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Allan C. Brownfeld
Spring - Summer 2023

As Israel’s far-right regime advances its agenda, the American Jewish community  
is in growing turmoil as more and more Jewish voices are being heard expressing  
concern that having embraced Zionism was a mistaken path—-one which completely  
ignored Jewish moral and ethical values and failed to apply such values to the  
indigenous Palestinian residents of what became Israel.  
When Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich visited Washington in March to  
address an Israel Bonds meeting, no U.S. Government official would meet with him.  
Neither would the representatives of leading American Jewish organizations.  
Smotrich, a leader of the Religious Zionism party, was criticized, in particular,  
for calling for the Palestinian village of Huwara in the West Bank to be “wiped  
out.” Speaking in Paris on March 19, Smotrich said, “There’s no such thing as  
Palestinians because there’s no such thing as a Palestinian people.”  
Washington Jewish Week (March 16, 2023) reported that, “Outside the hotel…a  
multitude of people representing area synagogues and…organizations …chanted, sang  
songs and listened to speakers who called Smotrich a homophobe, someone who  
doesn’t consider Reform Jews Jewish, a supporter of segregated maternity wards  
for Jews and non-Jews and a person who considers women subservient…Senior Rabbi  
Jonathan Roos of Temple Sinai in Washington, D.C. was at the protests with…  
congregants. ‘We are here to continue to stand against hate and for democracy.’  
Rabbi Esther Lederman from the Union for Reform Judaism urged Jews to raise their  
voices…She called Smotrich a ‘fascist homophobe.’”  
“Hateful Views”  
Only two Jewish organizations were willing to meet with Smotrich, the Orthodox  
Union and the right-wing Zionist Organization of America. In a statement, the  
Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington declared, “The hateful  
views long expressed by Minister Smotrich are abhorrent …and run contrary to  
Jewish values…No public servant should ever condone or incite hatred or hate-  
motivated violence and when they do, they will be fiercely condemned by a wide  
swath of American Jewry.” William Daroff, the CEO of the Conference of  
Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, called Smotrich’s statements  
“disgusting.” (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, March 3, 2023)  
In a sermon entitled “This Passover Must Include Palestinians,” Brant Rosen,  
rabbi and co-founder of Congregation Tzedek of Chicago and founder of the Jewish  
Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council, declared that, “The anti-government protests  
within Israel embody liberal Zionism, rather than liberation for all. Let’s  
dream bigger.”  
Rabbi Rosen makes the case that, “In Israel…the struggle for democracy is far  
more complicated. As a Jewish state, Israeli democracy can only truly extend to  
Jewish citizens. Unlike the United States, where those who advocate equal rights  
for all can still be described as ‘believing fervently in the American creed,’  
those who call for one state with equal citizenship for all are routinely accused  
of anti-Semitism, seeking nothing less than the destruction of the Jewish state.”  
Israel Has No Constitution  
Another important difference, Rabbi Rosen points out, is that, “…unlike the U.S.,  
Israel does not have a constitution. That, theoretically at least, ensures equal  
rights for all citizens.” He cites journalist Joshua Leifer on Israel’s aborted  
attempts at creating a constitution: “America’s Constitution begins ‘We the  
people.’ One of the things that is very striking when you read the drafts of the  
Israeli constitution that was written in 1950 is that the proposed version…began  
with ‘The Jewish people’. The ethnocracy was imagined as the demos from the  
Rabbi Rosen concludes: “Like many Americans, I believe it is my responsibility to  
challenge my country to, as Martin Luther King put it, ‘live out the true meaning  
of its creed.’ Among other things, this means actively supporting anti-racist  
struggles in the U.S. that demand full and equal rights for all its citizens. As  
an American Jew living in the age of Zionism, I can demand nothing less for all  
who live between the river and the sea.”  
After World War II, as established American Jewish organizations, with a few  
honorable exceptions, embraced the Zionist cause, they tended to overlook the  
fact that Palestine was already populated and that the goal of the Zionist  
leadership was to eliminate as many of the indigenous residents as it could.  
Even with the emergence of Israel’s “New Historians,” who told the world about  
the ethnic cleansing embarked upon by the Israeli government, leading American  
Jewish organizations ignored the growing body of evidence.  
Myths About Israel  
In his important book “Ten Myths About Israel,” expatriate Israeli historian Ilan  
Pappe, now a professor at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom,  
examines the release of pertinent British and Israeli government documents in the  
early 1980s. He offers a view of Israel’s creation in 1948 which includes the  
corresponding expulsion or flight of more than 700,000 Palestinians. Pappe shows  
that the expulsions were not decided on an ad hoc basis but constituted the  
ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in accordance with Plan Dalet, drawn up in  
1947 by Israel’s future leaders. In a 2004 interview, Pappe said: “The aim has  
always been , and it still remains, to have as much of Palestine as possible with  
as few Palestinians.”  
In 1937, David Ben-Gurion declared, “With compulsory transfer we would have a  
vast area for settlement. I support compulsory transfer. I don’t see anything  
immoral in it.”  
Plan Dalet, Pappe and the other Israeli historians show us, included the  
following clear reference to the methods to be employed in the process of  
cleansing the population: “Destruction of villages (setting fire to, blowing up,  
and planting mines in the debris), especially those population centers which are  
difficult to control continuously…Mounting search and control operations  
according to the following guidelines: encirclement of the village and  
conducting a search inside it. In the event of resistance, the armed force must  
be destroyed and the population must be expelled outside the borders of the  
Israeli War Crime  
In Pappe’s view, “From our present vantage point, there is no escape from  
defining the Israeli actions in the Palestine countryside as a war crime.  
Indeed, as a crime against humanity. If one ignores this hard fact, one will  
never understand what lies beyond Israel’s attitude toward Palestine and  
Palestinians as a political system and a society. The crime committed by the  
leadership of the Zionist movement, which became the government of Israel, was  
that of ethnic cleansing. This is not mere rhetoric but an indictment with far-  
reaching political, legal and moral implications. The definition of the crime  
was clarified in the aftermath of the 1990s civil war in the Balkans: ethnic  
cleansing is any action by one ethnic group meant to drive out another ethnic  
group with the purpose of transforming a mixed ethnic region into a pure one.”  
In his book “What Is Modern Israel?,” Yakov Rabkin, Professor Emeritus of History  
at the University of Montreal, points out that, “The official Zionist ideology  
has made Israel a state without borders. In geographical terms, it can be  
extended with military conquest or colonization. The Zionist movement and  
successive Israeli governments have taken great pains never to define the borders  
they envisage for their state. This borderless character is also embodied by  
Israel’s claim that it belongs to the world’s Jews rather than to its citizens.  
This leads to the increasingly overt transformation of Jewish organizations  
around the world into Israeli vassals.”  
Beyond this, notes Rabkin, “By emphasizing the primacy of an ethnically and  
denominationally defined ‘Jewish nationality,’ the state of Israel turns its back  
on the idea of an ‘Israeli nationality that would reflect the multicultural  
society that has taken shape on this land…over the last century…According to the  
Israeli philosopher Joseph Agassi, Israeli governments have behaved like  
community functionaries still living in a ghetto, sweeping aside the interests of  
Israel’s non-Jews and thus stoking the fires of perpetual war, for a ghetto  
equipped with a powerful army is dangerous.”  
Massacre At Dayr Yasin  
In his book “The Hundred Years War on Palestine,” Columbia University Professor  
Rashid Khalidi writes of the manner in which Palestinians were treated in  
Israel’s early days: “Scenes of flight unfolded in smaller towns and villages in  
many parts of the country. People fled as news spread of the massacres like that  
on April 9, 1948 in the village of Dayr Yasin near Jerusalem, where 100  
residents, 67 of them women, children and old people were slaughtered when the  
village was stormed by Irgun and Haganah assailants.”  
These events, collectively known as the Nakba, represented what Khalidi calls “a  
watershed in the history of the Middle East. It transformed most of Palestine  
from what it had been for well over a millennium—-a majority Arab country—-into a  
new state that had a substantial Jewish majority. This transformation was the  
result of two processes: the systematic ethnic cleansing of the Arab-inhabited  
areas…and the theft of Palestinian land and property left behind by the refugees  
as well as much of that owned by the Arabs who remained in Israel. There would  
have been no other way to achieve a Jewish majority, the explicit aim of  
political Zionism from its inception. Nor would it have been possible to  
dominate the country without the seizure of land.”  
Slowly, many Israelis came to understand what Zionism had done. Imagine scholars  
looking back 100 years from now, historian Zeev Sternhell asked, “…when exactly  
did the Israelis understand that their cruelty toward the non-Jews in their grip  
in the occupied territories, their determination to break the Palestinians’ hope  
for independence…began to undermine the moral legitimacy of their national  
Accepting Israel’s False Claim  
In the years when Israel’s policy was under way, the American Jewish  
establishment accepted almost without question Israel’s false claim that  
neighboring Arab states had called upon Palestinians to abandon their homes and  
flee from the country. Even later, when Israel’s New Historians were able to  
document that this was simply Israeli propaganda and had never happened, leading  
American Jewish groups persisted in advancing this false narrative. Now, the  
reality of Israel’s treatment of Palestine’s indigenous population is becoming  
widely understood. It is increasingly clear that Israel never was what the  
American Jewish leadership said it was, advanced in its religious schools and  
used as a basis for promoting massive U.S. financial aid. Now, finally, the  
myths about Israel are in the process of fading away.  
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, long a strong supporter of Israel,  
wrote a column in the Times (March 7, 2023) with the headline, “American Jews,  
You Have to Choose Sides on Israel.” He writes: “Ever since Israel’s founding  
in 1948, supporting the country’s security and its economic development and  
cementing its diplomatic ties to the U.S. have been the ‘religion’ of many  
nonobservant American Jews…Now, a lot of American Jews are going to need to find  
a new focus for their passion…because if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  
succeeds with his judicial putsch…the subject of Israel could fracture every  
synagogue and Jewish communal organization in America.”  
In Friedman’s view, “…the interests of American Jews and Israel have been  
diverging for many years, but it’s been papered over…he (Netanyahu) is currently  
leading his sixth government as prime minister…and has increasingly partnered  
with more and more ultranationalist and ultra religious parties and has come to  
embrace the Trumpist playbook…Under Netanyahu, Israeli governments sought every  
way possible to avoid the peace process with the Palestinians and used every  
opportunity possible to demonize Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, even though  
Netanyahu knew that for years Abbas’s Palestinian Authority was providing  
essential security cooperation with Israel in the West Bank.”  
“A paradigm shift”  
In what Friedman calls “a paradigm shift,” he cites Gidi Grinstein, the founder  
of the Israeli think tank Reut, who published an essay in the Times of Israel  
calling for American Jews to reimagine themselves as “a robust, resilient and  
prosperous community” that invests in its own vitality and has institutions and  
contributes to American society, no longer accepting the “domineering Zionist  
discourse that holds American Jewry to be second-class Judaism.”  
Sheldon Richman, Executive Editor of the Libertarian Institute and author of  
“Coming To Palestine,” points out that, “An older generation of Americans,  
including Jewish Americans, admire the colonists who resisted the British king  
and parliament in the late 1700s. Jewish Americans go further and admire the  
Judeans who revolted against the Greeks and Romans (twice) in antiquity. So  
isn’t it peculiar that they do not applaud the similar Palestinian resistance to  
Israel’s domination…The treatment of the Palestinians is either consistent with  
what are called Jewish values or it is not. …If it is not, then why has it gone  
on 56 years after the West Bank and Gaza and the Golan Heights were taken  
militarily (to be annexed in law or in fact) and 75 years after a group of  
Europeans declared the existence of Israel (no borders specified) and the  
Palestinians who managed to stay in Israel, despite the catastrophe (Nakba) of  
their brethren being driven from their homes, were made no better than second  
class citizens (if that) subject to all sorts of government …mistreatment and  
discrimination? So much for Israel’s Declaration of Independence.”  
Richman, a former senior editor at the Cato Institute, notes that, “The former  
head of the World Zionist Organization, Nahum Goldmann wrote in his 1969  
autobiography that Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, told him that  
if he were an Arab, he wouldn’t talk to Israel’s founders because they had taken  
their country. And let’s remember how the Israelites came to possess all of  
Canaan in the first place, according to the Book of Joshua in the Hebrew Bible…  
But the remnant of anti-Zionist Jews (bless their hearts), such as the American  
Council for Judaism, interpret unfaithfulness to include a failure to act justly.  
And idolatry as the placement of the Jewish state above all else.”  
A Democracy Only For Jews  
In his book, “We Are Not One,” Eric Alterman, an award-winning journalist and a  
CUNY Distinguished professor of English, writes that, “Israel’s defenders  
consistently argued that it was ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ and that  
it alone among the countries in the region lived up to Western standards of human  
rights protections. But this was true only for Jews. Israeli Palestinians may  
have had more recognized rights than most of the citizens of the Arab  
dictatorships surrounding it—-a point Israel’s defenders never tired of making—-  
but when it came to actually enforcing those rights, they often proved a mirage.  
Israeli Palestinians could not remotely depend on the web of legal protections,  
personal relationships , and military, judicial and police sympathies that their  
fellow Jewish citizens took for granted.”  
Alterman notes that, “Israel’s official investigation into the lives of its Arab  
inhabitants in 2003, known as the Or Commission Report, found that they could not  
depend on its police force to 'demonstrate systematic and egalitarian enforcement  
of the law.' This was another way of describing the persistent institutional  
discrimination Arabs had faced since the state’s founding. Human rights groups  
won an important victory when in 1999, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the  
‘routine’ torture of prisoners was illegal. In any case, the violence-minded  
settlers were more than happy to take matters into their own hands. Palestinians  
on the West Bank lived a life of near lawlessness between local authorities,  
roving gangs of self-appointed enforcers. Islamic decrees and both Israeli troops  
and Jewish vigilantes.”  
Tony Judt, a British-born Jewish historian who had lived in Israel as a young man  
and served ss a volunteer in the IDF auxiliary, published an essay in 2003 in the  
New York Review of Books titled “Israel: The Alternative.” In it he argued that  
Israel had “imported a characteristically late-nineteenth century separatist  
project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open  
frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a ‘Jewish state’ —-a state in  
which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-  
Jewish citizens are forever excluded—-is rooted in another time and place.  
Israel, in short, is an anachronism.”  
A Complicated Birthday  
As Israel approached its 75th anniversary in April, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency  
(April 20, 2023) headlined its report, “For American Jews Planning the Birthday  
Party Has Gotten Complicated.” In Seattle, for example, Congregation Kol Ami  
partnered with UnXeptable, a group of expat Israeli activists who have been  
protesting for months against the Israeli government’s plan to overhaul the  
country’s judiciary and planned what they called “A family gathering Honoring  
Israeli Democracy.” There, congregants planned to study Israel’s Declaration of  
Independence and sign a new copy to “rededicate” it. Seattle Rabbi Yohanna  
Kinberg said that an uncomplicated celebration would be “sort of like celebrating  
the Fourth of July if we’re in the middle of a civil war.”  
The umbrella group for North America’s Jewish Federations, which held its  
national convention in Israel in April to coincide with the 75th anniversary  
celebration, rejected calls to disinvite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin  
Netanyahu as a speaker. In the end, Netanyahu canceled his appearance because of  
growing demonstrations and opposition to his presence.  
In a widely read article, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, CEO of T’ruah, the Rabbinic Call For  
Human Rights, an organization that trains and mobilizes more than 2,300 rabbis,  
argued that the way to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Israel was “by  
fighting for it to live up to its ideals.”  
“Much to mourn and protest”  
In her view, while “there is much to celebrate” on this anniversary, there is  
also “much to mourn and protest, beginning with the 56 year-old occupation that  
violates the human rights of Palestinians every single day; the ongoing  
discrimination against the Palestinian citizens of Israel, Mizrahi and Ethiopian  
Jews, asylum seekers and foreign workers; and, this year, the all-out attack on  
democracy by the current government….For the last four months, hundreds of  
thousands of Israelis have been in the street every week protesting the efforts  
of the current government to eliminate the power of the High Court to serve as a  
check on legislation that violates Israel’s Basic Laws, the closest thing the  
country has to a constitution. And yet the response by too much of the American  
Jewish community has been more or less business as usual. While many legacy  
organizations have issued tepid statements criticizing attempts to destroy the  
judiciary, these groups have not rallied American Jews to actively oppose this  
coup or taken actions that would put direct pressure on the Israeli government.”  
Rabbi Jacobs lamented the fact that the Jewish Federations welcomed far-right  
Knesset member Simcha Rothman, the architect of limits on the judiciary, to  
address the group. She asks, “Why are American Jews so terrified to protest  
Israeli actions, even when the country is being taken over by people whose values  
are anathema to most of ours?”  
She cites Yeshayahu Leibowitz, the influential, prophetic, Orthodox Jewish  
thinker at Hebrew University, who warned of the danger that the nascent state of  
Israel would become an object of worship for Jews, replacing God. “The state,”  
he wrote, “fulfills an essential need of the individual and the national  
community, but it does not thereby acquire intrinsic value—-except for a fascist  
who regards sovereignty, governmental authority, and power as supreme values.”  
In a 1991 lecture, he went so far as to call any religious Jews who supported  
occupation and the building settlements on the West Bank “descendants of the  
worshippers of the Golden Calf, who proclaimed ‘This is your God, Israel.’ A  
calf doesn’t necessarily need to be golden. It can also be a people, a land or a  
“Settler movement…now runs the state”  
Sadly, Rabbi Jacobs notes, “In Israel, the religious settler movement that  
Leibowitz disparaged three decades ago now runs the state and—-as he warned—-its  
agenda puts the occupation of land first, and the treatment of people second…Many  
Jews in the U.S. find it hard to see that reality because the State of Israel has  
become an object of worship, rather than a real country where real people live  
and where fascist-leaning politicians are working to fundamentally change its  
government and culture into something unrecognizable and dangerous. American  
Jewish conversations about Israel too often become conversations about Jewish  
identity, a slippery slope that makes it easy for criticism of the State of  
Israel—-a political entity subject to international human rights standards—-to be  
misinterpreted as attacks on Jews generally. It is easier to celebrate a fantasy  
with no hard edges than deal with the reality of a beloved, but flawed, state…  
Real celebration of Israel demands fighting for it to live up to the highest aims  
of democracy, dignity and human rights for all.”  
At the Jerusalem gathering of Jewish Federations in Jerusalem, Rabbi Marc Baker,  
CEO of the Boston area’s Jewish Federation, said, “We’re living at a time of so  
many crises and so much painful brokenness, it can feel like things are falling  
apart, like, at best, as leaders, we’re just trying to hold things together.”  
Yohanan Plesher, the president of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank, said  
that, “For the first time, at Israel’s 75th birthday, a government is trying to  
fundamentally alter the definition of a Jewish state.” Referring to efforts to  
restrict immigration to Israel and proposals to limit the role of the judiciary,  
as well as continuing occupation of the West Bank, he declared, “If this cluster  
of changes would be implemented, I’m not sure that in the 80th year of our  
national birthday, the General Assembly will decide again to conduct its event  
In November 2015, Commentary magazine held a symposium on the subject of “What  
Will the condition of the Jewish community be fifty years from now?” One of most  
perceptive responses came from Rabbi Jacob Neusner, an academic scholar of  
Judaism who taught at Bard College and was a visiting professor at such  
institutions as Dartmouth College, Brandeis University and Brown University.  
“Israel’s flag is not mine”  
Rabbi Neusner makes clear that, “Israel’s flag is not mine. My homeland is  
America.” He declares: “…nothing in my scholarship—-not the history of the Jews  
of Babylonia or the sages of Yavneh—-speak meaningfully to the context of the  
United States. We as Jews have never lived so comfortably and freely. We have  
no historical analogy to draw on.”  
Rabbi Neusner provides this assessment: “For now, the Judaisms of Shoah memory  
and ethnic identity and Israel affinity are ascendant, but as we know, those  
Judaisms have limited appeal and they do not do a good job of answering the  
questions that create a religious system…The Judaism that endures is the one that  
exists wherever people seek to discover the answers to questions that run much  
deeper: What is a good life? How should we act? What is expected of us… I  
don’t know when American Jewry will turn back toward Judaism for answers to those  
urgent questions, or when they will place the word of God above the judgment of  
any man including themselves. But I am optimistic that such a Judaism will  
return —-and may even be returning. A Judaism that is vital, that looks inward  
and depends not on political Jerusalem, or the vestigial memories of the lower  
East Side or the ashes of Auschwitz. Instead, it will be a Judaism rooted in  
spiritual purpose and textual depth, the questions that have shaped all human  
history and all theological experience. In the past 50 years, such a Judaism was  
a whisper in America. But tomorrow it may be a song, and who can know who will  
sing the first chords?”  
Though no one can know how the current ferment within American Judaism will  
evolve, it seems clear that Zionism is in retreat. Its advocates will have to  
come to grips with the manner in which it distorted history and created a story  
of the creation of the state of Israel and its treatment of Palestine’s  
indigenous population which bears no relation to reality. For Judaism, it is  
becoming increasingly clear, Zionism was a dangerous wrong turn. *  

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