August 26, 2019


Why Trump's tweets on Omar and Tlaib go to the heart of American Jewish politics (Noam Pianko, 8/26/19, The Converstion) 

Zionism is the belief that Jews are a national group who have a right to a territorial homeland. This ideology presented a challenge to American Jews during the first half of the 20th century.

As an immigrant group struggling for acceptance in the U.S., Jews worried that embracing a national identity with ties to a foreign homeland would lead to accusations of disloyalty.

To address this concern, early Zionist leaders equated Jewish nationalism with the spread of American political ideals of equality, justice and ethno-religious tolerance.

For example, Louis Brandeis, Supreme Court justice and leader of the Zionist Organization of America from 1914 to 1916, argued that "Zionism is consistent with American patriotism" because "America's fundamental law seeks to make real the brotherhood of man."

Once the state of Israel was established, American Jewish leaders held it accountable to American liberal political and religious sensibilities. American Jewish Committee President Jacob Blaustein, for example, articulated a clear precondition for American Jewish support in 1950.

"Israel has a responsibility," Blaustein declared to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, "in terms of not affecting adversely the sensibilities of Jews who are citizens of other states by what it says or does."

A few years later, Joseph P. Sternstein, who served as president of the Zionist Organization of America from 1974 to 1978, put it more bluntly: "We will decide, and, if necessary, we shall have to tell them where they are wrong and where they are right."

In the decades following the 1948 establishment of the State of Israel, most American Jews embraced Zionism as an extension of American liberalism.

In the mid-1970s, a competing understanding of the relationship between American Jews and the State of Israel emerged. The competition came from the response to the liberal politics of the era.

Some Jews involved with anti-Vietnam War protests and civil rights activism in the U.S. believed that they should apply the same anti-imperial and anti-racist political values to Israel's role as an occupying force in the West Bank and Gaza, home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

Breira, the group they formed in 1973, argued that Jews should challenge Israeli policy publicly as Zionists committed to a Jewish and democratic state.

In 1977, a broad coalition of leading American Jewish communal organizations attacked Breira for their public criticism of Israeli policies and support for negotiations with Palestinian leadership. The tremendous communal pressure to silence Breira's efforts to change Israeli policy in the West Bank contributed to the dissolution of the group later that year.

The Breira incident marked an early example of a reorientation of American Jewish politics. Increasingly, some American Jewish leaders challenged the legitimacy of voicing dissenting opinions about Israel, especially those associated with progressive political movements.

The influential founder of the neo-Conservative movement and editor of Commentary magazine, Norman Podhoretz, used the Breira incident to question the alignment between American Jews, Zionism and liberalism.

In July 1976, Podhoretz wrote in Commentary,

"There is a reluctance among some of Israel's friends to describe the hostility to Israel in certain circles as anti-Semitic ... a reluctance based on the desire to see the Arab-Israeli conflict as a conventional international dispute amenable to resolution by conventional diplomatic means."

For Podhoretz, left-leaning American Jews failed to recognize that anti-Semitism energized global hostility toward Israel.

Podhoretz feared American Jewish criticism of Israel fueled by the political left could provide ammunition for prejudiced attacks on the Jewish State's legitimacy.

The safety of the American Jewish community thus rested on conservative defenders of the State of Israel against critics from the left side of the political spectrum attempting to "delegitimize Israel."

Observers starting in the late 1970s, such as scholar Jacob Neusner, named this approach "Israelism" to emphasize the shift toward elevating Israel as the "central interpretative principle by which American Jews view Jewish realities."

The essence of Nationalism is that, once you drain your "national group" of any ideas, there is obviously no basis for judging whether actions are right or wrong.  They are your group's actions and, therefore, should be endorsed, or, at least, accepted.  By this racial standard,  it is perfectly true that all criticism of Israel is illegitimate.  American Jews, being American and Jewish, however, believe that the nation of Israel must be held accountable to our ideals and morality.

Posted by at August 26, 2019 1:23 PM