Mondoweiss / October 12, 2022
Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League is calling for a battle inside Jewish religious denominations against anti-Zionist Jews.
VIDEO : Greenblatt declares war on anti-Zionist Jews inside Jewish religious groups – Mondoweiss
Greenblatt spoke to the World Zionist Organization conference in August in Basel, Switzerland (in a video lately published). Greenblatt said that anti-Zionism is antisemitism, but even some Jews “traffic” in it and that “threat” must be taken on by religious groups and the Democratic Party too:
In the political context today there is no doubt that anti-Zionism is antisemitism. And we must reckon with the fact that there are anti-Zionists within the Jewish community. We must be honest and acknowledge that reality. But the reality is that just because you are Jewish doesn’t exempt you from trafficking in anti-Zionism. Just like you can be someone who is a person of color, that doesn’t exempt them from trafficking in racism. We have got to deal with this openly…
All of our communities need to wrestle with this. Our denominations, as Rabbi [David] Wolpe said on this stage, the Conservative movement, the Reform movement needs to wrestle with this. The Democratic Party and political movements need to take this on and challenge it.
The reality is that yeah, It is still a minority. But that’s how all threats start, small and on the edges and on the margin, and it’s up to us with honesty and with conviction to confront it, to challenge it and to wrestle with it…
Look the future is bright, but we have to steel ourselves because this will be a fight…. We weren’t given this covenant that life would be easy. Life is not easy, it’s hard.
This battle has several fronts. Earlier this year Greenblatt declared war on Palestinian solidarity groups. And in his remarks in August he targeted “Islamists” and “extreme rightwing forces” who are anti-Zionists.
Greenblatt sought to acknowledge Palestinians in his remarks — but he did so to argue that Palestinians should embrace Zionism.
I just think we need to approach this [struggle] with some degree of nuance and understanding. I mean, I haven’t heard anybody talk about the Palestinian people during this session thus far. We have to wrestle with that as well. But our Zionism should compel us to do so. Zionism isn’t just a light for the Jewish people, it’s a liberation movement for all people. We should take strength in it, we should find inspiration in it, and we should share it with the world.
(Finding Palestinians who are Zionists is like finding African-Americans who love Jim Crow. Zionism grants greater rights to Jews over non-Jews in Israel, and in the occupied territories Zionist institutions including the state of Israel give Palestinians no rights whatsoever.)
David Wolpe, a Conservative rabbi in Los Angeles, had endorsed the idea of a battle against anti-Zionists in religious orders at the same conference:
[Sinai Temple takes] the largest delegation to the AIPAC conference every year of any synagogue in the country… We have an absolutely unapologetic Zionist commitment… It’s true, in America as you know, Zionism is a word that often draws tremendous ire, but it’s a battle that is important for Jews to fight, and certainly I can speak for myself and for my synagogue, I don’t think we have any hesitation about fighting what we are convinced is a righteous battle.
After Zionist author Gil Troy decried the fact that conservative rabbinical students can get a degree at the Jewish Theological Seminary and not commit to Zionism, Wolpe endorsed the battle inside the Conservative movement.
Of course you fight the battle in your own house. If I didn’t have a battle in my own house I wouldn’t fight it… The trick is to be able to fight the movement that you have difficulties with in your own house.”
Wolpe and Greenblatt are fighting a tide: young Jews who are giving up on Zionism, with sizeable numbers saying that they believe Israel is an apartheid state and that it doesn’t have a right to exist.
Establishment Jewish leaders once had the power to ostracize young Jews who don’t feel positive about Israel, but they are losing that ability, scholar Zachary Lockman says in an interview with MERIP. And even synagogues are losing religion on Israel:
[T]he Jewish community—I’m talking about the organized, very Israeli-connected Zionist mainstream organizations—were very effective at shutting down criticism of Jews as Jews. And pushing them to the margins, delegitimizing them. I think that worked pretty effectively in the 70s and 80s. I think they don’t have as much power as they did because the community has changed. Younger American Jews don’t care about those big organizations. They may or may not belong to a local synagogue, but the synagogues themselves have changed. There are lots of liberal lefty rabbis who are, to varying degrees, critical of Israel. I think the antisemitism claim is still used, but it’s much less effective. Maybe I’m being overly optimistic…. [M]y sense is people take it a lot less seriously. They may or may not agree with a critique, but there is now room for critique. And it’s coupled with a much greater understanding of the question of Palestine broadly, and who the Palestinians are.
While in the Florida Sun-Sentinel of all places, Donna Nevel demolishes the claim that anti-Zionism is antisemitism, and cites Palestinian history.
Many Jewish organizations speak about criticism of Israel or Zionism as antisemitic, but that is a misuse and, in fact, an abuse of what antisemitism is. Antisemitism is directed at Jews as Jews. Criticism of Israel or Zionism is directed at a nation-state….
There are critiques of Israel and Zionism that grow out of a deep commitment to human rights. This commitment is not about being against anyone, but, rather, it’s about the unwavering support of equal rights for all. Zionism is a political movement that resulted in the dispossession and expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their land and homes. Opposing that movement in favor of a movement that honors and respects all who live there is an important principle to uphold. That is not remotely antisemitic.
Nevel also wrote of the dangers of the IHRA definition of antisemitism that has gained traction from governments even though it equates criticisms of Israel with antisemitism:
When I was a young Zionist activist in college — before I learned about the consequences of Zionism on the Palestinians living there — I went to a hasbara (propaganda) training at the Israeli Consulate. I remember being shocked that one of the things we were told was that when someone argued against Israel, not to address the argument, but, instead, to accuse the person of antisemitism. This tactic has become much more widespread today and it’s why dangerous definitions of antisemitism, like the one put forth by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism and has gotten much attention, must be vehemently opposed.
Sadly, journalist James Ball endorsed the IHRA definition in an interview of Roger Waters for Rolling Stone. Ball claimed that it is the standard” definition of antisemitism, and he also tried to hang Waters with the assertion that Jewish people can’t be “settler” in Palestine because our “history goes back millennia.” Waters fought back gamely.
“I’m absolutely not antisemitic, absolutely not,” Waters says. “That hasn’t stopped all the assholes trying to smear me with being an antisemite.”..
“Saying Israel does not have a right to exist as an apartheid state, any more than South Africa did or anywhere else would, is not antisemitic,” Waters counters.
Waters says what he criticizes is “the fact that they are a supremacist, settler colonialist project that operates a system of apartheid.”
Then Ball tried to argue that a Waters lyric — “We’ll walk hand in hand and we’ll take back the land, from the Jordan river to the sea” — was antisemitic. Waters:
“No, bollocks. It’s just a geographical description of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. It has no connotation for me apart from that…. Nobody’s suggesting that they all have to leave, which is what they suggested to the indigenous people there in 1948.”
Lastly, here is Greenblatt making the Zionist argument that Israel has made Jews stand tall around the world.
I think about what Israel has doen for the world and how Jewish people– by the way. the reason Jewish people now thrive in Europe and the reason why we thrive in America the reason why we have robust Jewish communities in Brazil, in Mexico, in Cuba Is because of Zionism. It is Zionism which gives us the Diaspora the confidence that we have.
Younger Jews have a different feeling than that about Israel…
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006