Trending Topics:

‘There is no stronger disorganizing force in American Jewish life than Israel’

US Politics
on 9 Comments

As we often proclaim on this site, a historical divide is now occurring between American Jews who feel that their obligation to support Israel is a “sacred” mission (as Dershowitz put it) and American Jews who want no part of that. As Israel approaches the 50th anniversary of the occupation, more and more American Jews are discovering that they do not share values with the Jewish state. And Benjamin Netanyahu is driving the divorce by making racist, Islamophobic rightwing statements at every turn.

As we also say, the mainstream media are ignoring this trend, in some measure because older editors are in the tank for Israel. So here are a few recent news items that are evidence of the divorce. Notably, two are anguished statements from rightwing ideologues, Yossi Klein Halevi and John Podhoretz. It’s just what Peter Beinart said, the crisis of Zionism.

First, here is a Times of Israel report on Zionism 3.0, a conference at a Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto aimed at rekindling the love affair between American Jews and Israel. Yehuda Kurtzer, a liberal Zionist, was blunt about the way that Israel has gone from being a binder of American Jewry to being a disrupter. Emphasis mine:

“Two generations ago, the State of Israel was probably the strongest organizing force for the American Jewish community,” he said. “Today, there is no stronger disorganizing force in Jewish life, no single greater source of tension in the American Jewish communal politics than the State of Israel.”

Yossi Klein Halevi, the author and Jerusalem settler, also spoke at this conference and said it was imperative that American and Israeli Jewish communities remain a family, sharing “Jewish citizenship”. Then he lamented the many divides between those communities. For one thing, American Jews are white collar while Israeli Jews are blue collar.

Israelis are tough, American Jews are not.

Each community has devised an opposite strategy for coping. Our strategy is to be tough, the American Jewish strategy is to be flexible. Our dilemma in Israel is that the strategy that works for us in the Middle East– the tougher we are the safer we are– that that same strategy backfires for us in the liberal west.

We are a militarized society… American Jewry is a demilitarized society. This is an American Jewish generation that does not know the military experience.

Klein Halevi said it’s not healthy if American Jews don’t have the right to criticize Israel. But only to a point.

Criticism is not a substitute for a healthy relationship. If criticism becomes the sole basis for an American Jewish relationship with Israel and we are seeing signs of that developing in certain circles, where the only relationship is, we oppose you…. What I need from American Jewish critics is a sense of understanding of the agonizing complexity of Israel’s dilemmas, not to trivialize our dilemmas.

But when Klein Halevi described those dilemmas– well, very few young American Jews can relate to this dilemma:

Most Israelis feel today that we have exhausted our options on the Palestinian issue, which is why there is virtually no debate in Israel today about the Palestinians.

And “a deep divide… opened between us” with the Iran deal. Here comes the scolding. How many young American Jews would sit still during this lecture?

I have to tell you how profoundly disappointed I was–and that’s an understatement– in last year’s Iran vote…I wasn’t disappointed in the administration, I was disappointed in the American Jewish community. I felt deeply let down. Ninety percent of Israelis, according to polls, opposed that deal. For many of us, this was an existential threat. And I always felt that at an existential moment, for all of the differences between us, I could depend on the American Jewry. And I don’t know where to take that. I really don’t know where to take that because I am now living in a completely different reality. I am living in a Middle-East that has the shadow of a resurgent conventional power emerging in Iran with the threat down the line as soon as this deal expires for an almost certain nuclear Iran. And the American Jewish community as a whole, there were heroes in this community, AIPAC was extraordinary… But I feel let down by the American Jewish community.

Klein Halevi appeals to American Jews not to make any more “apocalyptic” pronouncements about Israel. They have become a “constant soundtrack”; and “it is debilitating.” Exactly what BDS said it would do.

Let’s move on to neoconservative John Podhoretz. The following is from his Facebook page. A friend passed it along to me. It reflects the tremendous divide among American Jews about Israel.

I had this red-diaper baby high school teacher whom I loved, a history teacher who taught AP classes… He left my school and went to another, where he’s still teaching, I guess in his early 70s. I noted with great discomfort the other year that he was writing for a vicious anti-Zionist website, which would fit his politics. The other month I met someone in his 20s who went to the school where he teaches now, and we discussed this teacher. Later I was sitting at Barney Greengrass with my son and I decided to email him to say I was remembering him and our time at Greengrass together fondly almost 40 years ago. I found his email on the school’s website. The 20 something guy ran into the teacher the other day and said, “hey, I was just talking to John Podhoretz about you.” And the teacher said, “He does the devil’s work.””

I hear all the young Jews out there asking themselves: I’m supposed to do so much for Israel, what’s in it for me? A bad reputation.

Now here is Rabbi Brant Rosen’s message about livestreaming progressive High Holidays services, from Jewish Voice for Peace. Rosen celebrates the same divorce that the others are lamenting:

Something very exciting is happening in the borderlands of Jewish life. Across the country, we’re seeing the emergence of congregations and havurot (fellowships) grounded in a commitment to justice and human rights.

Communities where we are invited to bring our whole selves: our Jewish selves, our political selves, our queer selves. Communities where all are welcome as equals: Jew, Jew-ish, or none of the above. Communities that do not require allegiance to Israel or Zionism as a prerequisite.

It is not an accident that Jewish Voice for Peace is at the forefront of this new emergence. I’m so proud of my colleagues on the JVP Rabbinical Council who are creating and celebrating Jewish community transformation from within, and from without…

I am thrilled to announce that for the first time, through the miracle of livestreaming, JVP is making it possible for you to virtually attend these three very special Jewish communities for the High Holidays. We will also be streaming live from a powerful interfaith service that will take place at the militarized U.S./Mexico border during the School of the Americas Watch Convergence.

These plans represent a crucial strategic part of our work at JVP. Together with the JVP staff, members and my visionary colleagues on our Rabbinical Council, we’re proving that a Jewish communal transformation is truly possible. As you can see from the schedule above, Immigrant justice, the Movement for Black Lives, and Palestine solidarity will be interwoven through our services along with this season’s themes of reflection, return and renewal.

To be continued….


About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

Other posts by .

Posted In:

9 Responses

  1. silamcuz
    September 24, 2016, 12:54 pm

    The people who founded Israel and fought for its existence were folks who were deeply in resentment of their Jewish-otherness relative to the white European society they were part of. These folks didn’t even like the Jewishness inside of themselves, what make you think they would like other Jewish people who, practically speaking, were strangers anyway.

    I have long understood that Israel not only do not possess a love of Jewish people, but they actually actively hate them. It is through this hatred they are willing and eager to exploit them in doing so many bad things that will surely haunt these folks for generations to come. It is through this root hatred they are so happy to poison the minds and souls of young innocent Jews with toxic superiority delusions and blind hatred of Arabs, Islam, equality and universal human rights. The only Jews Israel “love” are the ones who are Jews in all but name. Those who loyalties are not to the Torah, to the Jewish God, to Jewish culture and traditions and values, but to the Golden Calf in the form of the State of Israel.

    You don’t actively fool your child into thinking he is superior to his friends when he is not and deserve the privilege to hate and oppress others that YOU don’t like, because you love them. Eventually such an upbringing while may give you some sort of sick sense of pleasure and accomplishment, will only serve to greatly damage the psychological state of the child as he grows into an adult, facing the real world by themselves.

    The people who built Israel and rule it are beholden only to themselves and their vices. Not much different from common criminals running a criminal enterprise. Jews are loved and cherished, of course, but only as long as they tow the Zionist line. Stray from it and you are now the enemy that must be neutralized.

  2. silamcuz
    September 24, 2016, 1:26 pm

    A sure sign of Zionist hatred of Jewish people is how they treat anti-Zionist Jews compared to anti-Zionist non-Jews, even if these are Arabs or Palestinians. If they really possessed a sense of love of Jews or Jewish people, it would only make sense that this love is unconditional of their political stance. After all, political differences are fundamental aspects of a human society that will never go away. Therefore hating someone from the group you claim to love because they disagree with your politics seems rather dishonest and insincere.

    Yet, whether it’s in Israel or America, the typical reaction of Israel and pro-Israel groups towards anti-Zionist Jews is one of pathological hatred instead of indifference or sympathy for fellow Jews who are ideologically led astray. This hatred is actually more acute than the simplistic, superficial hatred they reserve for the Arabs/Palestinians/Muslims. These people would spend more time and money in attempting to destroy the lives of anti-Zionist Jews than they would to kill Palestinians or preach Zionism.

  3. inbound39
    September 24, 2016, 8:32 pm

    What Halevi is saying is the Israeli’s bit off more than they could chew. The Palestinians did not fall to their knees and thank the European Jewish settlers for rescuing them and saving them nor did they thank them for stealing their land and resources. And, we, outside of Israel are apparently uneducated. Halevi needs to learn that colonization legally ended in 1945. They were illegally given half of Palestine in violation of democratic process. The majority of the inhabitants of Palestine were against division of the land. Halevi plays victim and wants us all to feel sorry for Israeli’s. Nup!….ain’t gonna happen. Plainly and simply Israel is illegitimate due to Israeli unlawful actions and crimes…….Own it Mr Halevi!

  4. Marnie
    September 25, 2016, 12:27 am

    The message from Brandt Rosen sounds great – energetic, invigorating and more historically in line with the Judaism I studied (tikkun olam) than ziojudaism (destroy the other) and the complete opposite of the oh woe is us/shame on you american Jews from the smug settler/colonialist yossi halevi. The only relationship that is possible with ‘israel’, thanks to the magical thinking of Theodore Herzl, the dishonest and corrupt Balfour ‘declaration’ and the cirminal masterminds of the nakba including haim weizmann, david ben gurion and all the future prime ministers of this faux borderless state, accompaniied by the mass murder/ethnic cleansing/occupation/apartheid since 1948 (why do you say the occupation is almost 50 years old and not 70?) there is no other possible ‘relationship’ with this criminal enterprise than one that is critical and hostile; you have yourself and your fellow zionists in ‘israel’ and the united states to blame. If you don’t like the way you’re perceived, facts on the ground have to change, period. Don’t expect anyone in their right mind to look at what happens in Palestinine every single day and then break out into a rousing chorus of hatikva.

  5. yourstruly
    September 25, 2016, 12:49 am

    Halevi says that there’s virtually no debate in Israel about the Palestinians. If so might this be because not many Israelis are willing to pay the price – ostracization, verbal or even physical abuse – that dissenters in jingoistic societies face should they be brave enough to speak out? And even if they do speak out, will they heard, what with the media in such societies closed to dissenters. In Nazi Germany, for example, how many people stood up to defend the victims of antisemitic thuggery. Same goes for white dissenters in the days of apartheid South Africa, for anti-racist as well as antiwar activists right now in America, although here, so far at least, the suppression isn’t as pronounced as in the above-mentioned societies. What’s the antidote to such massive suppression? Certainly not unity in pursuit of jingoistic goals but mass rebellions to transform run amok militaristic societies, particularly ones such as Israel and the U.S. with their pretensions of being exceptional, and indispensable . For American Jews what this implies is not falling for the Israel uber justice racist line, but instead standing up for justice and equality, here in America as well as everywhere else, Palestine/Israel included.

  6. Stogumber
    September 25, 2016, 5:06 am

    My two thoughts.

    Halevi is right when he says that American Jews are white collar and Israele Jews are blue collar. That is, Israeli Jews can care for themselves and are independent. American Jews not so much. American Jews tend to ignore that Herzl tried to solve a problem. Have they indeed found a better solution for Herzl’s problem?

    Brant Rosen is wrong when he thinks that “justice and human rights” are obvious things, understood by intuition. Justice and human rights are extremely definable and debatable and it will need a lot more considering and reasoning till the different expectations of different groups can be reconciled to one common definition.

    • Mooser
      September 25, 2016, 12:43 pm

      “American Jews tend to ignore that Herzl tried to solve a problem. Have they indeed found a better solution for Herzl’s problem?”

      I’m with you “Stopgumber”! I mean, let’s
      face it; considering what happened to the Jews in America, I don’t see why American Jews have a goddam thing to tell Zionists about solving “Herzl’s problem”. (Hertzl’s problem” ROTFLMSJAO! He had quite a few.)

      “Justice and human rights are extremely definable and debatable and it will need a lot more considering and reasoning till the different expectations of different groups can be reconciled to one common definition.”

      Why not just say we should let Israel kill and dispossess Palestinians, until maybe they get tired of it?

  7. Kay24
    September 25, 2016, 7:50 am

    Those free birth right trips to Israel for American Jews is part of the big effort to make American Jews feel guilted into being loyal and supportive of that alien nation. This has nothing to do with the religion, although that pays a big part in that brainwashing effort, but it is also that “we all must make sure that we protect Israel from all the bad guys surrounding it”, the only such nation that has managed to make people of a certain religion connect the religion to a nation. Anything negative anyone says about Israel is “anti-Semitic” that goes for all Israel’s crimes too. They are not supposed to question anything about the occupation, land grabs, or the fact that the Israeli government kills civilians almost on a daily basis, to keep that occupation going. Many American Jews blindly suppose anything Israel does, for to question or disagree with Israeli leaders is conveniently labelled “self-hating”. In fact they pay thousands of mindless minions to spew this nonsense in websites, just to keep this narrative going.

  8. Keith
    September 25, 2016, 2:59 pm

    PHIL- (Yossi Klein Halevi quote)- “Each community has devised an opposite strategy for coping. Our strategy is to be tough, the American Jewish strategy is to be flexible.”

    How could I pass up the excuse to link to “Israel Man and Diaspora Boy,” the perfect illustration of how Israeli Jews view the Diaspora?

Leave a Reply