Two weeks ago the Washington Post ran an excellent piece on the divide inside the Washington Jewish community over Israel. Marc Fisher’s reporting included anti-Zionists and non-Zionists who were getting the bum’s rush from establishment Jewish organizations: Fisher reported on the disinvitation of the Shondes band and author David Harris-Gershon by the Jewish Community Center in Washington.
Now Associated Press religion writer Rachel Zoll has reported a variation on the theme for the AP, about divisions over Israel in the Jewish community, under the headline,”Israel no longer a cause that unifies US Jews.” The article is a disappointment: it fails to mention any anti-Zionists by name, and characterizes the split as one between liberal Zionists and rightwing Zionists. That’s misleading. But the story is still a victory. Its first three paragraphs highlight an issue that is only going to get bigger and bigger. Zaid Jilani tweets: “Watershed moment as Associated Press writes American Jewish communities are now ‘divided’ over support for Israel.”
Once a unifying cause for generations of American Jews, Israel is now bitterly dividing Jewish communities.
Jewish organizations are withdrawing invitations to Jewish speakers or performers considered too critical of Israel, in what opponents have denounced as an ideological litmus test meant to squelch debate. Some Jewish activists have formed watchdog groups… to monitor programming for perceived anti-Israel bias. They argue Jewish groups that take donations for strengthening the community shouldn’t be giving a platform to Israel’s critics.
American campuses have become ideological battle zones over Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories, with national Jewish groups sometimes caught up on opposing sides of the internal debate among Jewish students. The “Open Hillel” movement of Jewish students is challenging speaker guidelines developed by Hillel, the major Jewish campus group, which bars speakers who “delegitimize” or “demonize” Israel. Open Hillel is planning its first national conference in October.
And in a vote testing the parameters of Jewish debate over Israel, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, a national coalition that for decades has represented the American Jewish community, denied membership in April to J Street, the 6-year-old lobby group that describes itself as pro-Israel and pro-peace and has sometimes criticized the Israeli government. Opponents of J Street have been showing a documentary called “The J Street Challenge,” in synagogues and at Jewish gatherings around the country, characterizing the group as a threat from within…
Ah the heroic J Street. Are they really Israel’s critics? Not entirely. The article reflects a conservative discourse, and documents the reactionary official-Jewish space:
In 2012, when Israel carried out an offensive in Gaza after an upsurge in rocket fire, [Rabbi Sharon] Brous wrote an email to IKAR members that was published in The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. She supported Israel’s right to defend itself, while also urging recognition of Palestinian suffering.
The result? She was overwhelmed with hate mail, and inspired competing op-eds and letters in the Journal from Jewish clergy and others until a prominent rabbi called for an end to the recriminations and name-calling.
More of the orthodoxy reflected in the article’s narrow scope:
Many Jewish leaders worry the infighting could not only undermine U.S. support for Israel, but also drive away the younger American Jews who are pressing for a broader definition of what it means to be pro-Israel.
So, no room for those who are anti-Zionists, don’t want to be pro-Israel. Good reporting:
At Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, a Reform Jewish synagogue in South Orange, New Jersey, Rabbi Daniel Cohen struggles to hold the ever-shrinking common ground among his congregants over Israel. Before Cohen delivers a sermon on the subject, he re-reads what he wrote and asks himself, “How are they going to hear it?”
From the pulpit, he tries to weave together the views of doves and hawks among the 850 families in his congregation, comparing Israel to a flawed friend who nonetheless should be defended against slander. Still, he hears complaints — about his personal involvement with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the long-established lobbying group, and his simultaneous support for congregants active in J Street.
A flawed friend who must be defended against slander. That’s the view from the official Jewish world. Zoll is dismissing the burgeoning movement for equal rights inside Jewish life. Once again, the American press is a ways behind the Israeli one.
Thanks to Linda Jansen.