Zionism: Identity and the "Real Jew"

Discussion in 'Politics' started by Tiassa, Dec 10, 2010.

  1. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Zionism, Israel, and Judaism: Identity Politics and the "Real Jew"

    Roger Cohen considers the question of what constitutes a "real Jew":

    Ira Stup was raised in Philadelphia attending Jewish day school and camps. He found his home in the Jewish community and was “intoxicated with Jewish democracy” as framed in the ideals of Israel’s foundation. Now he has returned deeply troubled from a one-year fellowship based in Tel Aviv.

    The worst single incident occurred on Ben Yehuda Street in central Jerusalem. Stup, 24, a Columbia graduate, was returning from a rally with a couple of friends carrying a banner that said, “Zionists are not settlers.” A group of religious Jews wearing yarmulkes approached, spat on them and started punching.

    “About 20 people saw the whole thing and just watched. They were screaming, ‘You are not real Jews.’ Most of them were American. It was one of the most disappointing moments of my life — you can disagree as much as you want with a banner but to allow violence and not react is outrageous. For me it was a turning point. Nobody previously had said I was not a real Jew.”

    The proposition arises that, "Israel is Judaism, and Judaism is Israel." While hardly unique in its formulation, the idea is likewise problematic. Critics of Israeli policies would not do well to denounce all of Judaism accordingly, yet this seems how some supporters of the Jewish state—and Zionism—would prefer it:

    The view that American Jews supportive of Israel but critical of its policies are not “real Jews” is, however, widespread. Israel-right-or-wrong continues to be the core approach of major U.S. Jewish organizations, from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

    To oppose the continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank (“Zionists are not settlers”), or question growing anti-Arab bigotry as personified by Israel’s rightist foreign minister and illustrated by the “loyalty oath” debate, or ask whether the “de-legitimization” of Israel might not have something to do with its own actions is to incur these organizations’ steady ire.

    Debate remains stifled, despite Peter Beinart’s important piece this year in the New York Review of Books describing growing alienation among young American Jews asked to “check their liberalism at Zionism’s door.” Oh, sure, you can find all sorts of opinions about Israel all over the place; America remains an open society. But Aipac has systematically shunned a debate with J Street, the upstart Jewish organization that supports Israel, opposes the settlements and attempts to reclaim the progressive ideals of Zionism by saying that the systematic oppression of the Palestinians undermines Israel.

    “These organizations’ view remains essentially that any time you engage in an activity critical of Israel you are trying to destroy the state of Israel,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, told me. “Here are all these Jewish kids being raised on great liberal values at Hebrew schools — walks for the homeless, Darfur, AIDS — but God forbid we talk about what’s happening in Israel! It’s a dynamic that cuts off discourse.”


    Mr. Stup described what he witnessed in Israel. A newspaper article asserted, according to Cohen, that, "53 percent of Israeli Jews would encourage Israeli Arabs to leave". Stup says he saw this ideology in action when he worked in the West Bank.

    And last month, in New Orleans, protesters at a Jewish Federations of North America meeting were assaulted by supporters of the speaker, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

    Stup's response to his experiences—namely, joining J Street, a Washington, DC-based lobby group—have brought repercussions even to his family in Phiadelphia, including the deterioration of family friendships. He asks, "Why is it poisoning minds to encourage them to think critically about the actions of the Israeli government?"

    Perhaps because that's not what "real Jews" do. Or, at least, according to AIPAC and other blind supporters of Israeli policies.

    It seems to me that the AIPAC and associates' line is problematic to say the least. Yet, in taking them at their word, an obvious question arises:

    Is it fair to say, then, that in order to be a "real Jew", one must support Israeli political decisions and actions blindly, and without criticism?


    Cohen, Roger. "The 'Real Jew' Debate". The New York Times. December 9, 2010. NYTimes.com. December 10, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/10/opinion/10iht-edcohen.html
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  3. spidergoat Venued Serial Membership Valued Senior Member

    Only 53%? I think this speaks to the diversity of opinion that exists in Israel, there are plenty of liberal Israelis who opposed settlements. It's usually American Jews who are more radical, not having to live with the results of the policy.
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  5. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

    I'm certianly not a real jew, merely one by ancestry, so I hold no care for Israel. With the way they are going, with the constant right-wing growth, and exodus of liberal Jews, alienation of foreign Jews and ever growing population of torah studiers that do not work but are paid by the israeli government to do nothing but study torah, Israel will be doom, and if it comes to that point I will say "good riddance!"
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  7. spidergoat Venued Serial Membership Valued Senior Member

    Well, I'm only Jewish by ancestry too, but I support Israel. I also have big problems with their policies, but I don't have to live with terrorism and religious extremists like they do.
  8. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

    I never said I don't support Israel, I merely said that if they keep burning bridges and keep becoming ever more fanatical, they will be doom. Palestinian and Arab fanaticism, anti-semtism (or anti-Judaism for those that can't handle semantics) and anti-israelism are horrible things that should be fought against, but fighting fire with fire by oppressing and crowding in the Palestinians is not the right way to do it.
  9. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    The way I see it, Zionism as a movement started with Theodor Hezl - he along with the Zionists of the time arose from the backdrop of Soviet society and his ideology can be summed up in one sentence:

    From Theodor Herzl to Avigdor Lieberman, the culture of Zionism is one of supremacism, guarding themselves against the "uncivilised" peoples with a contempt for democracy and the democratic process and notions of a peculiar exceptionalist secularism which exclude all except themselves.

    This is who they were in the Soviet Union. Why should they be any different simply because they moved to Palestine?
  10. Bells Staff Member

    In a word? Yes.

    But this happens in conservative circles around the world. Look at the US's conservatives. You either support what they say and do blindly, without question, or you're not a real American.
  11. hypewaders Save Changes Registered Senior Member

    The most important and complete conflation of Zionism with Jewishness has not been among Jews, but among USi Christians: The widespread belief in the USA that God is a Zionist was the primary meme that made the Middle East what it is today.
  12. GeoffP Caput gerat lupinum Valued Senior Member

    Well, as the OP says: it's not unique in its formulation.
  13. pjdude1219 The biscuit has risen Valued Senior Member

    there are worse options than just leave which I willing to bet makes up the bulk of that 47% percent. even "liberal" Israelis have the same violent mentality against the native populace.
  14. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    I could be overreacting, I suppose

    I don't disagree. But this time the stake is ideologically enormous.

    I mean, I don't really care if I'm not a "real" American. Perhaps Jews feel the same way about not being "real" Jews. You know, maybe it's like the word "nigga" in an episode of of Boondocks.

    So maybe the whole question is an overreaction.

    Except that this seems to demand a certain presupposition:

    Israel is Judaism, and Judaism is Israel.

    And that seems ... huge.

    To me it represents, in the course of less than twenty years, a shift from cautioning oneself against holding Jews in general accountable for Israel—because Israel was not Judaism, and Judaism was not Israel—to ... well, it seems pretty much a polar change.

    It's a perplexing change.

    Although, Mr. Stup also said, "Most of them were American." Which is telling, in fact, because Bill Maher has been known to explain it this way:

    But do you know why they're pro-Israel? They don't want what President Bush is trying to push for in the Middle East. They don't want a peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Because then, if you had a peace then the Palestinians, the Arabs would have part of Jerusalem.

    And we can't have that, because when Jesus comes back, which he's going to any day now, it has to be the way he left it. It has to be that the Jews control Jerusalem, because when he comes back to take all the good people up to heaven, the Jews have a place in that situation. Which of course, Larry, is to die. Or to convert. So in other words, they want the Jews to retain all of Israel. Because when Jesus comes back down, the Jews have a job to do, which is to die.

    It's an interesting juxtaposition, to say the least. Hardly conclusive, though.


    King, Larry. "Interview with Bill Maher". Larry King Live. Transcript. August 28, 2003. Transcripts.CNN.com. December 14, 2010. http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0308/28/lkl.00.html

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