By Steven Philp
On Thursday LGBT-interest blog Queerty posted an article outlining the newest addition to the Kosher.com affiliates program: the anti-gay group JONAH, or Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality. Kosher.com advertises itself as the largest online kosher supermarket, offering door-to-door delivery of several thousand kosher products including meat, dairy, wine and frozen foods. The affiliates program allows customers to select a non-profit organization—including synagogues and schools—to receive 5% of their online purchase; in return, Kosher.com benefits from increased traffic from that organization’s constituent population. JONAH has come under fire for their prescription of “reparative” therapy for LGBT Jews, which has been shown by all major American health organizations—including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatry Association, and the American Psychology Association—to be ineffective; in fact, as outlined in a 2007 article by The New York Times, the majority of certified health professionals hold that “reparative” therapy can damage self-esteem, increase depression and promote suicidal behavior.
Queerty was alerted to the partnership between Kosher.com and JONAH by Jayson Littman, a survivor of “reparative” therapy. Littman had held membership in JONAH for five years, before coming out and starting a “gay Jewish events outfit” in New York. Littman expressed his misgivings in an e-mail to Kosher.com, explaining that their association with JONAH sends “a message to [LGBT Jews] of where you stand on this issue and what your beliefs are.” Kosher.com replied to Littman, outlining their acceptance of any and all organizations in to their affiliates program. Unsatisfied, Littman responded: “I am sure that non-profit organizations that spread hateful messages about Jewish people wouldn’t be considered for the Kosher.com affiliate program.” The following Friday, Truth Wins Out—a pro-LGBT organization that sheds light on the harmful effects of “reparative” therapy—started a petition on Change.org against the partnership of Kosher.com and JONAH. According to an article posted on their site, within 90 minutes they had gathered one thousand signatures. Shortly after, Kosher.com responded to the petition with the following:
Firstly we wish to apologize if any action taken by any member of our company offended anyone. Our affiliate program…was not something that we had monitored but considering the current reaction regarding jonahweb.org’s decision to send their members our affiliate offerings, we have decided to discontinue that affiliation and our management will review our affiliate programs guidelines going forward.
The swiftness with which online organizing produced results is heartening. The article on Queerty coupled with Truth Wins Out’s petition is an example of quick and effective online advocacy. Although we are called to respect—if not cultivate—a plurality of opinion within the Jewish community, supporting an organization that actively discriminates against other Jews is decidedly not kosher.
By Steven Philp
Voicing an opinion that is shared among conservative leadership, Reverend Keith Ratliff, Sr.—president of the Iowa-Nebraska chapter of the NAACP—complained that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights movement has “hijacked” the civil rights debate. According to the De Moines Register, Rev. Ratliff addressed an anti-marriage equality rally outside the Iowa state capitol on Tuesday, stating that “there is no parallel” between LGBT rights and the 1960’s movement led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He emphasized that Dr. King would not have supported same sex marriage, explaining that he was a “Bible-believing Baptist preacher.” To argue contrariwise is “an insult to the civil rights movement.”
But whose civil rights movement is it, anyways? This past January, in honor of the late Dr. King, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr. delivered a rousing sermon at Conservative Chicago synagogue Anshe Emet. Despite moments of tension between our communities—several of which found their origin in his history of anti-Semitism—Rev. Jackson called upon Jewish and African American leaders to remember our common purpose: to secure civil rights, as traditionally oppressed minorities, for ourselves and for each other. He recalled the important role that Jews like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel played in the 1960’s Civil Rights movement, meeting with Black activists and marching with them in Salem and Birmingham. In fact, Jews were one of the most actively involved non-Black groups in securing equality for the African American community.
Yet the Civil Rights movement derived less strength from Jewish manpower—however important—than from the Jewish narrative; we are a people who have experienced oppression, fought against it, and achieved freedom. The liberation theology that fueled the impassioned sermons of Dr. King and Rev. Jackson derived many of its images from Exodus. It is easy to see the parallels between the emancipation of African American slaves and our journey from bondage in Egypt, making the latter narrative a powerful proof text for the former: liberation is the historically attested will of G-d. Yet, this where Rev. Ratliff has it wrong: the fight for LGBT equality is an appropriate parallel to the Civil Rights movement, just as the Civil Rights movement followed our path to freedom. The story of liberation does not belong to anyone, because liberty—as enshrined in the Constitution—is universal. It is continually informed by each of our narratives, whether Jews, Blacks, the LGBT community or other minority groups. The experience of emancipation gives us the space to empathize with other oppressed communities, to add another stepping stone to the path toward equal opportunity. To be liberated makes it imperative that one fights for the liberation of others.
This past week, former New York City mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkins lent their voices to the Human Rights Campaign’s video series for marriage equality. In his 30-second spot, Dinkins—the first and only African American elected to the office—says, “I know that we are a diverse people who believe in fairness and equality.” In response Koch—an outspoken and proud Jew—explains that “Right now, our state is not doing so well when is comes to fairness.” Yet the one-time Democratic rivals agree on one thing: They are compelled by the narrative of their respective communities to stand on the side of equality for LGBT Americans.