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New York Magazine Features a Critical Article about “My Grandfather the Zionist"

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
August 2021

New York Magazine of June 23, 2021 featured an article by Abraham Riesman, a  
staff writer, about his grandfather, a lobbyist for Israel who, he says,  
covered up war crimes such as the massacre and imprisonment of Palestinians.  
The article is entitled, “My Grandfather the Zionist: He Helped Build  
Jewish American Support for Israel. What’s His Legacy Now?”  
In a critical, but loving, article about his grandfather, Robert Riesman  
(1919-2004), who was active in promoting Israel in Rhode Island and with  
that state’s representatives in Washington, the author declares that he no  
longer believes the myths that the Israeli lobby spreads in the media, and  
notes that neither do many other younger Jewish Americans. The pro-Israel  
consensus, he writes, “is in decline.” The mistreatment of Palestinians, he  
argues, is in violation of Jewish moral and ethical values, and “keeps me up  
at night.”  
Riesman, 35 years old, writes: “Israel is now tearing the Jewish community  
apart. In my grandfather’s day, Israel was the great unifier of the  
American Jewish community. Now it is the great divider, both inside our own  
community and in cleavages with other ones. Bring up Israel with any  
American Jew and you can feel the atmosphere tighten. There is no topic  
that incenses us more, whether the emotions are pride or shame,  
defensiveness or hatred, fear that not enough of our co-religionists support  
the Jewish state or rage that they support it too much. The left is done  
with Israel, particularly since the last Gaza assault, which heralds  
disaster and disunity.”  
In Riesman’s view, “Jews and Gentiles who had previously betrayed no  
interest in the topic have taken up the cause of the Palestinians who are  
governed and besieged and, in many cases, killed, by an occupying state. My  
grandfather probably would be infuriated by me. In recent years, I’ve  
developed a level of fixation of the place that rivals even that of my  
grandfather. The conclusions we have come to, however, are worlds apart.”  
His grandfather’s defense of Israel, even covering up its misdeeds, was,  
Riesman writes, “…sincere based on his assessment of Jewish safety. In his  
eyes, Israel was always under mortal threat and if his people lost their  
citadel in the Middle East, who knew what other dominoes might fall.” His  
grandfather, he notes, could dismiss the expulsion of Palestinians to make  
way for Israel in 1947-49 because Jews had been victims of genocide in  
Even his grandfather’s attitude was complicated: “Grandpa held no  
particular affection for the country (Israel). As he put it, it was really  
like a relative you had to support, whose company you didn’t particularly  
enjoy, who gave you no excitement, no stimulation. He said, ‘It was because  
Israel was threatened that it became precious. When it wasn’t threatened  
it was an inconvenient relative; when it was threatened, it became something  
you liked.”  
Riesman concludes: "I retain a sliver of hope that he (my grandfather)  
could understand that I, like him, want to save the Jews. I have chosen to  
see them as my family, for better or worse, and I believe that backing the  
status quo in Israel is not just immoral and wrong, but a recipe for  
disaster. I am not alone in this—Israel’s own politicians and security  
officials have long said the occupation makes Israel less safe. I believe  
Jews should have free access to the Holy Land. I do not in any way want to  
see them driven into the sea or killed. But nor do I want to see  
Palestinians to be massacred and imprisoned. I don’t think my grandfather  
wanted to hurt Palestinians, but their concerns didn’t keep him up at night.  
For me, they do. They are part of my family too. Until they are safe, the  
Jews will not be safe. Israel and the Palestinians will not fix their  
problems without audacious solutions, solutions as audacious as, say, the  
creation of a Jewish state 70-odd years ago.” **

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