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Zionism, Anti-Semitism, and the Boundaries of Dissent: Round 2 of the Alvin Rosenfeld Debate

The Jewish world is abuzz with Prof. Alvin Rosenfeld’s controversial report, “Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism,” which claims that progressive Jews have been giving succor to antisemitism by criticizing Zionist ideology and Israeli foreign policy. Here in Why Must Jews Support a Jewish State?, Rosenfeld’s Indiana University colleague Prof. Shaul Magid disputes Rosenfeld’s argument, suggesting that the anti-Semitic quotes he has used were taken out of context. Paul Bogdanor, whose book provided Rosenfeld with much of his original material, responds in Dissent or Hatred by providing, for the very first time, the original sources for Rosenfeld’s essay, as well as additional citations. In Response to Paul Bogdanor, Magid counters by arguing that Judaism as a religion is distinct from its manifestation in a nation-state and suggests that Bogdanor and Rosenfeld have abandoned Judaism for a secular Zionist nationalism.

This second round in the Rosenfeld debate ends with a more provocative question than it began: Can left and right in the U.S. dialogue any further at all?

-Zeek Editors

Why Must Jews Support a Jewish State? Shaul Magid

The recent New York Times article about Alvin Rosenfeld’s essay, “Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism,” has caused quite a stir in the Jewish world. Whether the point of Rosenfeld’s essay is about censoring Jewish criticism of Israel (critics claim it is, Rosenfeld claims it is not), the article has ignited a robust and lively conversation and debate among scholars, clergy, and the lay community. As it should. The issue that underlies Rosenfeld’s essay is a fundamental question about the identity of Jews in the contemporary world: why must a Jew be in favor of a Jewish state?

Underlying Rosenfeld’s essay is the implicit assumption that Zionism is the sine qua non of Jewish identity and legitimacy. If a Jew is not a Zionist, that is, if he or she does not believe in the necessity of the State of Israel, then for Rosenfeld that Jew has renounced a claim to Jewish identity. In fact, Rosenfeld seems to go farther, suggesting that Jewish anti-Zionism may itself be a form of antisemitism; that any Jew unwilling to support Israel is de facto unwilling to support the Jewish people as a whole. Like a modern Jeremiah crying out in the postmodern wilderness, Rosenfeld accuses his own people of undermining their future.

What makes Rosenfeld’s argument so forceful is that he is not the only Jeremiah out there.

Contemporary Jeremiads Attacking Jews for undermining Judaism seems to have become something of a theme in modern Jewish life. When I was in yeshiva in Jerusalem in the 1980s, I had a rosh yeshiva (an American ultra-Orthodox Jew) who used to refer to all secular Jews as anti-Semites.

The logic of my rosh yeshiva’s argument was clear enough. He believed that the very existence of the Jewish people hangs on their having received the Torah at Mount Sinai and that Jewish existence is totally dependent upon the covenantal relationship forged there. If Israel abandons the Torah, they deserve to be punished, perhaps brutally. One can see this in many prophetic passages, perhaps the most striking being Ezekiel 20:31-37. For my rosh yeshiva, this “covenant” was embodied in Orthodox practice. Israel is a Nation of Torah, nothing more, nothing less. Hence, to his mind, one who abandons, or chooses not to adopt, Orthodox practice is, in effect, endangering and even destroying the Jewish people. They are “Jewish” anti-Semites.

The metaphysical foundation of this position is well-known and remains popular among many ultra-Orthodox Jews. It has been maligned as the wacky theology of the marginal ultra-Orthodox religious right, but it is a view that was espoused by some of the most respected and traditionally learned Jews in the twentieth century, for example, Rabbis Elhanan Wasserman, Shlomo Zalman Unsdorfer, Hayyim Elazar Shapira, Joel Teitelbaum, Shalom Noah Barzofsky, among many others, and continues to be popular with some of the religious knitted kippah community today.

Theological jeremiads like these are often linked to the twin earthquakes in modern Jewish life: the Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel. Ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionists have claimed that Zionism itself caused the Holocaust because only God has the covenantal right to reestablish Israel as part of the Messianic era (R. Elhanan Wasserman even going as far as saying Zionism, as idolatry, caused the divine creation of Nazism in heaven in order to punish the Jews). For this group, it is Zionists who are self-hating Jews.

On the other hand, the Zionist camp of ultra-Orthodoxy (e.g., Rabbi Yaakov Meir Harlap, a disciple of R. Abraham Isaac Kook, R. Mordecai Attiah, R. Zvi Yehuda Kook, among others.) argue the reverse. That is, the Holocaust happened, they say, because the Jews did not leave Europe after the Balfour Declaration and immigrate to Eretz Israel when they had the chance. In one very chilling passage, R. Zvi Yehuda Kook wrote of the Holocaust as a divine act brought about to purify the Jewish people and instill in them (apparently through mass murder) the desire to immigrate to Israel.

Between the self-hating Zionists and the self-hating anti-Zionists, you just can’t win. As David Novak compellingly argues in his recent essay “Is There a Theological Connection between the Holocaust and the State of Israel,” any theological link between these two events really would require one of two responses: either to celebrate the Holocaust as an historical event that brings us the Jewish nation-state; or (this is my addition to Novak) to claim that all Diaspora Jews (including myself, Alvin Rosenfeld, and David Novak) are, in fact, “anti-Semites” because our choice to remain in the Diaspora creates the conditions for another Holocaust in the future. I assume Rosenfeld would reject both responses, as do I.

Survivor Judaism What does Rosenfeld have in common with these ultra-Orthodox Jews? Not much, except that both he and they believe Jews are undermining Judaism and the Jewish people. Likewise, both believe what determines Jewish legitimacy is completely wrapped up in the twin events of the founding of Israel and the Holocaust. The difference between Rosenfeld and the ultra-Othodox rabbis of both Zionist and anti-Zionist persuasions is that the rabbis base their arguments for Jewish legitimacy on theological principles, while Rosenfeld bases his on more pragmatic political questions.

At least, one assumes so. Rosenfeld does not explicitly tell us why any deep criticism of the State of Israel (not only its existence but also its present ethnic construction) steps over the line of legitimate dissent. The only suggestion of an answer Rosenfeld gives is that the Holocaust creates the need for a Jewish nation-state in order to assure the survival of the Jewish people. But would another Holocaust be prevented by the existence of such a nation-state? Not all cases of “ethnic cleansing” or genocide are internal matters—the ethnic cleansing of South and North American Indians by European settlers is a prime example of genocide from outside.

Would the disappearance of the Jewish State threaten the continued existence of the Jewish people in the context of a globalized world? One would have to make a clear and persuasive case for this thesis. While the nation-state was of critical importance in the twentieth century, many would argue that its salience seems continually to diminish. Rosenfeld’s implied argument may pluck at the heart-strings of many Diaspora Jews, but its foundations are conjectural at best.

Rosenfeld’s essay purports to tackle these questions – yet it does not. A major flaw in the essay is that he never substantiates the crucial linkage in his argument between supporting Israel and Jewish survival. One way to do so is to link the Holocaust directly to the nation-state, as do both the Orthodox Zionists and anti-Zionists cited above, but I am quite certain Rosenfeld would disagree with either of those positions. Yet, without some linkage, theological or empirical, Rosenfeld’s argument falls flat. That is, it does not provide an adequate answer as to why a Jew today must support the existence of a Jewish State and why non-support of such a state is beyond the bounds of legitimate dissent.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this unsubstantiated and unexamined claim at the heart of Rosenfeld’s essay is only the most glaring of several. In attacking “progressive” Jews, Rosenfeld gives short shrift to their arguments and in several cases actually mischaracterizes them. If the Jewish world is going to have a serious discussion of the value of the nation-state for the people – a discussion I would welcome – it should be based on firmer ground than that occupied by Rosenfeld.

Weak Claims Rosenfeld’s first “progressive” Jew under investigation is Jaqueline Rose, author of The Question of Zion (Princeton University Press, 2005). Rosenfeld quotes Rose as saying “In sum, Israel on its present course ‘is bad for the Jews’ …” If we turn to page 154 (Rosenfeld’s citation) we indeed find those words “bad for the Jews” in reference to Israel, but these words are not Rose’s. Rose is quoting Avner Azulay, retired IDF army general and Director of the Rich Foundation in Tel Aviv. In fact, on page 134, Rose quotes Azulay more extensively. Azulay writes, “What is happening in Israel is bad for the Jewish people in the long term. It seems to be coming true that what is happening in Israel is damaging to Jews.”

Rosenfeld misquotes Rose again when he criticizes her for writing, “We take Zionism to be a form of collective insanity.” If one looks at the passage on page 17, one will find Rose is paraphrasing a statement Chaim Weitzman made at a Zionist meeting in 1914 which is quoted on the same page. Weitzman says, “It is the Zionists’ good fortune that they are considered mad; if we were normal, we would not consider going to Palestine but stay put like all normal people.” Unless one can make a cogent argument for distinguishing “madness” from “insanity,” Rosenfeld’s citation is misplaced (although he may very well want to take issue with Chaim Weitzman).

Rosenfeld also accuses Rose of identifying the “ruinous” false messiah Shabbatai Zvi as a “proto-Zionist.” If one looks at Rose’s discussion on page 3 (and other pages throughout), Rose is actually discussing Gershom Scholem’s equation of Shabbatai Zvi and Zionism, not her own. Anyone familiar with Zionist history will know that many Zionists were infatuated, even obsessed, with Shabbatai Zvi, along with other Jewish heretics and false messiahs such as Spinoza and Bar Kokhba. Shabbatai Zvi may be a “ruinous” villain for Rosenfeld, but for many early Zionists he was an important, albeit tragic hero and for some even a proto-Zionist. To isolate Rose for bringing Shabbatai Zvi into the discussion of Zionism is to misplace the context in which her comments are made, and in which they are not all that radical.

Rosenfeld claims Rose’s book is full of “blatant errors or outright fabrication.” These few examples exhibit some serious misreadings of Rose that should cause some concern as to the overall accuracy of Rosenfeld’s own critique. They also suggest that Rosenfeld is capable of disregarding Zionism’s early history as he rushes to its defense. That is certainly the case with his attack on “progressive” Jew Michael Neumann.

On page 13, Rosenfeld focuses his critique on Michael Neumann’s interest in discussing Jewishness in the context of race/racism. Rosenfeld writes, “The thinking here is so breathtakingly awry that one hardly knows how to address it. First of all, Jews do not typically define themselves in racial terms, nor do they value other people’s lives according to their blood.” If so, how does Rosenfeld understand the following verse from the Torah? “God had a delight in your fathers, to love them, and God chose their seed after them, even you, above all the peoples, as it is this day.” [Deut. 10:15]. Moreover, how does he understand the entire fabric of Jewish identity throughout history? Jewish thinkers from Judah ha-Levi and the MaHaRal of Prague to Franz Rosenzweig talked openly about “Jewish blood.”

This is not to say that Judaism is racist. But it is certainly the case that Jews have often identified themselves according to racial/ethnic criteria. We could—but needn’t— point to the hyper-racial doctrines of the Kabbala to see this. The entire halakhic tradition gives us a meditation on Jewish racialism. For example, when the rabbis discuss whether a Jew who converts to another religion ceases to be a Jew (in the eyes of the legal tradition) the answer is almost unequivocally no. The great Jewish medieval rabbi Rashi writes in a responsum that the marriage of a Jew and Jewess who marry after converting to Christianity is binding according to Jewish law, requiring her to receive a Jewish divorce if she chooses to marry another Jew. That is, what determines Jewishness is precisely “racial” or “ethnic” and not belief or affiliation with a community. One’s ability to be counted in a minyan has nothing to do with belief or practice but only “blood” (and, in some communities, gender). In fact, the rabbis argue that according to biblical law, a convert to Judaism could marry his biological mother because conversion is essentially a miraculous change of biology. The rabbis forbid such a marriage for other reasons.

Jewish Messianism Rosenfeld’s refusal to acknowledge Judaism’s racialism is part of his refusal to accept the primacy of exceptionalism in the formation of Jewish identity. He argues, for example, that “as most historians of Zionism demonstrate …Israel’s founders, by and large, were secular Zionists who opposed religious notions like messianism and chosenness.” It is difficult to know what Rosenfeld is referring to in this claim.

Messianism, whether religious, secular, or utopian, lies at the heart of almost all Zionist ideology from Herzl to A.D. Gordon to Ben Gurion to Buber to Kook to Begin. The official Prayer for the State of Israel, written by the great Shai Agnon and recited by Jews around the world every Shabbat, includes the suggestion that Israel is “the first flowering of our redemption.” This link between Zionism and messianism has been amply demonstrated by scholars of Zionism such as Aviezer Ravitzky, Ehud Sprinzak, Ian Lustick, and Eliezer Schweid among many others. These and others consistently argue that, in fact, there is an inextricable link between Zionism (of all strains) and messianism (in its many forms). Rosenfeld’s history of Zionism is selective in ways that require much further justification.

This is not to defend either Rose or Neumann. The issue at hand is not whether they are correct, but whether their criticism of Israel constitutes legitimate dissent. In both cases Rosenfeld mischaracterizes their work and shows little understanding of the Zionist project itself. Therefore, the bite of his critique is significantly compromised.

He comes closer to the mark in his characterization of Daniel Boyarin, whom he simply cannot believe is making the argument Boyarin is in fact making. Rosenfeld criticizes Daniel Boyarin for saying that “just as Christianity may have died at Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Sorbibor… I fear…that my Judaism may be dying at Nablus, Deheishe, Bereen…” (Wrestling with Zion, 202, Rosenfeld, 17). Rosenfeld critically asserts, “In this case, as in others, Jewish identity is affirmed in opposition to the Jewish state.” In fact, Rosenfeld gets this exactly right, but draws the wrong conclusion.

If one reads Boyarin’s lengthy discussion of the relationship between Diasporism and Rabbinic Judaism in his book, A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (pp. 228-260), one will find an argument about how the political power of a nation-state collapses difference, alienates the “other,” racializes the community and creates a situation that Boyarin feels is anathema to his vision of (Rabbinic) Judaism.

Boyarin’s views may be radical, and one can surely contest them, but simply saying they are “illegitimate,” as Rosenfeld does, does not suffice. Rosenfeld particularly attacks Boyarin for using “Holocaust rhetoric,” but that line of attack leaves Rosenfeld in a difficult position since the Zionists Rosenfeld embraces are perhaps more guilty of Holocaust rhetoric than anyone on the progressive left. One can think of Shamir’s statement of “the borders of Israel as the gates of Auschwitz,” Begin’s justification for war as “either this or Treblinka,” Sharon’s Holocaust parallels and the myriad instances of Arafat being referred to as Hitler by many on the Zionist right. And who can forget Netanyahu campaigning in front of a poster of Rabin dressed up as Hitler? I am not aware of one instance in Rosenfeld’s writings where he chastises Zionists for freely using such Holocaust parallels when referring to their contemporary enemies.

These lacunae are some of the many weaknesses in Rosenfeld’s piece. Regrettably, Rosenfeld seems so intent on accusing Jews like Rose, Boyarin and others of self-hatred that he does not take the requisite time actually to evaluate their arguments or look at their objections to the State of Israel within a wider Jewish context. It is a pity because the issues raised in this essay are of critical importance and should be aired and debated in the public sphere.

Boyarin, like Rose (as far as I know), never denies Jews’ right to live in Israel nor do any of these writers espouse or support hatred of the Jews (the basic tenet of antisemitism). Indeed, I am quite certain all or most of those Rosenfeld criticizes are in fact concerned about preserving Jews and Judaism in their own way. And all would agree that the rise of anti-Semitism in the world is alarming and demands our attention.

Ironically, both sides agree that Israel stands at the center of this emerging problem. Rosenfeld posits that progressive critiques of the Jewish state “foment,” perhaps tacitly legitimize, anti-Semitism. Many progressives believe that it is Israel, both in its policies and “ethnic” construction, that foments anti-Semitism. What we need now are fewer jeremiads, and more thoughtful and constructive engagement on both Jewish history and the nature of a Jewish future.


Dissent or Hatred? Paul Bogdanor

When prominent Jews demand to know why Israel should continue to exist, are they mere “critics of Israeli policy?” When they denounce Israel for apartheid and ethnic cleansing, ignoring tyrants and terrorists who really do practice these horrors, are they “speaking out” for justice and human rights? When they advocate the disappearance of a democratic country without regard to its people’s wishes, defame its elected representatives as war criminals, and initiate boycotts of its academics, are they serving the cause of “tolerance,” “pluralism,” and “open debate?”

To ask these questions is to pierce the sanctimonious aura enveloping so many “progressives” who begin their public attacks on fellow Jews with the words “As a Jew…” Still, analysts of such utterances can expect to be vilified, as Alvin Rosenfeld has been vilified, as being practitioners of “Stalinist tactics” (NPR discussion). [1] They should know that their work will be dismissed as “a shocking tissue of slander” (editorial in The Forward). [2] They may even be diagnosed, as Alvin Rosenfeld has been diagnosed, with a new mental illness, “the Amalek Syndrome” (columnist in the Jerusalem Post). [3] Or perhaps they will be paired (by Shaul Magid in this issue of Zeek) with the religious fanatics who blame Jews for the Holocaust. Reasoning with “critics of Israel” who insist on immunity from criticism is certainly a frustrating task.

That is not surprising. To oppose the existence of a democratic country because it is Jewish, to start boycotts of academics because they are Israeli, to contend that the victims of pogroms and gas chambers were nobler and safer when they were homeless and defenseless, is to assume a heavy burden of justification. For Shaul Magid, that burden is easy to discharge: it is enough to recall the destruction of the American Indians and to pontificate about “the context of a globalized world.” Others, observing the fate of minorities in Sudan or Iraq, may think that these are not very persuasive arguments for dismantling the Israel Defense Forces in today’s Middle East. Nor is it obvious that Jews made a mistake leaving Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union; that Jews would have been happier dwelling in Arab dictatorships after decolonization; or that hundreds of thousands of men, women and children of the Yishuv would have been better off staying in Europe on the eve of World War II.

None of this seems to matter to the anti-Zionists. The defects in their ideology are matched by the repeated lapses in their honesty. Investigate the writings of Israel’s most persistent Jewish detractors and you will discover a litany of falsehoods. Can Jacqueline Rose defend her claim, in a book issued by Princeton University Press, that Herzl and Hitler were inspired by the same performance of Wagner? [4] (Of course not: it won’t appear in the paperback edition.) [5] Is Ilan Pappé still disseminating the hoax of the 1948 massacre in Tantura? (With difficulty: the grad student who invented the tale was disciplined for research fraud.) [6] Has Noam Chomsky really shown that Israel obstructed the Red Cross in the 1967 war? (Hardly: his source says the exact opposite.) [7] Can Tony Judt really keep a straight face when he describes Israel’s leader as a “fascist” bent on “alienating” our friends in Iran? (I suppose anything is possible if you can write in favor of a one-state “solution” but tell an interviewer that you support two states.) [8] Shaul Magid unwittingly contributes to the genre when he recycles the fiction of Benjamin Netanyahu campaigning “in front of” a Nazified poster of Yitzhak Rabin. That the Likud politician was nowhere near the offending image, that its creator was a government agent provocateur, are well-established facts. [9] In this context, it is intriguing to encounter the charge that Israel’s enemies are the victims of misrepresentation. Jacqueline Rose, it seems, may not share the sentiments that she approvingly quotes in her own book! If she uses an admission that early Zionists were considered mad to affirm that Zionism is collective insanity – it is also “bloody,” “cataclysmic,” “dangerous,” “deadly,” “defiled” and “demonic” – then she is just paraphrasing! And since Judaism, without being “racist,” is infested with “racialism,” it is grossly unfair to condemn Michael Neumann, who boasted of “encouraging vicious, racist anti-Semitism!” So what if he wrote this in correspondence with a group of neo-Nazis? [10]

As Rosenfeld argues, more than a few “progressive responses” to Jewish sovereignty are equally mindless displays of hatred. For journalist Esther Kaplan, Israel “should absolutely become a pariah state.” For the poet Adrienne Rich, the Zionist project “needs to dissolve before twenty-first century realities.” [11] For Jacqueline Rose, suicide bombing is “an act of passionate identification,” creating an “unbearable intimacy” between terrorist and victim. [12] If these self-styled guardians of the Jewish conscience believe that Egypt, Pakistan or any other country on the planet should “dissolve,” or that mass murderers deserve empathetic psychoanalysis when their targets are Arabs rather than Israelis, I see no sign of it.

Prominent Israel-haters, Rosenfeld points out, actually worry that they are too soft on the object of their loathing. Harvard researcher Sara Roy laments that “within the Jewish community it has always been considered a form of heresy to compare Israeli actions or policies with those of the Nazis.” [13] Noam Chomsky fears that “Hitler’s conceptions have struck a responsive chord in current Zionist commentary” and that Israel intends a “final solution from which few will escape.” [14] Some of their colleagues can scarcely glance at a keyboard without indulging their addiction to intellectual pornography. Theologian Marc Ellis announced that “what the Nazis had not succeeded in accomplishing… we as Jews have embarked upon.” [15] And the late Israel Shahak went even further, proclaiming that “there are Nazi-like tendencies in Judaism” – which presumably accounts for his prior disclosure, in the house journal of the PLO, that “Jewish terror is very kosher in the USA.” [16]

Sometimes, the search for Nazi atrocities in Israel means belittling the genuine crimes of the Third Reich. Noam Chomsky famously declared that “I see no antisemitic implications in denial of the existence of gas chambers, or even denial of the holocaust.” [17] British activist Paul Eisen has taken up the cause of neo-Nazi Ernst Zundel; the Swiss journalist Shraga Elam has written to David Irving to explain that “Hitler was no part of the project Auschwitz”; and leftist participants in a Haifa University discussion group have even exchanged views on whether the Fuhrer should be exonerated altogether. [18]

It will be said that these figures are unrepresentative, that their statements are taken out of context, that other “critics of Israeli policy” have deeper insights to offer. But there is the case of Tikkun magazine, which has long promoted itself as a source of reflective Jewish “dissent.” During the Iraq debates, Tikkun published an essay suggesting that the power of neoconservatives was enough to encourage belief in an “industrial sized grain of truth” in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and remarking that the neoconservatives “are, to listen to what their proud parents must be saying in private, practically the Jews Who Run the World.” [19] Tikkun also has played host to Norman G. Finkelstein, whose website reports pro-Israel activism under the headline “Elders of Zion to Meet in Brussels Graveyard,” and whose books castigate Jewish leaders as “caricatures straight from the pages of Der Stuermer.” [20]

Since anti-Zionists win few admirers by fabricating Israeli war crimes, defending antisemites and questioning the Holocaust, they have perfected the art of posing as hapless victims of a powerful Thought Police determined to “stifle” and “silence” them. “The Jewish community here is deeply totalitarian,” protests Noam Chomsky. [21] “The atmosphere is hysterical, verging on McCarthyism,” warns Michael Lerner. [22]

But if proclaiming your message in the lecture theaters of Columbia University or the op-ed columns of the New York Times or the global broadcasts of the BBC is to count as being “silenced,” then the ACLU’s free-speech attorneys will have their work cut out for them.

And if portraying the world’s only Jewish country as a demonic source of evil, campaigning for its destruction, or blaming its existence for antisemitism while making excuses for real antisemites are to qualify as “legitimate dissent,” then perhaps we really should be concerned for our collective sanity.


[1] On Point, NPR, February 6, 2007.

[2] Infamy, Editorial, The Forward, February 1, 2007.

[3] Samuel Freedman, The Amalek Syndrome, Jerusalem Post, February 8, 2007.

[4] Jacqueline Rose, The Question of Zion (Princeton University Press, 2005), pp. 64-5.

[5] “… the story about Herzl and Hitler attending the same performance of Wagner is indeed apocryphal and chronologically impossible… I have been happy to remove it from the forthcoming edition.” – Jacqueline Rose, A Question of Zion: A Reply to Shalom Lappin, Democratiya, Winter 2006. See also Shalom Lappin’s rejoinder in the same issue.

[6] See Yoav Gelber, Appendix III: Folklore Versus History: The Tantura Blood Libel in Palestine 1948: War, Escape and the Emergence of the Palestinian Refugee Problem (rev. ed., Sussex University Press, 2005), pp. 319-27.

[7] See Paul Bogdanor, “The Devil State: Chomsky’s War Against Israel,” in Edward Alexander and Paul Bogdanor, eds., The Jewish Divide Over Israel (Transaction, 2006), p. 97.

[8] Tony Judt, Israel: The Alternative, New York Review of Books, October 23, 2003; Gaby Wood, The New Jewish Question, The Observer, UK, February 11, 2007.

[9] See, e.g., Uri Dan and Dennis Eisenberg, “A Slanderous Tongue,” Jerusalem Post, October 10, 1996; Uzi Benziman, “Did Rabin Know?” Ha’aretz, November 14, 1997; Jack Golbert, “Two Years After Assassination: Soul-Searching on the Left Could Heal Israel’s Wounds,” J.: The Jewish News Weekly of Northern California, November 14, 1997; Sarah Honig, “Another Arlosoroff Affair,” Jerusalem Post, November 3, 2005.

[10] See Jonathan Kay, Trent University’s Problem Professor, National Post, August 9, 2003.

[11] Quoted in Alvin Rosenfeld, “Progressive” Jewish Thought and the New Antisemitism, pp. 16-17, 19.

[12] Jacqueline Rose, Deadly Embrace, London Review of Books, November 4, 2004.

[13] Sara Roy, “Living with the Holocaust: The Journey of a Child of Holocaust Survivors,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 32, No. 1, Autumn 2002, p. 11.

[14] Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians (rev. ed., Pluto Press, 1999), pp. 208, 469.

[15] Marc Ellis, Israel and Palestine – Out of the Ashes: The Search for Jewish Identity in the Twenty-First Century (Pluto Press, 2002), p. 156.

[16]Interview, The Link, Vol. 28, No. 2, May/June 1995; Israel Shahak, “Human Rights in Israel,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 4, No. 3, Spring 1975, p. 170.

[17] Private letter to William D. Rubinstein, quoted in Rubinstein, Chomsky and the Neo-Nazis, Quadrant, Australia, October 1981.

[18] Paul Eisen, The Holocaust Wars,, May 20, 2005; Karl Pfeifer, message on “Academia” discussion list hosted by Ben-Gurion University, March 12, 2003; Shraga Elam, Tony Greenstein and Yael Korin, exchange on “Alef” discussion list hosted by Haifa University, November 21, 2006 et seq.

[19] Paul Buhle, “The Civil Liberties Crisis and the Threat of ‘Too Much Democracy,’” Tikkun, Vol. 18, No. 3, May/June 2003.

[20] Norman G. Finkelstein, The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (2nd paperback edition, Verso, 2003), p. 253.

[21] Interview, Shmate: A Journal of Progressive Jewish Thought, Summer 1988.

[22] Roger Cohen, “Jews and Evangelicals Find Common Political Ground,” New York Times, February 10, 2007.


Response to Paul Bogdanor “Dissent or Hatred?” Shaul Magid

I came away from reading Paul Bogdanor’s response to my essay somewhat baffled. The fact that he never once addressed the central question in my essay, “Why must a Jew today support the State of Israel in order to be a legitimate part of contemporary Jewish discourse?” made me wonder. It seems to me we are simply talking past one another. Below are some brief reflections as to why we seem to be living on different planets.

The point of my essay was not to defend any of those mentioned in Alvin Rosenfeld’s essay (some I agree with, some I do not). And my point was not to make a case for or against a two-state solution, a bi-national state, or the continuation of the occupation. My point was, rather, to explore the boundaries of legitimate dissent in what has become a histrionic and poisonous debate among Jews on the question of Israel/Palestine.

Traditional Jewish leaders in the wake of the Enlightenment and subsequent emancipation of the Jews in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries feared at least three things. First, that Jews would disappear, via conversion, into the vast landscape of western European Protestant society. Second, that Jews would re-construct a progressive Judaism that would undermine and subvert tradition. Third, that Jews would abandon any notion of “Judaism” and simply define themselves as an ethnic/racial group. The latter two are still relevant today. Progressive Judaisms (including non-Orthodox Judaism, secular Judaisms and Spiritual Zionism) became the most powerful forces of Jewish identity in modernity. Many Jews either chose a Judaism that diverged from tradition, or chose to sever themselves from Judaism as a religion altogether, choosing to define themselves as an ethnic/racial group with a history with no discernable theological foundation.

My sense from reading Rosenfeld and Bogdanor is that their position represents this third group. In their position, as explicated in their essays, “Jewishness” seems utterly severed from any notion of Judaism. In at least some, but not all cases, the “dissenters” that Bognador suggests may be “haters” of Jews represent the second group. In my essay I suggested Rosenfeld conflated Jews with Zionism. A more accurate locution would be that Rosenfeld has conflated Jews and the Jewish nation-state (Zionism and the Jewish nation-state are, of course, not identical).

Bogdanor argues that vehement opposition to the Jewish nation-state is, by definition or at least by implication, to “hate” the “Jews.” While it is certainly true that anti-Semites oppose Israel, it is not true that all who oppose Israel “hate” the Jews. In fact, for a radically disparate group of Jews (including Daniel Boyarin, Marc Ellis, ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionists, and Reform anti-Zionists among many others), opposition to Israel is built on their particular understanding of Judaism as a culture and religion! One could say there may be individual Jews who are anti-Semites but does it make sense to argue, as Bogdanor essentially does, that there is such a thing as an anti-Semitic Judaism? And if so, what criteria would be used to make such an assertion?

For example, for Bogdanor to simply write-off Rabbi Elhanan Wasserman or Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook as “fanatics” and thus not worthy of attention – or even refutation – illustrates, in my view, the profound way his position is divorced from Judaism and Jewish theology. I do not at all agree with either Wasserman or Kook’s assertion that the Holocaust was a divine punishment for Zionism (Wasserman) or God’s way of making sure Jews did indeed immigrate to the Land of Israel (Kook). However, both base their arguments on a deep and informed reading of Judaism and thus they cannot simply be discounted as “fanatics.” Their positions can, and in my view should, be contested with alternate readings of Judaism, but to refuse to take them seriously is to suggest that Judaism has nothing to do with the Jews.

One could say the same about Rabbi Kaufmann Kohler, the virulent anti-Zionist and leader of American Reform Judaism in the late nineteenth century or the bi-nationalist (and Zionist) Martin Buber. Kohler stated that “the fundamental principle of Reform Judaism to be accentuated more than any other is that Judaism is no more a national religion than its God is a tribal God.” Buber strongly dissented against fundamental policies enacted by the fledgling Jewish State in 1947-48 such as the “Land Acquisitions Act” that permitted the state to confiscate Arab property simply for purposes of “development.” This was not simply a disagreement of policy. The “Land Acquisition Act” was a central tenet of the Jewish nation-state and the source of at least part of the present conflict. Buber was thus protesting against the very form the state was taking.

Kohler’s position that Jews are a people and not a nation, thus not deserving of a state (concretized in the 1885 Pittsburgh Platform), and Buber’s biblical humanism as the source of his bi-nationalism would draw the ire of Rosenfeld today. But what I want to underscore here is that both Kohler the anti-Zionist, and Buber the bi-nationalist, have more in common with Kook, the founder of settler Judaism, than they do with either Rosenfeld or Bogdanor. Why? Because Kohler, Buber, Wasserman, and Kook all assume an intimate and inextricable connection between Jews and the Jewish classical tradition that seems absent in both Rosenfeld and Bogdanor’s analysis.

It is surely true that the Jews-Judaism connection can yield positions very different from the anti-Zionism of Wasserman and Kohler, or the bi-nationalism of Buber, but that is not the point. It is also not the case that everyone who uses Judaism to create a position about “the Jews” is legitimate. It is only to say that “dissent” against Jewish behavior toward the non-Jew or questioning whether Jewish sovereignty more generally is “good for the Jews” has a long history in “Judaism” with strong, albeit not definitive, theological foundations. One needn’t agree with any of these positions but one cannot simply dismiss them either. That is, unless the identity of the Jews has nothing to do with Judaism.

One of the premises of most positions that emerge from the Jewish tradition is that the Jewish people must answer to their tradition (and, in doing so, respond to the covenant). Whether focusing on biblical, prophetic, rabbinic, philosophic, or kabbalistic Judaism, each community makes their case from these theological positions and not in spite of them. As I read them, Rosenfeld and Bogdanor do not think Jews have to answer to anything that would temper their secular nationalist agenda of “the Jews.” Rather, it is the world that has to answer – and can never fully answer – to the Holocaust, an event which underlies the exceptionalist argument that seems to frame their side of the debate. For Rosenfeld, Bogdanor, et al, anti anti-Semitism has become, in a sense, their “religion,” defined here as the engine that drives their argument.

This may be one reason why we seem to be talking past one another. I come from a place where Judaism (construed very widely to include theology, culture, humanism et al) cannot be severed from “the Jews.” In fact, for me, “the Jewish people” is itself a theological construct. By that I mean that “the Jews” only exist in and through a covenant with God (however one understands that). Thus, to talk about the Jewish people divorced from Judaism is empty for me. To (re) construct “the Jews” from anti-Semitism, making the Jewish nation-state the centerpiece of Jewish identity, is, in my view, a sad consequence of a Jewish modernity in which Judaism no longer speaks to the Jews.

Moreover, basing Jewish identity on anti-Semitism may itself be anti-Zionist. Most Zionists and contemporary Israelis would reject such a negative foundation of their identity. Indeed, for most Israelis and for people like myself who have spent large parts of their lives living in Israel, Israel is a country, not their identity. What Jewish sense of self they have comes from elsewhere.

Perhaps Bogdanor and I represent two very different manifestations of Jewish modernity, so different that we no longer share enough to have a constructive debate. I hope this is not the case, but given Paul Bogdanor’s response to my essay I am frankly not that optimistic.

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