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New York Times Reports on Devoted Jews Who Are at Odds with Zionism and Israel

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
April 2014

In its religion column by Mark Oppenheimer, The New York Times (Feb. 14, 2014) highlights a group of men and women it describes as “devoted to Jewish observance, but at odds with Israel.”  
In the case of Charles H. Manekin, an Orthodox Jew who is philosophy professor at the University of Maryland, Oppenheimer finds one who “believes that his Orthodox faith calls him to take stands against Israel. Prof. Manekin, 61, became Orthodox in college and became an Israeli citizen in the 1980s. Yet … he denounced Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Although not a member of the American Studies Association, he was pleased when the group voted in December not to collaborate with Israeli academic institutions. … ‘As a religious Jew,’ he said, ‘I am especially disturbed by the daily injustices perpetrated against the Palestinians.’”  
The Times reports that, “While there have always been anti- or non-Zionist Jews, today they cluster on the less observant end of Judaism, among secular or religiously liberal Jews … Zionism was not always the norm among American Jews. Nevertheless, those committed to Jewish practice but openly at odds with Israel are now likely to find themselves at odds with their friends and family … Prof. Manekin spends about half the year in Israel … But since 2007 he has regularly offered criticisms of Israel on his blog, The Magnes Zionist. It is named for Judah L. Magnes, an American rabbi who, until his death in 1948, argued that a Jewish return to the Middle East did not require a nation-state. ‘People look at non-statist Zionism as the type that lost,’ Prof. Manekin said … ‘But I found a lot of what they were saying resonated today and a lot of their predictions about endless war had come to pass.’”  
Another person featured is Stefan Krieger, 67, who teaches law at Hofstra University. He refrains from work on the Sabbath, keeps kosher, and studies pages of the Talmud every day. When it comes to Israel, he recalls that, “My parents were very sensitive to the issue of Palestinians. My mom had a book called They Are Human Too, and my memory is she would take it off the bookshelf, as if this was some sort of scandalous tract she was showing me, and show me pictures of Palestinians in refugee camps.”  
Prof. Krieger, who supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, will not rise in synagogue for the traditional prayer for the state of Israel, “I think nationalism and religion together are toxic,” he said. “I was worried it would destroy some relationships. I don’t think it has yet.”  
Also featured is Alissa Wise, 34, who grew up in Cincinnati in what she calls a “modern Orthodox or Conservative kind of background, a very right-wing Zionist background.” Oppenheimer reports that, “Rabbi Wise — she was later ordained in the Reconstructionist branch of Judaism … arrived at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1999. On her first day of classes, there was a pro-Palestinian rally on campus … She was shocked to learn of the West Bank occupation. ‘I had gone through Jewish summer camp and Jewish day school my whole life and had no idea,’ she said. Today, Rabbi Wise works for Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that endorses some boycotts against Israel.”  
Daniel Boyarin, who teaches Talmud at the University of California, Berkeley, attended Orthodox synagogues for 30 years. He believes that Zionism was always flawed: “The very concept of a state defined as being for one people was deeply problematic and inevitably going to lead to a moral and political disaster. Which I think it has.”  
Corey Robin, a regular at a Conservative synagogue in Brooklyn, writes a blog about his opposition to Israeli policy. “There are lots of ways to be Jewish, but worshiping a heavily militarized state seems like a bit of a comedown from our past.” Prof. Robin, who teaches political science at Brooklyn College, says, “I love being Jewish. I just don’t love the state of Israel.”  
Oppenheimer points out that, “Skepticism toward Zionism used to be common. Before World War II, Reform Jews tended to believe that they had found a home in the United States, and that Zionism could be seen as a form of dual loyalty. Orthodox Jews generally believed, theologically, that a state of Israel would have to wait for the Messiah’s arrival (a view some ultra-Orthodox Jews still hold). In the 1930s and 40s, the persecution of European Jews turned many American Jews into Zionists. … ‘When Hillel was founded, it took a clear non-Zionist position,’ said Noam Planko, who teaches Jewish history at the University of Washington. ‘What you see is a shift in the American spectrum: from non-Zionism with a few Zionists, to a situation, by the 1960s, where the assumption is that any American Jewish organization is also going to be clearly Zionist.’”  
As the 21st century proceeds, in Oppenheimer’s view, that assumption is more and more open to question. •

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