‘Forward’ writer concedes that liberalism is at odds with ‘tribe-centered’ ‘prejudice’ necessary to Israel’s survival

I keep waiting for the Forward to review Jack Ross’s book, and interview Jack Ross about anti-Zionism. In the meantime, this progressive publication continues to publish pieces by liberals justifying intolerance. At least student Benjamin Resnick is aware of the contradictions, and sees the conflict: “there is a growing concern among contemporary Zionists that liberal-minded Jews will soon find themselves with a generation of rabbinic leaders whose commitment to the State of Israel is attenuated at best and downright hostile at worst.” And he acknowledges the repugnance of tribal prejudice along the way (emphasis mine). It’s his word: tribe-centered:

The fact is, liberal commitments and traditional Jewish commitments are in many ways incompatible. They conceptualize political freedom differently, civic responsibility differently, personhood differently and nationhood differently. The American political tradition, emerging from thinkers like John Rawls and Isaiah Berlin, generally construes political freedom as freedom from our fellow citizens (that is, as long as we don’t hurt anyone, we can more or less do as we please). But Jewish tradition, with its robust emphasis on norms of tzedakah and communal obligation, takes a more communitarian approach. …

while traditional Jewish life does a great job of solidifying group identity, it likewise creates a kind of insularity that, when combined with political and military power, can produce the kind of legal and religious prejudice at once anathema to liberal sensibilities and (in all likelihood) absolutely indispensable to preserving the “Jewish character” of the Jewish state.

Jews have, with good reason, been fierce proponents of liberal democratic states throughout history. But from the perspective of American civic participation, the communitarian, tribe-centered approach of both the religious Jew and the committed Zionist is a very radical notion. The ritually observant Jew commits herself to a life that separates socially, visually and physically from the surrounding world. And the liberal-minded Zionist, who is deeply, genuinely concerned about the welfare of the Palestinians and the fundamental “fellowship of man,” nonetheless affirms that the Jewish democratic state must maintain a Jewish majority and a “Jewish character.”

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 18 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. seafoid says:

    Jewish history and Israel today could have been so different if they had observed taqiyya in the past

    This is about the Alawis in Syria but it could be about AIPAC minus the taqiyya.

    link to nybooks.com

    “Like other sectarian groups they protected their tradition by a strategy known as taqiyya—the right to hide one’s true beliefs from outsiders in order to avoid persecution. Taqiyya makes a perfect qualification for membership in the mukhabarat—the ubiquitous intelligence/security apparatus that has dominated Syria’s government for more than four decades. Secrecy was also observed by means of a complex system of initiation, in which insiders recognized each other by using special phrases or passwords and neophytes underwent a form of spiritual marriage with the naqibs, or spiritual guides. It does not take much imagination to see how such beliefs, programmed into the community’s values for more than a millennium, and reinforced by customs such as endogamous marriage—according to which the children of unions between Nusayris and non-Nusayris cannot be initiated into the sect—create very strong notions of apartness and disdain for the “Other.”

    both the Israeli brand of Judaism and the alawi faith are fundamentally anathema to liberalism.

  2. Charon says:

    That’s why the liberal-minded Zionists just don’t get it. You cannot claim to be both liberal and Zionist. Was there ever such a thing as a liberal Nazi? “Yez, I sympathize with ze Jews but do not want zem in Germany” just doesn’t sound sincere at all.

    They hate being compared to Nazis but all we’re missing is a genocide (biological weapon, sterilization, nuclear, etc.) and they will forever be mentioned together in the same breath. That’s not a joke either, Google “nuke Gaza” and you’ll see that idea had many advocates in 2009, completely oblivious to the fact that the blast radius would destroy part of Israel and the fallout would be deadly for the rest.

    The idea behind having a Jewish state with a Jewish character and Jewish majority is dangerous. Depending on who you ask, being Jewish is a religion, a nationality (Israel being the nation), a lifestyle, a race etc. Therefore, it’s the same racist ideology as “White’s only” South Africa. Claiming it to be one’s nation despite the absence of its people for 1,400+ years is ridiculous. Historically, the Hebrew kingdoms were never were the whole of Israel. The most land they ever had lasted less than 70 years. Otherwise, they shared the land with many other people, even the Old Testament says that.

    Chaldeans/Assyrians don’t claim Iraq (or Babylon or Syria) as their nation you know. Maintaining a Jewish majority is going to require constant ethnic cleansing, baby making, and border shifting. Maintaining a Jewish character in the Holy Land of the three Abrahamic religions is a huge stretch, Christians would’ve never allowed it if Zionists didn’t poison the well by creating Dispensationalism.

  3. Its the inherent tension between nationalism and universalism.

    The presence of a tension is not an evil. Its just a tension, one that exists everywhere there is any national inclusion versus exclusion, on really any basis.

    • Patrick says:

      Liberal democracies emphasize univeralism within their own boundaries. In principle, all citizens of a liberal democracy are accorded equal rights under law. No less important, liberal democracies take measures and establish rights to protect against the tyranny of the majority. As a result, the majority can not vote and put in effect laws that violate the basic rights of some group of unchosen ones within their societies. It must be acknowledged that western democracies do not always live up to these ideals. Neverthessless they are committed to them in principal.

      Israel, on the other hand, is committed to no such principles, and it is plainly not a liberal democracy. It was created as a state that accords favoured special status to one group, the Jewish majority. By the same token, it discriminates in law and in the allocation of resources against its minorities. Israel is a democracy only in the sense that it holds votes and has majority rule. But it is an ethnic/religious democracy which makes it qualitatively different than the liberal democracies of the West.

    • libra says:

      RW: “Its the inherent tension between nationalism and universalism.

      Richard, as a “liberal Zionist” you seem to have solved this conundrum rather than well. In America, you claim your universal rights along with every other citizen in keeping with your liberalism. In Israel you claim your national rights in keeping with your Zionism despite being neither a resident or a citizen.

      Indeed, rather than any inherent tension, I would say there is notable lack of tension in the manner you hold these two, both morally and intellectually, contradictory positions.

  4. Kathleen says:

    “The fact is, liberal commitments and traditional Jewish commitments are in many ways incompatible.” Duh

    For heavens sake this has been a long time coming. Better late than never as they say

  5. American says:

    Would most US Jews be liberal– if liberalism wasn’t ‘good for the Jews’?
    Maybe that’s the question.
    Liberal good for Jews in other countries, not good for Jews inside of Israel.
    Eat cake and have it to. Hypocritical.

  6. hophmi says:

    Immediately after “”there is a growing concern among contemporary Zionists that liberal-minded Jews will soon find themselves with a generation of rabbinic leaders whose commitment to the State of Israel is attenuated at best and downright hostile at worst” he says:

    “These concerns, voiced especially by Daniel Gordis, a popular thinker and writer, have been vastly overstated…”

    Again, basic honesty.

    • Chaos4700 says:

      Excuse me, but aren’t you the right-winger who actively condemns liberalism at every turn? And what, now that you need to run interference for Zionist friends, your tune changes? “Basic honesty” my ass.

      Did you find those nukes in Iraq yet?

  7. Les says:

    Had it been Jesus of Baghdad rather than Jerusalem, how different our world view would be. Christians and Jews would be fully aware that Jews were from different places in the Middle East and in the world. With that same recognition, Zionists would have no particular need to seize Palestine to establish its Jewish state. As it is, the essential prophets Isaiah, Ezekial, and Jeremiah, are identified not with the Kingdom of Israel but with its enemy and rival to the south, the Kingdom of Judah.

    • Chaos4700 says:

      It wouldn’t matter. Half the time, Zionists pretend to be “secular” and the other half they make shit up. Jesus Christ and the other prophets could have said they were sent from Mars, and Israelis would be wearing deelee-boppers and talking about their “mandate from the heavens.”

  8. RoHa says:

    “traditional Jewish life does a great job of solidifying group identity”

    That sounds as though the writer thinks “group identity” is a good thing. Why would it be good?

    “The ritually observant Jew commits herself to a life that separates socially, visually and physically from the surrounding world.”

    Which suggests that the Jewish religion (along with other separatist religions) might not be a good idea.

    • annie says:

      monks do it and i have no problem w/them. if someone wants to cut themselves off from the surrounding world who am i to stop them. unless they do it on stolen land.

      • RoHa says:

        Monks stay in their monasteries*, but they do not deny their moral obligations to the society they live in.

        Followers of separatist religions live among the rest of us, yet refuse to be part of society.

        *Buddhist monks come out to receive alms in the mornings.