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Leading American Zionist Now Says, “In Every Way, Israel Has Failed.”

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
April 2016

Israel is “a failure,” the Zionist dream has “curdled into Jewish  
selfishness,” a major Jewish leader writes in an important article in Tikkun  
(Feb. 23, 2016). “After a life and career devoted to the Jewish community  
and to Israel, I conclude that in every important way, Israel has failed to  
realize its promise for me,” states Rabbi David Gordis.  
Gordis is a former executive at the American Jewish Committee, former  
president of Hebrew College and a former vice president of the Jewish  
Theological Seminary. He is now a Senior Scholar at the State University of  
New York at Albany.  
From Israel’s creation, Gordis writes, he believed in Israel but that the  
spiral of that society into occupation and Jewish particularism has caused  
him to change his mind. It is, in his view, a political, spiritual and  
religious failure: “Israel is distorted by a fanatic, obscurantist and  
fundamentalist religion which encourages the worst behavior rather than the  
His indictment includes American Jewish leaders: “The establishment  
leadership in the American Jewish community is silent in the face of this  
dismal situation, and there are no recognizable trends that can move Israel  
out of this quagmire.”  
Gordis writes: “The Israel of today is very far from anything I dreamed of  
and worked for throughout my career … On the positive side, Israel’s  
accomplishments have been remarkable. Israel has created a thriving economy,  
and has been a refuge for hundreds of thousands of the displaced and the  
needy. Israel has generated a rich and diverse cultural life and its  
scientific and educational achievements have been exemplary. In spite of  
these achievements, however, Israel in my view has gone astray. And it is in  
the area for which Israel was created, as a Jewish state, embodying and  
enhancing Jewish values, that I see this failure.”  
Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is nearing a half century in duration,  
notes Gordis, and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “facts on the ground” steps  
“make a two-state solution impossible … and there still appears to be no  
significant opposition to these policies in Israel itself. A number of  
smaller organizations supporting a two-state solution have emerged, notably  
J Street and Americans for Peace Now, but recent steps by the Israeli  
government to delegitimize these groups are proceeding. The bottom line as I  
see it: the Right has triumphed. The left has been defeated.”  
Gordis writes that, “Present day Israel has discarded the rational, the  
universal, and the visionary. These values have been subord¬inated to cruel  
and oppressive occupation, an emphatic materialism, severe inequalities  
rivaling the worst in the Western world, and distorted by a fanatic  
obscurantism and fundamentalist religion which encourages the worst  
behaviors rather than the best.”  
“Most depressing of all,” declares Gordis, “is that I see no way out, no way  
forward which will reverse the current reality. Right wing control in Israel  
is stronger and more entrenched than ever. The establishment leadership in  
the American Jewish community is silent in the face of this dismal  
situation, and there are no recognizable trends that can move Israel out of  
this quagmire … Israel has failed to realize its promise for me. A noble  
experiment, but a failure.”  
Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun, says he published the article as  
submitted by Gordis because he shares his views: “We publish it with the  
same sadness that Gordis expresses at the end of this article, because many  
of us at Tikkun magazine shared the same hopes he expresses for an Israel  
that would make Jews proud by becoming an embodiment of what is best in  
Jewish tradition, history and ethics, rather than a manifestation of all the  
psychological and spiritual damage that has been done to our people, which  
now acts as an oppressor to the Palestinian people.”  
In Israel, Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev decries “the deafening silence of  
most American Jews in response to the waves of chauvinistic anti-democratic  
legislation and incitement in which Israel is increasingly drowning. The  
authoritarian campaign includes legislative assaults on free speech,  
incitement against dissenters, the withholding of govern¬ment funds for  
regulatory measures against and greater government control over television  
and other media, compulsory changes to school curricula, reinforced Orthodox  
hegemony over religious affairs, and repeated attacks on the Arab minority.”  

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