Picture the situation. I am talking to someone inside the Haredi establishment about some case of abuse. I advocate some action. They agree that the abuser is terrible but claim they can’t do anything. I say, let’s involve activist X or activist Y. They demur because X or Y “Has an agenda.” I have learned the hard way that the moment they say those magical words, nothing productive will ensue.
Oh, I have occasionally pressed the other party to clarify what they meant. Suddenly, very articulate people went dumb. They stuttered, “You know what I mean,” or “They are not nice,” or “She/he upsets people,” etc. When I pressed them about whether these agenda-laden folks were truthful, competent and honest, the answer is usually, “Yes, but …… !” Occasionally, I point out that any purposeful human being has an agenda, and the only important question is: “What sort of agenda?” That question has also never gotten me very far.
At some point I came to realize that “Having an agenda” is a code word for someone who ruffles feathers because he or she doesn’t accede to the ultra orthodox’s establishment in its persistent attempts to shield most abusers from the full brunt of the criminal justice system.
Let me be more charitable to my conversational partners. They want to do the right thing. But they do not want to pay the essential price of confronting the powers that be. They want to “Work within the system.” That is an admirable trait and style if you can do it without compromising your core principles or the safety of children.”
Those that want to work within the system are caught in a painful dilemma. The system espouses beautiful values of, truth, kindness, sexual purity, etc. As we all know, reality clashes with those values. Doing the right thing can sometimes be accomplished smoothly. But often it can’t. When this happens you have to pick sides. Wanting to get along with others is an admirable trait until it inhibits you from doing the right thing.
I believe that many resist defining “Having an agenda” because it would force them acknowledge that they are hemmed in by shiduchim, yeshiva admissions, livelihood, and other social pressures to the point where they are inhibited from doing the right thing.
It is time for the discussion of agendas to move up to a higher level of specificity. Everyone has an agenda whether noble or ignoble, whether self-protective or altruistic. The only question worth answering is: What is the agenda?