The Collapse of the American Jewish Center

Three weeks ago, a group of young American Jews gathered outside the New York offices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the umbrella organization founded in the 1950s and which claims to speak for a consensus of the American Jewish community. The young Jews outside, though, were challenging that organization’s claim to speak in their name. They read aloud the names of Palestinians and Israelis killed in the latest military escalation between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and they recited the Mourner’s Kaddish.

A few days later, the group delivered a letter to the Conference’s CEO, Malcolm Hoenlein, demanding “that the Conference of Presidents join our call to stop the war on Gaza, end the occupation, and forge a path forward for freedom and dignity for all people in Israel and Palestine.” Nine activists were arrested for civil disobedience.

Hoenlein called the protest “very insignificant” and the protesters “Jewish kids who are misguided.”

Known as #IfNotNow (a use of the well-known words of the first century rabbinical sage Hillel), the group is made up of Jewish activists, some of whom are veterans of J Street, the inside-the-beltway advocacy group launched in 2008 that describes itself as “the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans.”

Carinne Luck, a former J Street chief of staff and vice-president for field and campaigns, who is part of #IfNotNow, said it is “not a direct response to or turning away from J Street,” but #IfNotNow’s existence “does speak to the lack of spaces in our community to take these actions and speak with this kind of voice.”

The rising tensions between the supporters of Israel’s use of military force and the dissenters has led to an unprecedented polarization in the American Jewish community as Operation Protective Edge continues without a permanent cease fire, much less visible prospects for the moribund peace process.

While #IfNotNow’s actions and protests thus far have been tiny—numbering in the hundreds—they are reflective of a burgeoning discontent with institutional Jewish reaction to the current Gaza conflict. That institutional reaction, these dissenters charge, not only unquestioningly supports the official Israeli narrative that Hamas left Israel no choice but to attack—and no choice but to target locations packed with civilians—but fails to acknowledge and address the ongoing violence and repression inherent in the occupation.

That institutional reaction, additionally, fails to reckon with countervailing evidence to the official Israeli narrative of the immediate causes of the current escalation. That includes evidence that the Israeli government knew the three Israeli students kidnapped in the West Bank in June had been murdered, but still ginned up emotions, in Israel and the diaspora, for a search the government knew was futile to find them alive. The Jewish Daily Forward’s J.J. Goldberg has meticulously documented the series of events leading up to an “unnecessary war” that “nobody wanted.” The government claim to be searching for the three kidnapped students, was, Goldberg wrote, “simply put, a lie.”

The institutional reaction, its critics further charge, fails to reckon with rising anti-Palestinian racism in Israeli government and society, or of military and police brutality against Palestinians, such as that brought down on Tariq Abu Khdeir, an American citizen and cousin of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was burned alive by Jewish Israeli citizens.

Increasingly, the American press is covering these societal and governmental trends, along with growing repression of left-wing and dissenting voices in Israel.

The current Israeli government, said Nathan Hersh, managing director of Partners for Progressive Israel, an American group allied with Israel’s liberal Meretz party, “is the further right government that I’ve seen in my lifetime.” Americans, he said, have become more conscious of “terribly racist” and “more blatant” comments tolerated by government officials. “That’s a driving force to the center and the left” among American Jews, he said.

The polarization of American Jews, said Dov Waxman, Professor of Political Science, International Affairs, and Israel Studies at Northeastern University, has increased with each large-scale eruption of fighting between Israel and Palestinians. Since the Second Intifada, which started in 2000, he said, with each escalation—Operation Cast Lead in 2009, Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, and this summer’s Operation Protective Edge—there has been a shift of pro-two-state solution activists to the left; at the same time, though, the right becomes strengthened and entrenched.

J-Street Goes Mainstream, Its Left Flank Gets A Boost

On July 11, J Street released a statement supporting Operation Protective Edge, adding a list of additional statements that “too many communal and organizational reactions to the present crisis” fail to express, including grief over the loss of innocent Palestinian life, as well as condemnation of racist incitement of violence by both Palestinians and Israelis.

Rachel Lerner, J Street’s Senior Vice President for Community Relations, said that while the group did field some criticism over the decision, “we have a very diverse constituency, we were also hearing from folks who were very supportive of our stance and strongly urged us to express solidarity with Israel.”

“I think that certainly we provided a voice that was asking some questions in a very tense and difficult moment, questions that were very much lacking in the organized Jewish community,” said Lerner.

But that was not enough for many activists. Some J Street supporters were appalled by J Street’s failure to marshal opposition to this newest Israeli military campaign. “Are we moving the community or are we becoming part of it?” one activist asked.

J Street, said Waxman, “was a left-wing alternative to the groups in the center” when it launched in 2008, billing itself as a Washington-focused alternative to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Now, he said, “J Street has to some extent become part of the mainstream.”

Shaul Magid, a rabbi, the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Chair in Jewish Studies at Indiana University, and a regular contributor to RD, served on the J Street rabbinical council before resigning over the organization’s refusal to support the 2011 Palestinian bid to upgrade its status at the United Nations. He told me that someone once joked to him, “Everyone in J Street is to the left of J Street.”

The activist added that “a growing conversation on campus is feeding the growth of #IfNotNow,” representing a “growing desire by young people to hold Jewish organizational leaders to account,” and expressing that “these people who claim to represent the Jewish community as a whole do not represent them.”

J Street’s own campus arm, J Street U, has itself been home to that conversation. Danny Blinderman, a regional co-chair for J Street U’s New England region, charged in the New York Jewish Week that American Jewish communal leaders have failed to provide “meaningful support” for a two-state solution. “It is time for our leaders to rally around the cause of peace with at least as much fervor as they have around Israel’s latest war,” he wrote.

Simone Zimmerman, a former president of the National Student Board of J Street U, and an #IfNotNow organizer, said the group was motivated by “a sense of helplessness, seeing so many in the Jewish world completely filing in lock step in support” of Israel’s military action.

“So many folks felt called to [#IfNotNow] because they are Jewish,” said Zimmerman, adding that supporting the Israeli government’s action “is not my Judaism.”

The organizers prepared a statement called a “Theory of Change,” pledging that #IfNotNow “will mobilize American Jews and Jews around the world to end the occupation by withdrawing consent and participation from institutions that uphold it.”


Further left, previous military escalations in Gaza, said Waxman, historically have given a “huge boost” to Jewish Voice for Peace, a left-wing group founded in 1996, but widely seen as outside the mainstream of the Jewish community.

The scope and scale of civilian casualties in Operation Protective Edge, particularly of women and children—coupled with minute-by-minute coverage on social and traditional media by reporters on the ground for major news outlets—have intensified the opposition.

Jewish Voice for Peace, because of its rhetoric casting Israel as an aggressor, and because of its support for the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, has largely been vilified by Jewish organizations as not representative of communal Jewish life.

The Anti-Defamation League has deemed the JVP “the leading Jewish anti-Zionist group in the United States, working to steer public support away from Israel and convince the American public that opposition to the Jewish state is not anti-Semitic”—a move seen even by those liberals who find JVP too far left as yet another instance of ADL’s attempts to marginalize Jewish groups who refuse to toe the party line.

Naomi Dann, a media fellow with JVP, said that the organization has seen a large uptick in new supporters and formation of local chapters since Operation Protective Edge, noting that in three weeks 50,000 new people signed up for its email updates. She said the ADL characterization is “deeply disturbing to us,” adding “we are part of the Jewish community, our values are rooted in Jewish values.”

Still, though, JVP may not fill a gap. Left-wing critics of J Street, which was once “the place to be,” Magid said, may not be comfortable with BDS, and thus not comfortable with JVP.

J Street, said Waxman, “actually does have a strong claim to represent a plurality of American Jews” with its opposition to the occupation and support for a two-state solution. Ultimately, though, he added, the greatest strategic damage to J Street will be the collapse of the peace talks led by Secretary of State John Kerry, and “growing despair over the two-state solution.” Without a viable political solution that is the centerpiece of J Street’s political agenda, he said, frustrated supporters of an end to the occupation will be drawn further to the left.

The center, said Magid, “hasn’t done any creative thinking in the last six or seven years.”

The Demise of Liberal Zionism?

Waxman has called this spring’s collapse of Kerry’s peace initiative “a bitter blow for liberal Zionists,” who now “must either abandon their liberalism or their Zionism, or just learn to live with the constant tension between them.”

Without a solution that ends the occupation and the second-class status of Israel’s Arab citizens, it will be increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to be a liberal Zionist.
This tension is slowly but increasingly finding its way into the public discourse via prominent public intellectuals, including journalist Peter Beinart, who led the way with his 2012 book The Crisis of Zionism, warning of drift away from and even hostility toward the establishment by young American Jews, and New York Times columnists Roger Cohen and Thomas Friedman, whose critiques are laced with laments over the decline, in Israel, of the liberal Zionism they grew up with and still cherish.

Beinart now writes for Israel’s leading left-leaning newspaper Haaretz, where this summer he has repeatedly questioned Operation Protective Edge, both morally and strategically. In one column, a rejoinder to right-wing opponents who accuse him of being a Hamas sympathizer, Beinart argued, “Hamas does have unwitting allies among our people,” particularly “the Israeli and American Jewish leaders who convince Palestinians that nonviolence and mutual recognition are futile. They bolster Hamas’ greatest asset, which is not rockets and tunnels. Hamas’ greatest asset is the Palestinian belief that Israel only understands the language of force.”

Most frequently cited to me in conversations with activists over the past week, though, was New York magazine correspondent Jonathan Chait’s “Israel Is Making It Hard to Be Pro-Israel.” The Gaza operation, Chait wrote, “is not Netanyahu’s strategy in excess; it is Netanyahu’s strategy in its entirety.”

“The liberal Zionist, two-state vision with which I identify, which once commanded a mainstream position within Israeli political life,” Chait went on, “has been relegated to a left-wing rump within it.”

If you’ve lost Chait, the “pro-Israel” camp is in big trouble, reasoned pro-peace activists. Without a solution that ends the occupation and the second-class status of Israel’s Arab citizens, it will be increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to be a liberal Zionist.

The reality, though, is that these shifts have been taking place even before Chait issued his cri de couer—his prominence as a figure with unassailable “pro-Israel” credibility and a widely read platform merely brought them to the fore as photographs of dead Palestinian children and grieving families dominated newspaper front pages around the world.

Lisa Goldman, director of the Israel-Palestine Initiative at the New America Foundation, who worked for a decade as a journalist in Israel and the occupied territories, noted a growing and “real unease among a whole slew of male liberal Zionist columnists.” This shift, she said, has been developing over the past five years, as realities on the ground—including the daily brutality of the occupation and growing repression of left-wing dissent—have become more well-known.

These writers, said Goldman, are realizing “this isn’t quite what they told us [about Israel] in summer camp, and this doesn’t mesh with our humanist values.”

The horrific murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian teenager and resident of East Jerusalem, created an “opportunity for us to have a very serious conversation,” said Goldman. That the opportunity came and went, and discussion of rising racism and violence in Israel was swallowed by the push to “stand with Israel” when Operation Protective Edge began.

“I’m really afraid that Israel as an idea rather than Israel as reality has become such an essential totem that people are afraid to examine because it would mean reassessing their entire identity,” said Goldman. The failure to examine, she said, “is a moral failure, a tragedy.”

Benjamin Sax, a theologian and the Jewish Scholar at the Institute for Jewish and Christian Studies, said, “what’s missing in all of this is Judaism. People talk about Judaism and Jewish values, but strangely, the state of Israel has replaced that for liberal Jews,” who maintain a “romantic view of the state.”

In the last Gaza war, said Sax, there was discussion of Israel’s “noble military.” But in Operation Protective Edge, the military’s use of “warning” bombs and leaflets to alert Gazans to evacuate is starting to be increasingly seen “as either a form of hasbara”—Israeli public diplomacy, or “explaining”—“or psychological warfare and none of those things are worth defending.” This critique is not limited to academia; Jon Stewart has popularized it.

Questioning Hasbara and God

“When will American rabbis go beyond ‘feeling sympathy’ for the Gazans?” asked Charles Manekin, a philosopher and director of the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center of Jewish Studies at the University of Maryland, who blogs under the pseudonym Jeremiah Haber.

In an interview from Jerusalem, Manekin criticized Americans who claim to support Israel, but spend little time educating themselves beyond “unquestioning adherence to the narrative of Israeli spokespeople.” (He strongly recommended reading Haaretz, not because of its political leanings, but because of its unvarnished and ongoing coverage of the realities of the occupation.) While American Jews may be critical of right wing Israeli groups and trends, he said, “when it comes to official Israel, it shows no skepticism.”

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, president and senior rabbi of the Jerusalem-based Rabbis for Human Rights, wrote this week, “my country’s attitude towards the killing of Palestinian civilians is deeply troubling.” (Israeli support for Operation Protective Edge exceeded 90% in polling.)

Many Israelis, Ascherman wrote, “deal with the contradiction between their unconditional support for the war and saying that they wish Gazans no harm by saying that they are heartbroken by the death of innocent civilians, but that Hamas is to blame” because it uses civilians as human shields. Some have even said civilians who voted for Hamas can be legitimate military targets.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish denomination in North America, told me the “overwhelming sense of our movement is support for Israel and [for] the military response in the face of these tunnels,” referring to the tunnels Hamas built from Gaza into Israel.

The URJ, along with the Conservative Movement and the Jewish Federations of North America, supported a “Stop The Sirens” campaign after Hamas rocket attacks “to raise and distribute funds to provide emergency aid and alleviate the pain and suffering of our Israeli brothers and sisters.  At times such as these we especially feel connected to our people.”

At the same time, said Jacobs, there is a “deep sadness” for the death of Palestinian civilians. “The majority of Jews worldwide, and the overwhelming majority of our movement has been supportive of Israel, and at the same time not developing any casualness or callousness over the severity of the death toll of Palestinians.”

He added that he has seen no shift within the Reform movement of young people to a more radical position. Teen and young adult leaders in the movement, he said, are “supportive and understanding of Israel’s defense of her people” and “to do so honestly in ways that were simply mandatory if they were going to be responsible protectors of their people.”

While American rabbis have acknowledged disturbing trends in Israel, they frequently treat it as a fringe phenomenon they oppose. But Ascherman argued that respected religious figures in Israel are responsible for it. “Sadly,” he wrote, “some rabbis even desecrate God’s Name by sanctioning this unjustifiable equation of civilians with combatants.” He cited statements by influential rabbis, including Dov Lior, who “wrote two weeks ago that Israeli military commanders may punish Palestinian civilians and destroy Gaza entirely;” Shlomo Aviner, who “recently wrote on his Facebook page that while it is normally wrong to harm an innocent Arab for another’s sin, ‘war is war;’” and Yisrael Rosen, who “cites the 11thcentury Torah commentator Rashi on starving an enemy population to death, and advocates making Gazans suffer until they turn on Hamas.

In expressing solidarity with Israel, American Jewish groups are supporting a populace that has largely lived in a bubble during the current conflict. Haaretz reporter Chemi Shalev has observed that during Operation Protective Edge Israelis “have been living in a parallel universe to most of the rest of the world,” shielded from the “ever-increasing doses of scenes of horrendous suffering in Gaza” seen in elsewhere, including the United States.

This poses risks for American Jews offering Israel that unquestioning support: that supporting the state has superseded supporting liberal values, and, more crucially, Jewish values, leading to a failure to reckon with the ways in which Israel’s current trajectory is an existential emergency. Rabbis, wrote Ascherman, “must not be cheerleaders for war’s logic.” Instead, “like Abraham, we must argue tenaciously with the powers-that-be. “


  •' Jim Reed says:

    It makes sense that there would be a collapse of the American Jewish center, because there has been a collapse of the American center.

    If you look closely you might see there has technically not been a collapse of the center at all. What was the center is now the left. It just seems like there is no center as the right spins further out of control.

    The good news is this is seeming more like a Jewish problem that needs a Jewish solution, and less like a Christian Zionism problem that needs a Christian solution. I am just going by the fact that Christian Zionism doesn’t seem to matter much any more, unlike during the Bush administration when it ruled. The collapse of Christian Zionism might be the first step in creating a world where Jews and Palestinians can start to figure this out.

  •' apotropoxy says:

    1. Right of Return: It is the Palestinians who have a right to return to the lands confiscated by the Zionists.
    2. Jewish claims of perpetual ownership of real estate are based on their belief that their local god gave them land millinia ago. Such a belief, however piously held, is absurd on its face.
    3. No people have been more persecuted over the last 1,700 years then have the Jews. Their worst oppressors have been the Christians. They continue to be.
    4. “Israel” was established as an outpost in the Middle East for post-war capitalist states. It acted as a regional destabilizer to aid in the prevention of Arab/Muslim reunification. This bulwark against communist influence now acts as a dissolving agent against oil patch unity.
    5. Ancient Palestine was, with the exception of about six decades, always a client state of various great regional powers. Today, it is a client state of the USA.

    Zionism is doing to Judaism’s soul what Hitler wanted to do to its body. Israel is not land and hasn’t been land since 70 CE. Israel became a civilizing state of mind.

  •' Aliquantillus says:

    These Jews are completely deluded. They are useful idiots who unknowingly embolden the murderous regime of Hamas which sacrifices Gaza’s children. Compromising with Hamas is as impossible as compromising with Iran or ISIS. Islamic Fundamentalism of whatever colour is irreconcilable and for that reason it should be destroyed. Jews who side with Hamas should be denied access to Israel and their Israeli nationality should be revoked.

    Siding with any Islamic Fundamentalist organization is against all Western interests. It is a terrible mistake to think that it is possible to keep the Islamistis at bay by making any concessions to their demands. They will accept the concessions, and strenghtened by your concessions they’ll kill you after all.

  •' Harry Underwood says:

    “Jewish claims of perpetual ownership of real estate are based on their belief that their local god gave them land millennia ago. Such a belief, however piously held, is absurd on its face.”

    If it is absurd, then what to say of indigenous land rights? After all, this is a very tribal conflict, with Jewish nationalists claiming indigenous/aboriginal land rights from the river to the sea.

    From the indigenous rights perspective, it’s somewhat distinct from the oft-cited settler colonialism that expelled or decimated aborigines in the Americas and Australasia: those settlers claimed a divine right to spread their civilization far and wide, subjugating and removing the aborigines in sight.

    Israeli nationalists, OTOH, claim descent from the same land and a “return” to the “place of origin” and a need to “pacify” the Palestinian-identified “invaders” for it to be the “Jewish homeland”. They’re not seeking to “spread their civilization” at the expense of all aborigines, but only at the expense of the rival party in that claimed homeland.

    I’m not quoting these words to mock them, but for those who are critical of Zionism’s claim to Israel/Palestine to consider and answer the indigenous-rights claim.

    “Zionism is doing to Judaism’s soul what Hitler wanted to do to its body. Israel is not land and hasn’t been land since 70 CE. Israel became a civilizing state of mind.”

    That’s romanticizing a slice of land.

  •' Leigh Anne P says:

    I wonder if there would be any real difference if the Cohen had a more visible role in this? Would things be calmer? A lot of the power and radical voices are in the ultra-orthodox rabbis.

  •' ortcutt says:

    What you are seeing is really a tribalism/non-tribalism divide. Among those with tribalist inclinations, it really doesn’t matter what Israel does or how many Palestinians are killed. They see the tribe under attack and any life in the tribe is worth infinitely many non-tribe lives. I once heard an American Orthodox Jewish man argue casually over dinner that Israel should destroy Iran with nuclear missles. The deaths of tens of millions of people didn’t seem to bother him or even register with him as morally problematic. That’s what tribalism does. This kind of tribalism is anathema to many non-tribalists. They don’t have a problem valuing Judaism or affiliating with Jewish people worldwide, but seeing one life as inherently more valuable than another violates their moral code. The needless and wanton deaths of over a thousand Gazans and the destruction of people’s homes isn’t something they can treat with indifference. The center is collapsing because it’s difficult to be a semi-tribalist. People will eventually either come down on the tribalist side or the non-tribalist side.

  •' Harry Underwood says:

    “Jews who side with Hamas should be denied access to Israel and their Israeli nationality should be revoked.”

    Good thing those kids are not Israeli nationals, isn’t it?

    “They are useful idiots who unknowingly embolden the murderous regime of Hamas which sacrifices Gaza’s children.”

    These have nothing of use to Hamas, while the Israeli government continues to feed into a psychological cycle from which Hamas, with nowhere to go outside of Gaza, continues to benefit. Hamas governs a counterproductive jihadist dictatorship which only thrives off of public support because all the other political options have been killed (most by Hamas) or driven to the West Bank.

    What, if any impact, could 9 kids in NY have on a hermit dictatorship?

    “Compromising with Hamas is as impossible as compromising with Iran or ISIS.”

    I don’t think Iran or ISIS belong in the same sentence. They’re both Islamists, but last I checked, Iran is not out conquering a whole state with wholesale genocides of villages like ISIS is doing, Baha’i minority notwithstanding. Plus they seem to not have, or cause, too much trouble with their buddy states like Venezuela. ISIS, OTOH, is feared like the Black Plague due to their no-prisoners stance and resolve to carry out “Allah’s will” in committing genocide.

    “Islamic Fundamentalism of whatever colour is irreconcilable and for that reason it should be destroyed.”

    We’ve tried that, and I really don’t know how long it would take, or what it could cost in a death toll. I accept that religious fundies are reactionary malcontents, many of whom vote where there is a democracy, but they have the same flawed and authoritarian worldview, even in a democracy (see Erdogan in Turkey). Same thing with Hamas. Why feed into fundie violence by giving them another war?

    “Siding with any Islamic Fundamentalist organization is against all Western interests.”

    Unless those Islamic fundamentalists and conservatives see eye-to-eye with Christian fundamentalists on issues such as “decency” and “morality” and trade their robes for pinstripe suits.

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    Do the 800,000 Jews who were expelled from Arab lands also have a “right to return?”

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    Re: (2), the Jewish claim to ownership is based on two things: (A) UN Resolutions; (B) Having taken territory in defensive wars.

    I would argue that these two grounds are a better basis for ownership of a country than that of the US, in which all the land was taken by way of invasion and offensive warfare.

    Looking forward to seeing you at the White House, picketing to return California and Texas to Mexico and the rest of the country to the American Indians. I also look forward to seeing your call for this on various discussion boards around the internet.

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    Sarah needed to read this article, before she wrote her own.

  •' idrive405 says:

    The decline of the Jewish center on Israel parallels the decline of the Jewish center on religion. More young Jews are attending day schools and keeping Shabbat, while more at the other end are intermarrying, eating on Yom Kippur and not attending seders. The decline in support for Israel among the latter group isn’t so much ideology as apathy. It’s not that young Jews dislike Avigdor Lieberman; they have no idea who he is. It used to be that young Jews, if they couldn’t speak Hebrew fluently, they could at least read it without difficulty. Many today don’t even know the alphabet, let alone Jewish history.

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    A very sound observation. It’s why it’s so important that those of us who consider ourselves liberal Jews raise Jewishly educated children. I myself have elected to teach Sunday school at our synagogue this year, in support of that idea.

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    The disagreement over Israeli policy in Gaza is not a function of tribalism/non-tribalism, but over disagreement over how best to deal with Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups.

    The US nuked two Japanese cities. Was that due to tribalism?

    Finally, I would bet that you value your own family’s lives more than those of complete strangers, and if not, there is something psychologically amiss. What Israelis are confronting is to what extent are they willing to risk the lives and well-being of their brothers, sisters, mothers, etc., for the sake of people whom they don’t know and whose government endlessly shoots missiles into their cities and towns.

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    “The Israeli government continues to feed into a psychological cycle
    from which Hamas, with nowhere to go outside of Gaza, continues to


    I think this is absolutely correct. But the converse is also true. The constant low-grade warfare against Israel has pushed the country into the arms of the Right. Indeed, it is the single most significant factor in the collapse of the Israeli Left.

  •' Jarnauga says:

    On 4, although later the USSR became a key backer of Arab states, it should be noted that the Soviet delegation under Gromyko (as well as the Ukrainian and Byelorussian delegations) were very strong supporters of the partition plan in 1948. The US delegation wanted UN trusteeship initially, which the Soviets categorically opposed:

    Moshe Shertok’s telegram to Molotov in Moscow announcing the declaration of the state of Israel made clear Israel’s gratitude to the USSR for its stand on the partition plan and its support for the creation of a Jewish state.

  •' apotropoxy says:

    UN Resolution: The Palestinian property owners did not agree to abandon their ancient homeland. It was taken from them by a piece of paper.

    Defensive Wars: These wars only happened after New Israel had established a base in Palestine and faced natural and understandable resistance.

    California/Texas: Nice example of the Tu Quoque and False Equivalency Fallacies.

  •' apotropoxy says:

    Sure. They have the same right the Palestinians have to return to their homeland.

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    1. Right. The Israelis accepted the partition and the Palestinians rejected it, on the assumption that their Arab brothers would be able to easily crush the Jewish state. Didn’t work out that way. Tough luck.

    2. Your second point is refuted by the mistaken assumptions of your first.

    3. This is not a logic class. Nor are we engaged in trading syllogisms. We are engaged in political discourse, which is a form of social interaction and yes, being a bald-faced hypocrite doesn’t do much to encourage others to take you seriously. (I am using “you” here in place of “one.”)

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    Funny that the characters calling for the Palestinian right to return never mention it.

  •' apotropoxy says:

    True. Even though many of the communist movement’s vanguard were Jewish intellectuals, many were not. Antisemitism in the USSR was pervasive. The new state of Israel gave the Russians a convenient place to dump their pre-war Jews.

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    By the way, your description of Nasser, the Baathists in Syria, and the like as being engaged in “natural and understandable resistance” is Orwellian….at best.

  •' apotropoxy says:

    Ad Hominem

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    Lol. You’re cute. Read point 3. in my other reply to you. Repeating what you learned in your Intro Critical Thinking class like a mantra is not going to make you a persuasive interlocutor.

  •' apotropoxy says:

    non sequitur

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    Nice speaking with you.

  •' Akiva Cohen says:

    The flaw here is a relatively typical one: the assumption that “the center” is “wherever I happen to be on this issue”. The Jewish center hasn’t collapsed; it simply is not located in the ideological position that folks like JVP and JStreet wish that it was

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    Godwin’s law on parade.

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    Jews who side with Hamas should be denied access to Israel and their Israeli nationality should be revoked.


    See, crazy talk like this is really unhelpful (not to mention unsound). For one thing, Jewish critics of current Israeli policy are not “siding with Hamas,” but rather, disagreeing with how Israel deals with Hamas. For another, calling for peoples’ citizenship to be revoked for their political views is illiberal and would render Israel indistinguishable from the military and theocratic dictatorships that surround it.

  •' ortcutt says:

    What separates the two factions isn’t a debate about Israeli policy. The debate out there is whether it’s acceptable to criticize or even evaluate Israeli policy. For the tribalists, criticizing Israel is a betrayal of the tribe. For the non-tribalists, it isn’t. They think it’s normal to ask whether the Israeli response is appropriate or morally justifiable. When the Gazan death toll passes one thousand and UN schools are shelled, it’s something that the non-tribalists have a hard time justifying morally.

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    Certainly *some* of the conversation is about whether criticism constitutes treachery. (And it is a ridiculous, absurd conversation.) But I would maintain far more of the conversation has to do with disagreement, between Liberal and Conservative Zionists over policy.

  •' Jarnauga says:

    It appears that it was more complicated than this. According to Gromyko’s memoirs, antisemitism played a role in terms of the Soviets trying to curry favor with the Poles (which boggles the mind given the recent Holocaust and that half the victims came from Poland). Stalin was an anti-Semite, too, of course, as well as being initially nervous about Zionism to the point of setting up a separate autonomous oblast in Siberia for Jews (which still exists today):

    However, a significant part of the calculation on the part of the USSR seems to have been purely strategic: putting a thumb in the eye of Britain and trying to divide the US & UK.

  •' jfigdor says:

    Do you think the center is going to drop out altogether from Judaism, resulting in a more bifurcated spectrum between Orthdox Judaism on one hand, and secular and/or Humanistic Judaism on the other? I guess my question is which branch of Judaism suffers most from the hollowing out of the center?

  •' apotropoxy says:


  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    Kiss, kiss.

  •' apotropoxy says:

    Finally, an honest if cliched response. Well done.

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    I think that has already happened. Conservative and Reform Judaism have each moved towards each other, to the point that they are becoming less and less distinguishable. So you essentially have the Orthodox—whom, to be fair, admit of many varieties—and the rest.

    As for who suffers, I think we all do, when there is less variety, less choice, less capacity to represent even subtle differences.

  •' Harry Underwood says:

    True. And I wonder while reading JStreet’s Facebook feed: whither those Hebrews and Arabs who seek not only peace, but integration into Israeli/Palestinian society and liberalization of Israeli/Palestinian religion. What about them?

    Right now, they are being sidelined by not only domestic politics, but a binary between the religious-orthodox/religious-conservative and the secular (Hiloni), both of which are entrenched in the drama of the ongoing saga. The Reform Jewish movement in Israel is small and most visible when Reform women seek to pray at the Kolel. I honestly don’t know if there is a Reform Muslim movement to speak of in Israel or Palestine, and the Palestinians could surely benefit from such a movement to reciprocate.

    And the peace/reconciliation projects on the ground are few and far between, but are noted for their rarity.

    But for as long as these movements for religious liberalization and cultural integration remain small and rare, the current set of mentalities will continue to hold sway in the region. Watch and support these stories and these movements.

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    My own view of this is that the only possible solution lies in each side being able to purge their internal politics of their radicals/reactionaries.

    But *that* can only happen, when the constant low-grade warfare ends. Because it is precisely that warfare that is driving each side’s electorates into the arms of the radicals/reactionaries.

    What that means is a quick deal that stops the fighting. It will not be what the Palestinians want and as they are in the far weaker position, that, unfortunately, is unavoidable. But once this constant warfare stops, I believe that the Israeli Left will be able to rally. The country is naturally modern, secular, and liberal, ultimately with Socialist roots.

    Once that happens and once Hamas is out of business–they have forfeited the privilege of governing–then the Israelis and Palestinians can return to the table, hammer out a viable, productive peace and hopefully, down the road, a free and open trade zone between them.

  •' Aliquantillus says:

    The only way this psychological circle can be broken is through the complete extermination of Hamas. Nothing less will do. And that is what Israel should do as soon as there is an opportunity to do it.

  •' Harry Underwood says:

    But there is no purging of radicals/reactionaries without promoting a viable alternative. Not just an alternative to constant warfare, but an alternative to constant reactionary invective and restrictionist cultural taboos in the interim.

  •' mnemos says:

    I’m not Jewish and have no real claim in this discussion, but I would hazard to say there are fundamental differences in belief about the nature of Hamas and the Palestinians that underlie the debate. There are some points for which there should be agreement and some that are very debatable, and it might be useful to flesh these points out to generate a more open and productive discussion. For example, there should be a general admission that Hamas as an organization has a primary purpose of destroying Israel. They have stated this, and they have acted on this. If an argument is based on the assumption destroying Israel is not a primary purpose of Hamas, that assumption needs to be defended – it should not be simply accepted. I believe there is actually a significant number of people on the liberal side of the debate that do not want to accept that – and I understand since it is not something that we would like to accept. In fact it is something we would wish to not be true, but there it is, for Hamas both word and deed support the statement. If we can agree on that, we can argue for example whether that primary purpose can change, but that argument can be more productive if we can first admit the current reality. Another example, we can argue how widespread that purpose is among Palestinians outside of the Hamas organization, but we need to do that based on the understanding that destruction of Israel is a primary purpose of Hamas, the Palestinians of Gaza who voted to support Hamas know it is a primary purpose, and they are still willing to support Hamas, although arguably based on other factors. We can argue whether the support for Hamas is despite their focus on destruction of Israel, or because of their focus on destruction of Israel and look for evidence to support either argument.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    As long as you keep pushing these people, they will never say what you want them to say. Give them a chance. Let them have their own country. Show some respect. They will respond to that.

    Also, remember, Israel is about a million times stronger than them, so the chance of them actually wiping out Israel is zero.

  •' SDK says:

    Major Jewish organizations care very much what Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders (left and right) think of them, hence the strong desire never to move too far from the Israeli center. The average American Jew, on the other hand, loves Israel but would never be able to name the parties in Netanyahu’s government. Netanyahu came and told American Jews that Obama was anti-Israel and that we should all vote for Romney. No effect.

    American Jews on the left and the right on this issue are passionately engaged in this argument and really care deeply about what decisions the State of Israel makes. They care because they know Israel well and they love Israelis, but both sides make the exact same logical errors: (1) They think Israelis care about what American Jews think about this conflict (they don’t) (2) They think Israel represents all that is “good” in Judaism and must represent those things for them (it doesn’t) and (3) They think American Jews control the State of Israel and its choices (hahahahaha …).

    How else can you explain these passionate debates about what “we” (meaning the Israeli government or the Israeli people) must or must not do? How else can you explain this fragmentation over exact ideology and policy?

    The only thing we can influence, my fellow American Jews, is the behavior of the American government and that, far less than we think. We don’t get to decide what Israelis do. Americans will not resolve this conflict unless the people who live in the region choose to resolve it. Israel is under no obligation to meet your emotional or representational needs. And no one really cares what you think.

  •' SDK says:

    Is there any form of nationalism you support? If not, why criticize Zionism? Muslim and Hindu nationalism in South Asia have caused more problems for more people than Zionism, so far and have equally “weak” roots. So go out and argue for the dissolution of all national borders and the end of ethnic or religious states and that’s fine. But in a world of states, to single out Jewish nationalism as particularly corrupting to the soul seems odd to me. Perhaps you should go and warn the Kurds of their impending soul-destruction? After all, wouldn’t living as a perpetual minority in the multiethnic democratic havens of Syria, Iraq and Turkey be much better for the Kurdish people than all the moral complications that come from having a STATE?

    Wow — silence. Not many takers on the Kurds-as-perpetual-minority idea out there. Statehood is looking pretty good right now.

    Having an army has been obviously better for Jews in the past 60ish years than not having an army. You’ve got to get past that obvious and clear truth to get an traction in your argument. And please, talk about merging Pakistan and Bangladesh back into India, every time you talk about the Middle East.

  •' SDK says:

    My mother’s family is from Ireland, Germany and France. My father’s family is from Poland, Russia and Germany but they were Jews and therefore never considered Poles, Russians or Germans. I currently live and maintain citizenship in a country built on stolen Native American land. Where is my homeland?

    Sometime, you lose wars and people take your land. It happened to the Jews, it happened to the Palestinians, the Armenians, the Kurds, and lots of other people. Sometimes, people sign agreements and you lose things that should be yours. It happened to Native American tribes. It happened to Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis (before they used those identities), it happened all over Europe for hundreds of years and continues to happen today.

    What happened to the Palestinians was unfair and they deserve justice but it was not more unfair or uniquely unfair than what has happened to anyone else. The Jews are there now. They are not going “home” — those places are gone. The Palestinians also are not going anywhere. Those who recognize this reality and want to try to create some justice for both peoples going forward are the only ones with a plan that does not involve more dead children. Everyone else should go off into a corner to nurse their grievances, suck their wounds, or rage against G-d. Just get out of the way.

  •' SDK says:

    Actually, the radical voices in terms of the conflict are in the national religious camp, which is called “modern Orthodox” in the United States (they send lots of their kids to study and live in the settlements) and by a variety of names in Israel, but national religious suffices. The ultra-Orthodox are another group entirely — about half of whom are not even Zionists. They are the troublemakers who tear down posters of women and who want to institute gender segregation and get more money for people who are freeloading off the state.

    Both groups are religious fundamentalists and their behavior and political positions are fueled by fundamentalism. Neither are particularly convinced of the value of a liberal, democratic, humanist state. So both of them are “dangerous” from a liberal, humanist point of view, but they are not the same groups. In fact, there is true hatred among some factions towards the other group.

  •' apotropoxy says:

    1. “Where is my homeland?”
    Your homeland is where you were born and now live. Where is the homeland of the Palestinians who have been herded into ghettos controlled by Israelis?

    2. “Sometime, you lose wars and people take your land.”
    Yes, indeed. The scattered, aboriginal tribes of the North American continent fall into this category. But Palestine didn’t lose a war. They actually supported the Allies in WW 2 against Germany. The great, victorious WW 2 powers used the UN to carve out land that had a Jewish identity 1,800 years ago, displaced the residents, and installed the battered, homeless Jews of Europe.

    3. “What happened to the Palestinians was unfair and they deserve justice but it was not more unfair or uniquely unfair than what has happened to anyone else.”
    a. No. It is more unfair. The Jews didn’t conquer Palestine. It was taken from them by superpowers and given to them at the expense of the residents.
    b Did you know that Israel controls the fresh water and power generation for Gaza? Did you know that Israel prevents Gazans from meaningful economic activity?
    c. Using the “well it happened to others” argument hardly makes it right.

    4. “The Jews are there now.”
    What will you say if the Jews lose a horrible war and are removed from Palestine? Will you then say “The Palestinians have recaptured their old territory so the Jews should “go off into a corner to nurse their grievances, suck their wounds,”?

    5. “What happened to the Palestinians was unfair and they deserve justice”. You recognize the injustice. That is a mitzvah.

    Hillel: “”What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation.”

  •' belindox says:

    Fooq the poopystinians and this lying author too

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    Give them a chance. Let them have their own country. Show some respect. They will respond to that.


    You really don’t know anything about the history of this conflict, do you?

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I guess my thinking has been skewed by growing up in a country where Christianity was the driving factor, and they thought things would just get worse in the middle east until blood ran up to the horses bridle, and then Jesus would come and descend on the temple mountain and rule for a thousand years of peace. Lots of people would be killed including lots of Jews who would be surrounded by Satan’s armies, but something like 144 thousand of them would become Christian. We were trying to organize a world where these things would happen, and we could have the millenium, in our lifetimes. Now I think that was all a mistake, and we need a different approach.

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    You just seem to think it is very simple. Give them their own country. Show them some respect. Do you realize how many peace negotiations/plans there have been? Do you understand how complex the issues are?

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I think Israel wants to find ways to move Palestinians out of Jerusalem and out of places where they might want to build new settlements, and I can appreciate that process is really really complex.

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    If you think that is the only complexity, you know nothing about the situation. And if you think most Israelis want to be in either the WB or Gaza strip, you know nothing about the political situation in Israel.

  •' George says:

    Cowards won’t even stand up for their own right to live in peace. Shame on them. Turn off Jon Stewart and end your ridiculous quest to be popular with the people who hate you. You are Jewish and they are terrorists who launch rockets into the State of Israel. Have some balls kids.

  • GMG248 says:

    The center is collapsing in many spheres. The idea of a unified Israel is an American and Israeli myth. We should understand the reality of the collapsing center by looking at our own national experience. Polarization is not just an American or an Israeli phenomenon.

  •' LegalizeLezMarriage says:

    Are you kidding me? This “young Jew” is not only typing on Shabbat, but can’t stand Lieberman. I also can’t stand Likud, let alone Jewish Home and Israel Our Home. The right wing in Israel is nakedly racist, disgustingly pro-war, and driving the nation into fascism. And why SHOULD us liberal Jews consider supporting Israel? Israel doesn’t even consider us Jewish. If I made aliyah, I wouldn’t be able to marry because I’m not an Orthodox Jew and I never will be an Orthodox Jew, and Israel doesn’t have civil marriage. And guess what? The majority of American Jews are not and never will be Orthodox Jews. Too bad, so sad. One day they’ll wake up like I did and realize that “our nation” doesn’t actually want us, as the Israeli chief rabbi once proclaimed. And when we realize that, we’re going to start demanding our tax dollars stop funding 1/6th of Israel’s military budget. And with all of the allies either war-weary, mistrusting, or gone, it’s going to be a lonely place in the world’s powderkeg without any allies.

    ..And, although I might not be as observant as you wish, I DO lead Pesach seder every year and fast on Yom Kippur (and even some of the other fast days, who knew!). Most of my (much more observant) young Jewish friends not only keep kosher but also support JVP.

  •' Linda Sang says:

    Very well said, apotropoxy. There is a lot to think about here, especially your observation that “Zionism is doing to Judaism’s soul what Hitler wanted to do to its body.” Over the past month I have come to the same conclusion, which I believe is inescapable for anyone who really cares about Judaism. I wasn’t the first to realize this, nor will I be the last. Operation Protective Edge, and the inevitable reaction to it, accelerated this process but did not begin it.

  •' Linda Sang says:

    Re “We were trying to organize a world where these things would happen, and we could have the millenium, in our lifetimes. Now I think that was all a mistake, and we need a different approach.”

    Thank you, Jim Reed. I have had MANY unpleasant encounters with Christian Zionists in my online life, but this is the first time I have ever encountered a repentant one. If you were not including yourself because you personally were never a Christian Zionist, please accept my sincere apologies. I didn’t mean to insult you.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I don’t know if there has been any repentance yet, but I was involved for a few years with a group that included Christian Zionism. I left that behind over 40 years ago, and have been free of religion since then. They seemed ready to pack up and move everyone to caves in Petra, but fortunately the group started to crumble and I don’t think anyone made the trip.

  •' gross profit says:

    Utter nonsense.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    It’s religion, so we pretty much have to look for some way to make sense of it.

  •' Bobbloggerstein says:

    I agree Conservative Judaism is in deep trouble and the Reform movement is surviving mostly based on their outreach towards intermarried Jews. The demographics clearly are not in favor of the non Orthodox denominations.

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