יום שני, ינואר 01, 2007

 

AJC, progressive Jews, and Zionism

In a few weeks, the Intro class will have its session (which I have been waiting for as much as any) on Zionism and Israel. I have long--that is, going back decades before my decision to convert to Judaism--harbored deeply contradictory feelings towards Zionism, the State of Israel, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have always placed the State of Israel among the very few countries in the world that I genuinely admire. Israel is deserving of admiration by all progressive-minded people everywhere for its construction of a stable and vibrant (if imperfect) multicultural democratic island in an authoritarian and sectarian sea. In a region where most states consist of varying forms of autocracy in which minority rights are suppressed (or in some cases, in which the rulers come from a sectarian minority that suppresses the majority) and many remain hostile to the very existence of Israel, the democratic achievements of Israel are justifiably a source of Jewish pride. At the same time, I have long believed that a terrible injustice was committed against the many residents of "Palestine" who fled (under whatever circumstances) in 1948 and that terrible injustices continue to be perpetrated daily against the survivors among these people and their descendants nearly sixty years later.

The experience of Judaization (my own, not that of parts of the West Bank) has only intensified the feelings on both sides of my inner conflict. On the one hand, I have come to understand, albeit probably only partially, the deep emotional and religious attachment that Jews feel to Israel (whether conceived as "The Land of..." or "The State of..."). On the other hand, I have had several uncomfortable, even cringing moments, at synagogue events--even services--when the topic of Israel, settlements, or Arab-Israeli wars (particularly the one of this past summer) have come up. I have come away from some of these moments wondering if I can even call myself a Zionist--as if becoming more Jewish is at once making me more pro-Israel yet less Zionist. And, yes, I see the (obvious) contradiction. Remember, I started this off saying that I have held "deeply contradictory" attitudes even before deciding to practice Judaism and seek conversion.

In this context, I could hardly be more troubled by a report published by The American Jewish Committee under the title, “Progressive’ Jewish Thought and The New Anti-Semitism.”

I have read the report. Mobius, at Jewschool, has a long and thoughtful demolition of the linkage implied by the report. The report makes a classic error: Taking a selective reading of the works of certain authors and not too-subtly conflating these authors' sometimes-extreme views with all members of the broader class being tarred (in this case "progressive" Jews; the quotation marks are the author's.) The report likewise implicitly conflates the overt acts of antisemitism that it chronicles at its beginning with the criticisms of Israeli policies that its author defines as "illegitimate"--as if allowing that political Zionism has become an ongoing justification for injustices against Palestinians puts one in the same category as those who accept the messages of Mein Kampf and the Protocols and those who charge Jews with poisoning wells.

The very idea of linking Progressive Jews (a mantle I will wear proudly one day) and antisemitism (old or "new") is offensive. I think Mobius, in the Jewschool post (which I highly recommend) is quite fair in his characterization of it. Restrained, even. I certainly will not quote from Mobius extensively, but I was especially struck by this passage, which refers to a discussion in the AJC report of Palestinians' use of the term "Nazi" and to the comparisons to South Africa (famously and recently by Jimmy Carter):


It is not accurate to compare Israel to Nazi Germany nor to claim that Israel is committing genocide. However, it is not necessarily antisemitic to do so either. Neither is it antisemitic nor even inaccurate to compare Israel to apartheid South Africa, though it is certainly unflattering and contrary to Israel’s projected self-image.


(I will note in passing that I agree with Mobius's characterization of the "Convergence Plan" and other aspects of current Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories as "hardly distinct from the South African Bantustan system.")

In general, I would like to see Jews of all (or no) denominational stripe (and non-Jews, for that matter) be more open to debate the current status of Zionism and Israeli policies without fear of being branded antisemitic or "self-hating Jew" or other unconstructive epithets. In this regard, the AJC has done us all a disservice.

As one commenter on the Jewschool thread says:


To criticize the IDEA of Zionism is not the same thing as trying to drives Jews into the sea.


Indeed. I don't know what the model ultimately should be, but the status quo--even the hypothetically peaceful version of it known as "the two-state solution"--is of dubious viability. When one side sees the establishment of the state of Israel as the fulfillment of "the two-thousand-year-old hope" and the other as "The Catastrophe," we have to be willing to use our progressivism--and, yes, our Judaism--to allow ourselves to have debates that might even lead us to reassess long-held axioms.

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