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Recent Events Make the ACJ “Look Significant, or Even Prophetic,” States N.Y. Times Religion Columnist

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
August 2010

Samuel G. Freedman, whose “On Religion” column appears in The New York Times, dedicated his June 26, 2010 column to the American Council for Judaism. The headline accompanying the article is, “American Jews Who Reject Zionism Say Events Aid Cause.”  
“One day nearly 20 years ago,” writes Freedman, “Stephen Naman was preparing to help the rabbi of his Reform Jewish temple in South Carolina move the congregation into a new building. Mr. Naman had just one request: Could the rabbi stop placing the flag of Israel on the altar? ‘We don’t go to synagogue to pray to a flag,’ Mr. Naman ... recalled having said ... As shocking as Mr. Naman’s insistence on taking Israel out of Judaism may seem, it actually adheres to a consistent strain within Jewish debate. Whether one calls it anti-Zionism or non-Zionism ... the effort to separate the Jewish state from Jewish identity has centuries-old roots.”  
Mr. Freedman writes that, “For the past 68 years, that stance has been the official platform of the group Mr. Naman serves as president of, the American Council for Judaism. And while the establishment of Israel and its centrality to American Jews consigned the Council to irrelevancy for decades, the intense criticism of Israel now growing among a number of American Jews has made Mr. Naman’s group look significant, or even prophetic.”  
While the Council’s membership and budget is modest, notes Freedman, “the arguments that the Council has levied against Zionism and Israel have shot back into prominence over the last decade, with the collapse of the Oslo peace process, Israel’s wars in Lebanon and Gaza, and most recently the fatal attack on a flotilla seeking to breach the naval blockade of the Hamas regime. One need not agree with any of the Council’s positions to admit that, for a certain faction of American Jews, they have come back into style.”  
Jonathan Sarna, a Brandeis University historian and author of the book American Judaism, is quoted as saying: “My sense is that they believe that events are proving they were right all along. Everything they prophesied — dual loyalty, nationalism being evil — has come to pass ... It’s certainly the case that if the Holocaust underscored the problems of Jewish life in the diaspora, recent years have highlighted the point that Zionism is no panacea.”  
While the Council has often met “with apoplexy and indignation” on the part of the Jewish establishment, Freedman notes that, “The rejection of Zionism ... goes back to the Torah itself ... Until Theodor Herzl created the modern Zionist movement early in the 20th century, the biblical injunction to return to Israel was widely understood as a theological construct rather than a pragmatic instruction ... The Reform movement maintained that Judaism is a religion, not a nationality.”  
Only when the Reform movement, on the eve of World War II, reversed course, Freedman reports, “did its anti-Zionist faction break away, ultimately forming the Council in 1942 ... and for a time it boasted leaders like Lessing J. Rosenwald, heir to the Sears fortune, and a membership of 14,000.”  
While establishment Jewish groups embrace Zionism and call upon American Jews to make “aliyah,” or emigrate to Israel, Freedman declares that, “What is numerically true, thus not open to debate, is that only a tiny proportion of American Jews have ever rejected exile here to emigrate to Israel.”  
The column concludes by quoting Allan C. Brownfeld, editor of Issues and Special Interest Report: “I think we represent a silent majority. We are Americans by nationality and Jews by religion. And while we wish Israel well, we don’t view it as our homeland.”  
The article in its entirety may be found on The New York Times website http://www.nytimes.com and inserting American Council for Judaism in the search box. •

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