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‘It is Zionist to think that American Jews have any connection to Israel’

Israel/Palestine
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MJ Rosenberg posted the following story on his site, under the headline, “Jewish college kid beats the crap out of me on Israel.”

I was on the bus, returning to Washington from New York where I spent Yom Kippur.

I wouldn’t have talked to the kid next to me him except I could not find the outlet near my seat to charge my phone. He saw me struggling and helped me find it. (It was camouflaged under the seat in front of mine).  We started to talk and, after I told him I had been in Manhattan for the Jewish holiday, he said that he had been there for the same reason.

We talked about Georgetown and why he chose to go there and then he asked me what I did.

I told him “my story” which led him to say that he had no interest in the Middle East at all. His issue was income inequality in the United States.

Nonetheless, he was fairly knowledgeable about the Middle East. As the conversation went on, I discovered he was fairly knowledgeable about everything. Judging from his looks I’d have taken him for a jock or a preppy but he seemed more intellectual than either of those categories would suggest.

After telling him about my odyssey from AIPAC to critic of both AIPAC and Israel, he said this (paraphrase, obviously):

“I don’t get it. I’m Jewish but Israel is not important to me. I live here and I’d like to help out people who live here. 46 million Americans live in poverty and the situation keeps getting worse and worse. In fact, this country keeps getting worse.  Why should I worry about Israel?”

I explained why and he said:

“You may not realize it, but your premise is Zionist. You think Jews are, by definition, connected to Israel and have to care about it. But that isn’t who I am.  I’m an American kid whose religion is Jewish. Period. I have no obligation to Israel or to Palestinians because I feel no connection to either. I feel that as a privileged American I do have an obligation to Americans who aren’t privileged. I’m not saying I don’t care about people in other countries. I do.

Maybe some day I will think about Israel more than I do. But, just as likely, I’ll care about poverty in Latin America. As for your point that America is responsible for Palestinian suffering by sending aid to Israel, I agree. But how does that make the situation unique? As a taxpayer, actually  a future US taxpayer, I will be contributing to all kinds of terrible things everywhere. But my being Jewish has nothing to do with it. It’s not like I would ever take a Birthright trip! I don’t consider Israel to be my birthright.”

I asked him if he was typical of his friends. He said that he was.

“The Jewish kids who are deeply involved with Israel or Palestinians are sort of the same kids. They accept your premise that they are connected to that place. I don’t and most of my friends don’t either. I’d say we are post-national. America is our country because we live here. Period. It’s home. But then we travel, see the world, and want to help other people, at least some of us do. But Israel is not special to us and neither are Palestinians.

“You, MJ, are a Zionist. You think I have an obligation to try to stop the occupation because of my religion. To me, that is no different than telling me I have to support Netanyahu because of my religion. I see no difference. It is outmoded thinking.  Tell me why Israel and Palestine is any more my problem than that of any other American my age, or why I should think about it anymore than I think about the treatment of women in India. I have the right to choose the issues I care about and work to solve, don’t I? Or does my being Jewish mean I have my choice made for me? Show me where I’m wrong? I’m sure that if you were 20, you would feel the exact same way. Am I right?”

I had no response.

MJ Rosenberg
About M.J. Rosenberg

M.J. Rosenberg served as a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow with Media Matters Action Network, and prior to that worked on Capitol Hill for various Democratic members of the House and Senate for 15 years. He was also a Clinton political appointee at USAID. In the early 1980s, he was editor of AIPACs weekly newsletter Near East Report. From 1998-2009, he was director of policy at Israel Policy Forum. You can follow his work at mjayrosenberg.com.

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60 Responses

  1. peterfeld
    peterfeld
    September 19, 2013, 6:41 pm

    That kid gives me hope for the future.

    • Krauss
      Krauss
      September 20, 2013, 12:12 am

      Time to be a debbie downer.

      The stats show overwhelmingly and the Jewish kids disconnected to Israel are also typically disconnected to Judaism. He may have been an outlier there. Many, if not most, are also children of intermarried families.

      Jews who have a relatively high engagement with Judaism are strongly Zionist. The Jewish Federations of North America have made a number of conclusive studies on this and they’ve been backed up by other organizations doing dispassionate work.

      Furthermore, while I like his attitude and acceptance as an American first and foremost, he must understand that things are done in his name passively and the American Jewish Establishment is doing things that he, with other young Jews, could organize to prevent. I understand he feels no connection to Israel but American Jews have a lot more sway over the Israeli government than is usually assumed. It’s American Jews who give protection to Israeli apartheid inside the U.S. discourse, and make significant organizational and donor support for candidates to be uncritical of Israeli apartheid. This could change if there was a strong grassroots efforts by Jews like him – and he’s probably the same age as me – instead of just washing his hands off it.

      That’s my attitude at least, you must engage in this even if you’re not a Zionist at heart because that’s where the majority Jewish concensus is and just turning a blind eye to it won’t affect change.

      • German Lefty
        German Lefty
        September 22, 2013, 10:16 am

        he’s probably the same age as me

        Really? You are just 20!? I had always assumed that you were 60 or 70.

    • SQ Debris
      SQ Debris
      September 21, 2013, 5:07 pm

      He is suffering from hipster-myopia. There is no single sustained conflict on which U.S. finger prints are so indelibly etched, from Foreign aid, to weapons, to U.N. Security Council vetoes. It’s very nice that he cares about America’s poor. Maybe they’d be better off if we hadn’t sent a 100+ billion tax payer dollars to assist in the genocide of Palestine. Beyond that, Zionism threatens his life and the lives of Jews the world round through its incitements.

  2. radii
    radii
    September 19, 2013, 6:53 pm

    this generational shift among young U.S. jews is what will save America from the zionists – they see through the propaganda and manipulations and certainly see clearly the deleterious effects upon U.S. foreign policy and jews everywhere … blowback is a bitch and the zionists in israel seem not to care

    a fundamental shift is occurring – power is going to flow from israel to U.S. jews and they will be in the driver’s seat regarding U.S.-israel relations and nearly all U.S. jews know that America has been very very good for jews and since WWII ended the following decades saw the most freedom, least persecution, most economic and political advancement and greatest mobility (except the muslim nations) for jews globally … and zionism is putting all those gains at risk for the regional superpower goals of core group of zionist-nationalists

    the settlers and hardcore fundamentalist types may have bred themselves into real power within israel, but they are pretty much despised by everyone else, including most American jews

  3. Stephen Shenfield
    Stephen Shenfield
    September 19, 2013, 6:58 pm

    I think there is a valid counterargument — namely, that we can have a greater effect by focusing on issues where we can make more of a difference. Israel claims legitimacy by speaking and acting in the name of Jews, so Jews are in a position to weaken and undermine that claim by publicly declaring: “Not in my name!” If terrible things are being done in our name, isn’t it especially incumbent on us to protest? Of course, that includes terrible things being done in our name as Americans too. On other issues — the caste system in India, say — we are not in a position to have that sort of impact, either as Jews or as Americans.

    • American
      American
      September 19, 2013, 9:13 pm

      ‘If terrible things are being done in our name, isn’t it especially incumbent on us to protest”’….Stephen

      Well, yes and no.
      Since is being done in the name of Jews maybe yes.
      But then again if he’s just religious and doesnt have any kind of strong ethnic-people type identity you cant say because you are Jewish (religiously) you need to do something about this.
      There are Jews like that, the Jews I know are, they are religious and thats the extent of their Jewishness— they’ve never been to Israel, dont care about Israel, dont talk about Israel, if Israel comes up they act very ‘exasperated’ or dismissive of it, like they have no use for the whole Jewish State thing.

      • Stephen Shenfield
        Stephen Shenfield
        September 20, 2013, 3:52 pm

        Israel calls itself a Jewish state and claims to speak in the name of Jews however defined (ethnic, cultural, religious — whatever). Anyone who is regarded as Jewish by others has a chance of attracting the attention of those others and influencing them, at least to the extent of raising a little doubt in their minds regarding the dominant assumptions about Jews and Israel, by taking a public stand against Israel. Not necessarily devoting a lot of time to it — just occasionally taking a stand when the opportunity arises. I still think it is a duty to do that.

        Actually, for a considerable stretch of my life I was like the “exasperated” and “dismissive” Jews you know, but it now seems to me like a cop-out. I didn’t support Israel but I no longer wanted to pay the price of openly opposing it. I pretended (including to myself) that I didn’t particularly care about the whole issue one way or the other, but that was only a cover for cowardice.

      • American
        American
        September 20, 2013, 4:44 pm

        @ Stephen

        Well if I were jewish I would be very involved in it lke you are —or just because of the Judaism connection to Jews if I were relgous….but I guess it is also an individual thing….some people just dont go out of their way to get involved in anything. The Jews here woudn’t have anything to lose by coming out against I/P or Israel or the whole US-Isr scheme since this area trends liberaterian and to ‘old fashioned’ sort of moderate conservative. I cant say for absolute why the Jews I know dont get involved, every time I ever tried to broach it I got the sense the whole thing was ’embarrasing” to them ‘personally’ so I dont bring it up any more just out of decent manners. If I knew one who was a actual ‘supporter’ then I would get into with him like do with anyone else.

      • German Lefty
        German Lefty
        September 22, 2013, 10:31 am

        every time I ever tried to broach it I got the sense the whole thing was ‘embarrasing” to them ‘personally’

        That’s really strange. If they don’t support Zionism, then there’s no reason for them to be embarrassed. It’s not their fault that Zionists misuse Judaism and commit crimes in the name of “the Jewish people”. However, they could do something against it by being vocal about it.

      • Xpat
        Xpat
        September 22, 2013, 10:42 pm

        GL – I think I understand “American”‘s Jewish friends. Most Jews are embarrassed to show their Jewishness in public. That has changed somewhat in recent years but wrt Israel it remains. Israel is Jewish; Israel is also deeply embarrassing. And because they feel disempowered/ unqualified /guilty or just don’t care, these Jews would rather not talk about it and certainly don’t want to be identified with Israel.

      • German Lefty
        German Lefty
        September 22, 2013, 10:24 am

        If Israel comes up they act very ‘exasperated’ or dismissive of it, like they have no use for the whole Jewish State thing.

        Well, they should direct their exasperation at Israel, because it’s Israel that claims to speak for “the Jewish people”. As soon as Israel stops misusing Jewishness, US Jews won’t be bugged about Israel anymore.

  4. just
    just
    September 19, 2013, 7:03 pm

    Wow.

    My goodness, one can only hope that all 20 yr olds become as evolved.

    “As for your point that America is responsible for Palestinian suffering by sending aid to Israel, I agree. But how does that make the situation unique? As a taxpayer, actually a future US taxpayer, I will be contributing to all kinds of terrible things everywhere. But my being Jewish has nothing to do with it. It’s not like I would ever take a Birthright trip! I don’t consider Israel to be my birthright.””

    It’s a bit more than aid, but it’s nevertheless refreshing to see this new way of thinking wrt Israel. I think it’s up to us older folks to make the justice happen……… if we lead they will follow.

    “I have the right to choose the issues I care about and work to solve, don’t I? Or does my being Jewish mean I have my choice made for me? Show me where I’m wrong?”

    He’s right.

    • Les
      Les
      September 19, 2013, 7:34 pm

      How liberating it must be to accept that being Jewish is not a burden.

      • bilal a
        bilal a
        September 19, 2013, 8:42 pm

        This is opportunistic and quite cynical , ‘I’m not responsible for what the organized pan zionist-jewish community does, but I’ll take all the networking benefits. Thanks.’

        seems a rehearsed frat boy rebuttal.

      • tokyobk
        tokyobk
        September 19, 2013, 9:11 pm

        bilial, which networking benefits would those be and why do you assume he is taking advantage of them?

        He goes to a Catholic founded university and, frankly, he is riding the bus between cities which is a perfectly normal thing to do but not exactly a privileged class marker.

      • tree
        tree
        September 20, 2013, 1:40 pm

        …frankly, he is riding the bus between cities which is a perfectly normal thing to dobut not exactly a privileged class marker.

        tokyobk, the young man self-identified as privileged.

        “I feel that as a privileged American I do have an obligation to Americans who aren’t privileged.”

      • German Lefty
        German Lefty
        September 22, 2013, 10:35 am

        How liberating it must be to accept that being Jewish is not a burden.
        Really? As long as the Zionist regime exists, I view Jewishness as a burden. Therefore, I am relieved that I am not a Jew.

    • seafoid
      seafoid
      September 20, 2013, 4:53 am

      “One can only hope that all 20 yr olds become as evolved.”

      Most of them won’t, I bet. The guy is an intellectual. He probably couldn’t care less about Miley Cyrus or tribal loyalties or American exceptionalism or Jewish genius . Every society has these kinds of people in small numbers.

      “One way of looking at the history of the human group is that it has been a continuing struggle against the veneration of “crap.”―Neil Postman

      And Zionism is Jewish crap par excellence

  5. traintosiberia
    traintosiberia
    September 19, 2013, 7:44 pm

    I endorse the argumnets offered by this young kid. I hope he raises same objection to those office seekers ( mayoral,council, legislative and presidential ) when they come out portraying themselves as Israeli supporters or want bail out Isreal when the city he lives in needs bail out .

  6. annie
    annie
    September 19, 2013, 8:20 pm

    i agree w/the kid and i’ve made the same argument in these comment threads. israel is an american problem, not an exclusively jewish problem, nor should it fall to american jews to fix this problem. we, americans, made it happen, we allowed it to happen, we supported it every step of the way and as a result we should all fix it. anyone sitting around blaming american jews and expecting them to fix it is a fool.

  7. eljay
    eljay
    September 19, 2013, 8:57 pm

    You think Jews are, by definition, connected to Israel and have to care about it. But that isn’t who I am. I’m an American kid whose religion is Jewish. Period. I have no obligation to Israel or to Palestinians because I feel no connection to either. I feel that as a privileged American I do have an obligation to Americans who aren’t privileged. I’m not saying I don’t care about people in other countries. I do.
    . . .

    America is our country because we live here. Period. It’s home.

    Beautiful!

  8. wondering jew
    wondering jew
    September 19, 2013, 9:13 pm

    For Jews whose Yom Kippur doesn’t involve reading Jewish texts or only select texts, but not those in the prayer book, the above makes sense. Certainly one can repent and fast in order to get closer to the creator and not care about Jews in Israel more than one cares about anyone else anywhere else on the globe. (There is a concept regarding poverty that explicitly states: The poor of your city have priority over the poor of other cities. So in that regard the kid is right and MJ’s lack of an answer is right too.)

    But if one reads the prayer book and takes the words seriously, then the kid’s apathy towards the fate of the Jews of Israel is wrong. Concern for peace for Israel, concern for fellow Jews, pervade the daily prayers of Jews and certainly are very present in the prayers of Yom Kippur as well. The final line of the Yom Kippur prayer is “Next Year in Jerusalem”. Of course we can do the limbo and interpret the words as meaningless and Jerusalem as an idea rather than a place in the here and now, or in the here and soon (next year), but that does not change the facts. The Jewish religion is filled with constant impulses (commands and prayers) to concern oneself with the fate of one’s fellow Jews. (Of course I am familiar with the prayer book used for thousands of years rather than the Reform prayer book of much shorter duration. Maybe the Reform skip the line “Next year in Jerusalem” or translate it into meaninglessness. Maybe the Reform have deracinated the Yom Kippur prayers. I doubt that the text of the Reform prayer book is as deracinated as this kid makes it out to be.) I think the kid really doesn’t read the prayers of Yom Kippur, as written in the prayer book, with any degree of seriousness other than aloofness and apathy. I am proud that he is devoted to helping the poor of his city. That is great. And Isaiah and many of those other ancient Israelite holy men always said that morality is more important than ritual and to a degree, far away Jews are more a ritualistic “burden” “responsibility” “connection” rather than a moral one. But to pretend that Judaism says nothing about concern for other Jews who live far away, is to pretend that Judaism was invented 200 years ago in post Mendelssohn Germany. There is plenty in Judaism that can help the world or the individual even if it is denuded of its “national” (concern for fellow coreligionist) content. But I would argue that this is a form of post Judaism and not Judaism itself. Apathy towards the Jews of Israel is not a Jewish concept.

    Marc Ellis has the self regard or self confidence to label his rejection of Zionism and the Zionism of the mainstream (older) Judaisms, as Jews of Conscience. But now we have a new category: Jews of Apathy. Phil Weiss promotes it by his: hopefully soon the Jews in America will treat the Jews of Israel as they deserve to be treated: as foreign yokels and now we have MJ Rosenburg selling the same “Jews of Apathy” as the new paradigm that will save Judaism from Zionism.

    • Byzantium
      Byzantium
      September 20, 2013, 5:19 am

      Hi Yonah

      I actually have to disagree with you a bit. The modern prayer books used in the Reform movement were developed after the movement’s (institutional) turn to Zionism and thus are more likely to be pro-Zionist (i.e. viewing Jerusalem literally and so on). The Reform liturgy you are thinking of probably dates from the 1800s.

      As far as the traditional Orthodox liturgy goes, this is actually inherently anti-Zionist. As you know, the text dates from long before the creation of the State of Israel and in no way refers to it or anything like it. References to Israel usually mean “k’lal yisrael” or the Jewish people rather than a country, and while the references to Jerusalem indeed indicate the actual city, its re-occupation by Jews according to Orthodox tradition could only be done as part of a larger messianic redemption. Thus “next year in Jerusalem” expresses a wish for the coming of the messiah and the refounding of the ancient kingdom of David, not the creation of a military state by a group of atheist Europeans.

      It is exactly this conflation of Judaism and Zionism that is the problem. By all means be a Zionist if you must, but keep religion out of it.

      • wondering jew
        wondering jew
        September 21, 2013, 12:57 am

        Hello Byzantium,

        I ate with some religious Jews tonight and after we broke bread in the sukka and ate, we blessed, for one is commanded to bless after one eats. And the third blessing is for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. I can imagine Jews living 200 years ago and for whom the blessing was merely a wish for the Messianic future. But today there is a reality on the ground. If one is aware of that reality, is one for it or against it? (Or is one’s opinion not easily summarized in “for” or “against.”)

        Yes, klal Yisrael, for sure. And today a large percentage of klal Yisrael lives in the place called Israel, whose system is Zionist. For or against?

        I explicitly mentioned Marc Ellis to point out that he is not the topic of my protest. He is against or in a more nuanced fashion, he is for a new consciousness of the sins against the Palestinians and for a better future. But he is not apathetic. Can one think of Klal Yisrael or of Jerusalem and not think of facts on the ground? Can one think of facts on the ground and be oblivious and apathetic? Is that a Jewish idea?

    • ziusudra
      ziusudra
      September 20, 2013, 5:33 am

      Greetings Jonah Fredman,
      Perhaps Ideological Zionism deracinated Judaism?
      Perhaps Judaism deracinated the concepts of Abraham?
      Why did the Pharisees chose the figure Judah & not Abraham?
      Abraham is the bringer of the concept of Anthropo Theism.
      Isn’t more recognizable as, i am an Abrahamist instead of Judaist?
      Judah was a son of Jacob, the father of 12 sons & their eponymous
      tribal names. Jacob gives leadership to Judah of the tribes on his deathbed.
      We remember that Abraham went to Canaan in 1700BC. The tribes didn’t
      arrive until 1200BC. They missed him by 500yrs! They ne’er met him! They
      learned, accepted & Judaised Abraham from the Canaanites!
      Let’s say i have an ethnicity of ancient Rome & Macedonia.
      I have & i went thru’ catholic school from 7 to 13 in the US.
      Does longevity play a role?
      Is my identity son of ancient Empires? poo pot!
      Is my identity son of Catholicism? poo pot!
      Zionism will go on demonizing Jews for not accepting Zionism
      as part & parcel till the cows come home.
      …. concern for peace in Israel ……..
      What have the Governments of the Zios since 48 done to enable peace?
      Zionistan its powerful militarily having trillions of sheckels to boot that
      they could unilaterally declare peace moving back to the 67 borders w/o
      any fear of Annihilation!
      … next year in Jerusalem……
      Is a 19th C. Expression in Europeas with Semite 1847 for Afro/Asian speaking People & culture, as with Zionism 1865/1890 having no historical meaning to
      the Sephardi who began migrating to Europe 200BC to 1200AD.
      ziusudra
      PS This Young man is not only right, but perfectly at peace with himself.
      That is ‘Menschkeit’

  9. RoHa
    RoHa
    September 19, 2013, 9:25 pm

    “I live here and I’d like to help out people who live here. 46 million Americans live in poverty and the situation keeps getting worse and worse. In fact, this country keeps getting worse. Why should I worry about Israel?”

    “You think Jews are, by definition, connected to Israel and have to care about it. But that isn’t who I am. I’m an American kid whose religion is Jewish. Period. ”

    “America is our country because we live here. Period. It’s home. ”

    Horrors! An American caring about America! This kid is in need of some serious brainwashing.

  10. Xpat
    Xpat
    September 19, 2013, 11:17 pm

    After telling him about my odyssey from AIPAC to critic of both AIPAC and Israel, he said this (paraphrase, obviously):

    “I don’t get it. I’m Jewish but Israel is not important to me.

    So, MJ Rosenberg told his story from AIPAC staffer to AIPAC critic and this bright, young man got defensive. Why? MJ didn’t start by telling him he expected others to have the same commitment that comes from his own personal history.

    OTOH, I disagree with Stephen’s conclusion that, just because, as a Jew, one has a bigger voice on Israel than elsewhere, that one should necessarily use that voice. Since there are only so many hours in the day and there are so many pressing issues (as the young man noted), that cannot be the only criterion.

    You may not realize it, but your premise is Zionist. You think Jews are, by definition, connected to Israel and have to care about it

    For a Jew to care about Israel is to be Zionist?! This is bizarre.
    Caring about other Jews is written into Jewish religious and cultural practice. (e.g. historical religious obligations of pilgrimage, half shekel donation etc. current standard Jewish practice of recognizing and praying for the Land of Israel throughout liturgy, many other details of religious practice + many commandments related to being responsible for the actions of other Jews)

    Specifically, Jews outside the Land of Israel (to use the Jewish term) cared about Jews in the Land of Israel since the birth of Judaism, long, long before Zionism came on the scene. Does Zionism negate all of Jewish history? That, in itself, is a Zionist argument!

    Taking this a step further, for those who agree that a Jew need not care about Israel, how about a Jew who is involved in Jewish organizations and Jewish politics, such as a Jewish community leader or a rabbi? Being Jewish in America is so wrapped up with being pro-Israel that, unless you actively oppose it, you will be taken as a supporter. And if you allow that perception to go unchallenged, then you actually are a supporter.

    • yrn
      yrn
      September 20, 2013, 2:13 am

      That’s it so
      All of you Jews who care about Israel are Zionist.
      And if you don’t care about Israel, you don’t care about the Jews in Israel, but as
      “Caring about other Jews is written into Jewish religious and cultural practice. ”
      it makes you a bad Jew.

      • Xpat
        Xpat
        September 20, 2013, 8:37 am

        @yrn – well, that wasn’t my point at all. To care about other Jews also means to care about their souls (e.g. mitzvat tochecha) and the damage one of yours does to others. Not to mention that Israelis are jeopardizing both body and soul.
        Caring about other Jews predates Zionism by, say, two to three thousand years and has been a consistent value ever since. Paradoxically, the argument that to care about Israel is to be a Zionist accepts the premise of Zionism. i.e. that Zionism supersedes Judaism and becomes Judaism.

      • German Lefty
        German Lefty
        September 22, 2013, 11:13 am

        All of you Jews who care about Israel are Zionist.

        There are different ways of caring about Israel. Zionists care about Israel in the sense that they want Israel to be a Jewish state. Anti-Zionists care about Israel in the sense that they want Israel to be an Israeli state.

        Another example is religion. There are two groups of people:
        (1) people who are indifferent to religion
        (2) people who care about religion
        Those who care about religion can again be divided into two groups:
        (2a) religious people
        (2b) anti-religious people
        I am anti-Zionist and anti-religious. The only thing that I have in common with Zionists and religious people is that I care about the same topics. However, I care about the same topics in a very different way. Therefore, I don’t want to be lumped together with these people.

    • German Lefty
      German Lefty
      September 22, 2013, 10:48 am

      MJ Rosenberg told his story from AIPAC staffer to AIPAC critic and this bright, young man got defensive. Why? MJ didn’t start by telling him he expected others to have the same commitment that comes from his own personal history.

      Exactly! I wondered about this, too. I just didn’t know how to express it. What the young man said sounded very much like a preemptive defensive reaction. Therefore, I don’t think that he is as relaxed about this issue as he claims to be.

      For a Jew to care about Israel is to be Zionist?! This is bizarre.

      Right!

  11. Clif Brown
    Clif Brown
    September 20, 2013, 1:25 am

    “I am an American who happens to be Jewish, why should I care about Israel?” A breathtakingly simplistic view!

    Let’s drop Judaism entirely and put it this way…

    I am an American, why should I care about Israel?

    Well, the body of politicians who claim to represent Americans from the President on down cannot stop falling all over itself giving money to Israel, protecting Israel from any sanctions by the UN, conducting a charade diplomacy that covers for continued settlements that violate one of a body of international laws that the US claims to stand for in the world.

    In short, the promotion and protection of Israel is American political bedrock, the special (truly, as in bizarre) relationship, unless Americans express themselves to the contrary. We who know what is going on from having been there or who have investigated the situation deeply, MUST speak out precisely because we are Americans!

    Now let’s bring Judaism back into it.

    Near where I live are many many synagogues, where I see “We Stand With Israel” Note this statement is not conditional, and it is “We”, not “Some of Us”.

    While it is true that Jews are all over the map regarding religion, it is a fair statement to say Jews support Israel in that same way that one could say, if most every church openly displayed a sign, “We Stand with Italy” that Christians support Italy.

    In that case, it would be particularly important for Christians of any and all denominations who aren’t Italophiles to speak out.

    Netanyuhu and company have hijacked a religion, as terrorists might hijack an airliner. But Jews, unlike plane passengers, are free to, and must, speak out to put the lie to what Netanyahu continually spouts.

    The young bus rider is doubly culpable because he is idly putting aside both the responsibility of being a Jew, and that of being an American to be silent on Israel. How can he claim both attributes when he nullifies them regarding a project that is specifically Jewish and American?

  12. Shmuel
    Shmuel
    September 20, 2013, 2:48 am

    You, MJ, are a Zionist. You think I have an obligation to try to stop the occupation because of my religion. To me, that is no different than telling me I have to support Netanyahu because of my religion. I see no difference.

    In principle, I agree with this. I think it is wrong to expect individual Jews take an interest in injustice in Palestine simply because they are Jews.

    On the other hand, is it possible to participate in Jewish life in the US (or anywhere else, for that matter) today, without coming across the issue in one form or another at every turn? And if you come across active support, how can you be indifferent (turning a blind eye is not an option in Jewish tradition)?

    The “kid” had just been to a synagogue service on the holiest (and best-attended) day of the year. Was Israel not mentioned at all? Did he just ignore that bit? Did he push the Israel appeal card to one side? Walk out during the sermon? Take a nap during the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel? Not notice the Israeli flag near the Ark?

    OK, no one else can expect him to take in an interest in I/P just because he’s Jewish, but what should he expect from himself?

    • Les
      Les
      September 20, 2013, 3:17 pm

      The criticism that MJRosenberg is a zionist is not correct. The inherent criticism in that comment is that MJRosenberg lets himself be defined by zionists and subject to their, not Rosenberg’s, ever changing revisionisms. American anti-communists were similarly trapped in the unimaginative situation where they allowed themselves to be jerked around by the every changing Soviet definition of what communism was supposed to be. You aren’t thinking for yourself when you allow the other to define your boundaries.

      • American
        American
        September 21, 2013, 4:20 pm

        Les says:
        September 20, 2013 at 3:17 pm

        The criticism that MJRosenberg is a zionist is not correct.’>>>>

        MJ is a zionist in that he supports ‘the existence of a Jewish State’— he can be regarded as a Zionist -lite-lite-lite- lite-lite , but thats been his position unless he’s changed it in the last 30 days.
        He however sees the Lobby and the ultra-Zio-neos as destroying Israel and their activities in the US as threatening the public’s perception of the loyalty of US Jews.
        He’s been ‘on fire’ lately tearing them down right and left:
        http://mjayrosenberg.com/2013/09/21/eric-cantor-who-led-successful-fight-to-cut-food-stamps-for-unemployed-seeks-hike-in-aid-to-israel/

      • German Lefty
        German Lefty
        September 22, 2013, 11:26 am

        The criticism that MJRosenberg is a zionist is not correct.

        Well, M.J. Rosenberg wrote on his website, “I believe in Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.” That makes him a Zionist even if he doesn’t want to admit it!
        http://mjayrosenberg.com/2012/04/27/i-am-not-a-liberal-zionist/
        Therefore, I think that Mondoweiss should stop publishing his articles.

      • Xpat
        Xpat
        September 22, 2013, 10:48 pm

        GL – I don’t see what you see in your link. MJ Rosenberg opposes Israel’s laws privileging Jews and discriminating against non-Jews. (I’m not quite sure what he means then when he says he supports a Jewish state.) I cannot find any objectionable content in this article.

      • German Lefty
        German Lefty
        September 23, 2013, 11:05 am

        @ Elliot

        I don’t see what you see in your link.
        Okay, then let me help you put on the glasses :-)

        I cannot find any objectionable content in this article.
        OMG! Seriously? Perhaps this means that you are secretly a Zionist, too. Hopefully not! I find a lot of delusional and objectionable statements in the linked article. Mr Rosenberg wrote:

        I strongly endorsed BDS as related to the occupation but not to Israel itself.
        This sounds very “liberal Zionist” to me. If he were actually interested in justice and wanted equal rights for Palestinians within entire historic Palestine, then he would fully support BDS.

        I do not favor boycotting Israel or Israelis. Why would I favor sanctioning them? I don’t favor sanctioning individuals in any country to protest the policies of their governments, not Iran, not North Korea, not any country.
        The examples that he gives are Iran and North Korea. As if these countries were in the same category as Israel. Iran and North Korea are dictatorships. Of course, it would be wrong to punish the citizens of these countries for the policies of their governments. Israel, however, is a partial democracy. It’s a democracy for its artificially and illegally created Jewish majority. Almost all Israeli Jews vote for Zionist parties. Therefore, they are fully accountable for the crimes of their government. Mr Rosenberg completely ignores this fact. He makes Zionist Israeli Jews look like innocent and helpless victims of the criminal government. That’s typical of “liberal Zionists”.

        I believe in Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, ultimately as one that will grant Palestinians with Israeli citizenship the same rights as Jews. I believe Palestinians have the same right to a state that Jews have.
        Mr Rosenberg clearly states twice that he supports Jewish ethnic nationalism. He believes that Jews have a right to a Jewish state on Palestinian land. He wants two states for two peoples, as if Jews were a people. That’s a “liberal Zionist” solution.
        Furthermore, as many Zionists, he lends himself to the illusion that Israel can be both a Jewish state and a fully democratic state. Anti-Zionists, however, know that these two things are incompatible. Defining Israel as “Jewish state” negates or ignores the existence of non-Jewish Israelis. As long as Israel is defined as “Jewish state”, non-Jewish Israelis are automatically considered unwanted citizens and a demographic threat. Non-Jews can never be or feel equal in a Jewish state. Non-Jews simply don’t belong to a Jewish state.
        Also, Mr Rosenberg doesn’t mention the Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their homeland, which is the area of Israel. He said that he wants Israel to be a Jewish state. And a Jewish state requires, at the very least, a Jewish majority. This implies that Mr Rosenberg denies Palestinian refugees their right of return.

        I believe that to be a Zionist one must either live in Israel or, at the very least, believe that it is the homeland for all Jews, whether they live there or not. That isn’t me. […] Israel is not our homeland. That is America. But I want Israel to exist in security within its own defensible internationally recognized borders. That does not make me any kind of Zionist. It makes me someone who believes that a Jewish state should exist for those who want to live there.
        Here you can see that Mr Rosenberg uses a false definition of Zionism so that he can pretend not to be a Zionist. He is deeply in denial about his Zionism. He supports the existence of a Jewish state, but nevertheless he claims that he is not a Zionist. That’s like saying, “I want Germany to be an Aryan state, but this doesn’t make me a Nazi.”

    • sydnestel
      sydnestel
      September 20, 2013, 5:05 pm

      Shmuel – you hit the nail on the head, as usual.

      It is virtually impossible to be an active committed Jewtoday (unless you are a Satmar Hasid) without being bombarded by Israeli jingoism and boosterism within every Jewish institution and at almost every Jewish activity. So I would have to assume that this kid is simply not very involved in any Jewish activities – including religious services.

      For myself, I am often tempted to stop focusing on I/P, and be exclusively active on other issues, and to just enjoy the many parts of Jewish life I enjoy. But then – boom! Some chauvinistic, racist or just plain blind-to-reality speech, lecture, fund raiser or other such activity gets thrown in my face at some Jewish institution/event. Its impossible (for me at least) to be quiet in the face of such immoral (or at best amoral) behavior.

      And, yes its a burden. But being burdened/responsible is an essential feature of the Jewish religion. “עס ס ‘שווער צו זייַן אַ איד”

  13. pabelmont
    pabelmont
    September 20, 2013, 8:07 am

    I am not religious, not a religious Jew. So I don’t really know what it means to be a religious Jew — how many flavors there are of Jewish religiosity. My sense is that if you go into almost any synagogue in America, you will be bombarded with pro-Israel (pro-AIPAC) messages. Perhaps I’m wrong. But I remember going to a synagogue for what might hacve been a purely religious matter, the bar mitzva of the son of an orthodox Jewish mother who was profoundly pro-Palestinian — and she and I (and my Palestinian wife) and presumably her son had to suffer through a measure of pro-Israel speech in the course of that bar mitzva ceremony.

    Thus, in participating in synagogue activities at all, one may well (at least passively) participate in the propaganda and political activities of AIPAC-Israel, That is to say, one may be, in a sense, passively (or more than passively) involved, and (somehow) responsible.

    I always thought the reason for people who called themselves Jews to be pro human rights and anti-occupation, anti-settlements, was to attemopt to re-establish the “good name” of the “Jewish people” (even though I stoutly deny there is any such thing as “the Jewish People”. (Go figure.)

    This kid seems to be saying, and it makes a lot of sense, “I am not my brother’s keeper.”

  14. Kathleen
    Kathleen
    September 20, 2013, 8:10 am

    The thing I have found over at least three decades of being aware of the critical situation between Palestinians and Israeli’s is that the majority of cultural Jews I know (few are really religious) have an automatic knee jerk reaction when it comes to Israel. Almost go blind at the mention of the conflict. Many know little to nothing about what has and continues to go on and yet will often say “both sides are equally wrong.” Many of these same individuals had strong reactions to apartheid in S Africa, civil rights issues in the U.S. etc but when it comes to Israel their minds get terribly foggy and they have a knee jerk reaction. They do not want information, or facts.
    “Why is Israel any more my problem than” women’s rights in India. Uh that would be because your government gives this small country a disproportionate amount of U.S. foreign aid, the support of Israel no matter what they do makes our country less safe, and it is one of the three top reasons as to why people in that region of the world hate the U.S. That is why
    Wonder if this young man cares about how much money the U.S. gives Israel?

    • American
      American
      September 21, 2013, 3:59 pm

      Agree. ….the more I see of this discusson the more I think maybe there is a ‘cop out’ on the young man’s part he is not totally honest about. I confess also my suspicous mind in wondering if mj didnt lay this on a little too thick knowing his efforts to fight the Jews=Israel & disloyalty thing.
      There is no way any Jews today can not know what is going on wth Isr-USA-I/P—particulary a college student into “issues’ of justice, inequality and so forth.
      But whatever his reason–he doesnt want to take on what would be a ‘natural’ fight for him because of Judaism.
      Perhaps he thinks to be actively involved would hurt his career chances down the road on other issue related positions.

  15. pipistro
    pipistro
    September 20, 2013, 10:33 am

    “You think I have an obligation to try to stop the occupation because of my religion.”

    It’s us who think – owing to a mix of bigotry and/or sense of guilt, fear to be blamed/slandered and taboo – that only a Jew is entitled to find out and spread the misdeeds of Israel and possibly of Jews.

    It goes without saying that I don’t agree.

    Tony Judt expressed exactly (and humorously) this concept, saying that a paper/book/article which deals with Jewish matters had to be subscribed, for safety, by a Jew. (See The Israel Lobby: Does it have too much influence on U.S. foreign policy? – September 28, 2006. By ScribeMedia on behalf of the London Review of Books.)

    Great the kid.

  16. DaveS
    DaveS
    September 20, 2013, 10:50 am

    This is a fascinating story, and it dovetails nicely with a favorite hasbara argument – why are you interested in criticizing Israel when worse things are being done by other countries? There is an inexhaustible supply of compelling causes that require attention, and not only human rights abuses in many countries. Malaria is a preventable disease that kills a million people a year, more than half of them children. There are hundreds of thousands of people incarcerated for lengthy sentences for non-violent drug offenses. There’s climate change, abortion, school curricula, etc. People are drawn to different issues for different reasons, and couldn’t even tell you if you asked them why. Some people choose to become involved in the I/P conflict because they are Jewish or Arab, but many people who frequently comment on this site are neither. More often than not, I have very little interest in their backgrounds.

    What should be expected of people is that when they become active on a certain issue, they act with integrity and morality. When hasbarists complain about people spending time on I/P, they of course of doing the same, but on the side of injustice and inequality and oppression. MJ’s young man has every right to decide what he is and is not interested in. On another bus trip, he could find himself sitting next to an abortion rights activist or a public health worker or a climate scientist. Each of these people would have compelling reasons to join their cause. He has chosen to focus on income inequality, and he’s on the right side. I also would have had no counter-argument.

    • Shingo
      Shingo
      September 20, 2013, 11:04 am

      A superb comment as always David.

      One could take this argument further and suggest that only the worst of crimes should be deemed to be illegal, and lesser crimes forgiven because there are people doing nastier stuff.

      So rape, child abuse get normalized because they are not as bad a mass murder.

      Charles Manson gets released because he killed less people that JOhn Wayne Gacey,

      Great idea!!

    • seafoid
      seafoid
      September 20, 2013, 11:23 am

      “why are you interested in criticizing Israel when worse things are being done by other countries”

      Take the argument to its logical conclusion and ask why there is a need to have a legal system anywhere. People are being murdered in DRC right now so I’m going to kill you in a minute and there’s no point in moaning because it’s far worse in the DRC.

    • Donald
      Donald
      September 20, 2013, 12:36 pm

      “On another bus trip, he could find himself sitting next to an abortion rights activist or a public health worker or a climate scientist. Each of these people would have compelling reasons to join their cause. He has chosen to focus on income inequality, and he’s on the right side. I also would have had no counter-argument.”

      This is one of the most interesting threads we’ve had in a long time and several people are making good arguments that don’t quite mesh–I’m jumping from position to position depending on which one I’ve read last. Anyway, David makes a good point here and as it happens to be the last comment I’ve read, I’m sticking to it. For now.

    • Clif Brown
      Clif Brown
      September 20, 2013, 4:52 pm

      David, in contrast to the comparative-badness theme, I have a friend who has said to me more than once, “why do you care about this Palestinian thing? There are so many bad things going on in the world, how can one choose?”

      Though I say to this person, “choose one bad thing, any one or more, but choose at least one and act!” it doesn’t get through. She uses the so-many-problems theme to justify doing nothing at all, a non-sequitur if I’ve ever run into one.

  17. Dan Crowther
    Dan Crowther
    September 20, 2013, 11:43 am

    Great minds think alike

  18. rensanceman
    rensanceman
    September 20, 2013, 12:13 pm

    Now this is what Tikkun Olam is all about. Judaism untainted by Zionism’s precepts.

  19. Betsy
    Betsy
    September 20, 2013, 1:14 pm

    it is really cool that this young fellow feels so free in his own identity — able to practice his spiritual / religious life free of ethnic baggage. It’s also great that to hear how he understands what it is to be an American. Very liberating way of being in some ways.

    That said, there’s more to consider. He reminds me of women who ask why they should feel any ethical responsibility to work on ‘women’s issues’. It’s fine for people to choose what issues they work on (inequality, etc.). But, saying he has a right to decide what ethical work to do, is different from saying that he’s not implicated ethically in I/P — or the highjacking of his religion by an ethnonationist project. For one thing, Jewish Americans can have much more impact on I/P questions than other Americans (e.g., note how stereotyped & sidelined mainline Christian churches have become on this issue). So, there’s an ethical opportunity here, to do something important, with relatively little to lose or sacrifice (e.g., not like the hurdles & discrimination that Palestinian American or Muslim Americans face in trying to speak out). Also, there’s a kind of cultural privilege that he has benefitted from. E.g., as a EuroAmerican, I feel a certain kind of responsibility re/ race issues because I’ve benefitted from ‘white privilege’. That doesn’t necessarily mean that’s my top issue (just because one only has so much time or energy) but it also doesn’t mean I can disconnect myself ethically.

    • Kathleen
      Kathleen
      September 20, 2013, 1:54 pm

      Wonder if his synagogue supports Israel with funds etc (many do) Connecting dots is important.

    • German Lefty
      German Lefty
      September 22, 2013, 9:54 am

      Jewish Americans can have much more impact on I/P questions than other Americans

      The same applies to Jewish Germans. German politicians ONLY listen to Jewish Germans when it comes to Israel. The opinion of non-Jewish Germans simply doesn’t matter to them. Only when a significant number of anti-Zionist Jews speak out, German politicians will finally understand or acknowledge that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are two completely different things.

  20. Kathleen
    Kathleen
    September 20, 2013, 1:52 pm

    “You think I have an obligation to stop the occupation because of my religion” Well at the very least be interested in what your religion as a whole is supporting. Although some of the most religious Jews stand firmly against the occupation and some against the state of Israel. I chose to step away from the Catholic church because of the oppression, patriarchy, crimes committed within. While there are many good things that some Catholics do the institution of Catholicism commits way to many crimes for me to support. One would think that if you are a member of a Jewish religious community one would be thinking about if that synagogue , community supports the apartheid government of Israel. One would think your alleged religious beliefs would compel one to do so. That is unless you are stuck in the teachings in Deuteronomy and other passages that fuel elitism and racism.

  21. DissedStance
    DissedStance
    September 20, 2013, 3:12 pm

    Congress just voted to de-fund the food stamp program. I think this young man will realize that local issues- in this case income inequality in America-are inextricably linked to the obscene amount of US tax payer money funneled to Israel, at the expense of the American people. It is impossible to ignore the inordinate amount of influence that the Israel lobby has over congress, and the resulting ill effects on the
    American people. As an activist, whether or not he focuses on I/P, I think this will
    become apparent to him. It IS an 800 lb. gorilla, after all, and Martin Luther King
    got it right when he said that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

  22. piotr
    piotr
    September 20, 2013, 3:50 pm

    “One would think your alleged religious beliefs would compel one to do so.”

    Religion has a bit strange place in American life from outsider perspective. One of my colleagues converted to Reform Judaism (I guess he was a Methodist WASP), and one of his points was that in our town they have the best preschool. (My family swears by Montessori, which is at least as good and does not expect any particular rites from parents, the best preschool friend of my son was a Muslim of Welch-Persian ethnic background).

    The young man who talked with MJ reminds me of Prof. Paul Krugman for whom I have a very high regard. Krugman is “probably” Jewish. He is a very clear writer, perhaps too logical to have a broad appeal, and his chief concerns are economy, health care system etc., and he admits that while he has SOME views on the Middle East, any engagement in that direction would be detrimental to his effectiveness as advocate for liberal/progressive economic policies that would improve the life of the majority of Americans. Nevertheless, he once penned a blog entry about the stupidity of the position of Israeli government and (if I recall, Obama’s) pandering to those positions.

    On one hand, the choice of the pet causes is most profoundly personal and it should not be dismissed lightly. On the other hand, there is a sinister hint when a person who is obviously thoughtful, articulate and informed refuses to take a position (as opposed to contributing time, money etc.) That tells me that taking the position that he could agree with has a significant cost — as we know, you can be blacklisted even in a progressive think tank, as it happened to MJ himself.

  23. ritzl
    ritzl
    September 20, 2013, 3:52 pm

    In other news, yesterday, “House passes GOP plan for $39B cut in food stamps”

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/09/19/house-gop-food-stamp-cuts/2839343/

    That’s $4B/yr over the next decade. 4M fewer people per year. That’s the amount we give to Israel each year.

    While it’s great and reasonable that this kid can compartmentalize things to create a focus, there’s also something not quite right about his avoidance of I/P connections to even his own stated focus of income inequality.

    That narrowness may be a youth thing, but there does seem to be an underlying and less-well-thought-out avoidance factor at work as well.

  24. Binyamin in Orangeburg
    Binyamin in Orangeburg
    September 20, 2013, 4:12 pm

    Its of course encouraging to hear his voice.

    But when he says he has no particular responsibility for the subjugation of the Palestinians, he’s wrong. And when he says he has no particular responsibility as a Jewish American, he’s wrong.

    So much of America’s foreign and military policy is bound up with protecting Israel. Witness: Syria, Iran, and Egypt. And before that: Iraq.

    Unfortunately, what Israel does, it does in the name of the Jewish people, including Jewish Americans.

    Those two facts create a heightened responsibility.

  25. German Lefty
    German Lefty
    September 22, 2013, 9:39 am

    I wouldn’t have talked to the kid next to me
    M.J., you must be at least 100 years old. Otherwise, it’s inexplicable why you refer to a 20-year-old guy as a kid.

    Why should I worry about Israel?
    Perhaps because Israel commits crimes in YOUR name!?

    You may not realize it, but your premise is Zionist. You think Jews are, by definition, connected to Israel and have to care about it. […] The Jewish kids who are deeply involved with Israel or Palestinians are sort of the same kids. They accept your premise that they are connected to that place. I don’t and most of my friends don’t either. I’d say we are post-national.
    Total bullshit! You can acknowledge the FACT that Zionists view Israel as the state of the Jews without agreeing with the idea that Israel is the state of the Jews. Anti-Zionist Jews care about Palestinians not because they feel connected to Israel, but because Israel oppresses Palestinians in THEIR name. Therefore, anti-Zionism is NOT another form of Zionism. Placing anti-Zionists on the same low level with Zionists is majorly offensive.
    I don’t think that non-Israeli Jews have the OBLIGATION to publicly speak out against the crimes of Israeli Jews. People don’t have to (unsolicitedly) distance themselves from crimes they didn’t commit. However, when non-Israeli Jews are asked their opinion, I expect them to express indignation about the Zionist misuse of Jewishness and the Holocaust. This young man’s complete indifference to the fact that a foreign country commits crimes against humanity in HIS name really makes me furious.

    Maybe some day I will think about Israel more than I do. But, just as likely, I’ll care about poverty in Latin America.
    Well, the people who are responsible for the poverty in Latin America don’t misuse the Holocaust to justify or distract from that poverty. Therefore, as German, I am much more likely to bother about Israel than about Latin America. I expect the same to be true for Jews. As German or Jew, you can’t be completely indifferent to Israel.

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