Wrestling With Zion: Re-thinking Jewish Tradition and the Ongoing Crisis in the Middle East
Allan C. Brownfeld
Wrestling with Zion,
Edited by Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon,
Often, we are told that there is a “unity” of Jewish opinion both relating to the ongoing crisis in the Middle East and concerning the relationship of Judaism, the religion, with Jewish nationalism and the place of the State of Israel in American Jewish life. In fact, it is diversity, rather than unity, that truly characterizes Jewish opinion.
In a recently published book, Wrestling With Zion, some of the most important writers and thinkers in modern American Jewish life are assembled for the first time to address these questions, It is a book which deserves far more attention than it has received thus far.
The editors of this volume are Tony Kushner, the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, and Alisa Solomon, who has been covering Israel/Palestine since the 1980s for the Village Voice and is Professor of English/Journalism at Baruch College-City University of New York.
Dispossession of Palestinians
Kushner and Solomon write that, “The founding of the State of Israel required the dispossession of an indigenous group, the Palestinians. This is unignorable reality, obscured by but not dissolved in preexisting and subsequent claims made by, or acts of inhumanity committed by, both sides, long before and long after Israel’s formal declaration as a state. Tracking through a forest of competing identities and histories of persecution and oppression, one must adhere to this simple fact or else one’s moral compass loses its true north and ceases to function. The founding of the State of Israel required the dispossession of a sizable indigenous population. This is only to say that the violence inherent in the building of any nation-state was present at the creation of Israel. Scholars, historians and human rights workers and peace activists in Israel join with much of the rest of the planet in a near-universal recognition of Palestinian dispossession and dislocation, the subsequent gruesome reality of the Palestinian people, the insurmountable obstacle posed to any peace process by the existence of Israeli settlements in and around every West Bank town and in the Gaza Strip, and the fatal illogic of a policy that makes the peace process hostage to suicide bombers.”
In recent days, Kushner and Solomon note, there has been “... a dangerous illusion ... that the Jewish-American community speaks with a single voice, expressing universal, uncritical support for the policies of the Sharon government. A widespread but relatively recent conflation of Judaism and Jewish identity with Israel and Israeli nationalist identity has done a grave disservice to the heterogeneity of Jewish thought, to the centuries-old Jewish tradition of lively dispute and rigorous, unapologetic skeptical inquiry. As a consequence of this artificial flattening and deadening of discourse, enforced by rage and even violence, the vital connection between Jewish culture and the struggle for social and economic justice is coming apart. And, of course, because American foreign policy has a tidal effect on the politics of the region, the Jewish-American community can play a pivotal role in the pursuit of a just and lasting peace. We hope this book will help liberate American voices of negotiation for the end of the occupation, for justice for the Palestinians, for peace and security for both nations.”
Examining the question of how representative of American Jewish opinion such groups as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations really are, author Michael Massing points out that these “two Jewish organizations with the most influence on foreign policy have had leaders who are far more conservative and hardline than are most American Jews.”
In the case of the Presidents Conference, which is made up of the heads of 51 Jewish organizations, Massing notes that it “is meant to reflect the broad spectrum of opinion among America’s 6.1 million Jews. By charter, it is supposed to act only when there is a consensus among its members. In practice, however, the organization is run largely by one man, Malcolm Hoenlein, who has tilted it decisively to the right on critical issues involving Israel in recent years.”
Of the group’s 51 members, the two largest are the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. The former represents America’s 1.5 million Reform Jews and their 900 synagogues; the latter, America’s 1.5 million Conservative Jews and their 760 synagogues. “Both of these groups,” writes Massing, “are generally liberal in outlook and supportive of the peace process in the Middle East. Each one gets one vote on the board. By contrast, the Orthodox Union — organized arm of Orthodox Judaism — represents 600,000 Jews in 800 congregations. Nonetheless, it too gets one vote. So do a host of smaller organizations, such as Agudath Israel of America, the Zionist Organization of America and American Friends of Likud — all of them conservative and unenthusiastic about the peace process. The smaller conservative groups in the conference decisively outnumber the larger liberal ones and so can neutralize their influence. And that leaves considerable discretion in the hands of Malcolm Hoenlein.”
Hoenlein, Massing shows, speaks in the terminology used by Israel’s right-wing. He states, for example,that, “Jews have a right to live in Judea and Samaria, part of the ancient Jewish homeland — just as they have a right to live in Paris or Washington.” Massing notes that, “The catchphrase ‘Judea and Samaria’ is a biblically inspired reference that Likud Party supporters use to justify the presence of Jewish settlers on the West Bank. Hoenlein, in fact, has long been involved with the settlers’ movement. For several years in the mid-1990s, he served as an associate chairman for the annual fundraising dinners held in New York for Bet El, a militant settlement near Ramallah that actively worked to scuttle the peace process by provoking confrontations with neighboring Palestinians.”
Reform leader Rabbi Eric Yoffie states that the Presidents Conference “has been much more outspoken and forceful in supporting governments of the right than those of the left. I feel strongly that during the Rabin and Barak years the conference simply did not demonstrate the same kind of energy and aggressive support for the policies of the Israeli government that it did during the Shamir and Netanyahu years.”
Michael Massing concludes that, “AIPAC’s activities over the years — its cozy ties with the Shamir government, its support for moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, its efforts to keep Washington from leaning too hard on Sharon — leave the unmistakable impression that it, like the Presidents Conference, does not want to see the U.S. become too involved in pushing for peace in the Middle East, AIPAC and the Presidents Conference have kept the U.S. from taking steps that many believe are essential if peace is ever to come to the region. ... With Israelis and Palestinians killing one another in an ever-escalating cycle of revenge and retaliation, only strong intervention by the U.S. seems capable of stopping it. But as long as groups like AIPAC and the Presidents Conference continue to be controlled by a small unrepresentative core, such a role for Washington seems out of the question.”
Palestinians and the Holocaust
Among the essays included in this collection is a talk given as the Second Annual Holocaust Lecture at the Center for American and Jewish Studies and the George W. Truett seminary at Baylor University on April 8, 2002 by Sara Roy, senior research scholar at the Center for Middle East Studies at Harvard University, and the daughter of Holocaust survivors.
“As with the Holocaust,” Roy declared, “I tried to remember my very first encounter with the occupation. One of my earliest encounters involved a group of Israeli soldiers, an old Palestinian man, and his donkey. Standing on a street with some Palestinian friends, I noticed an elderly Palestinian walking down the street, leading his donkey. A small child no more than three or four years old, clearly his grandson, was with him. Some Israeli soldiers standing nearby went up to the old man and stopped him. One soldier ambled over to the donkey and pried open its mouth. ‘Old man,’ he asked, ‘why are your donkey’s teeth so yellow? Why aren’t they white? Don’t you brush your donkey’s teeth?’ The old Palestinian was mortified, the little boy visibly upset. The soldier repeated his question, yelling this time, while other soldiers laughed. The child began to cry and the old man just stood there silently, humiliated. The scene repeated itself while a crowd gathered, The soldier then ordered the old man to stand behind the donkey and demanded that he kiss the animal’s behind. At first, the old man refused but as the soldier screamed at him and his grandson became hysterical, he bent down and did it. The soldiers laughed and walked away. They had achieved their goals to humiliate him and those around him. We all stood there in silence, ashamed to look at each other, hearing nothing but the uncontrollable sobs of the little boy. The old man did not move for what seemed like a very long time. He just stood there, demeaned and destroyed.”
Sara Roy recalls: “I stood there too, in stunned disbelief. I immediately thought of the stories my parents had told me of how Jews had been treated by the Nazis in the 1930s, before the ghettos and death camps, of how Jews would be forced to clean sidewalks with toothbrushes and have their beards cut off in public. What happened to the old man was absolutely equivelant in principle, intent and impact to humiliate and dehumanize. In this instance, there was no difference between the German soldier and the Israeli one. Throughout the summer of 1985, I saw similar incidents: young Palestinian men being forced by Israeli soldiers to bark like dogs on their hands and knees or dance in the streets ... In this critical respect my first encounter with the occupation was the same as my first encounter with the Holocaust, with the number on my father’s arm. It spoke the same message: the denial of one’s humanity. It is important to understand the very real differences in volume, scale, and horror between the Holocaust and the occupation and to be careful about comparing the two, but it is also important to recognize the parallels where they exist.”
In another contribution, Douglas Rushkoff, a professor at New York University and author of the book Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism, makes the point that, “At the very least, we must consider the possibility that Israel is not the ultimate realization of Jewish ideals, but a temporary surrender of those ideals to the greater necessities of survival in a world plagued by angry religious states with cruel and murderous ethnocentric policies. In a sense, the real Jewish nation — at least in principle if not its most recent deeds — is the United States, which was founded on more consistently Jewish ideals than Israel itself. Unintentionally, the Arabs are right when they paint America as a great Zionist conspiracy. It is the true, if troubled experiment in religious freedom and secular self-rule initiated by Moses so many years ago. If I had to pick a flag that best represented the spirit and law of my Torah, it’d be the (American) flag.”
Arguing that without U.S. leadership moving the Middle Mast peace process forward success is unlikely, if not impossible, Henry Siegman, Senior Fellow and Director of the U.S./Middle East Project of the Council on Foreign Relations, who served as executive director of the American Jewish Congress from 1978 to 1994, writes: “In the real world., Sharon’s government will never offer an alternative to its policy of ever-escalating revenge killings. It is therefore the U.S. that should declare its vigorous support for such an alternative. To be sure, the U.S. cannot make Israeli policy. But if the U.S. is clear about what it believes is the right and necessary thing to do, Israel will eventually do it. When U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared, without equivocation, that the 1956 invasion of Egypt by Israel, Great Britain and France was wrong and needed to be reversed, all three countries pulled out promptly.”
In Siegman’s view, “A great power, particularly one that has become the world’s only great power, does not need to send planes and troops to make its point. It is time for Washington to deal with the fundamentals of the conflict, and not to avoid them by focusing instead on so-called ‘confidence-building’ strategies; that is a cop out. The only way to build confidence is to give Palestinians reason to believe they can achieve their goal without resorting to violence. This requires far more than the U.S. entertaining a ‘vision’ of a ‘State of Palestine’ in an indeterminate future. Without an explicit and credible non-violent alternative that would lead to statehood, the very term ‘confidence building’ is quite meaningless. What is it we expect Palestinians to have confidence in? Sharon’s goodwill? ... Israel’s insistence on a continuation of measures that have bred only increased terrorism in the past, in the belief that more of the same will somehow yield different results, is madness, The last thing the U.S, should be doing is encouraging such madness.”
Judaism and Justice
Another contribution, “Why Israel Must Choose Justice,” is the text of a speech delivered on June 25, 2003 by playwright Arthur Miller as he received the Jerusalem Prize, which honors literary achievement in the field of freedom of the individual in society.
Miller recalls that, “I was invited to attend the Waldorf dinner in 1948 to celebrate the Soviet Union’s recognition of the State of Israel ... The very idea of a nation of Jews existing in modern times was hard to imagine then. It was almost as though a scene out of the Bible were being reenacted ... All of this was something so new on the earth that it never dawned on me or, I think, on most people, that the new Israel, as a state governed by human beings, would behave more or less the same as any state had acted down through history — defending its existence by all means thought necessary and even expanding its borders when possible.”
Although he declares that, “I was not a Zionist,” Miller states that, “I certainly participated, however unwittingly, in this kind of denial although it did seem rather odd to hear Golda Meir responding to a question about the Palestinians by saying, ‘We are the Palestinians.’ But this seemed about as harmless as the American president’s habit of resolving the harsh inequalities in American society by pridefully declaring ‘We are all Americans.’ The Jewish obsession with justice goes back to the beginnings, of course. Job, after all, is not complaining merely that he has lost everything ... His bewilderment derives from a horrendous vision of a world without justice, which means a world collapsed into chaos and brute force ... Israel in that Waldorf moment meant the triumph of sheer survival, the determination to live a dignified life. Israel also signaled the survival of a temperament, the continuing Jewish entanglement in the mesh of life, and somehow the Jewish engagement with eternal things.”
Lamenting the policies of Israeli governments in recent years, in particular the expanding settlements in occupied territories, Miller concludes: “Jewish history is extremely long and is filled ... with an obsession with justice. It is a terrible irony that, in a sense, the State of Israel today is being attacked by those wielding visionary ideals that were born in the Jewish heart. It is time for Jewish leadership to reclaim its own history and to restore its immortal light of to the world.”
Of particular interest is the section of this book entitled “A Century’s Sampling Of Dissenting Views.” Professor Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark of City University of New York introduces this historical material this way: “There are few still alive who remember a time when, even among Zionists, debate flourished and the nature of Jewish settlement in Palestine was still a question. We want to present in this section the voices of dissenters over the course of the Zionist century, beginning with selections from Ahad Ha’am ... Today, any American Jew who would dare to express the views so freely articulated in the pieces that follow would be drummed out of the community as a traitor, an Israel-basher, a self-hating Jew. It is therefore striking to note that most of these writers positioned themselves within Zionism and, despite their views, remained respected members of the Jewish community — albeit always criticized and, particularly after World War II, marginalized ... they remind us that the trajectory of the conflict that is roiling Palestine and Israel today was clear from the very beginning to those who would only see it.”
Among those whose writings are included are Ahad Ha’am (“One of the People”), who was born Asher Ginsberg in the Russian Ukraine in 1856 and was a widely read Hebrew essayist who died in Tel Aviv in 1927; Judah L. Magnes, an American Reform rabbi and an early Zionist who moved to Palestine in 1922, where he served as chancellor and then first president of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem; and Martin Buber, the theologian and philosopher who joined the Zionist movement in 1898 and for a few months worked as the editor of Die Welt, Zionism’s official publication.
In the case of Ahad Ha’am, he made his first trip to Palestine in 1891. His reputation as Zionism’s major internal critic has its roots in the essay “A Truth From Eretz Yisrael.” He reports that, “... We who live abroad are accustomed to believe that almost all Eretz Yisrael is now uninhabited desert and whoever wishes can buy land there as he pleases. But this is not true. It is very difficult to find in the land (ha’aretz) cultivated fields that are not used for planting. Only those sand fields or stone mountains that would require the investment of hard labor and great expense to make them good for planting remain uncultivated ...We who live abroad are accustomed to believing that the Arabs are all wild desert people who, like donkeys, neither see nor understand what is happening around them. But this is a grave mistake ... The Arabs, especially the urban elite, see and understand what we are doing and what we wish to do on the land ... If the time comes that our people’s life in Eretz Yisrael will develop to a point where we are taking their place, either slightly or significantly, the natives are not going to just step aside so easily ...”
Many of the Zionist settlers, Ahad Ha’am observed, described themselves as “future colonialists.” He writes: “It is not our way to learn nothing for the future from the past. We must surely learn, from both our past and present history, how careful we must be not to provoke the anger of the native people by doing them wrong, how we should be cautious in our dealings with a foreign people among whom we returned to live, to handle these people with love and respect and, needless to say, with justice and good judgment. And what do our brothers do? Exactly the opposite; They were slaves in their diaspora, and suddenly they find themselves with unlimited freedom ... This sudden change has planted despotic tendencies in their hearts, as always happens to forner slaves (’eyed ki yimlokh). They deal with the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, trespass unjustly, beat them shamefully for no sufficient reason, and even boast about their actions. There is no one to stop the flood and put an end to this despicable and dangerous tendency. Our brothers indeed were right when they said that the Arab only respects he who exhibits bravery and courage. But when these people feel that the law is on their rival’s side and, even more so, if they are right to think their rival’s actions are unjust and oppressive, then, even if they are silent and endlessly reserved, they keep their anger in their hearts. And these people will be revengeful like no other. ...”
In the case of Judah Magnes, as an early Zionist he resigned from the American branch of the movement in 1915 because, according to Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, “neither a Jewish state nor Jewish mass political action, but his religious version of Ahad Ha-Amism — careful colonization and spiritual rebirth — seemed to him to be the meaning of Zionism.” Magnes moved to Palestine in 1922, where he served as chancellor and then first president of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem from 1925 until his death. In Palestine and in Washington, D.C., Magnes was a forceful advocate for a binational state and Arab-Jewish reconciliation. At the time of his death, in late 1948, he was arguing for an Arab-Jewish confederation.
Militarism and Imperialism
In a letter to Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann dated September 7, 1929, Magnes wrote: “Either the logical policy outlined by (Vladimir) Jabotinsky in a letter in the Times which came today, basing our Jewish life in Palestine on militarism and imperialism; or a pacific policy that treats as entirely secondary such things as a ‘Jewish State’ or a Jewish majority, or even ‘The Jewish National Home,’ and as primary the development of Jewish spiritual, educational, moral and religious center in Palestine ... The imperialist, military and political policy is based upon mass immigration of Jews and the creation (forcible if necessary) of a Jewish majority, no matter how much this oppresses the Arabs meanwhile, or deprives them of their rights. In this kind of policy the end always justifies the means. The policy, on the other hand, of developing a Jewish spiritual Center does not depend upon mass immigration, a Jewish majority, a Jewish State, or upon depriving the Arabs (or the Jews) of their political rights for a generation or a day; but on the contrary, is desirous of having Palestine become a country of two nations and three religions, all of them having equal rights and none of them having special privileges ... The one policy may be termed that of militarist, imperialist, political Zionism; the other that of pacific, international, spiritual Zionism; and if some authorities will not choose to call the latter idea Zionism, then let it be called the Love of Zion, or the Return to Zion, or any other name that you will.”
Magnes expressed the view that, “... a Jewish Home in Palestine built up on bayonets and oppression is not worth having, even though it succeed, whereas the very attempt to build it up peacefully, cooperatively, with understandings education, and good will is worth a great deal, even though the attempt should fail. The question is, do we want to conquer Palestine now as Joshua did in his day — with fire and sword? Or do we want to take cognizance of Jewish religious development since Joshua — our Prophets, Psalmists and Rabbis, and repeat the words: ‘Not by might, and not by violence, but by my spirit, saith the Lord.’”
In a letter to Felix Warburg dated September 13, 1929, Magnes states that, “Unless the whole aim of Zionism is changed, there will never be peace. ... Palestine does not belong to the Jews and it does not belong to the Arabs, nor to Judaism or Christianity or Islam. It belongs to all of them together; it is the Holy Land. ... The fact is that nothing there is possible unless Jews and Arabs work together in peace for the benefit of their common Holy Land. It must be our endeavor first to convince ourselves and then to convince others that Jews and Arabs, Moslems, Christians, and Jews have each as much right there, no more and no less, than the other: equal rights and equal privileges and equal duties. That is practically quite sufficient for all purposes of the Jewish religion, and it is the sole ethical basis of our claims there. Judaism did not begin with Zionism, and if Zionism is ethically not in accord with Judaism, so much the worse for Zionism.”
Martin Buber, who was born in Vienna in 1878, was an early Zionist but soon broke with Theodore Herzl and aligned himself with Zionism’s more cultural and spiritual, rather than political, movement. He moved to Palestine in 1939 and held the chair in social philosophy at Hebrew University until he retired in 1951.
In an essay which first appeared in the newspaper Davar on June 5, 1939, entitled “Our Pseudo-Samsons,” Buber writes: “Apparently there are young men in the Yishuv who fancy themselves to be contemporary Samsons. It seems they regard the placing of mines in the path of vehicles bearing innocent, defenseless non-Jews or attacking the homes of innocent, defenseless non-Jews as similar to Samson’s exploits. ... How is this to be explained? When we returned to our land after many hundreds of years, we behaved as though the land were empty of inhabitants — no, even worse — as though the people we saw didn’t affect us, as though we didn’t have to deal with them, that is, as if they didn’t see us. But they did see us. They saw us, not with the same clarity with which we would have seen them had we been the veteran denizens of the land and another people came to settle in it in everincreasing numbers; not with the same but with sufficient clarity that naturally only increased from year to year ... We didn’t say to ourselves that there is only one way to forestall the results of this ever-increasing clarity of vision: to form a serious partnership with that people, to involve them earnestly in our building of the land, and to give them a share in our labor and in the fruits of our labor. We did not wish to believe those among us who sounded the warning.”
Akin to Facism
On December 4, 1948, a letter was published in The New York Times on the occasion of a visit to the U.S. by Menachem Begin, the leader of Israel’s new “Freedom Party.” Among those signing this letter were such distinguished Jewish figures as Hannah Arendt, Albert Einstein, Sidney Hook and Rabbi Jessurun Cardozo. They write: “Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the ‘Freedom Party’ (Tnuat Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties, It was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine.”
The authors declare that, “It is in its actions that the terrorist party betrays its real character; from its past actions we can judge what it may be expected to do in the future. A shocking example was their behavior in the Arab village of Deir Yassin. The village, off the main roads and surrounded by Jewish lands, had taken no part in the war, and had even fought off Arab bands of who wanted to use the village as their base. On April 9 (The New York Times), terrorist bands attacked this peaceful village, which was not a military objective in the fighting, killed most of its inhabitants — 240 men, women and children — and kept a few of them alive to parade as captives through the streets of Jerusalem. Most of the Jewish community was horrified at the deed, and the Jewish Agency sent a telegram of apology to King Abdullah of Trans-Jordan. But the terrorists, far from being ashamed of their act, were proud of this massacre, publicized it widely, and invited all foreign correspondents present in the country to view the heaped corpses and. the general havoc of Deir Yassin. The Deir Yassin incident exemplifies the character and actions of the Freedom Party.”
Ultranationalism and Racial Superiority
The letter concludes: “Within the Jewish community they have preached an admixture of ultranationalism, religious mysticism, and racial superiority. Like other Fascist parties, they have been used to break strikes, and have themselves pressed for the destruction of free trade unions. In their stead they have proposed corporate unions on the Italian Fascist model. During the last years of sporadic anti-British violence, the Irgun and Stern groups inaugurated a reign of terror in the Palestine Jewish community. Teachers were beaten up for speaking against them, adults were shot for not letting their children join them. By gangster methods, beatings, window-smashing, and widespread robberies, the terrorists intimidated the population and exacted a heavy tribute ... In light of the foregoing considerations, it is imperative that the truth about Mr. Begin and his movement be made known in this country. It is all the more tragic that the top leadership of American Zionism has refused to campaign against Begin’s efforts, or even to expose to its own constituents the dangers to Israel from support to Begin.”
Another contributor to this volume is Henry Schwarzschild, who was born in Germany in 1926 and arrived with his family in the U.S. in 1939. His experience with Nazism imprinted on him a lifelong passion for political liberty, He worked in the South during the 1960s, against the death penalty (he directed the American Civil Liberties Union’s capital punishment project), and on behalf of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. “Jews,” he once said, “are defined by neither doctrine nor credo. We are defined by task. That task is to redeem the world through justice ... Even the unbelievers among us are never so Jewish as when they reject social apathy and confront the desperate needs of their brothers and sisters, here and now, in our own city, our own state, our own country, not because our well-being depends on it, but because Judaism does.”
In his resignation from the Editorial Advisory Board of the Jewish magazine Sh’ma, Schwartzschild declared: “... the war on Lebanon has now made clear to me that the resumption of political power by the Jewish people after two thousand years of diaspora has been a tragedy of historical dimensions. The State of Israel has demanded recognition as the modern political incarnation of the Jewish people. To grant this is to betray the Jewish tradition. ... I now conclude and avow that the price of a Jewish state is, to me, Jewishly unacceptable and the existence of this (or any similar) Jewish ethnic-religious nation state is a Jewish, i.e. a human and moral disaster and violates every remaining value for which Judaism and Jews might exist in history. The lethal military triumphalism and corrosive racism that inheres in the State and in its supporters (both there and here) are profoundly abhorrent to me. So is the message that now goes forth to the nations of the world that the Jewish people claim the right to impose a holocaust on others in order to preserve its state.”
Thoughtful readers of this book will surely disagree with the views of many of the contributors, for there is much internal disagreement within the text, Some authors view themselves as Zionists, others do not. Some are religious, some are secular. Some are deeply involved in the particulars of the Middle East dispute between Israelis and Palestinians, while others are primarily concerned with Judaism’s moral and ethical teachings and how they have been corrupted by the confusion of religion and nationalism.
Corrupted by Politicization
All of the contributors, however, come out of a Jewish tradition which they feel has, in recent years, been corrupted by politicization. Reading these essays makes it clear — if it was ever unclear to some — that there is no unanimity of opinion on the part of American Jews with regard to the Middle East and the place of the State of Israel in Jewish life. Jewish opinion is divided, as it has been throughout history, about such questions. Those organizations which pretend to speak in the name of American Jews are representative only of their own small numbers. Their influence in the American society has been magnified far beyond the number of people in whose name they can genuinely speak.
Editors Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon state: “We believe that when the Jewish community is presented an image of itself as monolithic, bound up in a chain, a mythified unanimity, when it is told to be wary of emet, of truth, that lifegiving word, it grows strange to itself, alienated from an essential source of its political, philosophical, ethical, spiritual richness. We hope you’ll find, as we have, that vitality, exuberant imagination, compassion, daring, anger, and real moral courage that are identifiably Jewish manifest in abundance in these pages.”
The contributors to this volume share three things: a Jewish identity, an American identity, and a refusal to ignore the complexity of current developments in the Middle East and within the Jewish community. They are committed to the Jewish and American legacies of compassion and justice and deserve as wide an audience as possible.