The liberal Zionist crisis — white nationalists are villains, but settlers are ‘complex’

US Politics
on 16 Comments

Last week I wrote about the liberal Zionists’ contradiction. They are eloquent critics of the racism that Trump is fostering in the US; but they can’t find that voice when it comes to Jim Crow and apartheid fostered by Jewish nationalism in Israel. And the contradiction is plain for all to see.

Here’s another example. I make it a point to hear Yehuda Kurtzer speak at J Street and other Jewish spaces. He is a very smart guy and very positive. While he’s too Jewish-communitarian for my taste (the touchstones of his judgments are Jewish referents rather than universalist ones), he’s an idealist who addresses Israel’s crisis.

Yehuda Kurtzer, photo from AIPAC website

So I was disturbed to discover on his Facebook page from June a promotion of a visit to rightwing “hilltop” settlements in the Occupied West Bank to get to know those folks better, sponsored by the Shalom Hartman Institute, of which Kurtzer is an executive. Kurtzer wrote then that the tour was available to 200 visiting North American Jewish lay leaders as a way of “engaging with the complexities of modern Israel:”

Around a quarter of [Shalom Hartman participants today] are on the trip to Shiloh and its environs, trying to understand the roots and legacies of the Gush Emunim movement. They are doing this not because the settler movement accords with their politics and values, though for some that is probably the case; they are out doing this because they understand that to be in relationship, in serious and committed relationship, with the State of Israel requires a real reckoning with its complexities, its history and its values even when – especially when – those values conflict with their own. They do this because they know, as does much of American Jewish leadership, that sustaining a relationship with the State of Israel in spite of geographical difference, diverging ideological trends, and a growing chasm of world views, requires of them a deep commitment to understanding Israeli society and the humility involved in trying to stay in relationship to it.

Shalom Hartman Institute tour of Shiloh and hilltop settlements, June 2017, photo from Yehuda Kurtzer’s Facebook page.

All those settlements are illegal under international law; and an obstacle the Israeli government created to Palestinian sovereignty. They are home to people who terrorize Palestinians. One hilltop on the “dialogue” tour Kurtzer promotes is featured in this excellent documentary that shows the residents to be crazed and intolerant religious zealots. Another of these outposts is associated with “pricetag” attacks on Palestinians, cutting down their olive trees. Another was featured in the Daily Beast coverage of the massacre of a Palestinian family in a nearby village by settler youth in 2015.

As the Times of Israel noted last week: these are segregationist communities [my emphasis]:

Bat Ayin is home to a staunchly nationalistic community that, as a policy, does not allow Arabs through its gates. Residents have been involved in a number of attacks on Palestinians and their property in the past.

I am not convinced that “humility” and a “deep commitment” to Israeli society and “sustaining a relationship” to Israel entails lunching with these people and getting to know them and recognizing the “complexities” of their lives.

Now compare Kurtzer’s laissez-faire attitude about Israeli settlers to his sense of the emergency represented by Charlottesville. He wrote this on August 13, about the “sick morning” following the neo-Nazi rally:

“Never Forget” may be periodically trivialized by its overuse, but it is absolutely and scandalously undermined by its *underuse* – specifically, when we fail to map its warnings against the real and present dangers of its being rendered into a lie….

[W]hether it comes to devaluing our own victimhood, or denying the parts we play in allowing our societies to be villainous towards others, this central slogan sourced violently from the modern Jewish experience is now tested by our willingness to take it seriously in our politics, our activism, and our moral and political vigilance. Let’s hope it is a real thing.

Wouldn’t speaking out against against the role “we play in allowing our societies to be villainous towards others” mean condemning and exposing the settler movement, not seeking to understand it? Peter Beinart has been a leader on this score, inside the Jewish community.

Compare Kurtzer’s reaching out to the settlers to what longtime peace activist Bob Loeb said on first visiting Israel in the late 60’s (in an interview with Aliza Becker of the American Jewish Peace Archive):

I found the attitudes toward Palestinians in direct contradiction to everything that I had been struggling for in the States in terms of civil rights. It just didn’t make any sense.

That’s not hard to understand. And it’s more true than ever 50 years later.

Correction: This post originally called Kurtzer a rabbi. 

 

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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16 Responses

  1. John O
    August 26, 2017, 12:34 pm

    Interesting article in today’s Guardian from columnist Hadley Freeman:

    “These are strange times for liberal Jews who, like me, were born in America only because their grandparents ran there to escape fascism. Now we find ourselves citizens of a country where the president prefers to attack the press than actual Nazis.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/26/great-uncle-alienated-postwar-france-americans

  2. Keith
    August 26, 2017, 3:28 pm

    BOB LOEB- “I found the attitudes toward Palestinians in direct contradiction to everything that I had been struggling for in the States in terms of civil rights. It just didn’t make any sense.”

    Didn’t make any sense? Come on Bob (if you are still around), take off the ideological blinders and engage in some honest introspection and it will make perfect sense.

  3. Keith
    August 26, 2017, 3:38 pm

    RABBI YEHUDA KURTZER- “…they are out doing this because they understand that to be in relationship, in serious and committed relationship, with the State of Israel requires a real reckoning with its complexities, its history and its values even when – especially when – those values conflict with their own.”

    We hear you, Rabbi. Jewish Zionist solidarity uber alles.

    • John O
      August 26, 2017, 5:22 pm

      Quite. Sometimes it’s just so hard to leave your abuser.

    • Annie Robbins
      August 26, 2017, 5:38 pm

      to be in relationship, in serious and committed relationship, with the State

      that sounds like hell.

      • Stephen Shenfield
        August 26, 2017, 7:54 pm

        “A serious and committed relationship with the State” = my State, right or wrong. No separation, no divorce

  4. Citizen
    August 26, 2017, 7:17 pm

    My understanding of Peter Beinhart and the web site he founded is that he was an Irish baby adopted by Jewish Zionists who was PEP to the core–anybody else?

  5. JosephA
    August 27, 2017, 1:46 am

    I don’t try to engage with racist white supremacist Christians, so why try to engage with racist white supremacist zionists?

  6. yonah fredman
    August 27, 2017, 2:27 pm

    The roles of Peter Beinart, individual, and Yehuda Kurtzer as representative of the Shalom Hartman Institute are very different. Without parsing the specifics of the event, it sounds like rabbis are coming to Israel in a group run by the Hartman Institute and are being brought to meet, talk, even dine with West Bank settlers. When Phil Weiss travels to the settlements, this is okay, because it serves a journalistic purpose, but when the Hartman Institute arranges for such travel it is suddenly forbidden. How are these rabbis supposed to learn about the settlers, by reading Mondoweiss? of course not. they need to form their own opinions by talking to the settlers.

    the rhetoric used to justify such a visit, regarding complexity and such, is background noise and opportunity for sniping, but the major fact is the meeting with the settlers and that meeting is totally justified on the basis of obtaining knowledge.

  7. JLewisDickerson
    August 27, 2017, 4:43 pm

    RE: I am not convinced that “humility” and a “deep commitment” to Israeli society and “sustaining a relationship” to Israel entails lunching with these people [i.e., hilltop youth] and getting to know them and recognizing the “complexities” of their lives. ~ Weiss

    SEE: “Who Taught the Jewish Radical Settler Youth to Celebrate Murder?” | by Samuel Heilman | Haaretz.com | December 24, 2015
    It’s now clear from the shocking video of hilltop youth celebrating the Dawabsheh infant’s murder that incitement to hatred is being taught in Israel’s religious Jewish education system.

    [EXCERPT] The news in Israel this morning is filled with shocked reactions to a video broadcast on a national TV channel of celebrations at a wedding attended by the so-called ‘hilltop youth’. We see yarmulke-clad young men dancing, their long earlocks flying, some with rifles in the air, and one with a knife with which he is skewering a photo of the infant from the Dawabsheh family who was burnt to death in an arson attack by suspected Jewish terrorists. A number of young people from this same group of ‘revelers’ are currently under arrest and undergoing interrogation for their part in the murder.

    The claims made previously by right-wingers connected to the hilltop youth, to the effect that the Dawabshehs were killed by a fire caused by an electrical malfunction in their house, or that they were the victims of an intra-Arab feud rather than of Jewish terrorists, are undermined by this film.

    The images suggest that, if nothing else, these dancers see the murder of the innocent Dawabsheh child as something to celebrate, and the use of the knife to hold the picture up as a way of symbolically suggesting that as an act of revenge for Palestinian knife attacks, it is a murder that can be justified. . .

    SOURCE – http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.693639

    Jewish Radicals Celebrating Wedding by Stabbing Photo of Dawabsheh Baby

    Published on Dec 23, 2015
    Video Shows Jewish Radicals Celebrating Wedding by Stabbing Photo of Dawabsheh Baby – Credit Channel 10
    For the Full article at Haaretz.com:
    http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.693528

  8. Jeff Klein
    August 28, 2017, 12:30 am

    In Boston, pro-Israel organizations joined the public actions advocating against Trump’s Muslim ban and in favor of allowing Syrian refugees into the US — while the state they back refuses to allow Palestinian refugees even to return to their own homes. No sense of irony there.

  9. Elizabeth Block
    August 28, 2017, 10:04 am

    I am old enough to remember comments that segregationist Southerners were really nice people, who extended Southern hospitality, etc etc etc. Perfectly true. And so what? Does that make their opinions, not to mention their actions, OK? I’m sure lots of Nazis were good neighbours, kind parents, faithful spouses, dutiful sons and daughters. Think about it.

  10. amigo
    August 28, 2017, 10:19 am

    What can one expect from people who live in “Jews only ” Complexes.

    Does anyone know if these Rabbis are being brought to meet with the Palestinians , as well as the , (note Yonah ) , “Illegal ” Settlers–aka squatters and land thieves , among other crimes perpetrated on a daily basis.

    Sure they are complex.Most criminals are and if the Rabbis are interested in learning about these scum , then ask the people who are their victims.

    Your whining Yonah is as usual based on a biased view. Not much daylight between you and these Rabbis.

    • yonah fredman
      August 28, 2017, 1:01 pm

      amigo- with this much I agree, the tour should include meeting aggrieved Palestinians.

      • amigo
        August 28, 2017, 3:50 pm

        Good Yonah , now write one of your long dissertations demonstrating your unfettered commitment to a balanced approach to this issue.

        Also , thanks for admitting you have no use for international law and view the theft of other peoples land as Legal.

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