Total Embrace of Israel Threatening Judaism's Ethical and Humane Tradition

By Brownfeld, Allan C. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 2005 | Go to article overview

Total Embrace of Israel Threatening Judaism's Ethical and Humane Tradition


Brownfeld, Allan C., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


It is becoming increasingly clear that the embrace of Israel and its policies on the part of American Jewish organizations, both religious and secular, is threatening the ethical and humane Jewish tradition.

More and more, thoughtful Jewish advocates of the universalist prophetic tradition of Judaism are expressing their dismay with the manner in which many in the American Jewish establishment have replaced God with the State of Israel as the object of veneration. They describe it as a contemporary form of idolatry.

An important new book, Radicals, Rabbis and Peacemakers: Conversations with Jewish Critics of Israel, edited by Seth Farber and available from the AET Book Club (see p. 43), brings together a number of critical voices. In their view, Zionism and Judaism represent contradictory belief systems which are largely incompatible.

As Farber, who has a Ph.D. in counseling psychology and has written several books in this field, notes in the introduction, "This book, this compilation is intended to be an affirmation of the moral and spiritual tradition of Judaism-or at least of certain aspects of this tradition that probably most Jews, most Americans, agree constitute a valuable legacy. It is based on my conviction, shared by most of the individuals interviewed in this book, that this legacy was betrayed and is currently threatened with extinction by the policies of the state of Israel, and in particular its violation of the human rights of the Palestinian people. It was betrayed also by the American Jewish establishment which gives active and unqualified support to Israel and has been willing to turn a blind eye to the considerable evidence that Israel's actions over the last few decades are those of a.. .state engaged in a brutal military Occupation in violation of fundamental principles of international law... .Most American Jews are reluctant to even consider the argument that Israel belies the ethical ideals of Judaism at its best-of prophetic Judaism-and instead have endowed Israel with mythic status as the political embodiment of Jews' eternal innocence and goodness..."

In Farber's view, 'Although Jewish critics of Israel are frequently labeled as traitors to the Jewish community, as 'self-hating' Jews, there is a measure of irony in the fact that those Jews who will brook no criticism of Israel.. .who treat the state of Israel as an object of idolatry that must remain protected from moral doubt or criticism, are, however unwittingly.. .themselves arguably unfaithful to their heritage as Jews..."

Farber believes that, "What is ultimately at stake in the deeds of 'the Jewish state' is the Jewish spiritual tradition itself. Our faithfulness to that heritage-our obligation to preserve it-requires that we protest against Israel, which implicitly (if not explicitly) claims to be devoted to and acting in accord with the Jewish tradition. But in fact both Israel and influential American Jews who for the most part have become uncritical apologists for Israel, are betraying Judaism."

Among those interviewed in this book are Noam Chomsky, Joel Kbvel, Norton Mezvinsky, Ora Wise, Norman Finkelstein, Daniel Boyarin, Marc Bllis and Rabbi Dovid Weiss.

Declares Professor Chomsky of MTT, "I think the creation of a state as a Jewish state was a serious mistake...! thought then, and think now, that it is wrong in principle to establish a state that is not the state of its citizens, but rather, as the High Court later defined it, though it was clear enough from 1948-the sovereign state of the Jewish people, in Israel and the diaspora. Hence it is my state as an American Jew, though it is not the state of non-Jewish citizens. For the same reason, I would oppose moves to turn the U.S. into the sovereign state of the white (Christian, whatever) people, and I object to Islamic states, etc. It's a matter of principle, quite apart from the consequences."

According to Professor Kovel of Bard College, "There are many ways of being Jewish. …

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