Recently, more and more voices have been raised in the American Jewish community, expressing dissatisfaction with current representation of the Jewish community in Zionist institutions and institutions that represent Jewish views on Israel.
This is a legitimate concern. Increasingly, Israel and Zionism have become causes of orthodox Jews and the small but vociferous Jewish right. "Jewish Republican" used to be an oxymoron, and Jewish Republicans are still a relatively small minority among US Jews, yet much of the organizational and group support for Israel comes from that part of the US Jewish political spectrum, and reflects their views, as well as those of the much more numerous, and often more enthusiastic Christian Zionist community. This change was reflected at the recent AIPAC meeting
The sad truth however, is that the situation reflects the relative contributions of the different communities to the defense of Israel and Zionism. Groups like Ameinu, UPZ and Brit Tzedek VeShalom are entitled to protest the occupation and air their disagreements about with Israeli policies. However, if they want to earn a central place in determining Zionist policies in the USA and the future of Israeli society, they have to be there for Israel when it comes to clear-cut vital issues such as defense of Israel on campus against racists like Columbia Professor Joseph Massad, ISM boycott initiatives, emergency funds for Israel, Aliya (immigration) programs and delegitimization of Israel. These issues have nothing to do with the occupation or democracy in Israel and should not be divisive.
Ameinu could not even produce a straightforward condemnation of Jimmy Carter's awful "apartheid" book, which allows that Palestinians may continue terror attacks until they get whatever they demand. If your campus has a problem with "One State solution" people demanding the dismantlement of Israel, you can compete with them: hire a "Zionist" film from UPZ, with Azmi Bishara calling for dismantlement of Israel.
At least, these organizations do support the right of Israel to exist. Others have invited themselves to the debate as well however. Jewish groups and persons who were never Zionist, never supported Israel and don't support Israel now are leveraging on disagreements about Israeli policy to pry themselves into the "dialogue." An article that is circulating on the Internet begins thus:
A profound division has developed between Zionist advocates of Israel and Jews, secular and religious, who reject or question Zionism and actions taken by the state of Israel.
Public debate about Israel's place in Jewish continuity has become open and candid.
Many Jews try to come to terms with the contradictions between the Judaism they profess to adhere to and the Zionist ideology that has taken hold of them. This coincides with serious concerns expressed across Israel's political and religious spectrum about the future of Israel.
Quite a few Jews now publicly ask whether the chronically besieged ethnic nation-state in the Middle East is "good for the Jews." Many continue to be concerned that militant Zionism destroys Jewish moral values and endangers Jews in Israel and elsewhere...
Of course, only a tiny minority of extremist Jews doubt that Israel is "good for the Jews" though too many others may be apathetic. The author is jumping on the bandwagon of dissatisfaction to trot out venerable cliches of Jewish anti-Zionism. The article is by Yakov Rabkin, a militant anti-Zionist and a member of a group called "Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians." These people want to be "part of the dialogue" too.
Diane Balser of Brit Tzedek VeShalom invited American Jews to dialogue in a recent newsletter. She wrote
... with Brit Tzedek working in concert with other Jewish peace organizations, we have the beginnings of ...a discussion, looking at our relationship to Israel and examining how to encourage a US foreign policy with diplomacy and conflict-resolution at its heart.
Before the establishment of Israel, in the early days of Zionism, there was major debate in the Jewish world about the essence of Zionism and the very notion of a Jewish state. Opposition to Zionism came from Orthodox, Reform, and leftist circles, for widely varying reasons.
Ms Balser neglects to tell us that the debate was finished, in part because most of the opposed were exterminated by Mr. Hitler, and in part because the establishment of the Jewish state convinced all but a few skeptics that a Jewish state could be established, leaving most of the remaining skeptical in the same category of intellectual perspicacity as members of the Flat Earth society. The wording of Ms Balser's call implies that Brit Tzedek veShalom invites everyone to the debate, and considers that all views are valid, including those of orthodox anti-Zionists and Bundists. It seems that according to Diane Balser, people like Yakov Rabkin, Rabbi David Weiss of the Neturei Karteh and Holocaust minimizer and anti-Zionist Norman Finkelstein should have an equal voice in determining Jewish-American policy regarding support for Israel with Edgar Bronfman, Abe Foxman and other American Zionist leaders. Perhaps Rabkin and Finkelstein should be invited to address the AIPAC convention, and Rabbi David Weiss can invite his friends ex-Klan wizard David Duke and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As speakers at the AIPAC convention, they would certainly counterbalance the Reverend John Hagee and PM Ehud Olmert, right?
It is not really possible to ascertain what Brit Tzedek VeShalom's position about Israel is either. They insist they are pro-Israel, but steadfastly refuse to say they are Zionist. "Pro-Israel" can apply to many views and is a relative term. Richard Nixon was pro-Israel, and so was Answar Sadat. So, for that matter is Jimmy Carter. The question is whether Brit Tzedek Ve-Shalom is Zionist, whether they support Israel as a national home for the Jewish people, and are willing to contribute to the national liberation and rebirth of the Jewish people, even if they disagree with settlement and occupation beyond the 1949 armistice lines. The question is whether they will defend Israel against those who seek to turn it into an Arab state or to destroy it, or whether they will simply be content to have a "pro-Israel" label as a brand image that covers an essentially anti-Israel platform.
Diane Balser's letter concludes:
Please, join us in re-opening the discussion
Are American Jews really going to re-open the discussion about whether or not there should be a Jewish state, and are we really going to debate this issue with the Satmar Hassidim, the Neturei Karteh, the JVP, Jewish ISM activists, Norman Finkelstein, Yakov Rabkin and their cohorts? And if they win the debate, will the American Jewish community set up a lobby to persuade the US governement to dismantle the Jewish state? I am not sure what discussion Ms. Balser wants to reopen or who are the discussant. Answering her call for dialogue, I wrote to Ms Balser at the email address she gave, email@example.com, but I never got any reply from her. Marcia Freedman, who heads the Brit Tzedek veShalom organization, was kind enough to reply that she is travelling and unable to reply.
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Replies: 1 Comment
Thank you for your article, which highlights, I believe, two salient and related points: (1) that AIPAC and its increased ties to evangelical and other right-wing groups has an alienating effect on some American Zionists, including me; and (2) the alternatives are limited and, for the most part, inadequate for a number of reasons.
I don't want to comment on any organizations you cite because, frankly, in light of my lack of knowledge of many of them, it would not be fair to your readers or to the other organizations to opine on their bona fides or lack thereof.
I can tell you that I have had an unfortunate experience participating i n a blog featuring MJ Rosenberg (found at (tpmcafe.com), a former Capitol Hill and AIPAC staffer and now with the Israel Policy Forum (IPF). Frankly, I believe IPF is a bona fide option for progressive zionists looking for an organization that promotes Israel but does not bring the along with it the baggage of marriage to right-wing and evangelical America (if I offend anyone I'm sorry but the notion that wedding ourselves to right-wing America benefits Israel in the long-run is something I steadfastly take exception to and I am worried about it).
In any event, MJ Rosenberg is an excellent writer, a most decent man and a commmitted Zionist, but his blog attracts some of the most viscious anti-Jewish screeds I have seen and it's embarassing and ultimately it is frightening. I was unable to participate any longer because I just could not stomach the thought of becoming the patrol guard responsible for admonishing people to take care in what they wrote.
These are tough times. I look for alternatives to AIPAC. I do not want Eretz Y'srael to be held hostage by right-wing American ideology. But I look left and I find little solace. Could IPF be the answer? I'd love some input for others. Where is there that special place where we can join together and promote peace for our brothers and sisters in Israel and our neighbors in a peaceful Palestinian state?
Bruce S. Levine
Bruce Levine, Monday, March 19th
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