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Liberal Zionist’s teen son is– an anti-Zionist

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I keep telling friends that before long a prominent liberal Zionist is going to say, I’m sick of what the Jewish state is doing in my name so I’m going to become an anti-Zionist, just like an American pol leaving one party for another. But it hasn’t happened. Peter Beinart hasn’t been able to take the plunge. My college friend Dan Fleshler is still with J Street. David Rothkopf and David Remnick and Roger Cohen haven’t made the break. The only real exception is Henry Siegmann.

The shift is surely happening inside many Jewish families, though, and writer Eric Flamm has published an important piece documenting the change. Flamm himself is dedicated to Israel. He moved there in his 20’s in 1994 and became an Israeli citizen and was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces and served in a combat unit as a reservist. Then in 2001, he moved back to his college town, Portland, Oregon, and emerged as a leading liberal Zionist. He chaired the J Street chapter there from 2012-2018 and wrote a book of stories titled “Portland Zionists Unite!”

Then a couple of months back, Flamm’s son announced to him — BAM! — that he’s an anti-Zionist. And it’s not all that complicated. Flamm wrote it up on Medium in January. Excerpt:

About a month ago my 15-year-old son told me he was an anti-Zionist because he couldn’t support the notion that in Israel the Jews received preferential treatment over Palestinians in all aspects of life, such as education, housing, employment, and access to justice. He sees the military oppression of the Palestinians and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as inherent to political Zionism.

Eric Flamm, from his twitter feed.

Flamm’s son is obviously deeply involved in Jewish life, to cite the distinction that Bari Weiss likes to tromp out to explain what makes Jewish kids pro-Israel. Well, it didn’t work out in the case of ben-Eric:

My son has been to Israel four times, speaks basic Hebrew, and graduated a K-8 Jewish day school. He did his middle school matriculation project on the Jewish value of welcoming the stranger and raised money for immigration issues. He believes it is in his Jewish DNA to show empathy and compassion for the stranger. “If you don’t embrace this value, practicing religion is useless,” he said at the middle school event showcasing the capstone projects.

The Torah instructs Jews only 36 times to care for the stranger, a precept mentioned more than any other law and central to my own concept of what it means to be a Jew.

In America welcoming the stranger is not so problematic, as Jews are a minority and generally would like all minorities to be treated justly. But in Israel (not including West Bank and Gaza) Jews are the majority and this respect for the minority, the stranger, is replaced by the Talmudic concept that one must first rise and kill those who would do harm

Art that appeared with Eric Flamm’s post about his son becoming an anti-Zionist. Used with permission of author.

Flamm is obviously proud of his son though “unhappy” about the choice. But maybe the boy will convert the father?

So how then did the kid come by his anti-Zionist views and embrace the boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) Israel movement?

One could certainly blame me, his permissive father, for steering him down a bad path with my liberal Zionism.

Other factors might include the deafening silence in Jewish education and community about Israel’s administration of the occupied territories, where one is free to be as flag-wavingly supportive of Israel as one chooses, but criticism is “too political” and must be quickly silenced.

If Jewish kids are concerned about the treatment of Palestinians and occupation what in Jewish community is there for them? Crickets.

Young Flamm is for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions because he wants to take action.

At our synagogue the clergy and leadership chant the evils of BDS, how this is only for anti-Semites and hateful people. But if kids are aghast at the occupation for the simple reason that people should be treated equally what then?..

I understand how as Israel is the Jewish state, we in the US, as Jews, are compelled to be engaged — and our synagogues, cultural programming, and organizations reflect this. What is unsaid and insidious is that this engagement is only for one side of the equation. Jewish community has sucker punched my son, telling him to be a good person, a good Jew, but to throw out the empathy, compassion, and the critical thinking of Jewish thought and drink the Israeli Kool-Aid.

I’m not happy my son now states he is an anti-Zionist. But I am happy he wants to be an ethical person.

Imho it takes a great father to encourage a son whose views are so different from his own. And it is clearly a trend. Young Flamm is saying a lot of what the communal Jews in IfNotNow have said about being lied to by their Jewish educators. Though they have not grasped the nettle, after more than five years, and come out for BDS, as he has.

And compare the father’s loving response to the sputtering blind rage of David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, confronting the same trend among Jewish youth, 2-1/2 years ago at a New York synagogue.

What is it that brings shame [about Israel] among some? What are we doing wrong in our homes? What are we doing wrong in our schools?

Flamm says there have been no media responses to his post except on Facebook. Opinion in his community ranges, he said, from those condemning “my son’s actions as part of Portland’s extreme leftist culture – they’re still in the space of BDS is evil” to others “stunned by the erosion of democracy in Israel and how the complete disregard for Palestinians has become enshrined by law.”

Flamm said the more conscious group knows that change is afoot: “Such people viewed my op-ed as yet another sign that the next generation will have a radically different concept of the Israel/Palestine issue and we better get prepared.”

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-06.

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11 Responses

  1. Misterioso on February 21, 2020, 10:11 am

    I just can’t understand why ever increasing numbers of Jews around the world, especially youth, are becoming disallusioned with and severely critical of “Israel.” After all, isn’t “Israel” a “Light unto Nations?”

    Then again:

    https://www.mintpressnews.com/gruesome-details-israel-torture-palestinian-detainees/264857/

    “Gruesome Details Emerge of Israel’s Torture of Palestinian Prisoners” by Whitney Webb, MPN News, Feb. 12/20

    “New allegations have surfaced claiming that Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, Shin Bet or Shabak, is engaged in the brutal torture of Palestinian detainees, despite the practice being against both Israeli and international law. The new accusations, deemed ‘very credible’ by both Israeli and Palestinian rights groups, come amid a recorded spike in the use of torture on Palestinian detainees by Israeli authorities.

    “The latest cases involve three Palestinian men who were detained as part of the extensive manhunt that followed an August 23 bombing that killed an Israeli settler and teenager Rina Shnerb. The three men, living in the occupied West Bank, were detained per Israel’s controversial practice of ‘administrative detention,’ whereby Israel may detain an individual for months or even years without charging them with a crime.

    “The lawyers and family members of the three main suspects have asserted that all three men suspected of links to the bombing had been tortured to the point of needing hospitalization, with one of them being admitted for kidney failure and 11 broken ribs before subsequently being returned to the custody of Israeli interrogators. Another of the men had his genitals bitten by a security dog while the third man was wheelchair-bound and unrecognizable to his wife when he appeared in a courtroom.

    “While these three Palestinian men’s experiences are extreme cases, the same Shin Bet investigation also tortured several other detainees in less severe ways but nonetheless left them traumatized. Those detainees were released after weeks in detention and were never charged. Shin Bet also arrested family members of detainees and, in some cases, paraded them in front of detainees in order to create the impression that their wives and children would also undergo the same harsh treatment.

    “Though the manhunt and resulting torture of Palestinian suspects took place months ago, reporting on the incidents was delayed due to an Israeli court-mandated gag order that was renewed multiple times since it was first issued last September. That gag order, in effect for well over three months, also made court proceedings of the three main suspects in the case closed to the public and prevented family members from attending court, with few exceptions.

    “A spike in torture
    “The alleged torturing of prisoners in connection to the August 23 bombing occurred during a period when the use of torture of West Bank Palestinians by Shin Bet spiked dramatically, according to the Palestinian prisoner rights organization Adameer, which issued a report last month that contained hard evidence of ‘the systematic use of torture and ill-treatment’ against Palestinian detainees at the Al-Mascobiyya interrogation center.

    “The torture of detainees, though often denied by Israeli officials, is technically illegal. Yet, a loophole provided in the same 1999 Israeli Supreme Court ruling that made the practice illegal has allowed it to continue, as the ruling only prohibited torture of detainees unless there was suspicion of an imminent attack. This loophole has routinely been used by Shin Bet, especially given that Shin Bet officials who engage in the practice have done so for decades with impunity. Indeed, while over one thousand official complaints against the Shin Bet related to its use of torture have been filed since 2001, only one has ever gone to court — a 2017 case which is still open.

    “In addition, the use of torture has been supported by a cadre of doctors who work with Shin Bet by approving brutal interrogation tactics, falsifying medical reports and engaging in other activities that provide justifications for the use of extreme and internationally-condemned interrogation methods. Their support would also likely help protect Shin Bet officials in the event that more of these torture cases ever went to court.

    “One likely reason for the culture of the impunity is the tacit approval of a large portion of the Israeli populace regarding the use of torture on those deemed ‘enemy combatants.’ For instance, one poll of youth between the ages of 20 and 35 conducted in 16 countries last month found that Israeli youths were by far the most supportive of the use of torture, with only 23 percent of Israeli respondents opposing the practice, compared to the international average of 55 percent.

    “As to why the last few months have seen a spike in reports of the torture of Palestinian prisoners, the answer is not entirely clear. One possible explanation could be related to the U.S.-Israeli push to enact the so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ as well as the current political upheaval in Israeli that has seen the country awaiting its third election in less than a year, as embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sought to promote his tough-on-crime and security-focused stances during the prolonged election season.”

    (Feature photo | An actor demonstrates the torture method known as the “banana.” One of several standard torture techniques reportedly used by the Shin Bet during interrogations of Palestinian prisoners. Photo | AP)
    _______________________________________________________________________
    Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.

  2. Mooser on February 21, 2020, 12:41 pm

    “One could certainly blame me, his permissive father, for steering him down a bad path with my liberal Zionism.”

    What kind of effort did you make in behalf of Zionism? Did you even consider engaging in a battle of wills with your son?

  3. eljay on February 21, 2020, 6:37 pm

    I’m not happy my son now states he is an anti-Zionist. But I am happy he wants to be an ethical person.

    Zionists are baffling. Mr. Flamm appears to comprehend that Zionism is unethical (because, of course, it is) but he i) is unhappy that his son rejects it and ii) he is happy to continue embracing it.

    It’s like the rapist saying: I’m not happy that my son is anti-rape, but I’m happy that he wants to be an ethical person. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some business to tend to in the basement…

    • pabelmont on February 22, 2020, 9:54 am

      “The next generation will have a radically different concept of the Israel/Palestine issue and we better get prepared.”

      Why had “we” “better get prepared”? Why not join his obviously correct son’s anti-Zionism? I suppose the answer was given earlier: papa “buys” the idea that it’s OK to kill those who would harm you, and forgets that the reason they would harm “you” is that “you” harmed them first.

      That’s Zionism: [1] treat Palestinians very badly because they oppose the Zionistic Project [2] when they strike back, they become (if they were not already) enemies (manufactured as such by Zionism); [3] since they are enemies it become OK or even mandatory to treat them badly.

      No peace, no kindness to strangers, no kindness at all.

  4. Vera Gottlieb on February 22, 2020, 11:47 am

    Although of Jewish background, I have NO qualms stating that I am anti Zionist and I boycott israel too…and will continue for as long as Palestinians are mistreated by israel.

    • Mooser on February 22, 2020, 2:02 pm

      If parents are dead-set on their children being Zionists, they must show their children that rejection of Zionism means instant and serious consequences.
      This is what we didn’t do when the question was observance, or kashruth, and now look, circumcision itself is in danger! This is what we didn’t do when the question was inter-faith dating, or marriage, or even cohabitation!
      And look what happened as a result. No consequences is the same as giving permission.

  5. JLWarner on February 22, 2020, 2:21 pm

    The article quotes David Harris asking “What are we doing wrong in our homes? What are we doing wrong in our schools?” In fact, they are ding nothing wrong. They are raising moral children.

    Israel is doing something wrong, actually a lot wrong, in the way they treat Palestinians.

  6. iResistDe4iAm on February 23, 2020, 4:24 am

    “One could certainly blame me, his permissive father, for steering him down a bad path with my liberal Zionism.” ~ Eric Flamm

    Please don’t blame yourself. As Peter Beinart succinctly observed: “for several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead”.

    “One might think this regard for humanity and dignity would extend in other directions. Sadly, the story is less rosy.”

    “I understand how as Israel is the Jewish state, we in the US, as Jews, are compelled to be engaged — and our synagogues, cultural programming, and organizations reflect this. What is unsaid and insidious is that this engagement is only for one side of the equation. Jewish community has sucker punched my son, telling him to be a good person, a good Jew, but to throw out the empathy, compassion, and the critical thinking of Jewish thought and drink the Israeli Kool-Aid.” ~ Eric Flamm

    Self proclaimed ‘liberal Zionists’ preach universal morality but practice selective morality.

    Fortunately, many young Jews have deciphered the so-called nuances and complications of the Israel/Palestine conflict, and have come to the realisation that selective morality is the epitome of immorality.

  7. GusCall on March 4, 2020, 3:55 pm

    Very good article, the one blemish maybe being that I don’t think The New Yorker’s David Remnick is anywhere near rejecting Zionism: his magazine, in any case, remains a staunch Zionist platform and normalizer of Israel and virtually never prints anything by a Palestinian. (Tony Lerman in England, by the way, is similar to Henry Siegman.)
    But I am confused, reading this article, and many others, about what authors mean by ‘Zionism’. My own definition is that it’s the justification of and project for a Jewish state in Palestine, with ‘Palestine’ meaning historic Palestine, of course, and the ‘Jewish’ attribute of the state being that in many senses it gives Jews rights and privileges over others. A Jewish majority of the citizens and in the armed forces is also part of the definition, as is the Law of Return. It’s not, that is, a relatively harmless state that just happens to have a Jewish majority and a certain flag and holidays and Hebrew as an official language, but which otherwise treats all of its citizens equally. That is not the essence of Zionism or of Israel’s definition of itself.
    Since such a state is by definition not democratic, whoever supports democracy – majority rule within the constrictions of enumerated human rights – must oppose Zionism, as well as any other ethnocracy.
    In the case of Palestine and Zionism, of course, there are around 10 million people who have a right to citizenship in whatever country or countries rule all of or parts of Palestine, but who are excluded by Israel, both literally and in terms of citizenship and belonging. In testing for democracy, this fact, in this case, re-frames the whole discussion.
    I don’t know if Mr. Flamm’s son really rejects the idea of a Jewish state (in Palestine), as I’ve defined it, or merely and mainly disapproves of many or most of Israel’s actions – in which case he is not actually, in my view, an anti-Zionist.
    Others have other definitions of Zionism, and we should debate them in order to be able to use clear language.
    Thank you.

    • oldgeezer on March 4, 2020, 6:51 pm

      @GussCall

      I don’t believe there is an adequate or complete definition of zionism. I’ve lost count of the different definitions each of which begin with “Zionism is simply…”. Many of the definitions can be contradictory.

      Zionism is not simply anything. Zionism is defined by what zionism does to other people and states on a daily basis. Zionism is reprehensible in it’s war crimes and crimes against humanity. There is no room for feel good simple words.

    • Mooser on March 4, 2020, 7:56 pm

      In practical terms, anybody who isn’t willing to take active measures to support Zionism is an anti-Zionist.

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