Che Guevara Wasn’t A Maccabee: When Far Leftists Run Jewish Organizations

David Benkof Contributor
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Yesterday, I was stunned to read an E-mail from Andrés Spokoiny, the president of the Jewish Funders Network (I’m a member) with an interpretation of the Chanukah story that was skewed so far left it praised Che Guevara (!) as being essentially a Maccabee. The missive was yet another piece of evidence, albeit an extreme one, of a major Jewish organization run by people with a hard-left worldview.

The letter is worth quoting at length:

“I grew up believing that Chanukah told an epic story of freedom… For me, the Maccabees were romantic and idealistic warriors, wise democratic leaders willing to give their lives for tolerance and for the right of all people to worship and live as they chose. I imagined the Maccabees as an improbable combination of Che Guevara, John F. Kennedy, and Abraham Joshua Heschel.

“And Chanukah was indeed all that. The Maccabees were the original ‘band of brothers’ who defied insurmountable odds and challenged a mighty empire to reclaim their right to be different, to live independently as masters of their own destinies. They sought Jewish rule for nobody but the Jews; they didn’t want to impose their ways on anybody else. They only wanted peace and respect for all….

“But, as I later learned, this is only one face of the Chanukah story. Viewed from another angle, Chanukah is an ugly story of zealotry, civil war, abuse of power, and eventual ruin.

“The Maccabees weren’t only fighting the Seleucid army—they were fighting other Jews, namely the mityavnim, those Jews who had adopted the Greek language and Hellenistic customs. In other words, the Maccabees declared war on the ‘assimilated.’ Jews who didn’t conform to their interpretation of Judaism were put to the sword or had to seek refuge in the Diaspora. In an all too common reversal, those who fought intolerance became intolerant themselves.”

This letter completely misinterprets and even reverses the message of Chanukah. The Maccabees weren’t Western-style democratic socialists. They were fervently religious advocates of traditional Judaism. And the assimilation Spokoiny defends wasn’t to American-style secular nothingness. It was to Greek idol worship.

In fact, the Hellenizers Spokoiny feels deserved “tolerance” had allied themselves with a brutal regime that outlawed circumcision, forced rabbis to eat pork, burned Torah scrolls, executed Jews for the “crime” of observing Shabbat, and installed a statue of Zeus in our holy Temple. Dreidels were invented so Jews could pretend they were merely spinning tops if the Syrian Greeks and their Hellenized Jewish allies caught them studying Torah.

But Spokoiny’s gross misinterpretation of the Chanukah story pales before his offensive and historically ludicrous claim that the Maccabees had anything in common with Che Guevara.

Guevara was a brutal totalitarian thug who executed his political opponents in firing squads, rounded up gay men and put them in camps, and invited the Soviet Union to install nuclear missiles aimed at America in Cuba. To put him in the same sentence as President Kennedy and Rabbi Heschel insults their memories.

Spokoiny should have known that praising Guevara would alienate moderate and right-leaning members of his organization, but he doesn’t appear to have cared. I guess that shouldn’t have surprised me, given how many supposedly “mainstream” Jewish organizations are run by leaders pursuing far-left goals.

One recent example is a complaint dated October 20 to the Department of Education co-signed by two of the most prominent Jewish women’s organizations – Jewish Women International (formerly B’nai Brith Women) and National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) – as well as the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, whose members include the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and the Union for Reform Judaism.

The groups alleged that the University of Mary Washington systematically failed to protect students from a “sexually hostile school environment” because it did not prevent students from posting hurtful comments on anonymous social media. Supposedly offensive comments include “This feminist needs to calm the hell down” and “F*** the feminists!” Uncouth and disrespectful language enjoys the full protection of the First Amendment, which has no “hate speech” exception. Jews have benefited tremendously from America’s Bill of Rights. Why are our leaders trying to chip away at our freedoms?

NCJW’s latest crusade is another example of radical leftism pushed by a Jewish group. Last month, my mother attended an NCJW meeting in St. Louis about fighting racial disparities in punishment in schools. Instead of asking why African-American students are more likely to misbehave and addressing the problem with male role models and counseling, NCJW and their allies at the ACLU want to pressure teachers to over-punish white students and under-punish black students.

Another example: the ADL has gone way beyond its mission of fighting bigotry and now supports partial-birth abortion, gay marriage, and citizenship for people who fraudulently skipped ahead of other would-be Americans – while opposing religious freedom laws that protect Orthodox Jews and others currently forced to express ideas and participate in events they abhor.

I accept that most American Jews are liberal, and likely to stay that way. But praising Che Guevara isn’t liberalism. It’s hard-left extremism, which will only be reined in if American Jews on the right and especially in the center demand it.

David Benkof is Senior Political Analyst at the Daily Caller. Follow him on Twitter (@David Benkof) or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.