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Allan C. Brownfeld
Winter 2023

Israel’s far-right government has made its goals clear. Prime Minister Benjamin  
Netanyahu declared on Dec. 30, 2022, “These are the basic lines of the national  
government headed by me. The Jewish people have an exclusive right to all areas  
of the Land of Israel. The government will promote and develop settlement of all  
parts of the Land of Israel—-in the Galilee, the Negev, the Golan, Judea and  
The government, which includes far-right parties which oppose LGBTQ rights,  
equality for women, religious rights for non-Orthodox Jews and support annexation  
of the occupied territories and expulsion of most of its Palestinian residents,  
is clearly turning its back on democracy. It plans to control the Supreme Court  
so that racist legislation can no longer be prevented from taking effect.  
The Washington Post (Jan. 15, 2023) provided this assessment: “In 2019, Netanyahu  
was indicted on multiple charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and is  
currently on trial in three cases of corruption. In Jan. 2022, Aryeh Deri, the  
head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party who has been appointed interior minister  
and minister of health, was convicted of tax fraud. Ben Gvir, a West Bank  
settler leader who has for decades defended Israeli youths accused of violently  
attacking Palestinians, was deemed unfit for mandatory military service because  
of his extremist activism and was convicted for racist incitement against Arabs  
and support of terrorist groups…Netanyahu’s proposed ‘judicial revision’ …would  
allow ministers greater influence over who serves on the courts—-including those  
overseeing Netanyahu’s corruption trial.”  
No Checks On Government  
Mordechai Kremnitzer, a respected Israeli jurist and professor of law at Hebrew  
University, said this of the new government: “The king can do no wrong. There  
are no checks on the government. We are in the midst of an attempt by the  
political majority to perpetuate regime change, transforming Israel from a  
country with a functional liberal democracy to a populist-authoritarian,  
nationalist-religious nation characterized principally by absolute power in the  
hands of the majority.”  
Establishment American Jewish organizations such as the American Jewish  
Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the Conference of Presidents of Major  
American Jewish Organizations say that they are taking a “wait and see” attitude  
about the new government, which they say is a product of Israel’s “democratic”  
system. Many Jewish voices are taking a far different position.  
In December, more than 330 American rabbis, including some who occupy prominent  
roles in major cities, pledged to block members of the Religious Zionist bloc in  
the Israeli government from speaking in their synagogues and will lobby to keep  
them from speaking in their communities. The signatures come from the Reform,  
Conservative and Reconstructionist movements. There are no Orthodox signatories.  
Signatories Include Prominent Rabbis  
Among the signatories are current and former members of the Boards of Rabbis in  
Chicago and Los Angeles and rabbis who lead the largest Reform and Conservative  
congregations in Washington, D.C. The letter was organized by David Deutch, a  
leading Reconstructionist rabbi in Philadelphia and John Rosove, the rabbi  
emeritus of Temple Israel in Los Angeles.  
The letter outlines five Religious Zionist proposals that it says will cause  
irreparable harm to the relations between Israel and Jewish Americans. These  
include changing the Law of Return to keep out non-Orthodox converts and their  
descendants; eroding LGBTQ rights; allowing the Knesset to override rulings of  
the Supreme Court; annexing the West Bank; and expelling Arab citizens who oppose  
Israel’s government.  
Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky of Congregation Anshe Chesed in Manhattan will no longer  
recite the prayer for the State of Israel that many synagogues feature at worship  
services. He says he can no longer pray for the success of Israel’s leaders,  
ministers and advisers since it includes right-wing extremists he considers “akin  
to the Ku Klux Klan.” He declares: “I don’t hope that this government succeeds.  
I hope that this government fails and is replaced by something better. I just  
could not imagine us saying this prayer that their efforts be successful. I  
think their efforts are dastardly.”  
New Government Is “A Nightmare”.  
Rabbi Noah Sattath, director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said  
in January, during a Webinar with Americans for Peace Now, that anyone who is  
contributing to the Israeli economy should stop “until the wind changes.” She  
said that the new government is “a nightmare” for human rights groups and for  
Palestinians under occupation. Rabbi Sattath was featured at the J Street  
conference in December 2022 and at that time discussed the possibility that she  
would call for U.S. sanctions against the new government. Israel, she said, is  
now in a period of “shock and awe.”  
Abraham Foxman, 82, the past leader of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), who has  
said that “nothing could separate him from support for Israel,” now says,  
according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (Dec. 2, 2022), “The leaders of an  
extreme party could do the trick if they get their way…I never thought I would  
reach that point where I would say that my support for Israel is conditional.”  
In an interview with The Forward (Nov. 25, 2022), he said, “I’ve always said my  
support for Israel is unconditional. I don’t think it’s a horrific condition to  
say, ‘I love Israel as a Jewish and democratic state that respects pluralism. If  
Israel ceases to be an open democracy, I won’t be able to support it.’”  
Foxman said his outlook reflected that of the larger American Jewish community.  
A Holocaust survivor, Foxman retired from the ADL in 2015, fifty years after  
first joining the organization. Of Israel’s move to the far-right, he laments,  
“It’s not one thing. It’s a whole package of things, which is bringing us back  
to the Middle Ages. It’s undermining democracy in terms of the legal system,  
it’s cutting back on human or legal rights for all, whether it’s LGBTQ, the  
Conservative movement or the Reform movement.”  
Independence Of The Judiciary  
Jodi Rudoren, editor of The Forward (Jan. 6, 2023) wrote: “Itamar Ben Gvir’s  
senseless, audacious pilgrimage to the Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock compound…  
certainly is a harbinger (of what will happen). I am worried about the  
independence of the judiciary, about the new government’s threats to LGBTQ people  
and plans to redefine who is considered Jewish under Israeli law and, of course,  
about the ongoing, escalating violence against Palestinians.”  
Consider the case of Hillel Halkin, an author and translator who moved to Israel  
from the U.S. in 1970. He is the author of “Letters to an American Jewish  
Friend: A Zionist Polemic,” which won a National Jewish Book Award in 1978. In  
the book, he urges American Jews to emigrate to Israel. Now, Halkin, 83, admits  
that he was wrong. Writing in the Jewish Review of Books, he declares that  
critics of Zionism were correct.  
Today, he writes, “We’re over the cliff and falling…nothing will save it (Israel)  
from the abyss of messianic right-wing politics.” Israel, he laments, avoided  
the central issue of Palestinian rights. To an anti-Zionist friend with whom he  
argued over the years, he wrote, “You’ve won the argument. For years now, Israel  
has seemed to me like a man sleepwalking toward a cliff. Now, we’ve fallen from  
it.” Sadly, he notes, racism has come to dominate Israeli politics and, as a  
result, “Israel is headed to disaster.”  
“Against The Idea Of Rule Of Law”  
Tom Ginsburg, professor of international law at the University of Chicago, in an  
interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (Jan. 9, 2023) provided this  
assessment of the Netanyahu government’s plan for the Israeli legal system: “You  
could have a situation where the Knesset—-which currently has a role in  
protecting human rights—-can pick out and override specific cases, which goes  
against the idea of rule of law.” He noted that similar changes have occurred in  
Hungary and Poland, “which are not necessarily countries you want to compare  
yourself to…I honestly worry about whether this society will remain a Jewish and  
democratic one with the current coalition…The ethno-nationalist direction of the  
country bothers me as a Jew.”  
Former Israeli deputy Supreme Court Justice president Elyakum Rubinstein warned  
that the controversial package of sweeping legal changes proposed by Justice  
Minister Yariv Levin would leave Israel with just one branch of government, the  
executive, and hollow out Israeli democracy. Rubinstein and other Israeli  
critics say the proposals would remove all checks on executive power. In  
Rubinstein’s view, “There is a principle of checks and balances (on government  
power) and a concept of executive restraint that governments sometimes do not  
follow, resulting in harm to minorities and weaker sectors of society. If there  
is only one branch of government instead of three, then it will be a democracy in  
name, but will it be a democracy in the substantive understanding of the idea?”  
In what the Times of Israel (Jan. 12, 2023) called “an extraordinary speech  
delivered with indignation and fiery rhetoric,” the President of the Israeli  
Supreme Court Esther Hayut denounced the new government’s plan to radically  
overhaul Israel’s judicial and legal system, saying it would deal “a fatal blow”.  
To the country’s democratic identity. She said the changes would totally  
undermine judicial independence, give the Knesset a “blank check” to pass any  
legislation it pleases—-even in violation of basic civil rights. In her talk to  
the conference of the Israeli Association of Public Law, she said, “This is an  
unbridled attack on the judicial system, as if it were an enemy that must be  
attacked and subdued. This is a plan to crush the justice system. It is  
designed to deal a fatal blow to the independence of the judiciary and silence  
it.” She concluded by stating that, “If it is passed, the 75th anniversary of  
Israel’s independence will be remembered as the year in which the country’s  
democratic identity was dealt a fatal blow.”  
Dershowitz Opposes Judicial Reforms  
Even Prof. Alan Dershowitz, long a staunch defender of Israeli policies, said he  
cannot defend sweeping judicial reforms, including allowing lawmakers to pass  
laws that the Supreme Court has already struck down. Dershowitz said the reforms  
pose a threat to civil liberties and minority rights in Israel. “If I were in  
Israel, I would be joining the protests,” Dershowitz told Israeli Army Radio,  
referring to the protests in Tel Aviv on Jan. 7 against the reforms that drew  
thousands. “It will make it much more difficult for people like me who try to  
defend Israel in the international court of public opinion to defend them  
effectively. It would be a tragedy to see the Supreme Court weakened.”  
A number of American Jewish groups spoke out against including the extremist  
faction in the government while Netanyahu was negotiating with the bloc and more  
have done so since he announced the government’s formation. They include the  
major non-Orthodox religious movements and the liberal Jewish Middle East policy  
groups, including Partners for Progressive Israel, the Israel Policy Forum, J  
Street, IfNotNow and Americans for Peace Now.  
Few Americans understand the extreme racist nature of religious Zionism, which  
now plays an important role in Israel’s government. These Jewish fundamentalists  
show their total contempt toward non-Jews. Rabbi Kook the Elder, the revered  
father of the messianic tendency in religious Zionism, said, “The difference  
between a Jewish soul and the souls of non-Jews—-all of them in all different  
levels—-is greater and deeper than the difference between a human soul and the  
souls of cattle.”  
The Superiority Of The Jewish Soul  
Rabbi Kook’s entire teaching, which is followed devoutly by, among others, those  
who have led the settler movement on the West Bank, is based upon the Lurianic  
Cabala, the school of Jewish mysticism that dominated Judaism from the late 16th  
to the early 19th century. One of the basic tenets of the Lurianic Cabala is the  
absolute superiority of the Jewish soul and body over the non-Jewish soul and  
body. According to the Lurianic Cabala, the world was created solely for the  
sake of the Jews; the existence of non-Jews was subsidiary.  
Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburgh, an American-born activist rabbi on the West Bank, speaks  
freely of Jews’ 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. “Every simple cell in a Jewish body entails divinity, is a  
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.”  
In the book “Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel,” Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvinsky  
provide a thorough assessment of this phenomenon in modern Israel. Shahak was an  
Israeli and Holocaust survivor. He was a professor at the Hebrew University and  
a leading human rights activist. Norton Mezvinsky was a professor of history at  
Central Connecticut State University who has written and lectured extensively on  
the modern Middle East. Concerning Fabbi Ginsburgh’s position, they point out  
that, “Changing the words ‘Jewish’ to ‘German’ or ‘Aryan’ and ‘non-Jewish’ to  
‘Jewish’ turns the Ginsburgh position into the doctrine that made Auschwitz  
possible in the past…The similarities between the Jewish messianic trend and  
German Nazism are glaring. The Gentiles are for the messianists what the Jews  
were for the Nazis. The hatred of Western culture with its rational and  
democratic elements is common to both movements.”  
“We Shall Never Move Out”  
Author Milton Viorst, in his book “What Shall I Do With This People?,” writes  
that, “Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook declared that, ‘Under heavenly command, we have just  
returned home in the elevations of holiness and our holy city. We shall never  
move out of here. We are living in the middle of redemption. The entire Israeli  
Army is holy. The kingdom of Israel is being rebuilt. It symbolizes raw rule of  
the Jewish people on its land.’ Kook and his followers reshaped Halacha  
(religious law) to serve their political ideology. Not only did they insist that  
the law required permanent Jewish rule in the territories, but they proclaimed  
its supremacy over secular law…Religious Zionism’s role was to sanctify…  
nationalism, imparting new energy to it by characterizing it as God’s command.  
Religious Zionism after 1967 sparked the Jewish settlement movement in the  
occupied territories…Every stake driven into the soil, it maintained, served  
God’s will.”  
Zionism was a minority movement among Jews until the advent of Nazism and the  
Holocaust. For Reform Jews, the idea of Zionism contradicted almost completely  
their belief in a universal prophetic Judaism. The first Reform prayerbook  
eliminated all references to Jews being in exile and to a Messiah who would  
miraculously restore Jews throughout the world to the historic land of Israel and  
who would rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem. The prayerbook eliminated all prayers  
for a return to Zion. Abraham Geiger, the distinguished rabbi and author, argued  
that Judaism developed through an evolutionary process that had begun with God’s  
revelation to the Hebrew prophets. That revelation was progressive; new truth  
became available to every generation. The underlying and unchanging essence of  
Judaism was ethical monotheism. The Jewish people were a religious community  
destined to carry on the mission to “serve as a light to the nations,” to bear  
witness to God and His moral law. The dispersion of the Jews was not a  
punishment for their sins, but part of God’s plan whereby they were to  
disseminate the universal message of ethical monotheism.  
In Nov. 1885, Reform rabbis, meeting in Pittsburgh, wrote an eight point platform  
that one participant called “the most succinct expression of the theology of the  
Reform movement that had ever been published in the world.” The platform  
emphasized that Reform Judaism denied nationalism of any variety. It stated: “We  
recognize in the era of universal culture of heart and intellect, the approaching  
realization of Israel’s great Messianic hope for the establishment of the kingdom  
of truth, justice and peace among all men. We consider ourselves no longer a  
nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to  
Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration  
of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state.” This was the philosophy of  
Reform Judaism embraced by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.  
“America is our Zion”  
In 1897, the Central Conference of American Rabbis adopted a resolution  
disapproving of any attempt to establish a Jewish state. The resolution  
declared, “Zion was a precious possession of the past…as such it is a holy  
memory, but it is not our hope of the future. America is our Zion.”  
In 1904, The American Israelite noted, “There is not one solitary prominent  
native Jewish American who is an advocate of Zionism.”  
In 1919, in response to Britain’s Balfour Declaration calling for a “Jewish  
homeland” in Palestine, a petition was presented to President Woodrow Wilson  
entitled “A Statement to the Peace Conference.” It reflected the dominant  
American Jewish view on Zionism and Palestine. The petition criticized Zionist  
efforts to segregate Jews “as a political unit…in Palestine or elsewhere,” and  
underlined the principle of equal rights for all citizens of any state  
“irrespective of creed or ethnic descent.” It rejected Jewish nationalism as a  
general concept and held against the founding of any state “upon the basis of  
religion and/or race.”  
The petition asserted that the “overwhelming bulk of the Jews of America,  
England, France, Italy, Holland, Switzerland and the other lands of freedom have  
no thought whatever of surrendering their citizenship in those lands in order to  
resort to a ‘Jewish homeland in Palestine.’” Among those signing this petition  
were Rep. Julius Klein of California, Henry Morganthau, Sr., former U.S.  
Ambassador to Turkey, Simon W. Rosendale, former Attorney General of New York,  
Mayor L.H. Kempner of Galveston, Texas, E.M. Baker, president of the New York  
Stock Exchange, Jesse I. Straus of Macy’s, and New York Times publisher Adolph  
Jews Are Not A Nation  
In a speech to the Menorah Society in New York City in Dec. 1917, Chief Judge of  
the New York State Supreme Court Irving Lehman, brother of Governor Herbert  
Lehman of New York, stated: “I cannot recognize that the Jews as such constitute  
a nation in any sense in which the word is recognized in political science, or  
that a national basis is a possible concept for modern Judaism. We Jews in  
America, bound to the Jews of other lands by our common faith, constituting our  
common inheritance, cannot as American citizens feel any bond to them as members  
of a nation, for nationally we are Americans and Americans only, and in political  
and civil matters, we cannot recognize any other ties. We must therefore look  
for the maintenance of Judaism to those spiritual concepts which constitute  
In England, A Jewish member of Lloyd George’s cabinet, Secretary of State for  
India Edwin Montagu, insisted that Jews be regarded as a religious community. In  
a memorandum circulated to other Cabinet members, Montagu used the word “anti-  
Semitism” to characterize the sponsors of the Balfour Declaration. The document  
of Aug. 23, 1917 was titled, “The Anti-Semitism of the Present Government.”  
He noted that, “I wish to place on record my view that the policy of His  
Majesty’s Government is anti-Semitic in result and will, prove a rallying ground  
for anti-Semites in every country in the world…I assert that there is not a  
Jewish nation…It is no more true to say that a Christian Englishman and a  
Christian Frenchman are of the same nation…I deny that Palestine is today  
associated with the Jews. It is quite true that Palestine plays a large part in  
Jewish history, but so it does in Mohammedans history, and, after the time of the  
Jews, surely it plays a larger part than any other country in Christian history…  
The Government should be prepared to do everything in their power to obtain for  
Jews in Palestine complete liberty of settlement and life on an equality with  
the inhabitants of that country who profess other religious beliefs. I would ask  
that the Government should go no further.”  
Orthodox Jews Reject Zionism  
Zionism was also rejected by Orthodox Jews. In 1929, Orthodox Rabbi Aaron Samuel  
Tamarat wrote that the very notion of a sovereign Jewish state as a spiritual  
center was “a contradiction to Judaism’s ultimate purpose.” He noted that,  
“Judaism at root is not some religious concentration which may be localized or  
situated in a single territory. Neither is Judaism a ‘nationality,’ in the sense  
of modern nationalism, fit to be woven into the three-foldedness of ‘homeland,  
army and heroic songs.’ No, Judaism is Torah, ethics and exaltation of spirit.  
If Judaism is truly Torah, then it cannot be reduced to the confines of any  
particular territory. For as Scripture said of Torah, ‘Its measure is greater  
than the earth.’”  
To the question of whether Jews constitute “a people,” Yeshayahua Leibovitz, the  
Orthodox Jewish thinker and Hebrew University professor, provides this  
assessment: “The historical Jewish people was defined neither as a race, nor a  
people of this country or that, nor as a people that speaks the same language,  
but as the people of Torah Judaism and its commandments…The words spoken by Rabbi  
Saadia Gaon (882-942) more than a thousand years ago: ‘Our nation exists only  
within the Torah’ have not only a normative but also an empirical meaning. They  
testified to a historical reality whose power could be felt up until the 19th  
century. It was then that the fracture, which has not ceased to widen with time,  
first occurred: the fissure between Jewishness and Judaism.”  
One of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the 20th century, Rabbi  
Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. for  
civil rights for all people, said, “Judaism is not a religion of space and does  
not worship the soil. so, too, the State of Israel is not the climax of Jewish  
history but a test of the integrity of the Jewish people and the competence of  
Einstein Warns Against “Narrow Nationalism”  
In 1938, Albert Einstein warned an audience of Zionist activists against the  
temptation to create a state imbued with “a narrow nationalism within our own  
ranks against which we have already had to fight strongly even without a Jewish  
The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber spoke out in 1942 against the “aim of the  
minority to ‘conquer’ territory by means of international maneuvers.” Then  
teaching at Hebrew University, Buber was in Jerusalem in the midst of the  
hostilities that broke out after Israel unilaterally declared independence in  
May, 1948. He cried with despair, “This sort of ‘Zionism’ blasphemes the name of  
Zion; it is nothing more than one of the crude forms of nationalism.”  
Slowly, after World War II, American Judaism transformed itself from a religion  
of universal values which worshiped a God who had created men and women of every  
race and nation to an Israel-centered religion in which the State of Israel often  
appeared to be the object of worship, much like the golden calf in the Bible.  
Israeli flags appeared in synagogues and promoting Israel became the major goal  
of Jewish organizations. Some critics pointed this out, but they were silenced  
or ignored. Some observers expressed the fear that Judaism was losing all  
spiritual content.  
Support For Israel Became “A Secular Religion”  
In 1988, Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, who had headed the American Jewish Congress,  
wrote in the New York Review of Books: “American Jews preferred to see Israel as  
it was depicted by Leon Uris in ‘Exodus,’ in which Israelis were painted as  
totally noble and Arabs were the Middle Eastern equivalent of the murderous  
Indians of Hollywood westerns. When support for Israel became the ‘secular  
religion’ of most American Jews, Israel had to be presented as a homeland that  
was superior to all other homelands. Most American Jews have not wanted to know  
what was really happening in Israel. Now they found themselves face to face with  
the uncomfortable fact that there is a right-wing in Israel that is so insistent  
on its ideology that it would rather live amid violence than search for  
Benjamin Netanyahu makes it clear that Israel is not the liberal democracy Jewish  
Americans thought it was. Even before his new government was elected, younger  
American Jews were growing increasingly alienated from the ethnocentrism which  
had replaced universalism in Jewish life. One observer of these trends is Eric  
Alterman, for many years media columnist for The Nation and now a professor of  
English and Journalism at Brooklyn College (CUNY).  
Speaking at Tel Aviv University in May 2022, Alterman declared that Israel had  
lost American liberals and that Judaism itself is in crisis because its only  
content is “pro-Israelism.” He declared: “Israel has lost the left…and it can’t  
get it back as long as it has the occupation…It’s building 4,000 new settlements.  
It’s doing terrible things each day…Israel has lost American Jews and liberals  
because it has no content to offer besides the stale ‘Everyone hates the Jews’  
propaganda that is meaningless to young Jews…what American Jews see, they don’t  
like…American Jewish youth are walking away from Judaism…because Judaism has no  
answers for them.” It could all be different, he suggested, if instead of  
promoting Israel, Jewish institutions would focus on “the wonders of Jewish  
history and culture.”  
Early Jewish Critics Of Zionism Were Prophetic  
Before the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel, Zionism was a  
minority view in the American Jewish community. Recent developments indicate  
that it is on its way to becoming a minority view once again. This will be a  
positive development for Judaism as a religion of universal values, for the  
integrity of U.S. foreign policy and for the human rights of the Palestinian  
people. It is particularly encouraging to Jewish opponents of Zionism such as  
the American Council for Judaism, which celebrated its 80th anniversary last  
year. It is increasingly clear that the early Jewish critics of Zionism were  
indeed prophetic. It, and other critics of Zionism, has kept alive an older  
humane Jewish moral and ethical tradition which now once again has an opportunity  
to emerge. *

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