Saturday, July 4, 2009


Background In November 1947, Palestine was partitioned by the United Nations into a Jewish state and an Arab state with Jerusalem administered by the UN. Following its independence and subsequent war with Jordan and Egypt, 78% of Palestine was now in Israel's hands. Following the war of 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem and continues to do so today.While the concept of Zionism, of a Jewish state for Jews, had its detractors before the foundation of Israel, these objections were rooted in philosophy rather than in practice. The actualization of Zionism over the last 61 years has been another matter altogether.Align CenterDefinitions of anti-Zionism range from the religious to the political, an inflammable debate not likely to be resolved any time soon. My own definition of anti-Zionism is neither anti-semitic nor does it call for the destruction or elimination of the state of Israel. It simply asserts that it is impossible for a Jewish state to be democratic. If Israel is a democratic state, then it belongs to all its citizens, at least 20% of whom are not Jews. A democratic state does not withhold equal rights from those of its citizens who are not Jewish.

The tide is turning American Jews could turn a blind eye to the Occupation, and they did—for forty years—but Gaza, a tipping point, was much more difficult to ignore. American Jews have been forced into rethinking the unthinking, ingrained support of Israel which in turn is loosening the iron grip that AIPAC, the powerful Jewish lobby, has had on Congress and on Jewish institutions in this country. Recently, young Jews came together in New York for a program calledLove, Hate and the Jewish State, sponsored by several leading Jewish organizations, to facilitate discussions about the alienation and pain that Israel’s behavior is causing this younger generation, discussions that arguably will lead many of them to resolve their dilemmas by replacing their Zionism with anti-Zionism, or at least with non-Zionism. Where might these “new” Jews find solidarity if they do make that transition?

Anti-Zionism can produce strange bedfellows. My guests for this Tidings radio program (July 2, 2009) are both Jewish, curiously both with the family name Weiss and both self-described anti-Zionists. They have arrived at this self-description from two radically distinct starting points--one secular and one deeply religious.

Philip Weiss Philip Weiss is a 53-year old New York journalist, author of two books and articles in several leading magazines. For the past three and a half years he has blogged on the Middle East and Jewish identity on Mondoweiss, his increasingly influential blog not least because it provides a gathering place, a safe haven for "secret sharing," for Jews who are struggling with the tension between the image of Israel as a special place for Jews that they grew up with and the image of the militaristic, brutal occupier that Israel increasingly presents to the world.

It is in part a generational tension, a conflict between the tribal elders and the more integrated, assimilated younger generations. What we are seeing is American Jewish identity in transition as the insular, introspective orientation of "What is good for the Jews?" gives way to a more modern, humanistic, international question: "What is good for everyone?"It is a transition that is causing consternation and even panic among the tribal elders, especially within the powerful Israel lobby AIPAC. An interregnum tumult that is complex and often opaque, we are witnessing a reframing of Zionism, the blogsphere alive and unleashed with vitriol and scholarship, as events in Washington and Tel-Aviv are minutely and obsessively observed and analysed, with Mondoweiss and Jewish Peace News invaluable, authoritative sources of such reporting and commentary.It is easier now for American Jews, confused by the conundrum of being a PEP, ("progressive except on Palestine") to find solidarity with others who demand the same human rights for Palestinians as they would for any minority in the United States, or elsewhere in the world. Philip Weiss articulates his own personal role as one that includes responsibility for the Jews and Israelis:

It’s caused a cycle of brutalization…I am able and many Israeli Jews in the United States are able and should display leadership toward Israelis who have no concept of minority rights and no window at all on what they have done to their society…it’s a human rights disaster that they have had the largest power in creating…and they don’t know what to do about it.

I felt some degree of Jewish responsibility (after visiting Gaza) I can work as a writer and work on my country but I also need to work for my people to wake them up to what’s happening.

Rabbi Weiss Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss is a member of the Neturei Karta organization, a world-wide group of deeply orthodox Jews who believe that Zionism is "a terrible stain on Judaism", a corruption of the fundamental tenets of the Jewish religion. I met the rabbi in Brooklyn at a large Palestinian rally. Walking single file into a hall packed with young, educated flag-waving Palestinians, a group of black-garbed, bearded, orthodox Jewish men made a dramatic entry. Intrigued, I approached them to ask why they had come. Was it to support the Palestinians or to demonstrate against them?

Rabbi Weiss told me why his people oppose Zionism, starting with Theodore Herzl and the Zionist movement as rejecting and belittling Judaism, rebelling against God, replacing religion with nationalism and the metaphysical with the material:Further, he explained, it is written that God made the Jews swear three oaths binding them during their exile, all of which have been flouted by Zionism: not to return en masse to the Holy Land, not to rebel against the nations of the world and not to attempt ending the exile, that is returning to Israel, by their own actions, rather than as decreed by God.

Where Phil Weiss' articulates his secular mission as helping Israelis by "waking them up to what's happening", the deeply orthodox religion solution from Neturei Karta, as told to me by Rabbi Weiss, is contrition and restitution:

Being that the land of Palestine was inhabited, you’re going to destroy those people, destroy their lives… This in itself, the Torah says you’re not allowed to steal even half a penny from another human being. This flies in the face of the Torah. Every concept of the Torah gets breached by stealing this land from the Palestinian people.

What does the Rabbi want Israel to do?

It has to be one state but the speedy and total dismantlement, total dissolution of the state of Israel... The course is to approach the leadership of the Palestinian people, whoever their leaders are, to profusely apologize for the wrongs done to them, to work on a course of restitution of paying back the damages, returning the property and the houses, and ask them humbly if they would allow the Jewish people to live among them.

If Zionism is the problem, then any solution will require a profound reframing of the proposition that is Israel. Who is up to this task?


Zionism Under Attack is also available as a podcast. In the radio series Tidings from Hazel Kahan, it was produced by Tony Ernst and broadcast on WPKN on July 2, 2009 Tidings can be heard streaming live on the first Thursday of every month at 12 noon EST on, broadcasting from 89.5 Bridgeport, CT and WPKM 88.7 Montauk, NY. WPKN is an entirely listener-supported community radio station. Hazel Kahan is also the creator of leafages.