Are Israel skeptics really left-wing radicals?

Allan C. Brownfeld of the American Council for Judaism and political pundit Pamela Geller discuss the politics of Zionism. Photo: Associated Press

OCALA, Fla., October 8, 2013 — Politics and Zionism are inseparable. This is both a blessing and a curse, having led to the philosophy’s greatest achievements and lowest pitfalls. 

Placing any partisan rhetoric aside, Zionism is the philosophy that a Jewish state ought to be established and receive continued support, with emigration encouraged among Diaspora Jews.

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This state is Israel.

Very often, those who hold anti-Zionist beliefs — Jew and Gentile alike — are portrayed as left-wing radicals. Is this actually the case?

“Jews have historically rejected Jewish nationalism from many different perspectives,” says Allan C. Brownfeld. He is the publications director at the American Council for Judaism, one of our country’s longstanding Jewish-interest organizations. Since the group was formed during World War II, it has strongly discouraged ethnocentric Jewish political activism. 

“In Eastern Europe,” Brownfeld continues, “large numbers embraced socialism and opposed all forms of nationalism, including Jewish nationalism.  Others, particularly in Western Europe, viewed themselves as full and equal citizens of England, France or Italy and viewed Judaism as their religion only.”

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He later mentions that “(w)hile it is true that radical Jews have always opposed Zionism, the tradition out of which the ACJ comes is quite different.  The ACJ was started in 1942 and included rabbis from some of the nation’s leading congregations.  Among them were Samuel Goldenson of New York, Irving Reichart of San Francisco, David Marx of Atlanta and Julian Feibelman of New Orleans.  

“Among the ACJ founders was Rabbi Morris Lazaron of Baltimore.  He had been an early Zionist, captured by the romantic vision of the movement.  After visiting Nazi Germany and seeing the effects of its nationalism, Lazaron became convinced that nationalism, a force leading the world to destruction, could not serve as an instrument of Jewish salvation.  

“For Lazaron, the mixture of religion and state spelled disaster.

“At the 1945 annual conference of the ACJ, Hans Kohn, a one-time German Zionist then teaching at the University in Exile in New York, declared:  ‘The Jewish nationalist philosophy has developed entirely under German influence, the German romantic nationalism with the emphasis on blood, race and descent as the most determining factor in human life, its historicizing attempt to connect with a legendary past 2,000 or so years ago, its emphasis on folk as a mythical body, the source of civilization.’”

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Pamela Geller, one of America’s most well-known Jewish pundits, has a different take: “Many of the anti-Zionist Jews ARE left-wing radicals who hate their ethnic identity, their homeland, and their people.”

Insofar as Zionism’s future in the United States is concerned, she says that “I see Jews in the U.S. increasingly having to choose between Zionism and the Democrat Party. I hope they will choose Zionism.”

It cannot be made clear enough that Zionism is a divisive issue. Rather than focusing on that which drives people apart, though, what attracts them to whatever beliefs they profess?

“I first became active in the ACJ when I was in high school,” Brownfeld explains. “Then, as now, I found it unseemly to see Israeli flags in many synagogues, to see religious services turned into a discussion of Middle East politics, and to have young Americans told in their religious classes that their real ‘homeland’ was in Israel.  

“The politicization of Judaism, in my view, has corrupted the religious bodies which have embraced it.  It can only be considered a form of idolatry–the antithesis of Judaism–to make a sovereign state, any state, the object of worship and the ‘center’ of one’s faith.  

“Most Americans of all faiths would reject the idea of ‘my country right or wrong’ with regard to our own country.  How, then, can such a philosophy be embraced, in the name of one’s religion, with regard to a foreign country?

“I am encouraged that more and more Jewish voices have challenged the Zionist consensus which has emerged in organized American Jewish life.  They understand that the focus of attention upon the State of Israel has led to the distortion of a great religious heritage.   

“The founders of Reform Judaism rejected the notion of a God confined to a particular ‘holy’ land, embracing instead a universal God, the Father of all men, and a religion of universal values, as relevant in New York or London as in Jerusalem.  Early in the 20th century, Hermann Cohen, a respected Jewish philosopher, understood the danger that Zionism would re-ignite an intoxication with the land that would strangle Jewish morality.  

“The ACJ has maintained its commitment to a universal faith of ethical values for men and women of every race and nation which the Prophets preached and in which generations of Jews believed.  That more and more people are returning to that faith at the present time is a vindication of that  prophetic vision.”

Geller’s story is a bit shorter, but no less passionate.

“As long as I can remember, I have been a Zionist,” she says. “It is as natural as breathing because it is consistent with a love of liberty and individual rights. I didn’t suddenly become ‘attracted to the cause of Zionism’ because of some cataclysmic political or personal event. Support for the Jewish state is right, righteous and rational. Advocating for its annihilation is savage. This has always been obvious to me.”

Far-left? Far-right? Get realRead more from “The Conscience of a Realist” by Joseph F. Cotto 


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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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