Mondoweiss

‘In every important way Israel has failed’– leading American Zionist says No mas

David Gordis

Israel is “a failure,” the Zionist dream has curdled into Jewish selfishness, a major Jewish leader writes in an important article published yesterday. “After a life and career devoted to Jewish community and Israel, I conclude that in every important way Israel has failed to realize its promise for me,” David Gordis states.

Gordis is a former executive at the American Jewish Committee, a central organization of the Israel lobby, and former president of the Hebrew College and a former vice president of the Jewish Theological Seminary. He published his article yesterday at Tikkun under the title, “Major American Jewish Leader Changes His Mind About Israel.”

Gordis, who is in his late 70s (and the uncle of rightwing Zionist Daniel Gordis), writes that he completely believed in Israel when it was founded and through his adult life, but that the spiral of that society into occupation and Jewish particularism has caused him to change his mind. It’s a political, spiritual and religious failure: Israel is “distorted by a fanatic, obscurantist and fundamentalist religion which encourages the worst behaviors rather than the best.”

His indictment includes American Jews. “The establishment leadership in the American Jewish community is silent in the face of this dismal situation, and there are no recognizable trends that can move Israel out of this quagmire.” Peter Beinart said this about the establishment four years ago while Max Blumenthal laid out the problem in Israel’s political culture in comprehensive detail in Goliath three years ago and was promptly censored by every mainstream organ, from NPR to the New Yorker to the New York Times to the cables and public television– yes; “Frontline” features Dennis Ross and Ari Shavit as its spokespeople on Israel, to make the funders happy.

Read Gordis’s article in full. Here are some excerpts:

The Israel of today is very far from anything I dreamed of and worked for throughout my career….

Jews had returned to the stage of history after the devastation of the Holocaust. Israel was to be the great laboratory for the rebirth of an ancient tradition in a new land and in a country committed to being a model of democracy and freedom for the world.

What happened? We can debate the reasons but the bottom line for me is that it has gone terribly wrong. On the positive side, Israel’s accomplishments have been remarkable.  Israel has created a thriving economy, and has been a refuge for hundreds of thousands of the displaced and the needy. Israel has generated a rich and diverse cultural life and its scientific and educational achievements have been exemplary. In spite of these achievements, however, Israel in my view has gone astray. And it in in the area for which Israel was created, as a Jewish state, embodying and enhancing Jewish values that I see this failure..

The political culture is rotten.

Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is nearing a half century in duration. Netanyahu’s “facts on the ground” steps to make a two-state solution impossible are bearing fruit, and there still appears to be no significant opposition to these policies in Israel itself. A number of smaller organizations supporting a two-state solution have emerged, notably J-Street and Americans for Peace Now, but recent steps by the Israeli government to delegitimize these groups are proceeding. The bottom line as I see it: The right has triumphed; the left has been defeated.

The spiritual culture is rotten. The Jewish experience balanced particularism and universalism traditionally. Not in Israel. The emphasis below is Gordis’s.

Present day Israel has discarded the rational, the universal and the visionary. These values have been subordinated to a cruel and oppressive occupation, an emphatic materialism, severe inequalities rivaling the worst in the western world and distorted by a fanatic, obscurantist and fundamentalist religion which encourages the worst behaviors rather than the best.

And most depressing of all for me, is that I see no way out, no way forward which will reverse the current reality. Right wing control in Israel is stronger and more entrenched than ever. The establishment leadership in the American Jewish community is silent in the face of this dismal situation, and there are no recognizable trends that can move Israel out of this quagmire. So, sadly, after a life and career devoted to Jewish community and Israel, I conclude that in every important way Israel has failed to realize its promise for me. A noble experiment, but a failure.

This article is a huge blow. Michael Walzer has had similar misgivings lately published in a book; but he has not stated the matter as emphatically as this. But I predict apres Gordis, the deluge.

Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun says that he published the article as submitted by Gordis, who is today a senior scholar at SUNY Albany:

We publish it with the same sadness that Gordis expresses at the end of this article, because many of us at Tikkun magazine shared the same hopes he expresses below for an Israel that would make Jews proud by becoming an embodiment of what is best in Jewish tradition, history, and ethics, rather than a manifestation of all the psychological and spiritual damage that has been done to our people, which now acts as an oppressor to the Palestinian people.

One last point. From his American Jewish Committee days, Gordis reflects that that Israel lobbying organization had political tensions built in.

its lay leadership tending center-right and its professional staff clearly center left.

This is always the tension in these organizations. Right now I bet J Street staff is composed of people who understand the failure of Israel, while the leadership clings to HaTikvah Zionism so as to influence the Democratic Party an iota. Americans for Peace Now surely has young staff who believe in one state.