By Rabbi Josh Weinberg Friday, May 28, 2021 – י”ז בסיון תשפ”א
This moment feels different. It feels like a jumping-off point and a stark paradigm shift. These are challenging times to be a progressive Zionist.
What has changed in the 7 years since the last Israel-Hamas contretemps? Well, the rhetoric, for one. There are those on the American-Jewish Left who have gone further in one direction seeing Israel as the sole villain in this story. It used to be about ending the Occupation and pushing for a Two-State solution. The rhetoric of the far Left used to be about pluralism and tolerance, about recognizing the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to self-determination, about two States for two Peoples. Today those views are “old-school” and soooooo establishment. The current chatter online and in certain activist circles is laser-focused on so-called Israeli apartheid and is calling on the American government to end its support for “Israeli aggression.”
Other Jewish far-left organizations are calling to openly reject the State of Israel and the Zionist project in total, partly as a rejection of Israel as a central pillar of Jewish life in the Diaspora.
The misconception of Israel as a State of Judaism (which is not new) is lending some to now encourage a complete rebuffing of such a State as being against our values.
This viewpoint is precipitously becoming the new standard and being adopted, posted, and re-tweeted by young people who grew up in progressive Jewish youth movements and Jewish summer camps.
So what’s it all about? This is beyond just Israeli policy or the Occupation. This is about a trend that is basing its raison d’etre around opposing Jewish nationalism and Jewish collective responsibility. In fact, it is becoming a worldview of moral grandstanding and a hyper-selective view of Jewish values.
Prof. Shaul Magid explains the phenomenon in his important book American Post-Judaism: Identity and Renewal in a Postethnic Society
“For much of Jewish history, Jewishness and being a “Jew” were inextricably tied to “Judaism,” or religion, broadly defined as membership in a people…in the national Jewish consciousness, ethnicity remained a central anchor of Jewish identity.”
Magid is really saying that American Jews today are neither religious nor do they see themselves as part of a nation. He continues:
“I am suggesting that this paradigm is already obsolete, replaced by what American historian David Hollinger calls post-ethnicity. Before defining post-ethnicity, we need to distinguish it from pluralism, of which multiculturalism is one form. In general, pluralism respects inherited boundaries, acknowledges different ethno-racial identities, and seeks to preserve those identities through tolerance and recognition of the subaltern as a productive member of society whose voice we need. Post-ethnicity appreciates ethnicity as a piece of one’s identity; hence, the “post” in post-ethnic which seeks to restructure the notion of ethnicity as a consequence of consent rather than descent. Post-ethnicity, then, is not only about voluntary identities; it is also about invented identities.”
Shaul Magid’s point is that the old paradigms for thinking about Jews and Judaism―specifically the ethnically inflected, assimilation-phobic, chosen/one God model―are dead. And what is filling that void is an attempt to claim a universalism – a moral, holier-than-thou approach that tends to simplify issues, ignore complexity, and see things not for what they are but for what we perceive them to be.
As Israeli journalist and author Matti Friedman wrote this week in the Atlantic:
“In some ways, Americans haven’t progressed from the “Israeli” pioneer of Exodus, who’s white and blond and seems so awfully familiar. We’re still stuck with Ari Ben Canaan—except now he’s a racist. And if Palestinians were disdained in the old novels and reportage as non-Western, dark, and unmasculine, they’re still more or less kept in the same world of stereotypes—except those attributes are no longer considered negative. This helps explain, for example, the passivity of Palestinians in many Western accounts of what’s going on here, and why Western reporters are drawn to the tragedy of Palestinian civilians while remaining relatively uninterested in the ruthless strategy and significant accomplishments of the Palestinians’ Iran-backed military force, Hamas. In both the old and new versions of the fantasy, Israelis are actors and Palestinians are props.”
What some of us take as a starting point, that “the Land of Israel is integral to the Jewish national mission and the soul of every Jew,” is for many for those born in the last three decades, but not only, no longer a fair assumption. As NY financier Scott Shay wrote in his book Getting Our Groove Back:
“The political storms around Israel largely clouded the conversation about Israel. Whereas Zionism started off by offering a solution to the Jewish Problem, many started seeing Zionism itself as the Jewish problem. Nevertheless, other American observers understood that Zionism, while not a cure-all, could contribute to the intensifying conversation about how to build a thriving Jewish community.”
“A member of one’s household takes precedence over everyone else. The poor of one’s household take precedence over the poor of one’s city. And the poor of one’s own city take precedence over the poor of other cities.”
A Jew is obligated to assume responsibility for his or her household, and a Jewish community is required to do the same for its own members when it cares for persons in a time of need. I understand that particularism doesn’t speak to post-ethnic universalists, but I don’t understand why their universalism is only applied particularly.
At the very least shouldn’t we, as Jews, expect the same treatment of universalist solidarity and compassion that are afforded to others? When Black and Brown bodies are targeted, we speak out.
When Asian-Americans are targeted, we see politicians, pop-culture icons, Google, and Amazon all stand in solidarity.
And when Jews are attacked?
Writer Jordana Horn offered the following:
“Why am I being told – as I tell people about targeted violence against Jewish diners on the streets of Los Angeles or New York, or people wearing Jewish stars: This is complicated???”
This week, in Brooklyn, NY, Orthodox Jews were harassed by men shouting “Free Palestine – Kill All the Jews.” Merely yelling “Free Palestine,” – which Israel has attempted and for which these young Brooklyn Jews are not responsible nor connected – is not antisemitic. But “Kill Jews” or other heard slogans of “Hitler was right” and the like??? Where is the outrage against that? Where are the universalists who might even offer the following disclaimer:
“We condemn Israel’s actions and policies and find the latest round of Mid-East violence insufferable, but those calling for the death of Jews, and even the death of Israel have crossed an intolerable redline. American society today cannot tolerate nor accept these calls towards anyone.”
At this point, I’m not even asking for empathy or sympathy for those in bomb shelters or those suffering an unprecedented barrage of attacks. Rather, I am asking for all those who have been vociferous with their criticism of Israel – justified or not – also to be unequivocal in condemning hatred and random violence against Jews.
I hope that’s not too much to ask.