Israel at 50: For Many American Jews It Has Become A False God

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Israel at 50: For Many American Jews It Has Become A False God

Many American Jews have been publicly celebrating Israel's 50th anniversary. In Hollywood, a $6 million extravaganza hosted by actor Kevin Kostner was broadcast on CBS in mid-April just prior to the official April 30 celebration. Across the country, Jewish communities have planned events commemorating the establishment of Israel in 1948.

At the same time, skepticism about the relationship between American Jews and Israel is growing and many thoughtful observers have charged that, for many American Jews, Israel has become a false God.

In a special section concerning Israel's anniversary, Tikkun (March/April 1998) collected the views of a number of critics who are concerned about the place Israel has taken in religious life.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, Tikkun's editor, notes that, "If you judge 'who is a people's God' by what they hold sacred, where and for whom they are prepared to make sacrifices...then you have to conclude that for much of the part 50 years the real object of worship of much of the Jewish people has been Israel and Zionism. Unfortunately, like all false gods, this one has failed to satisfy the spiritual hunger of the Jewish people. If many Jews turn away from Judaism today, Israel has played no small part in that process. Judaism may be one of Israel's most important casualties."

The "valorization of what is real as opposed to what could and should be," Lerner writes, "is the essence of what Judaism calls idolatry. Judaism's central claim is that the spiritual and political must go hand in hand, that a central spiritual goal is to heal and transform the world. From this Jewish standpoint, power is always illusory, a momentary self-deception that allows ruling elites to convince people that the way things are is the only way things can be. For Judaism, the goal is to critique power in the name of the ultimate power.... The Prophets made clear that, to the extent that Jews might create a society that was equally oppressive and unjust as those of the rest of the world, they would have no claim to the land of Israel, or even to survival as a people.... The revolutionary message of Judaism...became invisible to the religious Zionists who were so impressed by all the military success of Israel's army that they began to read its victories as the current manifestation of God's will..."

Lerner laments the treatment of the Palestinians: "We Jews jumped from the burning building of Europe...We landed on the backs of the Palestinians...The fire we were escaping required us to jump, and Palestinians were the unintended victims...But once we landed on their backs and unintentionally hurt them, we were unable to acknowledge what had happened. Israel closed its ears and pretended for decades that the Palestinian people did not exist...."

"Judaism may be one of Israel's most important casualties."

Judaism, he concludes, has been one of the casualties of the politicization of religion: "To the extent that Judaism lost its ability to critique the distortions of the Jewish people, to the extent that it has become a cheerleader for a particular state, its army, its fund-raisers and its ideological support structure, Judaism has lost its connection to God and Torah..."

Another contributor to Tikkun, Israeli novelist Amos Oz, writes that, "The Arab citizens of the State of Israel have not been treated correctly. There can be no such thing as a Jewish state; it must be the State of the Jewish people and all its citizens, which means that Israeli Arabs will have the option to be full-scale citizens with all the rights and duties...Israel needs to look the Palestinian tragedy right in the eye and say, 'We will do everything we can, short of committing suicide, to cure this tragedy.' I regard the clash between Israel and Palestine in 1948 as a tragedy because it was a clash between right and right.... Neither side can be terribly proud of what they did in 1949. …