Fearing end of ‘Zionist dream,’ Cohen says donors shut down debate inside Jewish community

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Things are changing in the Jewish community. At Rabbis for Human Rights conference the other day, Rabbi Brian Walt spoke to me about what an amazing moment was the heckling of Netanyahu by young Jews at the Jewish Federation meeting in New Orleans. “Electrifying,” he said– and the message had gone out to Jews across the country. Roger Cohen in the New York Times has gotten the news, and says the young people were starting an “important” conversation. Here’s his careful piece on the politics of Jewish identity and the end of the Zionist dream. He mentions the New Orleans hecklers, also a young man Ira Stup, 24, who has visited the occupation and come home disillusioned. You will see that Cohen understands the Jewish identity role in the Israel lobby, and talks about “donors.” Cohen:

[Obama’s collapse] is a failure of U.S. politics and the way those politics are straitjacketed by an Israel-right-or-wrong mantra that leads inexorably, over time, to one state with more Arabs in it than Jews. What then will remain of the Zionist dream?

Stup’s research took him often to the West Bank. He would come back to Tel Aviv and talk about Palestinian humiliation he’d seen and found that Israelis seemed unaware or unconcerned. He read in one newspaper that 53 percent of Israeli Jews would encourage Israeli Arabs to leave — “and I saw and felt that anecdotally.”

A painful question hardened: “Seeing what the occupation looked like, and given the ideals of Jewish democracy I was raised on, I wondered: Could Israel be failing and could we American Jews be defending that failure?”

It’s time to think again and, above all, think openly. Last month, Ben-Ami was scheduled to speak at a Reform Jewish synagogue, Temple Beth Avodah, in Newton, near Boston. At the last minute the event got canceled because of what the rabbi described as strong opposition from a “small, influential group” within the congregation.

Jewish groups, or Hillel societies, on U.S. campuses sometimes discover they will lose their biggest donors if they allow a J Street youth group to form within them.

Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking to the Jewish Federations of North America in New Orleans, was heckled by protesters holding banners suggesting the occupation and loyalty oaths de-legitimize Israel. Their banners were ripped (with teeth) and the young Jews dragged out. Where an important conversation could be held, confrontation prevails.

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