Liberal Jewish anti-Zionists get together — and stay confused

Every time I think that I can’t be surprised by the things Jews do and say, I come across something like this:

A 25-year-old environmental activist named Hillary Lehr from Oakland, California, said she no longer wanted to visit the Reform synagogue she’d attended as a child because its pro-Israel stance was casually embedded into ritual life, from prayers for the Jewish state to tzedakah boxes for the Jewish National Fund. “I want to de-Zionize my synagogue because it’s not about being a Zionist, it’s about Judaism,” Lehr said. “There’s a generation that’s ready to go back to those religious and spiritual spaces. I want to say to my rabbi, ‘I want to come back to my spirituality and I want there to be space for all of us because we’re all Jews.’ ”

Yes, yet another group of anti-Israel Jews. Described as “first major gathering of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network,” the 2010 “U.S. Assembly of Jews” was held in Detroit this summer.

Since the founding of the Jewish state, Jewish anti-Zionists have fallen mostly into two groups: observant Jews who believe that Judaism teaches that they may return to the land of Israel only when the Mashiach takes them there, and highly secular left-wing ideologues who think that Jewish nationalism is just another bourgeois detour away from international anti-colonial solidarity.

But these people, although closer to the latter than the former, insist that they are Jewish not just by culture or tradition, but  because they observe some form of Judaism:

[Aaron] Levitt helped start a non-Zionist minyan this year called Page 36 with fellow Jewish pro-Palestinian activists including a young Reconstructionist rabbi, Alissa Wise [about whom I wrote last year – ed] — not, he said, because he ultimately wants to pray only with political comrades, but as a kind of stopgap measure while truly “Zionist-neutral” congregations remain few and far between. At the same time, he added, the minyan was inspired by frustration with what he sees as a lack of interest among many of his coreligionist political comrades in aspects of spirituality and peoplehood [but a people without a state! – ed] that go beyond Jewish-flavored universalist politics.

Two points:

One is theological. The Torah, on which all streams of Judaism — no matter how orthodox or liberal — are based in some way, is a story about a three-sided relationship between God, the Jewish people and the land of Israel. Regardless of one’s concept of God or the origin of the Torah, it’s impossible to read the Torah and ignore the land. The anti-Zionist Satmar Hasidim and the vile Neturei Karta don’t deny this, they just interpret the relationship differently from Zionists. And secular Marxists have no interest at all in ‘das Opium des Volkes‘.

So one wonders exactly what’s Jewish about Hillary and Aaron’s Judaism. Liberal Judaism without the land of Israel is indistinguishable from Unitarianism, it seems to me, which explains why so many Unitarians used to be Jews.

The second point is that the members of the “International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network” have the same problem that all Jews have: the antisemites (including the Jewish ones) don’t like them:

“Folks like us get it from both sides,” said a 27-year-old Jewish religious professional at the conference who requested anonymity because, she said, she feared repercussions if her views became known. “We’re not loyal enough to the Jews and we’re not pure enough for the anti-Zionists.”

The use of the word ‘pure’ is suggestive. It has a definite racial connotation, intended or not.

“It’s startling how much easier it is to bring my politics to Jewish spaces than to bring my Jewishness here,” said a participant active in the Boston minyan scene who wanted to remain anonymous because she hopes to apply for Hebrew school teaching jobs. “The organizers kept asking, ‘What is the material benefit this will have? How is this going to end Zionism?’ And it was like, we don’t want to justify why we pray.”

It’s not enough, apparently, for a Jew to support the Palestinian cause. It’s also necessary to purge any commitment to Judaism in order for a Jew to feel welcomed on today’s Left — as the professionally obnoxious Michael Lerner found out when he got the cold shoulder from the International ANSWER coalition in 2003 after he objected to left-wing antisemitism.

I wonder why, of all the causes available, they have to choose this one. Despite thinking about this for the past few years, I still don’t have a satisfying answer.

It certainly can’t be because Hamas, Hezbollah and the PLO exhibit the liberal, tolerant viewpoint that they find so lacking at their local synagogues!

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3 Responses to “Liberal Jewish anti-Zionists get together — and stay confused”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    If I wanted to be as generous as possible I would say that these anti- Israel Jewish Leftists have a passion for Justice, a passion which is a first value of Judaism. They as I see it totally misread contemporary history but in their eyes the Palestinian Arabs are the underdogs, the ones being done injustice too.
    If I were less generous I would say these people do not want to be ‘blamed’ and fear that any positive connection with Israel will condemn them in the eyes of their leftist friends.
    In either case the main point about them is that they misread entirely the Islamic and Arab relation to Israel and the Jewish people.

  2. NormanF says:

    We have an entire generation of young Jews raised without a solid Jewish education and their ignorance is showing. Jews who do not know their past will be unable to understand how to defend Israel and how to contribute to the Jewish future.

    No wonder anti-Semitism is rife on the Jewish Left today.

  3. NormanF says:

    Shalom, the confusion of the Jewish Left is due to the fact that the old model of Jews living in safety in the Diaspora is threatened by the twin forces of assimilation and anti-Semitism. It stands to reason Jews can preserve their identity and be safe in the one country in the world they call home: Israel. In the face of this, Jewish anti-Zionists cannot refute the fact that Zionism has secured the Jewish people’s future in their own country and their self-hatred in part is due to unwillingness to acknowledge this achievement.