Category Archives: A Wondering Jew

Obama, Foxman and Israel’s Purpose


Having spent decades drumming home the idea that Israel is rooted squarely in the Holocaust experience, and should be viewed by the world as the state of the survivors, Israelis and some of their most fervent backers in the U.S. are suddenly insisting that this is a misleading, even hostile idea.

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Israel is 60, Zionism is Dead, What Now?


Israel at 60 is an intractable historical fact. It has one of the world’s strongest armies, without peer in the Middle East, and its 200 or so nuclear warheads give it the last word in any military showdown with any of its neighbors. Palestinian militants may be able to make life in certain parts of Israel exceedingly unpleasant at times, but they are unable to reverse the Nakbah of 1948 through military means.

Israel is here to stay, and its citizens know this — which may be why they appear to more indifferent to the search for peace with the Palestinians than at any time in the past three decades.

The curious irony of history, though, is that while the Zionist movement managed to successfully create a nation state in the Middle East against considerable odds, that movement is dead — the majority of Jews quite simply don’t want to be part of a Jewish nation-state in the Middle East. And so the very purpose of Israel has come into question. Jewish immigration to Israel is at an all-time low, and that’s unlikely to change. In a world where persecution of Jews is increasingly marginal, the majority of Jews prefer to live scattered among the peoples, rather than in an ethnic enclave of our own. That’s what we’ve chosen. So where does this leave Israel?
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Healing Israel’s Birth Scar

With the 60th anniversary of Israel’s birth — and of the Palestinian Nakbah (catastrophe) — which are, of course the same event, almost upon us, I was reminded this week that April 9 was also the 60th anniversary of an event that has long epitomized the connection between the creation of an ethnic-majority Jewish state and the man-made catastrophe suffered by the Palestinian Arabs. That would be the massacre at Deir Yassein, a small village near Jerusalem where fighters of the Irgun, led by Menahem Begin, massacred up to 250 Palestinian civilians — in what later emerged as a calculated campaign of “ethnic cleansing,” using violence and the threat of violence to drive Palestinians to flee their homes and land, which were then summarily appropriated by the new state of Israel, which passed legislation forbidding the Palestinian owners from returning to their property. It was the events of 1948 that created the Palestinian refugee problem, and set the terms of a conflict that continues to define the State of Israel six decades later. No resolution of the conflict is possible without understanding the events of 1948 — something that precious few mainstream U.S. politicians do. The irony is that Israelis are far more likely to be familiar with the uglier side of their victory in 1948 than are their most enthusiastic supporters on these shores. Continue reading

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Learning From Arab Jews

Guest Column: David Shasha, the founder and director of the Center for Sephardic Heritage in Brooklyn, New York, is one of my favorite weekly email reads. (You can subscribe, too, by contacting him directly.) Arab and Jew are not mutually exclusive categories. Quite the contrary. Anyone who tells you, as so many “pundits” do in this society when trying to explain the Middle East, that “Jews and Arabs have been fighting for thousands of years,” is speaking from ignorance. The idea of a conflict between “Jews” and “Arabs” is really only as old as modern political Zionism, and really only took on a generalized form in the second half of the 20th century amid the trauma that accompanied the creation of the State of Israel. Jews and Arabs had, in fact, lived together for hundreds of years in the Muslim world, and many Jews have always considered themselves Arab.

David Shasha makes the case that this branch of Judaism, what he calls the “Levantine Option”, is tragically silenced and excluded from the mainstream Ashkenazi and Zionist narrative that dominates discussion of the Jewish experience. He argues that while the Ashkenazi tradition was both heavily influenced by Western Christian traditions and also, because of persecution, evolved a far more narrow, insular “shtetl” outlook on Jewish identity. By contrast, he argues, the Sephardic experience, in the “convivienca” of Moorish Spain and the Arab lands in the Islamic golden age actually has much more to offer Jews looking for an expansive, universalist version of their identity in a multi-cultural, cosmopolitan world. It’s fascinating stuff: Read on!
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How the 1967 War Doomed Israel

I. Avir harim kalul ba’yayin, ve reach oranim… The opening lines of Naomi Shemer’s legendary Yerushalayim Shel Zahav (Jerusalem of Gold) can still bring goosebumps to my flesh, even decades after I deconstructed and relinquished the mythology connoted by the … Continue reading

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Equality, Not Zionism, Will Save Israel

On the same day that we learn that Norman Finkelstein has been denied tenure at De Paul University largely because of an aggressive campaign by Israel supporters to silence the (to them) menacing figure of a Jew, son of a … Continue reading

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How the 1967 War Doomed Israel

I. Avir harim kalul ba’yayin, ve reach oranim… The opening lines of Naomi Shemer’s legendary Yerushalayim Shel Zahav (Jerusalem of Gold) can still bring goosebumps to my flesh, even decades after I deconstructed and relinquished the mythology connoted by the … Continue reading

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Six ‘Rabbis’ for May Day

On we go with our list of “rabbis” for the secular and progressive-minded. May 1 being international labor day, it’s time to roll out some of my favorite Jewish lefties: 3. Joe Slovo When Joe Slovo died, the Central Committee … Continue reading

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Carter as Holocaust Denier?

Watching American Israel advocates pile onto Jimmy Carter in paroxysms of nationalist rage at his impudence for comparing the conditions of West Bank Palestinians to those of black South Africans under apartheid, I’ve been struck — as I’ve written below … Continue reading

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Israel and Apartheid: In Defense of Jimmy Carter

Nothing makes liberal American supporters of Israel more uncomfortable than the comparison between the circumstances it has imposed on the Palestinians and those that the apartheid regime imposed on black South Africans. That’s precisely why it is so important and … Continue reading

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