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Fact-checking Jeffrey Goldberg: the American Jewish unanimity on Israel

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Jeffrey Goldberg wrote yesterday about American Jewish unanimity on Israel:

We live in an era during which the U.S. president (whom the majority of American Jews support) is in almost constant low-grade conflict with Israeli prime minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. Such periods are never comfortable for American Jews of all political leanings, who tend to be happier when they see their president and the leader of the Jewish state in harmony.

Melissa Weintraub
Melissa Weintraub

Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, a liberal Zionist, speaking at a panel on the Jewish community at Washington’s Jewish Community Center last month, said there is no such unanimity. Minute 1:

Israel has become the most volatile wedge issue in American Jewish life, by most observers, journalists, rabbis, people who are immersed in this field. We’ve got three prevailing avenues for Israel engagement, currently.

One is avoidance. Nearly every American Jewish social justice organization– I was recently in a room with all the luminaries of the Jewish social justice movement, and veritably every one of them has an organizational policy to avoid Israel. The rabbis of every denomination and from across the political spectrum talk about what actually a local rabbi Scott Perlo, who’s at 6th and I, calls the “the death by Israel sermon”, which means we can talk about anything but Israel. We can talk about health care or guns or other controversial issues, but say anything about Israel and we could be fired. It seems every day I hear of another organization that’s banned Israel from its listserve.

So that’s avoidance, the first pattern… The first pattern is really reacting to the second pattern, but I stated avoidance first because it’s become most ubiquitous…

The second pattern is more overt antagonism; vilification, demonization; attacks and counter attacks on op ed pages, funding threats, boards and executive directors in utter terror, paralyzed, because they are in damned if you do and damned if you don’t situations on a regular basis. A lot of this is outside of public view, but I can tell you as someone who works in this field that I hear dozens of institutions facing these kinds of dilemmas every month.

And you know equally as damaging: reckless caricatures of each other’s positions, distortions, quoting each other out of context, impugning each other’s motives, antagonism.

The third pattern I call avoidance 2.0. And that is congregating with, conferencing with those who agree with our own politics, and dismissing everybody else as loony, or malicious, or dangerous. Taking pride in the numbers of those who are with us, categorically, one-dimensionally dismissing everyone else. And that is becoming increasingly common as well.

So what do we get when we have those three patterns as our prevailing options? We get those who care passionately having to stand behind a megaphone in order to be heard. While others who also care passionately and think other things turn up the volume on their own megaphones. And most other people put their fingers in their ears and walk away. We get a poisoned and polluted conversation. We get a lot of alienation, and sadness, and distrust, distance between groups. We get unraveled and harmed relationships, and we get a community that’s not nearly as smart, a community that doesn’t have the collective intelligence that it needs to solve the challenges that Israel faces….

[As to] the rich Jewish tradition of dialogue and debate… We value dialogue and debate because we know that it’s what leads to good decision making, good public decision making, and it’s what leads to truth. There’s no other way than the collective intelligence that emerges from the coming together of divergent views. …Why this matters, that our conversation is broken and stuck– is the first step to wanting to do something about it.

Weintraub is not even speaking of the rank and file in the Jewish community, many of whom are anti-Zionist, who were not represented on that JCC panel.

So– who is Jeffrey Goldberg talking about?

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>> ” Such periods are never comfortable for American Jews of all political leanings, who tend to be happier when they see their president and the leader of the Jewish state in harmony.”

Much to my surprise I agree with Goldberg. The divergence of Israeli trends with American Jewish values can create nothing happy.

Arguably, Phil Weiss, and the existence of Mondoweiss is example no. 1.

I don’t think Goldberg and Weintraub are fully contradicting each other. It’s true that there’s a feeling of low-level conflict (very, very low-level, masked by endless protestations of devotion to the Zionist cause, if only it could be modified just a little, so as you’d hardly notice) and that this causes uneasiness. Conscious avoidance of a subject, or of a person, are signs of uneasiness not of unconcern. I don’t think Goldberg’s claiming unanimity, ie… Read more »

You say many of the rank and file of the Jewish community are anti-Zionist. Do you have anything to back that up? I’m in the community too. And while I see some of what Weintraub is talking about, I think she’s overstating the problem, and I say that as someone who has long called for a bigger tent. What she’s describing seems endemic to identity politics in this country. You can find it in the… Read more »

”We live in an era during which the U.S. president (whom the majority of American Jews support) is in almost constant low-grade conflict with Israeli prime minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. Such periods are never comfortable for American Jews of all political leanings, who tend to be happier when they see their president and the leader of the Jewish state in harmony….Goldberg “Israel has become the most volatile wedge issue in American Jewish life, by most… Read more »

We are constantly being told that Jews love Israel, Jews are Zionists (or “liberal” Zionists). The “L” means (to me) that they are in love with some sort of dream that has been dissociated from reality for 20-30 years. Little boxes to collect money for planting trees in that arid desert which nonetheless blooms. Saving Jews from the holocaust as if that were still happening. Ignoring the maleficent machinations of AIPAC and so many entrenched… Read more »