Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The End of the Myth of Monolithic Jewish Support for the Actions of the Israeli State



The full-page ad that I saw in The New York Times the other day was just one more reminder that we need to keep hammering away on that Venn diagram.

In reporting on recent votes by Lutheran synods on US financial aid to the state of Israel, I said:

Members of Protestant denominations are deeply concerned about what our Jewish brothers and sisters think. We are learning that “Jewish” is not equivalent to “pro-Israel.”

I noted that "our Jewish brothers and sisters" includes Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization including "~200,000 online activists, Rabbis, academics, cultural workers, over 60 member led chapters across the country and an Advisory Board comprised of numerous prominent Jewish thinkers and artists”, has said, “U.S. military aid to Israel must be suspended until the occupation ends, since the occupation itself is in violation of [the U.S.'s own] guidelines. . . ." (See "Chicago-area Lutherans Resolution Widens Conversation About Palestine Throughout the Church" in the Chicago Monitor.)

I have been thinking a lot about this since the Steven Salaita controversy here in Illinois - which forcing us to speak quite openly about three rather distinct things that get treated (incorrectly) as if they were the same thing: the state of Israel (and whether you criticize it or support it); the ideology of Zionism (and whether you criticize it or support it); and the religion of Judaism (and whether or not you share in its values and beliefs). (See "What good is a tweet?" (The Packing and Unpacking of Meaning and the Steven Salaita Case) )


Chicago, August 2015: "Another Jew against the Israeli occupation"
"Jews oppose Israel's war on civilians and the seige of Gaza."


Now comes the full-page ad from Michael Steinhardt in The New York Times on Saturday, June 27, 2015. I think this is a great way for people to study the way in which some Jews claim to speak for all Jews, when in fact they only speak for a rapidly dwindling population of Jews who unconditionally support the actions of the Israeli state.

For instance, Steinhardt volunteers "the Jews" as the constituency that US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power expressed concern about: "At an event held at UC-Berkeley, you seemed to suggest that America may need to force a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the expense of  'a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import [i.e. the Jews]." (Note: this section of the print ad is not reproduced on the website of worldvalues.us.)  Wouldn't it have been far more accurate for Steinhardt to volunteer the suggestion "i.e. Jews who unconditionally support the actions of the Israeli state"? or even "i.e. people who unconditionally support the actions of the Israeli state, including Jews who do so"? 

"Another Jew supporting divestment"
JVP members at 2015 UCC synod during divestment vote.
In the second paragraph of the print ad (also omitted from the online version), Steinhardt poses as someone who speaks for all Jews: "At the request of our mutual friend, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, founder of The World Values Network, who admired your strong activism against genocide and championed your cause in the Jewish community in the face of unrelenting opposition, I agreed to have Jewish activists hear you out and clarify those comments." Again, wouldn't it be more accurate to say, "I agreed to have Jewish activists who unconditionally support the actions of the Israeli state hear you out and clarify those comments"? I don't imagine that Steinhardt took any of the 200,000 members of Jewish Voice for Peace -- including the many prominent Jews who have become activists for justice for Palestinian people -- to that meeting.

Just imagine the effect of qualifying the usual blanket statements about "what Jews think" or "what Jews say" with specifics about which Jews are under discussion.

I believe 2015 will turn out to be the year that people everywhere begin to tease apart the the notions of "Jewish" and "unconditional supporter of Israel."

See the version in The Chicago Monitor.

Update March 17, 2016

Rabbi Brant Rosen took on the conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism as it is occurring in the massive University of California system: "Anti-Zionism Isn't a 'Form of Discrimination,' and It's Not anti-Semitism" in Haaretz. "Blurring the distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism muddles the definition of anti-Semitism to the point that it becomes meaningless. . . . This conflation is irresponsible and harmful and invariably draws our attention away from real anti-Semitism, whether it be the targeting of Jews, the vandalization of synagogues and cemeteries or the proliferation of hate groups at home and abroad. . . . Certainly all forms of racism should be called out in no uncertain terms. But erasing the lines between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism only makes this task more difficult."


Related posts

Steven Salaita has forced us to speak quite openly about three rather distinct things that get treated (incorrectly) as if they were the same thing: the state of Israel (and whether you criticize it or support it); the ideology of Zionism (and whether you criticize it or support it); and the religion of Judaism (and whether or not you share in its values and beliefs).

(See "What good is a tweet?" (The Packing and Unpacking of Meaning and the Steven Salaita Case) )


Rabbi Brant Rosen read from his book, Wrestling in the Daylight: A Rabbi's Path to Palestinian Solidarity, and engaged us in a conversation about justice in Israel/Palestine. He dealt in particular with the moment when he finally said, “It’s time to take a stand.” (December 28, 2008, to be exact – the day he wrote a blog post about the Israeli operation called “Cast Lead,” carried out against the Palestinian inhabitants of Gaza.)

(See WGME Hosts Rabbi Brant Rosen Describing His "Path To Palestinian Solidarity" on the Working Group on the Middle East (MCS, ELCA) website)









I think the 3-part framework Ilan Pappé has set out -- BDS, Palestinian identity, Israeli opinion -- usefully defines priorities to which those working for justice in Israel/Palestine should attend.

(See Ilan Pappé's Vision of the Broad Shape of Change in Israel/Palestine )




Related stories

"On the Iran deal, American Jewish ‘leaders’ don’t speak for most Jews" by Todd Gitlin and Steven M. Cohen in The Washington Post, August 14, 2015: "Plainly, the idea that American Jews speak as a monolithic bloc needs very early retirement. So does the canard that their commitment to Israel or the views of its prime minister overwhelms their support for Obama and the Iran deal. So does the idea that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads, or represents, the world’s Jews. So does the notion that unrepresentative 'leaders' speak for American Jews generally on the urgent matter of nuclear arms in the Middle East."