(fwd from Lenni Brenner) Beyond Survival and Philanthropy: Reviewed by Lenni Brenner

Les Schaffer schaffer at optonline.net
Mon Aug 11 20:10:38 MDT 2003


Journal of Palestine Studies
Issue 127 (Spring 2003)


Gal and Gottschalk: Beyond Survival and Philanthropy: American Jewry
and Israel Reviewed by Lenni Brenner

This book comes out of a 1996 conference on the crisis in relations
between American Jews and Israel. The editors are Allon Gal, who
directs Ben-Gurion University's Center for North American Jewry, and
Alfred Gottschalk, professor of Jewish intellectual history at Hebrew
Union College. Twenty-eight contributors are officials of pro-Zionist
organizations or academics at Israeli and U.S.  Jewish schools. Two of
them, Steven Cohen and Charles Liebman, express their collective

American Judaism takes its . . . cultural environment as a given
. . . these values tend to undermine American Jewish ties to
Israel. . . . American Jews, as a whole, are only comfortable in
supporting Israel when Israeli policies are perceived as consistent
with universalist and moralist values. . . . When unconstrained by
Jewish particularist values, universalism undermines the idea of a
special relationship between American Jews and Israel. . . . After
all, if all people are to be treated equally without regard to race,
religion, national origin, sex, and most recently, sexual preference,
how can American Jews feel totally comfortable in maintaining a
special relationship with, let alone granting preference to, Israelis?
(pp. 12-13)

Worse yet, U.S. Jews "have such difficulty appreciating the virtual
monopoly the Orthodox exercise over the meaning of Judaism in Israel"
(p. 14). The diagnosis is scientific. But with dozens of mediocre
"Responses" to Zionism's demographic impasse, the book becomes a
sociological caricature of the Talmud's piling on of commentaries.

New Jersey's Jewish News editor David Twersky loathes "The tendency to
see 'Jewish' as too small a category" (p. 111). But "reestablishing
the dialectical relationship . . . between our liberals and the
tradition" is just wishful thinking, here or in Israel (p. 115).

America's Jews are its most educated stratum, increasingly
science-oriented.  Israel has the world's highest percentage of
university graduates. Hence, growing percentages in both countries see
Zionism and Judaism as intellectual broom closets, precisely because
of Israel's "pre-enlightenment, Middle Eastern style compact of
religion and state" that Zionism's in-house scholars support or, at
most, feebly bemoan (p. 115). Thus, Professor Michael Myers of
Reform/Progressive Judaism's Hebrew Union College sees his minuscule
sect as "an alternative to secularism and Orthodoxy" in Israel. The
"particularist" wants no more than to "shape and implement religious
curricula in the secular schools" there. He declares that,

Host cultures, especially that of America, represent a more serious
threat to our collective Jewish existence than ever before. Not only
are Jews more socially acceptable then ever in the past, but so is
Judaism. The problem is that Jewish tradition is seen as narrow and
prejudiced the moment it makes any claim to exclusivity, the moment it
makes any claim to superiority. (p. 226)

America's religious freedom has taken hold. Ethno-religious
particularism of any kind is an intellectual loser in a cosmopolitan
United States. A 1995 American Jewish Committee poll found only 22
percent of America's Jews calling themselves Zionists, down from 90
percent in 1948. The City University of New York's American Jewish
Identity Survey (2001) declared that only 51 percent of our Jews say
their religion is Jewish. Given decades of ever increasing repudiation
of Judaism, by now, December 2002, or momentarily, most of the
country's Jews will have rejected it. The abandonment of their
hereditary religion by our richest and most educated stratum is a
major sociological event with immense implications for the United
States and the Middle East.

The hockey brawl over the United Jewish Communities' demographic
survey of American Jews, partially released in October 2002, partly
repudiated, further expresses the Zionist establishment's inability to
accept the reality that they irrevocably have lost their own secularly
educated youth. But why are these youths not coming to the
Palestinians' side? Most react to Israel's legal Orthodoxy and
discrimination against their Judaic sect, or reject religion as
incompatible with their science courses. As with former members of
other family ideologies, they have no built-in reason, in America,
where religion cannot be legally imposed on them, to combat Zionism
because they were raised up in it.  And, of course, neither the
repulsive corruption of the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas's fanatic
suicide bombs can appeal to these worldly intellectuals.

In the end, the book's lesson is the opposite of what its writers
intended.  If separation of religion and state and equality before the
law for all, regardless of religion or ethnicity, have defeated
Zionism among young educated American Jews, then a democratic secular
binational movement in Palestine/Israel, for one democratic secular
binational state, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, at least can
hope to defeat Zionism among educated Israelis, young and old.


Lenni Brenner is the author of Jews in America Today (Barricade Books,
1986) and editor of 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis
(Barricade Books, 2002).

Beyond Survival and Philanthropy: American Jewry and Israel, ed. Allon
Gal and Alfred Gottschalk. Cincinnati, OH: Hebrew Union College Press,
2000. x + 261 pages. Contributors list to p. 264. $35.00 cloth.


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