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American Jews and Israel: Changing Identities, Changing Relationship

‫הארץ אשר נשבע י"י לאבותנו לתת לנו‬-‫כי באתי אל‬

How is the Diaspora-Israel relationship different in the present day? What are the
conflicts that have arisen? How do we keep the Jewish People together in times of
The problem with Israel, in As Jews, especially in
short, is not—as is sometimes When you enter the land that the America, feel more
suggested—that it is a
European "enclave" in the
Lord your God is giving you as a secure socially and
economically and have
Arab world; but rather that it heritage, and you occupy it and power over place and
arrived too late. It has settle it, you shall take some of
space, they are
imported a characteristically
late-nineteenth-century every first fruit of the soil, which beginning to examine
separatist project into a world you harvest from the land that the internal differences.
that has moved on, a world of Lord your God is giving you, put it The question of Jewish
individual rights, open difference has become
frontiers, and international in a basket and go to the place all the more pressing
law. The very idea of a where the Lord your God will with mass migration of
"Jewish state"—a state in
which Jews and the Jewish
choose to establish His name. You Jews from the former
Soviet Union to Israel,
religion have exclusive shall go to the priest of that time to Germany and the
privileges from which non- come and say to him, “I United States. These
Jewish citizens are forever
excluded— is rooted in acknowledge this day before the
groups of Jews speak
another time and place. Israel, Lord your God that I have entered different languages
in short, is an anachronism. – the land which the Lord swore to from the Jews in their
Tony Judt, Israel: The Alternative, new host countries,
New York Review of Books (2003) our fathers to give us.” (Deut 26: 1-3) maintain different sense
of Jewish identity, and
often maintain separate
Diaspora Jews are aware that they have a homeland that communal
will always be ready to accept them as lovely swans rather institutions…What
than ugly ducklings, and this helps them feel more secure does, in fact, an upper-
In exile Israel ceased to be a
nation, or, to be more precise, a
about living outside of this homeland. Knowing that Israel middle-class
living nation…A nation is a livingexists as a second home for all Jews, provides even those professional, secular
entity in its own right, a collectiveconsidering aliyah with a feeling that they do not need to Jew in Los Angeles
“I,” and not merely an aggregaterush—Israel will always welcome them with open arms.
of individuals. The nation is theThe fact that Jews received their own “Ireland” or “Italy” in
have in common with a
agency by which the individual working-class Israeli
1948 enables them to feel in America and elsewhere like Sephardic religious Jew
relates himself to the world, to the
whole of creation, and becomesother immigrants who left the “old country” behind. – Yossi in Bnei Brak except the
Beilin, His Brother’s Keeper (2000)
part of humanity and the cosmos. fact that each one calls
–Samuel Hayyim Landau
herself a Jew? – Caryn
Aviv and David Shneer
As long as it is clear to all of us that Israeli Jewish identity deals, for better or worse, New Jews: The End of the
with the full spectrum of the reality and that Diaspora Jewry deals only with parts of it, Jewish Diaspora (2005)
then at least the difference between whole and part is acknowledged. But the moment
that Jews insist that involvement in the study and interpretation of texts, or in the
organized activity of Jewish institutions, are equal to the totality of the social and
political and economic reality that we in Israel are contending with - not only does the
moral significance of the historic Jewish grappling with a total reality lose its validity,
there is also the easy and convenient option of a constant flow from the whole to the
partial. – AB Yehoshua, People without a Land, Haaretz (2006)
American Jews and Israel: Changing Identities, Changing Relationship – Prepared by Ariel Beery 1
Debates in America about our special
relationship with Israel, when they Within the English-speaking world, the pioneers in the rhetorical
happen, follow a depressingly
radicalization of “progressive” anti-Zionism include many of the
familiar ritual. A critic of Israel,
convinced that free discussion of people in Wrestling with Zion and Radicals, Rabbis, and
America's support for the Jewish state Peacemakers. Their counterparts within British Jewry include
is taboo, will vent his frustration in a Jacqueline Rose, Hilary and Steven Rose (who led the academic
long harangue that begins with boycott campaign against Israel in the United Kingdom), John
commonplaces, rises into matters Rose, author of the polemical book The Myths of Zionism, and
worth considering, and then
others. (The British lawyer Anthony Julius describes the Roses
disappears into fantasy land. Alarms
sound, and Israel's American and their confreres as people “who are proud to be ashamed to
defenders respond not only by be Jews.”) Some of the harshest anti-Israel vehemence in today’s
criticizing the critic but by making an political rhetoric is their creation, as are the now frequently
example of him, raising the specter of heard notions that “Zionism is the real enemy of the Jewish
anti-Semitism, old or "new." people,” that it is subversive of Judaism, the primary source of
Eventually the affaire dies out, but today’s anti-Semitism, and that the dissolution of Israel—
everyone is satisfied. Israel's critic
feels vindicated by the outsized conceived of as a morally repugnant, even criminal state—would
response, which confirms "what we be “good” not only for the Jews, but for world peace in general.
all know" about Jewish power; his The cumulative effect of these hostile ideas, which have been
adversaries congratulate themselves moving steadily from the margins to the mainstream of
on slaying the dragon, confirming “progressive” opinion, has been to reenergize ugly ideas and
their narcissistic image of American aggressive passions long considered to be dormant, if not dead. –
Jewry as Israel's savior. And through Alvin Rosenfeld, Progressive Thought and the New Anti-Semitism, American Jewish Committee
it all no one has mentioned real, (2006)
existing Israel or its real, existing
problems—which are also America's
problems. – Mark Lilla, The “IsraelIt’s hard to fathom what could have possessed the leaders of the American Jewish Committee to
Lobby”, Commentary (2007)
publish the screed posted on their Web site this week, “’Progressive’ Jewish Thought and the New
Anti-Semitism,” by Alvin Rosenfeld of Indiana University. From its sensationalist title to its tired
invocation of the Holocaust in the opening paragraph to its closing words about the “drift of
‘progressive’ Jewish thought,” the slim essay is a shocking tissue of slander. The essay’s contents,
mostly a recitation of anti-Israel sentiments voiced at various times by a handful of left-wing and
liberal intellectuals — some quoted correctly, others twisted beyond recognition — teach us little
Despite their braying aboutthat we didn’t know about the current state of thought among progressives, Jewish or not. But that is
martyrdom, it takes no courage tonot its intent. It is deliberately silent about Jewish progressives who support Israel, defend it against
run, as some " progressive" do, withdetractors, lobby for it in Washington — and lead its troops into battle. When such liberals are
the pack of media and academicmentioned, as in the case of Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, it is only to defame them by
jackals who defame Israel orlumping them with the extremists. Explaining nuance would muddy the essay’s apparent intent,
whitewash its foes. But while thesewhich is to turn Jews against liberalism and silence critics. – Editorial, Infamy, The Forward (2007)
ideological zealots brazenly disavow
the Jewish state, many other Jews
have simply disengaged from the Even though most of these authors see themselves as secular, they have contributed in unexpected
cause because they do not wish to be ways to the renewal of Jewish religious thought and practice as well as to secular Jewish culture.
identified with an "illiberal" Israel. In the last decade, what has the AJCom done for Jewish culture? It has endlessly kvetched about
The result is an increasingly open intermarriage, instead of creatively addressing what it means to enrich Jewish culture and
field for the haters and a new growth spirituality for all our families. But this is not surprising. For AJCom sees no value in major
for anti-Semitism just as Rosenfeld contributions to Jewish culture that come outside the conventional box of defending Israel and
and others have asserted. It is an keeping Jewish lineage pure. Indeed, the AJCom implicitly sees these crossing-the-line
encouraging sign that a mainstream contributions as a threat to its own one-dimensional definition of Jewish values: For the AJCom,
group like the American Jewish the only test of Jewish value is whether one wholeheartedly and single-mindedly supports the
Committee was prepared to publish policies of the Jewish State. It is anathema, with almost all the weight that word carried in
Rosenfeld's piece and stand by it medieval Christian practice, to question those policies and to agonize over the conundrum of how
despite the abuse they have absorbed. to uphold the democratic values of the Israeli Declaration of Independence and affirm the
– Jonathan Tobin, Running with the Jackals of Jewishness of the state at the same time. Yet it is precisely the policies of the Jewish state that are
Hate, Jewish World Review (2007) undermining its Jewishness in both demographic and ethical terms. And these policies the AJCom
does not criticize. Nor does it dare address the conundrum of Jewish-and-democratic. – R’Arthur
Waskow, Excommunicating Jewish Thinkers or Renewing Jewish Culture, the Shalom Center

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