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Israel at 70: A Growing Dilemma for American Jews

Allan C. Brownfeld
Spring - Summer 2018

As Israel celebrated its 70th anniversary in April, and American Jews wished it well, the fact is that it has become a divisive force in the community, repeatedly proclaiming itself a “Jewish state,” while its 50-year occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and its blockade and isolation of millions of Palestinians in Gaza, shows it acting in a way that violates Jewish moral and ethical values.  
Historically, many Jews opposed the idea of Zionism, or Jewish nationalism. They argued, as the American Council for Judaism has for more than seventy-five years, that Judaism is a religion of universal values, not a nationality. While Israel claims to be the “homeland” of all Jews, in fact, the homeland of American Jews is the United States. American Jews are Jews by religion and American by nationality, just as other Americans are Protestant, Catholic or Muslim. Israel should confine itself to speaking in behalf of its own citizens, as other nations do.  
In 1938, alluding to Nazism, Albert Einstein warned an audience of Zionist activists against the temptation to create a state with “a narrow nationalism within our own ranks against which we have already had to fight strongly, even without a Jewish state.”  
Sadly, organized Jewish life in much of America has substituted Israel for God and the Jewish moral and ethical tradition as a virtual object of worship. This is a form of idolatry, similar to the Golden Calf in the Bible. Increasingly it is driving young people away.  
A Form of Idolatry  
This point was recently made by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, founder and director of the Shalom Center and a leader of the Jewish Renewal movement. In a letter to The Forward (Feb. 14, 2018) he assessed the reason for the alienation of so many young people from Judaism: “The point about the decline of religious/spiritual connection between many younger Jews and the Jewish community is that almost all the ‘religious’ institutions refuse to apply the prophetic vision to the government of Israel, even when they apply it to the U.S. Government … Where are the rabbis who say aloud that obeisance to the Israeli government is idolatry — a religious category — and denounce it as such? The failure of religion as a Jewish focus for many young Jews is precisely because most of the official religious institutions will not denounce the Occupation as a violation of Torah …”  
Defense of Israel and whatever policies its government embraces has caused American Jewish organizations to violate their own principles. While they support religious freedom and separation of church and state in the U.S., they support theocracy in Israel. The majority of American Jews are affiliated with non-Orthodox streams of Judaism. Yet, in Israel, non-Orthodox rabbis are prohibited by law from performing weddings, conducting funerals, or presiding over conversions. Israel is a country in which a Jew and a non-Jew who wish to marry must leave the country to do so.  
Another instance of Jewish organizations violating their basic principles in order to defend Israel can be seen in their reaction to the movement to boycott, sanction and divest from Israel (BDS). Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, writes in The Forward (Jan. 31, 2018) that the term “pro-Israel” has been redefined “to mean support for extremist, anti-democratic policies, not just in Israel but in the U.S. as well. The clearest example of this trend is ongoing efforts to quash free speech in America in the name of defending Israel. These efforts have come in the form of bipartisan legislation at the federal and state level, designed to curb and even criminalize criticism and activism targeting Israel and its policies.”  
Assaults on Free Speech  
Such legislation targeting the BDS movement has been adopted in more than 20 states. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Coalition against Censorship have challenged such efforts as unconstitutional assaults on free speech. The ACLU has cases pending against such laws in Kansas and Arizona. In the Kansas case, a federal judge in January sided with the ACLU in issuing a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the law.  
Yet, Friedman points out, “AIPAC, the ADL and most Jewish community organizations remain fully on-board in promoting such legislation … The legislative campaign shows no signs of abating. Since Jan. 1, new anti-free speech legislation has been introduced already in at least six states.”  
Speaking for “the Jewish People”  
The State of Israel often speaks in the name of “the Jewish people,” something it has no mandate to do. In the wake of terrorist attacks in Copenhagen and Paris, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Jews in France and Denmark to emigrate to Israel, to “come home.” He was immediately rebuffed by Jewish leaders in those countries, who told him that French and Danish Jews were very much “at home.” There is no other leader of a country who addresses citizens of other countries in this way.  
It is ironic that Jews, who have suffered oppression in many places at many times, would find themselves in the position of denying Palestinians basic political and human rights. Many in Israel are conscious of the dilemma they face. Bradley Burston, writing in Haaretz (April 4, 2018), declared, “In the case of Zionism, can the victims of anti-Semitism come to acknowledge their — our — own bigotry, our own ingrained prejudices, our own sense of superiority and entitlement, our own history of injustice to the minorities in their midst?”  
Israel at 70, Burston points out, is seeing the dramatic growth of racism and intolerance: “This is a country which … demeans and dismisses and conflates Palestinian lives … In Israel at 70, Zionism means a government of the racist, by the racist, for the racist. As a public servant, as an orthodox rabbi, as a settler, you’re free to say anything you want, as long as it’s anti-Arab, anti-black, anti-Muslim, anti-Palestinian, anti-immigrant, and for good measure, anti-Ashkenazi, anti-North American Jew, anti-New Israel Fund … The settler who tears out a Palestinian farmer’s olive trees by the roots is a Zionist all the way. So is the settler who sets his dogs on a Palestinian shepherd’s flock … So is the rightist who — asked about the fact that two million Gazans live with next to no electricity, next to no drinking water, no sewage treatment, meager food, no opportunity to work, no opportunity to leave, no citizenship, no rights — replies, ‘They have it coming to them.’”  
Bigotry and Intolerance  
Why is such bigotry and intolerance growing? Burston notes that, “I understand where much of this comes from. Jews of all ethnicities bear the scar and he genetic memory of every manner of heinous racism, up to and including genocide. It’s all too true, at the same time, that in a tragic given of human nature, the abused is at great risk of becoming an abuser.”  
Another thoughtful Israeli voice is that of Larry Derfner, author of No Country for Jewish Liberals. Formerly, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, and now with Haaretz, in an interview with 972 magazine (July 19, 2017), he said: “… we’re in a situation where Israel is doing the kinds of things, more or less, they did in South Africa, like they did in the American South, and to be just a normal democrat puts you in a 180 degree situation to that … The last idea I’ve come to accept … is that from the beginning … the logic of Zionism was always expulsion — mass expulsion. Very simply, you can’t build a Jewish state in a land that’s overwhelmingly Palestinian. Sooner or later that means either expulsion or apartheid or occupation … I’ve also come to accept the justice of the Palestinian right of return.”  
American Jews have been told by the organizations which speak in their name that Israel shares their values. Some Israelis, of course, do share their commitment to democratic values. Many, however, do not. The examples of growing racism and hostility to anyone who is not Jewish — often in the highest reaches of government and religious leadership — are abundant. It is instructive to look at what is actually happening in Israel at the present time.  
Calls Black People “Monkeys”  
In March, the Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel called black people “monkeys” during his weekly sermon to the nation. Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef mentioned a blessing uttered upon seeing an “unusual creature,” citing the example of encountering a black person who has two white parents on the street in America. According to Ynet, Yosef referred to black people by the derogatory Hebrew word “kushi,” often compared to the “N-word” in English. He went on to term a black person a “monkey.” His fellow chief rabbi, Yisrael Lau, had already used the same word to describe black people on his very first day in office. When they visited Jerusalem in May for the opening of the U.S. Embassy, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner received a blessing from Rabbi Yosef.  
Religious leaders on the West Bank, associated with militant groups such as Gush Emunim, argue that non-Jews have “satanic souls.” Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburgh speaks freely of Jews’ genetic-based spiritual superiority over non-Jews. “If you saw two people drowning, a Jew and a non-Jew, the Torah says you save the Jewish life first,” Ginsburgh states. “If every simple cell in a Jewish body entails divinity, is a part of God, then every strand of DNA is part of God. Therefore, something is special about Jewish DNA … If a Jew needs a liver, can you take the liver of an innocent non-Jew passing by to save him? The Torah would probably permit that. Jewish life has an infinite value.” Yigal Amir, the assassin of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was influenced by Ginsburgh.  
In 1994, the Orthodox West Bank settler Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Palestinians at prayer and injured 100 more. He quickly became a hero to many, including prominent Orthodox rabbis. In their view the commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” applies only to fellow Jews. Thus, the killing of a non-Jew is not “murder.” When asked if he was sorry about the murdered Palestinians, Rabbi Moshe Levinger said, “I am sorry not only about dead Arabs but about dead flies.”  
“Not worth a Jew’s finger-nail”  
Dov Lior, chief rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arbs, and head of the Council or Rabbis of Judea and Samaria, issued a religious edict saying “a thousand non-Jewish lives are not worth a Jew’s fingernail” and stated that captured Arab terrorists could be used to conduct medical experiments and also ruled that Jewish law forbids employing Arabs or renting homes to them. Ovadia Yosef, a former Sephardi chief rabbi, said that the sole purpose of non-Jews “is to serve Jews.” The letter was later endorsed by some 250 other Jewish religious figures.  
There is a growing escalation in anti-Christian activity. The Galilee’s religiously significant Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish was firebombed by militants who scrawled on its wall “False idols will be destroyed.” Benzi Gopstein, head of the radical anti-Arab group Lehava, calls for the removal of Christians from Israel. He wrote: “Missionary work must not be given a foothold. Let’s throw the vampires out of our land before they drink blood again.”  
A senior Catholic spokesman, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Custodian of the Holy Land, describes a lack of police action and an educational culture in which Jewish pupils are encouraged to act with “contempt” toward Christians. In 2012, settler extremists attacked a Trappist Monastery in the town of Latroun, covering walls with anti-Christian graffiti, denouncing Christ as a “monkey,” and the 11th century Monastery of the Cross was daubed with offensive slogans such as “Death to Christians.”  
According to an article in The Telegraph, Christian leaders feel that the most important issue that Israel has failed to address is the practice of some ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools to teach children that it is a religious obligation to abuse anyone in Holy Orders they encounter in public, “such that ultra-Orthodox Jews, including children as young as eight, spit at members of the clergy on a daily basis.” Ruling on the case of a Greek Orthodox priest who had struck a yeshiva student who spit near him, a Jerusalem magistrate wrote, “Day after day, clergymen endure spitting by members of those fringe groups — a phenomenon intended to treat other religions with contempt … The authorities are not able to eradicate this phenomenon and they don’t catch the spitters, even though this phenomenon has been going on for years.”  
A Movement toward Fascism  
Israeli historian Zeev Sternhell, a respected authority on fascism, fears that Israel is moving in this negative direction. In an article in Haaretz (January 19, 2018) he writes: “I frequently ask myself how a historian in fifty or one hundred years will interpret our period. When, he will ask, did people in Israel start to realize that the state that was established … on the ruins of European Jewry … had devolved into a true monstrosity for its non-Jewish inhabitants. When did some Israelis understand that their cruelty and ability to bully others, Palestinians and Africans, began eroding the moral legitimacy of their existence as a sovereign state? … The left is no longer capable of overcoming the toxic ultra-nationalism that has evolved here, the kind whose European strain almost wiped out the majority of the Jewish people. We see not just a growing Israeli fascism but racism akin to Nazism in its early stages.”  
According to the Likud leaders who now control Israel’s government, Sternhell declares, “The Arabs aren’t Jews, so they cannot demand ownership over any part of the land that was promised to the Jewish people. According to this view, a Jew from Brooklyn who has never set foot in this country is the legitimate owner of this land, while a Palestinian, whose family has lived here for generations, is a stranger, living here only by the grace of the Jews.”  
Israel’s 70th anniversary came at the same time non-violent demonstrators were killed in large numbers by Israeli military forces, causing widespread criticism around the world, and an outpouring of dismay by many prominent Jewish voices. Human Rights Watch reviewed videos of the protests which showed the victims posed no threat to Israeli troops. An Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem urged Israeli soldiers to disobey open-fire orders because using live ammunition against unarmed people is unlawful. Rabbi Michael Lerner wrote in Tikkun (April 3, 2018): “We at Tikkun are in mourning for the … Palestinians killed and wounded by the Israeli army on the eve of Passover. We are outraged by the use of violence and force by the Israeli soldiers who faced no threat to their safety or the security of the State of Israel … We are also once again grieving for a Judaism that is being trampled on by those Jewish leaders who turn a blind eye to the brutality orchestrated by the Israeli army and justified by the Israeli government.”  
A Path Leading to “Israel’s Destruction”  
Rabbi Lerner argues that, “We should not allow those who support the policies of Occupation to call themselves ‘pro-Israel’ when in fact they are following a path that may lead to Israel’s destruction … Jewish values require us to speak out on behalf of ‘the stranger’ amongst us and to stand in solidarity with them when the power of the Israeli government comes crashing down on them. Loving the Jewish people, ahavat Yisrael, requires that we help people in our society understand that the actions of the current Israeli government do not represent Judaism or Jews as a whole and that criticizing the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza is not … anti-Semitic.”  
Rabbi Alissa Wise, Deputy Director of Jewish Voice for Peace, noted that, “The Israeli military evidently believes that any time Palestinians assert their basic rights in any way, they will be considered violent, and met with deadly violence. This cannot stand. It seems impossible that this should be true. Like Sharpeville, Selma or Kent State, again and again into 2018 … I know in my heart the right to peaceful protest is sacrosanct. These protestors — people just like you and me — prove that there’s another way, one we have to recommit to. I think the only way truly forward is to recognize there is a root cause: 70 years of Nakba. After all, that’s the reason 15,000 people were marching in the first place. The catastrophe of Palestinian dispossession and expulsion by the Israeli government has gone on 70 years too long. And the #March for Return is about making good on the undeniable, basic right of Palestinians, and all people, to live freely in their homeland.”  
Robert Herbst, a civil rights lawyer and a leader of the Jewish Voice for Peace chapter in Westchester, New York is quoted in Mondoweiss as saying, “I don’t know which is worse, the shamelessness of those perpetrating these atrocities or the indifference and silence of both Israeli and American Jews — rabbinate and laity — at the routine Jewish large-scale killing and maiming of Palestinian protestors … Before we had a Jewish state, we had Jewish books. Five books, a Mishnah, a Talmud. We discussed, debated, argued about and perfected Jewish moral, ethical and religious values … And we knew what it was like to be victimized by others, who did not share those values. We were against racism. We were for taking in the stranger, the immigrant, treating him or her like our own.  
Instead of a Book, “We Have Power”  
Now, Herbst points out, “… we have a Jewish state. Now, instead of a book and values, we have power. And it turns out we are every bit as good at abusing that power as the goyim. In fact, we may be better. After all, who could propagate and maintain for decades the myth of Israeli democracy for American Jews while running a white Jewish supremacist regime for 5 million Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza … I am ashamed. I am a Jew ashamed of the Jewish state that perpetuates all this, purportedly in my name and the name of the entire Jewish people … I am ashamed that in temples and synagogues and institutions across this land, one hears support for right-wing Israeli leaders and their crimes. I am ashamed of the American Jewish rabbinate … who have been to Israel and know how brutal, systemic and relentless the oppression of Palestinians is there, but who remain silent for fear of losing their jobs or dividing their congregations. When what is really at risk is their Jewish souls, our Jewish values and the essence of what Judaism has to offer the world, and it is not this … The Israeli leaders who perpetuate these crimes … may be Jews, but they are not Jewish.”  
Many who were not generally aware of Israel’s role in the occupied territories and Gaza began to pay attention as major public figures started to speak out. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said that, “The situation in Gaza is desperate. Almost 60% of the young people there are unemployed, and there are major healthcare, water and sanitation crises. The unrest in Gaza will not end until the people there see hope for a decent future … The killing of Palestinian demonstrators by Israeli forces in Gaza is tragic. It is the right of all people to protest for a better future without a violent response.”  
Asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper if he accepted Israel’s version of events, that most of the Palestinian dead were terrorists who directed attacks against Israel under the cover of protestors, Sanders replied: “No, I don’t. My understanding is you have tens of thousands of people who were engaged in non-violent protest … My assessment is that Israel overreacted … “  
In response to Israel’s assault on Gaza protestors, Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman informed an Israeli foundation that she would not appear at the award ceremony to receive Israel’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported: “The Genesis Foundation said that Portman’s representative notified it that ‘recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel’ and that ‘she cannot in good conscience move forward with the ceremony.’” After coming under bitter attack by right-wing Israeli leaders, Portman made clear her reason for not attending the ceremony: “Let me speak for myself. I chose not to attend because I did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony.”  
Love for Israel, Not Its Government  
Natalie Portman explained her love for Israel, but not its government or the mistreatment of Palestinians: “I treasure my Israeli friends and family, Israeli food, books, art, cinema and dance. Israel was created exactly 70 years ago as a haven for refugees from the Holocaust. But the mistreatment of those suffering from today’s atrocities is simply not in line with my Jewish values. Because I care about Israel, I must stand against violence, corruption, inequality and abuse of power.”  
Israeli Professor Neve Gordon, who now teaches international law at Queen Mary’s University in London, provides this assessment: “Thirty thousand Palestinians joined the nonviolent March of Return in Gaza only to be met with live bullets from Israeli soldiers. For decades, Zionists have blamed the Palestinians for Israel’s ongoing colonial project. ‘If only the Palestinians had a Mahatma Ghandi,’ many Israeli liberals have exclaimed, ‘then the occupation would end.’ But if one truly wished to find Palestinian Mahatma Ghandi, all one needed to do is look at the images of protestors … An estimated 30,000 Palestinians joined the nonviolent March of Return … Their goal was to protest their incarceration in the world’s largest open-air prison as well as the massive confiscation of their ancestral land — after all, 70% of Gaza’s population are 1948 refugees whose families had owned land in what became Israel.”  
In Professor Gordon’s view, “When one looks at Israel’s response to the non-violent Palestinian march, what is clear is that we must urgently find a way to turn the Zionists’ question on its head to prevent future bloodshed. Rather than asking when the Palestinians will produce a Mahatma Ghandi, we need to ask when Israel will produce a leader that does not support the subjugation of the Palestinians through the employment of lethal violence? When, in other words, will Israel finally rid itself of its Pharaonic ethos and realize that Palestinians have a right to freedom.”  
The day the U.S. Embassy opened in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018, Israeli snipers, using live ammunition, killed 58 Palestinian demonstrators at the Gaza border and injured nearly 3,000. Local officials said this was a level of bloodshed not seen since Israel’s 2014 war in the territory.  
A Supposedly Jewish State Violating Human Rights  
David Rothkopf, former editor of Foreign Policy Magazine, and for many years a strong supporter of Israel, now laments its current policy: “Until every resident of the land over which Israel enforces control has equal rights and protections under the law, it’s not a democracy … Israel’s brutal treatment of the demonstrators in Gaza … and Gaza itself is the anti-Passover. It represents the height of hypocrisy. A supposedly Jewish state violating the most basic concepts of the religion in order to ‘defend its right to exist.’”  
Peter Beinart, writes in The Forward (April 26, 2018), an article with the headline, “American Jews Have Abandoned Gaza — And the Truth.” He asks: “How do people defend the indefensible? … By obscuring the truth. So it is, more than 70 years later, with Israeli policy toward the Gaza Strip. The truth is too brutal to honestly defend. Why are thousands of Palestinians risking their lives by running toward the Israeli snipers who guard the fence that encloses Gaza? Because Gaza is becoming uninhabitable … How do kind, respectable, well-meaning American Jews defend this? How do they endorse the strangulation of 2 million human beings … They do so because Jewish leaders, in both Israel and the U.S. encase Israel’s actions in a fog of euphemism and lies.”  
The organized American Jewish community, Beinart charges, “… doesn’t only conceal the truth about Gaza from itself, it lobbies American politicians to do the same. The struggle for human decency, George Orwell argued, is also a struggle for honest language. Our community’s complicity in the human nightmare in Gaza should fill every American Jew with shame. The first step toward ending the complicity is to stop lying to ourselves.”  
Tom Segev, a prominent Israeli historian who has just completed a biography of David Ben-Gurion, notes after the Six Day War in 1967, religious Zionism came to dominance: “That’s when the euphoria starts, lasting until today. Strong nationalism and strong religion begin to coalesce. It was somewhere inside our collective soul … The situation is very bad in the occupied territories. There’s a systematic violation of Palestinians’ human rights. Our government is more and more right wing, racist, anti-Arab. If they were members of a government in Austria, we’d recall our ambassador in protest.”  
AIPAC Laments Decline in Support  
At its annual conference in March, AIPAC lamented the decline in progressive support for Israel. In an article entitled “AIPAC Won’t Win Back Progressives Until It Faces Hard Facts About Israel” (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, March 19, 2018), two Jewish leaders assess AIPAC’s role.  
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of the human rights group T’ruah, and Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, note that, “The argument ‘Israel’s security cannot be fully realized until she is at peace with her neighbors,’ which AIPAC’s CEO Howard Kohr shared with the crowd during his welcoming remarks, is one that we have each made time and again. Sadly, the current reality of Israeli government policy does not reflect or advance this vision … Instead, it imperils it. The Netanyahu government has dedicated itself to entrenching and justifying a military occupation that results in daily violations of human rights of Palestinians while undercutting the prospects for the two-state peace agreement that AIPAC claims to support.”  
The current government of Israel, Jacobs and Ben-Ami point out, “has endeavored to erase all distinctions between the democratic state of Israel and the territory it occupies in the West Bank, without any objection from AIPAC. The government is carrying out a steady assault on democracy … passing laws that restrict free speech and stepping up discrimination against non-Jewish minorities. Like previous Israeli governments and despite promises to the contrary, this one condones policies that restrict the religious freedom of non-Orthodox Jews, including the right of Reform and Conservative rabbis to perform marriages, conversions and divorces and arresting those who attempt to take part in egalitarian or women-led prayer at the Western Wall.”  
These developments, say Jacobs and Ben-Ami, “instill fear and frustration in so many America Jews over Israel’s present and future. It is the reality that drives growing numbers of progressives away from the pro-Israel cause. AIPAC steadfastly refuses to acknowledge or address this reality. Instead of acknowledging the real threat that occupation, settlement expansion and anti-democratic legislation pose to Israel’s security and fundamental character, AIPAC has made its mission to defend, or provide cover, for virtually every policy and action of the Netanyahu government. AIPAC ignores the fact that Israel’s current policies toward the Palestinians do not advance peace, but rather exacerbate conflict … AIPAC should also be willing to confront Israel’s critics with powerful arguments, not work to penalize legitimate forms of dissent … Real leadership involves telling one’s members hard truths … It requires working to ensure that the existential threats of occupation and conflict do not undermine their successes.”  
Zionism Is a Failing Ideology  
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, a congregational rabbi for 45 years and a longtime advocate for Palestinian rights, believes that, “Zionism is a failing ideology for many younger Jews. They see the oppressive conditions facing most Palestinians under the banner of Zionism and are frustrated by the mainstream community which is in denial of the oppression of Palestinians by Israel. I believe this trend will continue as the gap between Zionism claims and what it practices widens. Palestinians who struggle every day to remain on their land and in their homes deserve our passionate and unrelenting support.”  
Growing up, Rabbi Gottlieb notes, “… I was mentored by rabbis who in the sixties actively resisted American apartheid. They often linked African-American civil rights as a Jewish ethical responsibility in light of the world’s silence during the Holocaust. I absorbed a clear message: ‘Never Again’ is intersectional. ‘Never Again’ covers all people across all boundaries who suffer state sanctioned and community collaboration with violations of human rights. The reality of Jewish proactive ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Greater Israel exists. As we approach the 70th year of active annexation of Palestinian lands and the accompanying assault on Palestinian people, how many Jewish congregations will sponsor a Nakba memorial ceremony, much less pursue an active agenda for Palestunian human rights?”  
Dr. Hasia Diner, a scholar of American Jewish history at New York University, provides this assessment: “American Jews believe in religious pluralism and the idea that multiple iterations of Judaism have legitimate place. The State of Israel has given the power to decide about access to religious places and religious legitimacy to the Orthodox. This is a collision course. It’s hard for me to see how this is going to resolve itself to everyone’s happiness.”  
Many people who were once sympathetic to Zionism have discovered that the reality is far different from what they had been led to believe. New York Times (May 13, 2018) columnist Michelle Goldberg reports that several visits to the West Bank changed her view: “I’d inherited a set of default liberal Zionist beliefs about Israel as the good guy in its confrontation with the Palestinians, whose hostility I understood to be atavistic and irrational. This view collapsed the first time I walked down Shuhada Street in Hebron, in a part of the city where more than 30,000 Palestinians live under Israeli military control for the benefit of 1,000 or so Israeli settlers. Palestinians, whose homes are on Shuhada Street aren’t allowed to walk out their front door, because the street, patrolled by Israeli troops, is reserved for Jews. Going there, I felt a transformation …”  
Departure from Jewish Values  
Many Israelis lament its departure from Jewish values. Professor David Shulman of the Hebrew University declares that, “No matter how we look at it, unless our minds have been poisoned by the ideologies of the religious right, the occupation is a crime. This is first of all based on the permanent disenfranchisement of a huge population … In the end, it is the ongoing moral failure of the country as a whole that is most consequential, most dangerous, most unacceptable. We are, so we claim, the children of the prophets. Once, they say, we were slaves in Egypt. We know all that can be known about slavery, suffering, prejudice, ghettos, hate, expulsion, exile. I find it astonishing that we, of all people, have reinvented apartheid in the West Bank.”  
In an editorial which marks a departure from Zionism, and expresses much of the philosophy advanced by the American Council for Judaism for more than 75 years, Jane Eisner, editor of The Forward, commemorated Israel’s 70th anniversary with an article headlined. “It’s Time for Israel to Recognize That Diaspora Jews Are Already Home.” (April 18, 2018)  
She writes: “… the relationship between the world’s two largest Jewish communities is growing more and more strained, and on this milestone anniversary of independence, it is the subject of much hand-wringing over whether and how it can ever be repaired … let’s acknowledge and celebrate their separate identities and embark on a new relationship. To begin with, let’s leave behind the outdated notion of ‘Diaspora’ … seven decades on, the language of Israel and Diaspora … homeland and exile, no longer describes the reality of the majority of the world’s Jews who continue to reside and thrive outside Israel’s contested borders.”  
Eisner argues that, “We need a new vocabulary, one that reflects a more egalitarian relationship, something horizontal rather than vertical … The tension over the relationship is, of course, nothing new. Within only a couple of years of Israel’s founding, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and American Jewish Committee leader Jacob Blaustein agreed in a public declaration that the fledgling state would not speak for the rest of world Jewry and vice versa, but their agreement was quickly abandoned … Over time, Israel assumed an ever more dominant role in world Jewish life … Ben-Gurion would not have anointed himself king of the Jews, even if he wanted to. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu obviously covets the crown.”  
American Jews Are “At Home”  
Several developments, Eisner concludes, have accelerated the widening divide in recent years: “Netanyahu’s provocative speech to Congress against the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran put him at odds most American Jews and the president they warmly supported. His abrogation of the agreement to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall in Jerusalem last year alienated many members of the two largest religious denominations in America. His government’s lurch toward religious nationalism and its refusal to deal with the Palestinian occupation is leading to further disenchantment … I suggest that those of us in the Diaspora think of ourselves as being at home.”  
Israel›s retreat from shared democratic values has disturbed some of its most vocal traditional supporters. Charles Bronfman, Advisory Council chair of the Israel Policy Forum and one of the founders of the Birthright Israel program, expressed his dismay in his commencement address at Hebrew Union College (May 3, 2018): “We have but one Jewish state. It shocks me to the marrow of my bones that Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism are legally un-recognized by the State of Israel, that indeed only one expression of our religion is officially sanctioned from birth to death and all the intervening mitzvah … Yes, other societies have, do, and will discriminate against Jews, but it is only the state of Israel that bars official state recognition of what you, in this audience, so devoutly observe.”  
In his book Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict over Israel,” Professor Dov Waxman of Northeastern University writes: “A historic change has been taking place in the American Jewish relationship with Israel … Israel is fast becoming a source of division rather than unity for American Jewry. A new era of American Jewish conflict over Israel is replacing the old era of solidarity … This echoes earlier debates about Zionism that existed before 1948. Then, as now, there were fierce disagreements among American Jews and the American Jewish establishment … It was only after Israel’s founding that the communal consensus came to dominate American Jewish politics. Thus, from a historical perspective, the pro-Israel consensus that once reigned within the American Jewish community is the aberration rather than the rule. Jewish division on Israel is historically the norm.”  
Most American Jews Were Never Zionists  
Beyond this, in Waxman’s view, the overwhelming majority of American Jews, while supporting Israel and wishing it well, were never really Zionists. He writes: “Classical Zionism … has never had much relevance or appeal to American Jewry. Indeed, the vast majority of American Jews reject the basic elements of classical Zionism — that Diaspora Jews live in exile, that Jewish life in Israel is superior to life in the Diaspora, and that Diaspora Jewish life is doomed to eventually disappear. American Jews do not think that they live in exile and they do not regard Israel as their homeland … For many American Jews, America is more than just home, it is itself a kind of Zion, an ‘almost promised land.’ Zionism has never succeeded in winning over the majority of American Jews.”  
In recent years, sympathy for Zionism among American Jews has been in steady decline. A study by social scientists Ari Kelman and Steven M. Cohen found that among American Jews, each new generation is more alienated from Israel than the one before. Among those born after 1980, only 54% feel “comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state.” The reason, Cohen asserted, is an aversion to “hard group boundaries” and the notion that “there is a distinction between Jews and everyone else.” Other polls show that among younger non-Orthodox Jews, only 30% think that “caring about Israel is essential to being Jewish.”  
In a recent survey, only a minority of Jews in the San Francisco Bay Area believe a Jewish state is important, and only a third sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians. When 18-34 year-olds were asked if they were “very attached” to Israel, only 11% said yes, compared to 45% of those 50 or older. Is a Jewish state very important? Thirty seven per cent of the young said yes. Only 40% of the young said they were “comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state.”  
Haaretz (Feb. 14, 2018) reported: “A survey polling the Jewish population of the San Francisco Bay Area … found that only 21% described themselves as ‘very attached’ to Israel and almost as many (20%) described themselves as ‘not attached at all.’ Professor Steven M. Cohen of Hebrew Union College, who led the study, said, ‘We see that there are growing numbers who are ‘Israel disengaged, especially among younger people.’”  
More Spiritual, Less Ethnic  
According to Cohen, “What we are seeing is that younger Jews are moving towards a more neutral, position regarding Israel … They are more spiritual and less ethnic. And Israel falls in the ethnic compartment … Israeli policies are far more appealing to political conservatives and more alienating to political liberals. Israel’s policies are depriving American Jewry of a major pillar of inspiration and mobility.”  
Professor Guy Ziv of American University says that millennials’ view of Israel is shaped by recent events. Israel’s early history as a weak, threatened country, is, he says, “just that — history. Before 1967, Israel was seen as the underdog, and it was easy to identify with its underdog status. Israel has now come to be seen as an international superpower due to its advanced economy and military might.”  
Batya Ungar-Sargan, opinion editor of The Forward, notes that, “Values-driven millennials won’t endorse something that doesn’t fit their values. If moneyed American Jews want to strengthen Jewish continuity, they should stop spending their money trying to convince American Jews that they aren’t seeing what they see when they look at Israel, and start convincing Israeli leaders to pursue policies that American Jews can be proud of … Young American Jews are having an effect on the American Jewish leadership. By refusing to endorse Israel’s shortcomings, they are pushing their leaders to demand change.”  
Long History of Jewish Opposition to Zionism  
The history of Jewish opposition to Zionism is a long one and the evidence that American Jews largely reject the idea of Israel, as the “homeland” of all Jews and that they are in “exile” in America, is everywhere to be seen. Israel’s 70th anniversary has produced much needed soul-searching within the American Jewish community. In the years since Israel’s creation, it has become an obsession for many in the American Jewish establishment. All too often, U.S. policy in the Middle East has become the main item on the Jewish agenda, not the religious, moral and spiritual questions which attract people to religion. Precisely because Judaism has downplayed its rich spiritual and ethical heritage, more and more idealistic young people have turned away.  
As Israel reached 70, the fact that it is in the grip of a narrow religious nationalism and seems to be moving away from the democratic values American Jews thought it shared with them, has caused a growing alienation.  
Zionism, as its Jewish critics pointed out from the very start of the movement, is a rejection of the Jewish religious tradition. Judaism, they maintained, is a religion of universal values, not a nationality. The role of Judaism in the world is not to segregate itself in a small state, but to spread the idea of monotheism and the moral and ethical standards it proclaims. The idea of placing Israeli flags in synagogues, of promoting trips to Israel for young people as a part of strengthening Jewish identity, has become a form of idolatry — placing a sovereign state in the Middle East in a place previously reserved for God.  
Most American Jews are not conflicted in believing that the United States is their “home.” The idea that they are, somehow, in “exile,” as Zionism proclaims and Israeli leaders tell them, makes no sense to them at all. Their “homeland,” it is clear, is the United States.  
Understanding the American Experience  
The early Zionists had no understanding of the American experience, where from the start of the nation the First Amendment guaranteed religious freedom to all. It is almost certain that Theodor Herzl never read the arguments set forth by Thomas Jefferson in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, a forerunner to the First Amendment, passed by the Virginia General Assembly on Jan.16, 1786. In America, religious freedom was a principle adopted by the majority. In Israel, the Jewish majority seems to have adopted a quite different philosophy, one which alienates American Jews and gives the impression that Jews only promoted religious freedom in the West because they were a minority and it served their interests — not out of principle.  
Thus, Israel’s 70th anniversary has produced more soul-searching than celebration within large parts of the American Jewish community. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Zionist understanding of the nature of Jews and Judaism contradicts almost completely the beliefs and values of most American Jews. Unless those leaders and groups which speak in their name change course, this dilemma will grow. Judaism, properly understood, has a great deal to offer to the American society and to young people seeking spiritual meaning and purpose. But as an ethno-nationalism focused on Israel, it will only deteriorate and decline, as is happening at the present time.  
Israel’s 70th anniversary should cause much reflection on the part of those who have substituted nationalism for religion, leaving Judaism and its rich history and moral consciousness behind. Fortunately, it seems, such reflection is now under way.  
• Allan C. Brownfeld is a nationally syndicated columnist and is editor of ISSUES. The author of five books, he has served on the staff of the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives, and the Office of the Vice President.

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