US Jews are turning against Zionism in a ‘surge’ — pro-Israel voices lament

Philip Weiss

Jun. 17, 2021

In recent days, four pro-Israel writers have lamented that American Jews are turning against Zionism in the wake of the latest Gaza attack. Two speak of a "surge in anti-Zionism" among Jews.

In recent days, four pro-Israel writers have lamented that American Jews are turning against Zionism. Two speak of a “surge in anti-Zionism” among U.S. Jews.

These writers are seeing just what I am seeing from the other side: Jews are bailing on Israel. The latest Gaza conflict, in which Israel attacked civilian targets for the fifth time in a dozen years, generated tremendous discomfort inside the American Jewish community. Many of them see that Israel has no idea about how to build a future of coexistence-and-equality with Palestinians.

“I always thought Israel was a mistake,” one associate of mine who has long supported Israel said privately.

The lamentations from four pro-Israel writers are all focused on Jewish “identity.” They say there is something wrong with how American Jews have built their social identification. That seems to me a helpful focus. Because it raises the obvious question: When did Judaism become the same thing as Zionism?

First here is David Harris of the American Jewish Committee saying in the Times of Israel that “some Jews” attacked Israel during the recent fighting.

“Some Jews seem to believe that distancing, if not detaching, themselves from any link with Israel will protect them or, at the very least, endear them to the anti-Israel, anti-Zionist mobs,” Harris writes somewhat overheatedly. “[S]ome Jews… think they can buy time or space or security by joining in the assault against Israel…”

More good news. Harris laments that during the recent conflict, some American political leaders “who purport to be friends of the pro-Israel community, were missing in action or resorting to whispered comments for fear they could otherwise potentially jeopardize their careers.” I bet he is talking about Chuck Schumer.

So things have gotten worse for Harris since 2017 when he was upset about young Jews’ disaffection with Israel. “Where did we go wrong in our homes and our schools?” Now it’s the older Jews who are turning…

And it’s a matter of Jewish identity for Harris: “affirming Jewish identity, Zionism, and pro-Israelism.”

Natan Sharansky and Gil Troy are even angrier/more despairing in Tablet. They describe a “surge in anti-Zionism” inside the Jewish community during the recent conflict. And they call these Jews “un-Jews” — a disgusting term.

But a lot of their trendspotting is spot-on. They point to a May 22 statement by Jewish and Israel studies scholars” that said Zionism reflects “ethnonationalist” thinking “shaped by settler colonial paradigms” that has “contributed to unjust, enduring, and unsustainable systems of Jewish supremacy.” They also cite a CUNY Jewish Law Students’ Association statement in support the Palestinian right of return and of “an end to the ongoing Nakba.”

Troy and Sharansky say the criticism from some inside American Jewry has moved “from what Israel did to what Israel is.” That’s true. Many former Zionists believe that Israel’s brutal response to non-Jews arises from its official definition as a “Jewish state” with higher rights for Jews.

Again, this is a matter of identity. In the 90s the Jewish community embraced “Israel and Israel experiences as central Jewish-identity building tools.” Now the anti-Zionists are willfully seeking to change that identity.

They are trying to disentangle Judaism from Jewish nationalism, the sense of Jewish peoplehood, while undoing decades of identity-building. In repudiating Israel and Zionism, hundreds of Jewish Google employees rejected what they call “the conflation of Israel with the Jewish people.” The voices of inflamed Jewish opponents of Israel and Zionism are in turn amplified by a militant progressive superstructure that now has an ideological lock on the discourse in American academia, publishing, media, and the professions that formerly respected American Jewry’s Zionism-accented, peoplehood-centered constructions of Jewish identity…

Where do I sign?

Lastly, Etan Nechin is a liberal Israeli Zionist living in Brooklyn who writes in Haaretz that he welcomes the “sea change” in American coverage of the conflict, including the Human Rights Report stating that Israel practices “apartheid” and the “mainstreaming U.S. media coverage of the Sheikh Jarrah protests.”

And yet Nechin is dismayed by “today’s rush to a wholesale critique of Israel” by leftwing Jews who have turned against the idea of a Jewish state. He says these Jews are detached from the Israeli experience and given to glib answers — such as support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (or BDS), or the idea “that one state is the only morally acceptable solution.”

Nechin attacks Peter Beinart for his advocacy for one democratic state and “self-styled activist Rafael Mimoun’s Washington Post op-ed, ‘Zionism cannot produce a just peace. Only external pressure can end the Israeli apartheid.'” It’s an issue of identity for Nechin: Privileged, solipsistic writers have put criticizing Israel at the center of their identities and cut themselves off from the leftwing discussion inside Israel.

“Now should be an obvious opportunity for the U.S. Jewish left to talk to the Israeli left and not only at it.”

My answer to that is that the American left Jewish and non-Jewish is in close contact with the oppressed population in Israel/Palestine — taking their cues from Palestinians about the nonviolent pressure we can put on an apartheid society. It is a lot like freedom riders and solidarity activists from the north who worked with the civil rights movement in the south against Jim Crow.

Yet all these articles are good signs, of a war inside American Jewry over Zionism.

Over the last 30 years or so, the American Jewish establishment decreed that Jewish identity means supporting Israel, that miracle of “Jewish peoplehood”. This was an instrumental belief; the Israel lobby has buoyed Israel through the settlement/apartheid years.

It was a successful imposition in that these leaders now believe the delusion so thoroughly that they can maintain with utter sincerity that when someone criticizes Israel, they are antisemitic.

More than 95 percent of American Jews support Israel, Batya Ungar-Sargon and Bari Weiss both affirm. Or they did once. The number is slipping before our eyes.