Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

New York Times Discusses "The Unraveling of American Zionism"

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
December 2021

Attention has been focused upon the decline of Zionism in the American Jewish  
community by an article in The New York Times Magazine (Nov. 7, 2021) by Marc  
Tracy. The article is appropriately entitled, “Inside the Unraveling of American  
A letter signed by 93 rabbinical students last May during the Israeli onslaught  
on Gaza declared that Israel maintains “apartheid” in the occupied territories  
and called on American Jews who have taken on structural racism in the United  
States to oppose “racist violence” in Israel. The letter declared: “Blood is  
flowing in the streets of the Holy Land. For those of us for whom Israel has  
represented hope and justice, we need to give ourselves permission to watch, to  
acknowledge what we see, to mourn and to cry. And then to change our behavior and  
demand better.”  
The rabbinical students urged Jews to re-think their support for American  
military aid to Israel, which totals roughly $3.8 billion annually, and insisted  
that Jewish educators alter their teaching of Israel’s founding to convey “the  
messy truth of a persecuted people searching for safety, going to a land full of  
meaning for the Jewish people, full of meaning for so many other peoples, and  
also full of human beings who didn’t ask for new neighbors.”  
Mr. Tracy notes that, “The letter contained several provocations. It compared the  
Palestinians’ plight to that of Black Americans: ‘American Jews have been part of  
a racial reckoning in our community, and yet so many of those same institutions  
are silent when abuse of power and racist violence erupts in Israel and  
Palestine.’ It describes in Israel ‘two separate legal systems for the same  
region’ and called this system ‘apartheid.’ It arrived amid war, violating the  
imperative many Jews felt to stand with Israel as the rockets fly…”  
The 93 men and women who signed the letter are students at eight institutions  
that train rabbis and represent 17% of the students at those schools. The letter  
was published in the widely read Jewish newspaper, The Forward of May 13, 2021.  
Lex Rofeberg, co-host of the “Judaism Unbound” podcast said, “This list includes  
future leaders of American Judaism.”  
One of the students who signed the letter, Leah Nussbaum, a student at Hebrew  
Union College in New York, was interviewed by Marc Tracy. She told him, “The  
modern state of Israel is a country like any other country. It has problems with  
discrimination and racism. That doesn’t reflect what I believe are Jewish values,  
even though it’s a Jewish state. And I think there can be a state that reflects  
Jewish values and ethics. Israel can do a lot better. I signed this letter  
because I feel it’s Jewish to also support Palestinians.”  
It is Marc Tracy’s view that, “The letter intimated not only that the pro-Israel  
consensus is fraying, which has been apparent for a while, but something else,  
too: that the primary cause of this fraying may not be something so  
straightforward as the actions of Israeli governments or the assimilation of  
American Jews. Instead, a generation of American Jews is confronting head-on the  
tension between universalist principles and the idea of Jewish particularity…For  
years, American Jews could look upon Israel as a tiny state full of long-  
oppressed people with hostile neighbors, and even see themselves as underdogs…The  
letter entered this fraught terrain and asked American Jews to view the Middle  
East conflict structurally, as another instance of one powerful group’s  
oppressing the less powerful one. This was its most profound and destabilizing  
argument: that Jews, after two dozen centuries of dispossession, persecution and  
exile have the upper hand and the responsibility to act like it. Hannah Bender, a  
third year student at Hebrew Union College, put it to me this way: ‘All of our  
texts were written during a history when we were the victims. What do we do now  
that we have power?” ***  

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.