Home > Anti-Semitism and Hasbara, Human Rights and Jewish Values, Religious Freedom > Sheizaf: The split personality of liberal Jewish-Americans, Ctd.

Sheizaf: The split personality of liberal Jewish-Americans, Ctd.

Cross-posted from Promised Land.

I had some interesting responses to my post on the “split personality” of American liberal Jews. One of them was from Rabbi Jason Miller from Detroit, Michigan, who posted on his blog some of his thoughts regarding this issue. Among other things, he refers to “the seemingly ironic position that so many liberal American Jews find themselves in concerning their views on Israel.”

Admittedly, I am in this category. I never criticize Israel or its government’s policies publicly, because, well, it’s Israel — my Israel, my homeland. The Jewish state has enough critics, I reason; it could use more people playing defense for the team. But when it comes to religious pluralism, I have no problem expressing my frustration for the control that the ultra-Orthodox wields in Israel. A monopoly by one denomination of a religion for all official religious acts is not democratic.

I think that Rabbi Miller is being very honest here about his views on Israel. In a different post, he refers to the acceptance of Gays and Lesbians by the Jewish community as one of the most important development of the decade. This is another example of something that the religious establishment in Israel wouldn’t even consider doing – in fact, Rabbis and religious MKs here led the fight against Gay rights – and Rabbi Miller has no problems speaking against Israel’s orthodoxy.

I wonder, however, what is the different, in the eyes of a liberal person, between Gay and Arab rights. I understand Jews’ hesitations to come out publicly against Israel on issues that involve national security, but when it comes to minorities’ rights, the current government in Jerusalem is far worse than any administration America had in the past fifty years, yet Jews – who took part in some of the great civil rights fights in the US – remain very careful not to criticize Israel on these matters.

Just recently, the Knesset passed a law which would  allow Jewish settlements inside Israel (not to be confused with West Bank settlements), build on public state land, to forbid Arab citizens from purchasing a home within them. At the same time, the Knesset turned down a bill that was meant to make the state allocate land to Jews and Arab on an equal basis.

Doesn’t the fact that Rabbi Miller views Israel as his homeland only makes it more urgent to protest when this country is marching down the “separate but equal” road?


Going back to the national security issue, my question to Israel’s liberal supporters is if they can imagine a time in which it would be justified to come out publicly against Israel.

Naturally, this is something liberal Israelis ask themselves all the time – when does it become justified to speak against our country, even our community. Often I wonder how would a certain post or news item I might quote here be viewed, used or misused or taken out of context when people around the world read it.

Among leftist bloggers who write in English, we joke that after one raises some critical or controversial issue, you start by being praised by those fighting for peace and civil liberties, than by anti-Israelis, later on by anti-Semites, and finally Holocaust deniers. Naturally, many of these responses are not exactly what we aim for, but still, we think that some of Israel’s actions – more and more lately – deserve to be criticized publicly. The truth – about the West Bank, or about Gaza, or about civil liberties in Israel – must be told, even if it occasionally leads to some unfortunate consequences.

Sometimes I get the feeling that many American Jews exempt themselves from this dilemma by simply accepting Jerusalem’s view all the time. So again, my question to them is this: Can they think of an event that will make them come out against Israel, both privately and publicly?


Maybe there are signs of change. Here is something I read at James Besser’s blog on The Jewish Week, And Besser is far from being anti-Israeli or a radical lefty:

…there’s something disturbing about the growing determination to stifle debate in an American Jewish community with a multiplicity of pro-Israel views. Israelis engage in vigorous debate about these issues all the time, but apparently our own leaders believe that support for Israel is so shaky here that we can’t raise issues like whether or not the Gaza blockade is in Israel’s long-term security interests.

Interestingly, Besser makes the same point I had: that some of the stuff written on the Israeli mainstream media would be unacceptable for American Jews had it appeared at their town’s paper. After quoting the Haaretz editorial calling to reconsider the siege on Gaza, he wonders:

Wouldn’t any American Jewish group making such an argument be tarred as a violator of the pro-Israel orthodoxy, shunned, called “dangerous” to the Jewish state?

What do you think?

Please comment at Promised Land.

  1. lisoosh
    January 16, 2010 at 17:35

    I think that we are giving the Right here among American Jews carte blanche. It has devolved into name calling and questioning peoples commitment to Judaism.
    We allowed this to happen and give in to the bullying which makes all of us complicit.

  2. inujytas
    January 19, 2010 at 14:32

    It seems more likely [than your needlessly apologetic presupposition that Jews are nationalistic out of a complicated yet widespread reasoning] that Jews are nationalistic for the same (mostly bad) reasons everybody else is, with the complication being residence. It is totally ridiculous, bewildering and definitely Jewish to have this pretense at a secret heartfelt dissent which is not only never voiced but, in real life, fought against with unique brutality — if you don’t speak out, you don’t dissent, you are one of the nationalists — it reminds of the Israeli ambassador to the UN claiming that Jewish bombers destroying Lebanese infrastructure got some sort of moral credit for feeling really bad about what they were doing.
    Why don’t they speak out? Because they have no problem with things whatsoever, if they even give it thought. And if they have carefully hidden unverifiable heart pangs and say nothing, as sub-Jews dumb enough to open their mouths lose their jobs, then that does not vindicate them at the last minute, that does not make them good people, that actually makes them absolutely monstrous.
    Regarding the non-issue of who might support you, I destroy my enemy when I make him my friend; relaxing those questions which have been fetishized and rendered hysterical and dogmatic by hasbara and loyalty tests is the best thing that can happen to academia and our society. In fighting Israel we will have to break bread with all kinds of people on the other side too, like ultra-orthodox non-Zionists and various Muslims.
    The Jews have two essential traditions — one of right action, one of inhumanly petty tribalism — and it has always been in their interests to point up the former and annihilate the other. That is to say end tribalism, although “annihilating the other” in another sense makes for a good summary of its attitude toward humanity. Part of ritualized Jewish tribalism has been the designation of ultimate enemies, categories you do not extend mercy to because they will only try to destroy you and also God said you could have their stuff. There are remnants of this awful learned hate in the limits of liberal expressability: when I hear a Zionist Nazi talk about the expansion of borders, the extermination of the Arabs or the control of marriage to guarantee racial purity, I disagree, but I never think he should be silenced, least of all by some self-righteous shunning.

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