I keep saying that leftwing Jewish criticism of Zionism is a movement. Exhibit A is Australian author Antony Loewenstein, who has lately published a book, My Israel Question that is forthright and searing. His travels through Israel and the West Bank, Loewenstein writes, made him "constantly ashamed" as a Jew.
I met Loewenstein last week. He is 32, and the grandson of Holocaust survivors, and an only son to boot. Maybe that's why he is so unapologetic. He began to question Israel's policies as a teenager in Melbourne, Australia, and though others told him to keep his thoughts to himself, he couldn't stop thinking about the contradictions of Zionism. Once he began to express his thoughts, he alienated family members and friends. This has "sometimes worn me down," he says, but not often.
My first article on the subject for the Sydney Morning Herald in July 2003 sprung simply from a desire to articulate an alternative Judaism, one not blindly enamored with the Zionist cause. The angry response to that piece proved that I hit a nerve. Since then I've been heartened by the level of support I've received from within Australia and around the world encouraging me to engage honestly rather than touring me with a toxic label of "anti-Semite". I still hope for a day when Zionists will cease using Israel's "security" or the Holocaust, or the "war on terror" to justify and excuse actions that are routinely condemned when committed by any other country.
Forthright, huh. Last week Ha'aretz's Washington correspondent hosted Loewenstein for a discussion of Israel and Zionism, in which Loewenstein did not shy away from the racism word:
I believe that Israel can no longer be a Jewish state, a nation that actively discriminates against anybody who isn't born Jewish. Whether Arab or Palestinian, a modern country that wants international recognition and respect, cannot continue to institute policies that are racially based. For the record, I am equally against an Islamic or Christian nation or any other religiously-sanctioned country. Israel must recognize that a progressive state doesn't continue to find legal ways to bar Jews marrying non-Jews or Palestinians living with Jewish partners. Apartheid South Africa instituted similar policies and the world finally reacted appropriately to such outrages.
Loewenstein's statements are so clear and moral in tone that he has become a lightning rod in Australia. Lately the head of the Israel lobby there said that the Jewish group Loewenstein has started to deplore Israel's treatment of the Palestinians consists of "Jewish born individuals." As if they are not real Jews, because they have not been involved in Jewish causes before now. Loewenstein told me that these Jews are walking a new road:
Their Jewishness has never been publicly acknowledged or discussed. By choice. Theyâve seen themselves as citizens and Australians, say rather than Jews. Whatâs interesting is in the last few months some of these Jews are coming out of nowhere, like Peter Singer. The Jewish part of his life he hasnât talked about in any way. A lot of these Jews have never wanted to engage in the Israel issue. They get shut down because theyâve been accused of being disloyal. They havenât felt themselves in a comfortable space.
This is true because Jewish critics of Zionism are violating basic norms of the modern Jewish community. As one of those Norms (Podhoretz) explains: "Whatever else the Jews of America may or may not have cared about, they all (or anyway very nearly all) cared about Israel; and whatever they may or may not have done about being Jewish, they all gave their support to Israel." Loewenstein and my crowd are guilty of a kind of treason for our criticisms of Israel. In his recent book The Wicked Son, David Mamet used the "treason" word, saying that there is no place in Jewish life for the apikoros, or freethinker. God knows, there are a lot of people who think like Mamet in the organized Jewish community.
But there are more and more like Loewenstein. I asked the Aussie whether he is an anti-Zionist. He wrote back,
I call myself an anti-Zionist, though somebody who cares deeply about Jews and their future in the mid-east. unlike some anti-Zionists, I do not have complete contempt of Zionist Jews, though I wish they would better explain how they feel comfortable oppressing another people in the name of a 'Jewish state.' Though as Gideon Levy explains in my book, perhaps we need to evolve first to 2 states - god knows how - then, when more trust is developed between the two sides, one-state. Right now, however, the influence of the US is actually far more negative than positive. The current Saudi plan, while seriously flawed, is far more important than anything coming outta Washington.
What fascinates me about Loewenstein is how little effect all the blackmail has had on his independence. He doesn't seem to agonize the way I, or say Tony Kushner, does about questioning the Zionist dream. As the realities of the Mideast continue to rock our politics, Loewenstein will get more Jewish company.