shaped by a survival instinct that causes people to associate with people they perceive to be similar to them, because they’re deemed to be “safe.” (Blog post, Maryville University)

For Jews, and more specifically broader biases around Jews, the tides are shifting. Since the beginning of the American experience, Jews have been conditionally accepted into society. In the last two or so generations, Jews have been able to be publicly Jewish without conditions. For example, consider how Jews were not allowed to live in La Jolla or attend country clubs around the country, but now we have congregants living in La Jolla and our Tashlich ceremony is held at La Jolla shores. However, acceptance of Jews, and more specifically Israel, in public spheres is becoming more and more conditional again. In other words, society is telling us, “It’s okay to be a Jew; just don’t be a Zionist.”

This week unfortunately provided a number of examples of how implicit bias is harming the Jewish community and Israel. Indeed, from Amnesty International’s report calling Israel’s treatment of Palestinians “Apartheid,” to even Whoopi Goldberg minimizing the role of the Nazi’s implicit bias of Jews being no different than any other white people, Jews are facing what can seem to be a coordinated, one-sided assault on our very existence.

As noted by the ADL, “Goldberg’s error comes at a time when antisemitism is on the rise not only in the U.S. but around the world — with yet another spate of disturbing antisemitic incidents in just the past few weeks — whether it be the recent neo-Nazi rally in Orlando, the white supremacist flier drops across the country last weekend, the seemingly endless and baseless comparisons made to the Holocaust by politicians and pundits, and the terrifying hostage situation in Colleyville motivated by Islamist radicalism.”

And then there was Amnesty International’s incredibly biased report on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. I read the 280 page report, and I can tell you it is a perfect example of implicit bias. I will also admit there are some hard truths in the report. Israel is not perfect, and some of its imperfections are evidenced in the report. Yet, this one-sided, one-dimensional indictment of Israel included no response, no context, no Israeli narrative. It frames Jews as oppressors, Palestinians as victims; it names that Palestinians launched rockets indiscriminately into Israel, but does not fault them for doing so; it names Hamas as de-facto leaders of Gaza, but fails to note that Israel’s government is currently its first Jewish-Arab coalition which includes leader of the United Arab List party who recently said, “The State of Israel was born as a Jewish state, and it will remain one.” It makes no mention that in Israel’s declaration of independence it calls for “ensuring complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; guaranteeing freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture;” whereas Hamas’ charter notes, “[Jews] were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about, here and there. With their money they formed secret societies, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions and others in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests.” And “there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”

The report’s condemnation spans the entire Jewish community, not to mention Democratic and Republican members of Congress and administration officials who also condemned the report.

Yet, the most clear evidence of Amnesty’s implicit bias came in an interview with the Times of Israel: Lazar Berman asked: “You have these countries that are obviously much greater violators of human rights, and have less regard for international law, than Israel. The determination about China, you said, was because it wouldn’t effect change.”

Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy director, Philip Luther’s reponse: “I cannot tell you the strategic reasons in terms of the focus [on Israeli apartheid]. I can just give you in generic terms.”

And there it is. A judgement placed harshly on the only Jewish nation, focused on them for “unknown” reasons. This is a bias that we can recognize, but Amnesty cannot articulate. It is this implicit bias that leads them to condemn Israel harsher than any other nation, hold Israel to a higher standard than any other nation, for no clear reason other than the fact that Jews are treated differently than any other minority group.

This is not new. And unfortunately, it is likely only going to get worse. There’s no penalty in today’s society for having anti-Israel sentiments. The opposite, however, is true. If you support Israel, or even the Jewish community, it must be voiced tactically and, often, quietly.

So what can we do? The first step is to retake the narrative. As Yossi Klein-Halevi noted in a recent webinar, “When you engage in ‘we’re not committing genocide, Israel is not Apartheid,’ you’ve already lost.” Instead, focus on principled goals. We want peace in the region, we want a two-state solution, and just like everyone else, we want all to be able to live with appropriate rights.

The second step was articulated by Deborah Lipstadt in her recent webinar with our community. When we confront moments of anti-semitism and anti-Israel biases, explicit or implicit, we should say, “We need you to take this seriously.” When these sentiments are brushed aside, they only fester and get worse, and then you end up with a well-meaning friend of the Jews saying that the Holocaust was not about race.

Thirdly, learn about what is going on within yourself and within our community. Surely each of us, too, has implicit biases that are deserving of attention and reflection. And regarding Anti-Zionism specifically, I want to encourage you to read Yossi Klein Halevi’s Letters to my Palestinian Neighbors, which offers language for engaging in these discussions. Additionally, our Men’s Club and Social Action Committee are hosting Micha Danzig to discuss “Anti-Zionism is Almost Always Antisemitism” on Wednesday, February 23 @ 6:30 – 8:00 pm.

We can rise above. We can remain resilient, even in the face of major adversity. We did it when Amalek attacked us after leaving Egypt, Esther did it in Achaveirosh’s palace, and we do it every day when we unabashedly say “Am Yisrael Chai – the people of Israel live.” We will model respectful dialogue, and we will model fair criticism.

In the words of our sages and interpreted by our own Andy Mayer, B’makom sh’ein anashim, hishtadeil lih’yot ish – in a place where no one is acting with humanity, we will hold on to dignity, try to forgive, speak truth to power, we will strive to live how God meant us to live.

Shabbat shalom.

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