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Portman and Perlman, and the liberal Zionist awakening

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Master violinist Itzhak Perlman is one of the most beloved Jewish public figures of the last half-century. His personal story; his ​precocious​ musical mastery and his victory over polio; his skills, modesty and playfulness, have made him an unassailable example of the humane, artistic, thinking Jew.

In a Billboard interview, after the release of the documentary film “Itzhak,” Perlman’s wife Toby said it was “problematic” meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for tea after receiving last year’s Genesis Prize (shown in the movie), but Itzhak Perlman said he felt he must honor the office.

The Genesis Prize is an award of four years’ standing given to recognize outstanding Jews’ “dedication to the Jewish community and Jewish values.” It aims to inspire “unity throughout the global Jewish community and the State of Israel.”

Regarding a hypothetical invitation to meet President Trump, Perlman said, “My argument about respecting the office? In this case I would definitely make an exception.” Perlman shows that limits can be reached.

The question is, can they be reached for him regarding Israel?

In refusing to appear at a ceremony with Netanyahu to accept her Genesis Prize this spring, Natalie Portman has illustrated that the dilemma of the liberal Zionist remains bleak. The key of liberal Zionism has been to count experiences of Arabs as exceptions to a generally wholesome Zionist project. As Palestinian Arabs find more voice in American media, pretending to that general blamelessness becomes harder.

Jewish Israelis live in a hothouse atmosphere of Jewish nationalism and existential threat. Among younger American Jews, Pew Research Center found there is a big drop-off in belief that support for Israel is important to Jewish identity, presumably due to their experience and practice of coexistence with non-Jews in the US.

There is a divergence between behavior of the older, Zionist-minded donors to Jewish Federations and the mass of American Jews.

It is hard for liberal Zionists to abandon Zionism once they accept it. While they don’t resist acknowledging the unjustness, cruelty, and dishonor built in to the project, they balk when it comes to abandoning the basic concept of “the one and only Jewish state,” as PM Netanyahu evokes at every possible occasion,

Functionally, there is no difference between a liberal Zionist and Netanyahu, a theme that should be emphasized. When the romance of “the one & only” is accepted, the ills are all there, inherent in the imposition of a Jewish state in an already populated land, leading to the recent slaughter of Gaza refugees.

Jewish life is hemmed with prohibitions to help protect human life, and we praise ourselves for our superior ethical nature. We should remind ourselves that history is full of cruel forces that believed they were fighting against barbarism and for civilization.

Looking to the example of how long it took the Zionist movement to take over Jewish institutions in the last century, the anti-Zionist movement among Jews faces a long fractious struggle to victory. Does that struggle, important in Jewish life, have any relevance to the struggle of Palestinians?

After the IDF began its human turkey shoot at the Gaza border, liberal Zionist Peter Beinart wrote, “Our community’s complicity in the human nightmare in Gaza should fill every American Jew with shame. The first step toward ending that complicity is to stop lying to ourselves.”

The “New Jew,” a proud, confident Jew, was meant to be created in the Zionist movement as a cure for what was diagnosed as the fatal meekness of the “unnatural” scholarly or mercantile Jews of Galut (exile). The aim and slogan was to “Negate the Diaspora!”

Historian Yitzhak Conforti writes that “the idea of the new Jew is an expression of the radical revolution that Zionism aspired to create in the life of the Jewish people.” In political Zionism, “the new Jew is a modern person stripped of historical baggage.”

Not only is the “New Jew” meant to be a proud creation, the state he creates is to be “invincible.” It is legitimate to ask whether we have made ourselves into something shameful, in our pursuit of strength and dignity. Shameful, as recognized early in the first aliyah period by cultural Zionist Ahad Ha’am (1856-1927) who raised the alarm that political Zionism imagined it could push Arabs of Palestine aside. Lo zeh haderech, “This is not the way,” he wrote.

After Natalie Portman’s startling refusal to be honored by the ”Genesis” Prize, is it unimaginable to think that Itzhak Perlman might honor the Palestine civil society appeal to boycott Israel?

If Mr Perlman is a Mondoweiss reader — not impossible — we may hear from him. He is known to be an avid supporter of social justice causes, and refused an opportunity to perform in North Carolina in protest of the anti-LGBT law HB2 two years ago.

The “major” American Jewish organizations, now anchored in Israel “advocacy,” are paralyzed from action. In a statement deaf to the sentiments of most Americans if not to their donors, the American Jewish Committee weighed in on Gaza: The AJC stands “shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel” and praises the Trump administration.

“We thank Washington for this moral clarity, when too many others suffer from moral fog.”

It is left to individual American Jews of prominence to break the taboo on speaking frankly on Israeli conduct. This will be a sign of the sentiment of everyday Jews making changes the ”major” Jewish organisations have not. Maybe they will carry Itzhak Perlman with them.

The movie “Itzhak is in theatrical release, and will be televised in PBS’ American Masters series.

P.S. Thanks to commenter Eljay for correction re Perlman’s Holocaust background.

 

About Abba Solomon

Abba A. Solomon is the author of “The Speech, and Its Context: Jacob Blaustein's Speech ‘The Meaning of Palestine Partition to American Jews.’” His website is abbasolomon.com

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19 Responses

  1. eljay
    eljay
    May 28, 2018, 10:06 am

    … Master violinist Itzhak Perlman is one of the most beloved Jewish public figures of the last half-century. His personal story; his birth to Holocaust survivors; …

    What a bizarre form of adulation:
    – According to Wiki, Mr. Perlman’s parents emigrated from Poland to Mandate Palestine in the mid-1930s, so they weren’t “Holocaust survivors”.
    – But even if they had been, being born to them was not an accomplishment.

    (My father survived a post-WWII death march. I don’t feel any sense of accomplishment in having been born to him.)

    I have no doubt that Mr. Perlman is talented, and I’m sure he’s a nice guy, too. Hopefully he isn’t also a Zionist.

    • WH
      WH
      May 29, 2018, 4:00 am

      The article doesn’t claim his lineage is an achievement, just that this adds a resonance to his persona for many Jews and makes him more ‘beloved’.

      • eljay
        eljay
        May 29, 2018, 8:31 am

        || WH: The article doesn’t claim his lineage is an achievement, just that this adds a resonance to his persona for many Jews and makes him more ‘beloved’. ||

        “Accomplishment” may not have been the most correct word to use.

        Regardless, I fail to see how simply being born to Polish emigrants incorrectly labelled “Holocaust survivors” contributes to making a person an “unassailable example of the humane, artistic, thinking Jew”.

        It remains, IMO, a bizarre form of adulation.

      • Jon66
        Jon66
        May 29, 2018, 3:30 pm

        Eljay,
        The use is consistent with the definition used on this site.
        http://mondoweiss.net/2016/05/holocaust-survivor-activist/
        “Born in Freiburg to a Jewish family, she was rescued from Nazi Germany by the Kindertransport in 1939.”

      • eljay
        eljay
        May 29, 2018, 3:48 pm

        || Jon66: Eljay,
        The use is consistent with the definition used on this site. … ||

        Looks like it’s time for another round of “Definition Distraction”.

        The use is not consistent.

        Game over.

  2. Ossinev
    Ossinev
    May 28, 2018, 1:45 pm

    “Jewish life is hemmed with prohibitions to help protect human life, and we praise ourselves for our superior ethical nature. We should remind ourselves that history is full of cruel forces that believed they were fighting against barbarism and for civilization”

    Don`t quite get the “hemmed in with prohibitions”. Does this refer to the Ten Commandments perchance? “We praise ourselves for our superior ethical nature” – simply the best,better than all the rest. I`m surprised it`s not the Zioland National anthem – oh wait a minute it conjures up images of Tina Turner and she`s a goy and even worse she`s non – European IOW black. Can`t have that !

    ” We should remind ourselves that history is full of cruel forces that believed they were fighting against barbarism and for civilization”

    Got that one. Yup eg Nazis/Triumph of the Zio Will etc.

  3. jon s
    jon s
    May 28, 2018, 3:39 pm

  4. Emory Riddle
    Emory Riddle
    May 28, 2018, 6:44 pm

    Here we go again.

  5. Citizen
    Citizen
    May 29, 2018, 12:29 am

    He respects Netanyahu’s official seat, but not Trump’s. He’s clearly not “woke.” She’s awakening.

  6. JWalters
    JWalters
    May 29, 2018, 1:09 am

    “we praise ourselves for our superior ethical nature”

    There’s your trouble.

  7. John O
    John O
    May 29, 2018, 3:43 am

    Why is Netanyahu handing him a small octopus?

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      May 30, 2018, 5:02 pm

      “Why is Netanyahu handing him a small octopus?”

      They make the most tender calamari. The big ones tend to be tougher.

      • Stephen Shenfield
        Stephen Shenfield
        May 30, 2018, 5:46 pm

        With magnification it appears to be a metallic sculpture showing a figure bowing the head before an angel with long curved pointed wings.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        May 30, 2018, 6:12 pm

        You can’t put that in Cioppino.

  8. weesograce
    weesograce
    May 29, 2018, 6:46 pm

    What a commendable modern-day concept! Today, Howard Schultz of STARBUCKS, closes down more cafes in order to conduct serious (and committed) Employee Sensitivity and Diversity training, following the distasteful April Philadelphia debacle — the treatment of two African American young men who visited and tried to patronize one of the ubiquitous and iconic cafes. An outrageous egregious incident it was, which immediately permeated the airwaves and social media… and thankfully, not to the point of Boycotting the S’bucks. Schultz did opine: “This takes moral courage… we must stand up and be accountable.” Hey Howie, as a seemingly Liberal Zionist and head honcho of a world-renowned corporation, why not send your inspiring message of wisdom, humility, and shame to another world-renowned “beacon of light” … oops… the brutal, apartheid, racist regime which considers you a native son and also lauds and imbibes your brand? Shall we drink up and toast to justice, equality, and dignity, that is sooo long overdue? Is Democracy coming to the USA… and will it hopefully and somehow reach its shame-ridden Ally that has operated with impunity and insolence for far toooo long? Please listen up dear Itzhak and Humanity… there’s a lesson to be learned and digested here.

    • DaBakr
      DaBakr
      June 1, 2018, 12:14 am

      @khazzer

      The lesson is: stop drinking Starbucks coffee. Stop drinking coffee at all. Or stop taking the drug that making you hyperventilate through your fingertips

  9. gamal
    gamal
    May 30, 2018, 7:14 pm

    “We praise ourselves for our superior ethical nature”

    which is about as spiritually toxic as it is possible to be,

    “praise ourselves” why? what good is that,

    one time a man went up to a Lama and told him

    “I have done 10 million Benza Guru mantras”

    “Oh” said the Lama (Rabbi)

    the guy was a bit put out so raised his voice

    “I have completed 10 million Benza Guru mantras”

    The Lama fixed him eye to eye and said

    “Oh, what a shame”

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