Reclaiming Judaism from Zionism

JVL Introduction

Leon Rosselson is in dialogue with Carolyn Karcher, the editor of Reclaiming Judaism from Zionism: Personal Stories of Transformation, conceived of as “a project that would bring my scholarship and my activism together”.

It was recently published in the US by Olive Branch Press.

This article was originally published by Medium.com on Wed 4 Sep 2019. Read the original here.

Reclaiming Judaism from Zionism: Stories of personal transformation

In this powerful collection of personal narratives, forty American Jews of diverse backgrounds tell a wide range of stories about the roads they have travelled from a Zionist world view to activism in solidarity with Palestinians and Israelis striving to build an inclusive society founded on justice, equality and peaceful coexistence.

The book was published this year by OLIVE BRANCH PRESS in the States, an imprint of Interlink Publishing Group, Inc.

It is compiled and edited by Carolyn L. Karcher who is professor emerita of English, American studies, and Women’s Studies at Temple University, Philadelphia, where she taught for 21 years and received the Great Teacher Award and the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching in 2002. She is the author of Shadow over the Promised Land: Slavery, Race and Violence in Melville’s America (1980): The First Woman in the Republic: A Cultural Biography of Lydia Maria Child (1994); and A Refugee from His Race: Albion W. Tourgée and His Fight against White Supremacy (2016).

What follows is an online interview by Leon Rosselson with the editor, Carolyn Karcher.


How did this book come about? Whose idea was it and why did you think that now was a good time for it to be published?

My perspective on US history was deeply influenced by the movement against the Vietnam War, during which I came of age, and by the civil rights and feminist movements. Thus, throughout my career as an academic and well into my retirement from teaching, my scholarship focused on the struggle against slavery, white supremacy, Native American dispossession, and patriarchy in the US.
Over the years, the parallels between settler colonialism in the US and in Israel became increasingly obvious to me. Especially after the founding of our local DC Metro chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, Palestine solidarity work became the main arena of my activism. After publishing my last full-length book in 2016. I asked my mentor, H. Bruce Franklin, to help me think of a project that would bring my scholarship and my activism together, and he suggested the idea of collecting personal narratives by people who, like me, had been brought up as Zionists and had come to recognise the deleterious consequences of Zionist ideology: the massive ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, the ongoing destruction of Palestinian communities and theft of their land, the transformation of Israel into a garrison state that maintains its hegemony through perpetual warfare. Israel’s 2014 war against Gaza opened the eyes of thousands and prompted a shift in public opinion that has been accelerating ever since, so it looked like a propitious time to publish a book that could encourage readers to rethink Zionism.


How did you set about finding the contributors? The contributions are assembled under 5 headings: Rabbinic Voices; Transformative Experiences in Israel/Palestine; Voices from the Campuses; Progressive Values Versus Zionism; Reflections of Leading Organisers. Did you have those subject headings in mind before you received the contributions or was it a way of organising the contributions after you’d received them?

Finding contributors was not terribly difficult. Once I began engaging in Palestine solidarity work and attending national meetings of Jewish Voice for Peace, I met more and more people who had interesting stories to tell about how and why their perspectives on Israel and Zionism had changed. Whenever I heard a speech at a public event or ran across an op-ed or letter to the editor that sounded as though the author would be a promising contributor, I followed up. I also asked contributors to recommend others. The hard part was finding non-Ashkenazi and young contributors, the latter because I no longer had contacts with college students after my retirement in 2002. Rachel Sandalow-Ash, the founder of Open Hillel, put me in touch with most of the college-age contributors. The leaders of the Jews of Colour/Sephardi/Mizrahi Caucus (JOCSM) associated with JVP posted my call for submissions on Facebook, but that proved insufficient. The only method that worked was personal solicitation of individuals and of colleagues they recommended. Even this method failed to net any Jews of Colour (most of whom are the product of mixed marriages and who constitute 10% of the American Jewish population).

Initially, I did not plan to group contributions under subject headings, though I did intend to place the rabbis’ contributions at the head of the book. It became clear from publishers’ submissions instructions that chapter divisions would be essential, however, so I then tried to come up with chapter titles that made sense and to group the contributions accordingly.

Did you consider asking a rabbi from Neturei Karta to contribute?

As you know, I mention Neturei Karta in my Introduction, but no, I never thought of asking one of their rabbis to contribute. My book is aimed first and foremost at Jews who are progressive except on Palestine, and such readers would not be likely to respond favourably to an essay by a Neturei Karta rabbi. JVP refuses to ally with them on the grounds that they do not share its members’ core values and hold very retrograde views on women, gender, and sexuality. My own opinion is that we can reprobate Neturei Karta’s views on these matters while recognising that its rabbis’ stand against the state of Israel is very principled. They attend all the demonstrations that my comrades and I do, and I have had good conversations with them. Still, I do not think they belong in my book, which I designed as a collection of personal narratives by Jews describing how they came to reject the Zionist beliefs that all but two of the contributors originally held. I chose the format of personal narratives because I have found them to be more effective in opening readers’ hearts and minds than arguments or facts. The rabbis of Neturei Karta would not have fit this format.

Given the consequences of rejecting Zionism, some of which you describe in your Afterword — ‘alienating family members, losing friends and enduring expulsion from Jewish communal spaces’ — were any of those you asked to contribute wary of going public?

The only person I can recall who was wary was someone who was working for J Street and who still considered herself a Zionist. She withdrew. Everyone else had already experienced these consequences and was therefore ready to go public.

Did you have any problems finding a publisher?

Indeed, finding a publisher was much harder than I had anticipated, unlike my previous experience with academic presses. I first thought the book would have a better chance of selling if I published it with a press that had a broad progressive audience not specifically associated with the Palestinian question. Almost none of those presses answered my letters of inquiry, however. Of the very few that did, one said it didn’t have the capacity adequately to promote a book on this subject, another said the book was too long, and the third, Interlink, eagerly snapped it up. Interlink has proved to be the ideal publisher, as committed to the book’s success as I am and tireless in promoting it.

Have you had hostile reviews? Was it reviewed in the New York Times? The Nation? What was the response of the mainstream Jewish organisations?

Although I hired a professional publicist, even she was unable to get the book reviewed in the New York Times or any other mainstream newspaper. And despite follow-up by Interlink, the Nation, too, has ignored the book. I did get excellent reviews in the Progressive, in Mondoweiss, and in the newsletter of the local Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s Palestine/Israel Network, as well as on Amazon. I also heard that someone planned to review the book in the Forward, but so far I haven’t seen any sign of this review. The only hostile “review” the book has received is by someone who admitted at the outset that he hadn’t read it, saying that he had managed to read Mein Kampf from cover to cover but couldn’t read my book. His “review” is instead an attack on what he calls “tikkunism,” or the ethic of tikkun olam as defined by progressive Jews. The mainstream Jewish organisations seem to have simply ignored the book, but I did get interviewed by ‘Unorthodox,’ described as ‘the leading Jewish podcast,’ put out by Tablet magazine, a mainstream Jewish publication. The interviewer seemed quite friendly and said he had liked many, though not all, of the narratives in the book.

Though most of the contributors are from an Ashkenazi background, there are some Mizrahi and Sephardi testimonies. I found those particularly telling since they remind us that Zionism is not the ideology of Jews worldwide but only of one section of world Jewry, the Jews living in Eastern Europe and, in its early stages, a minority of those. Their testimonies remind us also that Zionism is not only racist towards non-Jews but also towards the wrong sort of Jews — those from Arab and North African countries. How important was it to you that these ‘other’ Jews should be represented in the book?

It was vital to me to include a critical mass of Sephardi/Mizrahi voices in the book. In fact, Rebecca Vilkomerson, Executive Director of JVP, urged me to do so. The JOCSM Caucus had recently been formed, and under its influence, JVP had begun to examine Ashkenazi-centrism and racism within its ranks. Thus, both Rebecca and I wanted my book to reflect the self-criticism our organisation was undergoing. The narratives by Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews revealed perspectives on Israel and Zionism very different from those of Ashkenazi Jews, so the process of seeking them out and incorporating them into the book was truly educational. As you say, these contributors had all experienced the racism of Ashkenazi Jewish Israelis toward them, leading them to see that, contrary to Zionist ideology, Israel did not offer all Jews a haven against persecution.

Shlomo Sand, the Israeli historian, has written about how he stopped being a Jew. Israel defines his nationality as Jewish because his mother was Jewish and he cannot have Israeli nationality because there is no Israeli nationality. His position is that he is not a Jew because he is not religious and ’there is no (Jewish) cultural baggage that is not religious’. Does he have a point? Is there a Jewish identity not based on either religion or Zionism or both? And do you think that some of the book’s contributors attempt to answer that question?

Frankly, I did not find Shlomo Sand’s gesture of renouncing his Jewish identity politically useful. Whether or not a person of Jewish heritage — particularly an Israeli — defines himself as Jewish does not exempt him from the responsibility all Jewish people bear for the crimes against the Palestinian people perpetrated in our name. Just as I, as an American, cannot escape responsibility for my country’s crimes by changing my nationality, neither can Shlomo Sand or any other Jewish person escape responsibility for Israel’s and Zionism’s crimes by ceasing to define himself as a Jew. Only by renouncing Zionism and fighting in solidarity with Palestinians for justice, equality, and peaceful coexistence for all the inhabitants of Israel/Palestine can one fulfil that responsibility in a politically useful way.

This said, I have found Sand’s books The Invention of the Jewish People and The Invention of the Land of Israel very illuminating. I would agree that he has demonstrated convincingly that Jews cannot be considered a single people with a common language, culture, or ethnic identity. I would also agree that what Jews around the world have in common with each other is only the body of sacred texts on which their ancestral religion is founded. Whether or not they believe in these sacred texts, however, all the Jews I know cling to a sense of Jewish identity. I have the impression that this is as true for my Sephardi/Mizrahi contributors as for Ashkenazis, and statements I have read by Ethiopian Jews suggest that it is equally true for them. If so — and if this applies as well to Indian, Chinese, or other Jewish populations — I would guess that the experience of being a small minority may have something to do with Jews’ attachment to a sense of identity that can’t be reduced to religious faith. Or perhaps the tribal origins of Judaism may be the cause. Clearly, Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, Hindus, or Muslims who have ceased to believe in their religious tenets don’t have quite the same attachment to an “identity” rooted in their religious heritage.

The question that some of the book’s contributors wrestle with is not so much whether there is ‘a Jewish identity not based on either religion or Zionism or both,’ but rather, how to reconstruct Judaism once it has been extricated from Zionism. Of course, the rabbinic contributors devote most attention to this issue. Rabbi Brant Rosen, for example, writes of developing ‘Diasporist religious rituals’ and defines the ‘new Jewish Diasporism’ as simultaneously seeking ‘to recover the classically Jewish vision of a global peoplehood’ and rejecting ‘the narrow particularism of old’ in favour of ‘solidarity, the building of bridges and the crossing of borders.’ Rabbi Michael Davis describes trying to make his synagogue ‘an open Jewish community’ that welcomes his own support of BDS, allows ‘non-Zionists to pray alongside Zionists,’ and accepts ‘the range of opinion that people have but are not allowed to speak.’ Rabbi Alissa Wise writes of the need to create a ‘proud, vibrant, diasporic Judaism that creates a sense of belonging, of community, and of purpose independent of the state of Israel’ while ‘also stand[ing] proudly shoulder to shoulder with liberation movements of all kinds.’ Though Rabbi Linda Holtzman does not address this issue in her narrative, she has told me that her next project will be a book on Judaism after Zionism. Among the other contributors, Tali Ruskin recognises that ‘unwavering support and love for Israel’ has become such ‘a deeply entrenched pillar of institutional Jewish communities’ that it would precipitate ‘a fundamental existential crisis’ to remove that pillar. ‘But we must do it,’ she concludes: ‘As a community, we need to get back to the basics of loving our neighbour as ourselves — that is valuing the humanity and self-determination of Palestinians and all peoples as highly as our own.’ Hasia Diner asserts that ‘Judaism — the texts, their ethical underpinnings, the idea of a cycle of holy time that separates holiness from the mundane — have come to be more meaningful’ to her, and ‘more spiritually intense . . . than when all religious practice seemed to pivot around Israel.’

Contributors who, like me, are completely secular, do not want to adopt any kind of religious practice, but we do embrace the ethical principles at the heart of Judaism, and we find a ‘sense of belonging, of community, and of purpose’ in working in solidarity with Palestinians and other oppressed peoples for universal liberation.


Very many contributors attribute their move away from Zionism to the realisation that the Jewish state offends against what they consider to be essential Jewish values: the search for justice (citing, in particular, Deuteronomy Tzedek, tzedek tirdof — ‘Justice, justice, you shall pursue’), and the injunctions to welcome the stranger (‘You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger for you were strangers in Egypt’) and to heal or repair the world (Tikkun Olam). These values are also noted on the back cover — ‘love the stranger, pursue justice, and repair the world’. But isn’t it dangerous to base any argument or belief on selected extracts from the Torah since it wouldn’t be difficult to find evidence that supports the opposite? After all, the complete quotation can be used to sanctify Zionism’s colonising project: ‘Justice, justice you shall pursue so that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.’ And, as one of your contributors points out, the Torah is full of atrocities and genocides committed against ’the stranger’. Wouldn’t it be enough to say that, with their history of persecution, Jews should always be on the side of the oppressed, which is what my parents told me? And is wanting to heal the world special to Jews? Don’t all peoples of goodwill want to save the world?

All religions contain strands promoting bigotry and hatred of the Other intertwined with strands encouraging tolerance and love. Even Buddhism, so long held up as a religion of compassion and peace, is now prompting its priests and followers to commit atrocities against Muslims in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. In nineteenth-century America, southern religious leaders quoted the Old and New Testaments to prove that slavery was God-ordained, while abolitionists’ Christian faith inspired them to brave mob violence and ostracism in fighting against slavery. Similarly, today some Israeli rabbis quote the Torah to advocate enslaving or exterminating Palestinians, while others, like those in my collection, quote it to advocate treating Palestinians as brothers and sisters created in God’s image. What do we gain by rejecting the Torah in its entirety because some portions justify ‘atrocities and genocides committed against “the stranger”’ that other portions exhort us to love? Given that most people seem to need religion, isn’t it preferable to salvage religious texts that teach believers to love rather than to hate? As for the quotation you cite — ‘Justice, justice you shall pursue so that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you’ (Deut. 16: 20) — it actually conditions God’s gift of the land on the people’s pursuit of justice; by implication, if you don’t pursue justice, you won’t thrive and won’t be able to occupy the land God is giving you. This conditionality restricts rather than sanctifies Zionism’s colonising project.

As someone who does not ground her ethical values in religion, I sympathise with your effort to find alternative bases for solidarity with the oppressed. I would nevertheless argue that people need to be motivated by the principles that are most meaningful to them. For some, those principles must be couched in the language of their own religious tradition, for others in the language of progressive ideals or universal humanism.


As is shown in the book, anyone who criticises Israel, let alone departs from Zionism, is going to be subjected to a level of hostility and abuse that seems to me quite irrational. Being called a Kapo or told that you should have died in the gas chambers is just the start of it. It seems impossible to have a rational conversation about Israel and many of the contributors say that when it comes to friends and family, it’s best not to talk about Palestine/Israel at all. Why do you think that Zionists react so violently, as if in a panic, as if their very identity is at stake? You probably know that Corbyn, who has a track record of campaigning against racism and for justice for Palestinians, has been subjected to accusations of antisemitism by the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel which have reached, at times, a hysterical level as when 3 Jewish newspapers published the same article declaring that Jews faced ‘an existential threat’ under a Labour government led by Corbyn. Which is risible. What is it about Israel, as I asked in a previous blog, that addles the brains of otherwise level-headed human beings?

Having been created by secular Jews, Zionism offered Jews a new basis for their identity: one no longer tied to their religion but rather to their nationality, the claim that Jews constituted a ‘nation.’ (As noted above, this is the claim that Shlomo Sand has debunked.) Hence, Zionists are right to feel that ‘their very identity is at stake’ when Zionism is called into question. The charge that Jews who criticise Israel or renounce Zionism are Kapos who ‘should have died in the gas chambers’ suggests that the trauma of the Holocaust continues to exert a powerful influence. Zionist ideology exploits the Holocaust to stoke fear that another such episode of genocidal persecution can occur at any moment and to reinforce the claim that Israel provides the sole refuge from the next Holocaust. This propaganda works because the trauma is real.

I think something else may also be involved. It is becoming more and more apparent that Zionist ideology is built on lies. Thanks to the past few decades of historical research and the recent emergence of the internet, it is no longer possible for Israel to deny the reality of the Nakba or to keep news of such phenomena as home demolitions, the imprisonment of Palestinian children, the deliberate shooting of unarmed Palestinian protesters, or even the discrimination against Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews from leaking out. Israel’s shift to the extreme right has shattered its image as a socialist utopia, which once seduced many progressives. Its embrace of fascist, antisemitic regimes as its best allies has shown that Zionist ideology leads inevitably toward the Jewish state’s becoming the image of the very enemies against which it was created to protect Jews. In short, the violence, viciousness, and hysteria of Zionist attacks on all who dare to criticise Israel may reflect a perception that Zionists are losing the battle for public opinion.

An indirect confirmation of this hypothesis can be found in the 4-part TV documentary The Lobby, an undercover exposé of the pro-Israel lobby filmed by Al Jazeera, but suppressed by Qatar under pressure from Zionist organisations. (It can be downloaded from the Electronic Intifada website.) A spokesperson for one of the Zionist groups covered in the film is secretly recorded as saying: ‘You discredit the message by discrediting the messenger.’ I interpret this as a tacit admission that Zionists realise they have no valid arguments with which to refute their critics’ message.

There are suggestions in the book that the younger generation of American Jews, no longer imprisoned in a cage of eternal victimhood and fear of another Holocaust, are moving away from unthinking support for Israel and Zionism. How true is this?

It is absolutely true that the younger generation of American Jews, typified both by those in the Voices from the Campuses section of the book and by members of IfNotNow, are ‘no longer imprisoned in a cage of eternal victimhood and fear of another Holocaust,’ and that they are consequently ‘moving away from unthinking support for Israel and Zionism.’ Many young Jews champion the cause of Palestinians because they believe, as you say above, that ‘with their history of persecution’ (at least in Christian Europe), ‘Jews should always be on the side of the oppressed.’ Interestingly, the collective memory of the Holocaust also impels young Jews to fight to prevent any other people from being subjected to similar persecution. This is most obvious in young Jews’ use of the slogan ‘Never Again Is Now’ as they demand that the US government ‘Close the Camps’ in which Latin American refugees are being incarcerated for crossing the border to apply for asylum. In fact, the August 25th New York Times contains an editorial by columnist Michelle Goldberg, ‘Trump Revives the Jewish Left,’ in which she describes the emergence of the umbrella group Never Again Action as a ‘reaction to the perceived failures of mainstream Jewish organisations’ to stand up against the white nationalism and anti-immigrant frenzy that Trump is fuelling. Tellingly, she notes that these mainstream organisations condemn ‘disrespecting the memory of the Holocaust’ by drawing analogies between immigrant detainment camps and concentration camps. Nothing better sums up the contrast between the ways the memory of the Holocaust is used by progressive Jews and the Zionist establishment.

There isn’t, as far as I can remember, one mention of the IHRA definition of antisemitism in the book. This is surprising to me because here it is a highly contentious issue. It has been adopted by local councils, the police, Trade Unions, universities and, after high-pitched pressure from the Zionist lobby, by the Labour Party — which leaves the Green Party as the only political party not to have succumbed, so far, to the bullying. Corbyn & his allies seemed to think, naively, that conceding on this issue would stop the accusations of antisemitism in the Labour Party. The acceptance of this definition, which conflates anti-Zionism with antisemitism is now having its intended effect of closing down public space for free speech on Palestine/Israel. Pressure has been put on venues to cancel pro-Palestine meetings, a university cancelled Israel Apartheid week and recently Tower Hamlets Council refused to host The Big Cycle Ride for Palestine (which raises money for traumatised children in Gaza) because, they said, it breached the IHRA definition. Is there not an argument about this in the States?

Of course pro-Israel organisations in the States are also trying hard to force the IHRA definition of antisemitism on our institutions, but so far we have been quite successful in opposing this effort. I think the existence here of a large grassroots Jewish movement that has built an extensive coalition with other pro-Palestinian solidarity groups and has waged legal battles against conflating anti-Zionism with antisemitism has helped prevent the IHRA definition from taking hold. In case it’s of use to you in combating the use of the IHRA definition in the UK, JVP’s curated volume, On Antisemitism, Solidarity and the Struggle for Justice, opens with an essay by Antony Lerman, ‘Antisemitism Redefined’, that identifies ‘Mossad representatives working out of Israeli embassies’ as responsible for changing the definition of antisemitism and ‘establishing Israeli hegemony over the monitoring and combating of antisemitism’.

The controversy here has focused primarily on BDS. Twenty-seven states have passed anti-BDS laws, and the US Congress has also been trying to do so, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been challenging them in court as unconstitutional because they violate the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. To get around the ACLU, the House of Representatives recently passed an anti-BDS resolution that lacks the penalties and mechanisms of enforcement an actual law would have (see below).


Time was when liberal Zionists, non-Zionists and anti-Zionists could gather under the same banner: End the Occupation. Not any more. The peace talks and the two-state solution are dead, as sensible liberal Zionists will admit. Something I learned from your Afterword is that there is a document in the declassified Israeli archives that proves that Israeli government decisions in 1967 had already locked in the colonisation of the West Bank. But in any case, it soon became clear that the Oslo Accords were, as Edward Said and other Palestinians predicted, a disaster for the Palestinians, that the peace talks were a facade to enable Israel’s entrenchment of its settlement project and that Israel had no intention of allowing a viable Palestinian state. So what is my question, you are probably wondering.

Well, here’s one question. Should a serious political party advocate a policy on Israel/Palestine that is clearly delusional? Because that is the position of the Labour Party. Peace talks and a two-state solution, as my Labour MP keeps assuring me, is what is needed to solve the conflict. This is also the policy of Labour Friends of Israel of whom there are many, including the very Zionist Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry. No mention of the right of return for Palestinian refugees but the recognition of a Palestinian state, which is, in my view, a meaningless gesture. And no-one is asking why Palestinians should accept a fragmented state on 22% of its land which would never be more than a vassal state of Israel.

The British Labour Party is not alone in advocating a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as ‘delusional’ as that might seem to those of us who recognise that the two-state solution is dead. The US Democratic Party and the vast majority of its congressional Representatives and Senators likewise proclaim their adherence to the two-state solution. A few weeks ago, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning BDS that all but seventeen members supported; the progressives who voted for it did so on the grounds (stated in the resolution) that BDS imperilled the two-state solution. In response, twenty-one members of the Israeli Knesset, including some high-ranking members of the government, signed a letter criticising the resolution’s endorsement of the two-state solution because, they claimed, a Palestinian state would constitute a greater danger to Israel than BDS! As Israel becomes more and more vocal about its longstanding but hitherto discreetly veiled opposition to a two-state solution — and as the grassroots Palestine solidarity movement gains in strength — both the British Labour Party and the US Democratic Party are going to have to reevaluate their stances.

More generally my question is this. Isn’t it time to focus not only on the injustices of 1967 but also the injustices of 1948? In other words, to challenge the nature of the Jewish state itself, its discriminatory laws against the 20% of its citizens who are defined as a demographic threat, its built-in racism and social and economic inequalities, its sham democracy. My impression, reading the contributions in your book, is that the focus is very much on the occupation of the West Bank & the siege of Gaza. And if the only just solution is one secular state with equal rights for all, I can’t recall if that is anywhere clearly stated in the book. The writers no longer subscribe to Zionist ideology but there seems to be a point beyond which it is considered unwise to go. I was struck by the declaration of one contributor because it seems to me out of line in that it is so clearly and firmly expressed. Let me be clear: I’m not non-Zionist; I’m anti-Zionist. I cannot accept an ideology that calls for the perpetual dispossession of the Palestinian people so that I or any other Jewish person can enjoy unfettered access to privileges and resources in a state built on stolen land. The privileging of Jews over Palestinians in Israel-Palestine is not a mistake of Zionism — it is its goal.

I am very surprised that you interpret my book as focused solely on the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza and not on ‘the nature of the Jewish state itself.’ If that were so, why would the contributors bother to renounce Zionism? True, they do not spell out that ‘the only just solution is one secular state with equal rights for all,’ but there are two good reasons for that: first, it is up to the people of Israel/Palestine, not to outsiders, to formulate the solution, our job as Americans being instead to change US public opinion and US policy, so that our government ceases to provide Israel with military aid and diplomatic cover; and second, in keeping with the character of the book as a collection of personal narratives (see above), I asked the contributors to concentrate on telling their own stories. On the back cover of the book, however, I say that the contributors stand ‘in solidarity with Palestinians and Israelis striving to build an inclusive society founded on justice, equality, and peaceful coexistence.’ Let me also cite passages from the book itself that seem to me to focus clearly on ‘the injustices of 1948’ and to point beyond any two-state solution. Rabbi Brant Rosen says: ‘[T]his movement that sought to end Jewish exile has exiled another people in the process. The state of Israel was created through the expulsion of the Palestinians, who today live under military occupation, as second-class citizens in their own land, or else in a Diaspora of their own — as refugees or citizens of other countries — and are forbidden to return to their homes’ (6–7). Rabbi Michael Davis says: ‘From the State of Israel’s own declaration of independence that announces the formation of a Jewish state, through the state’s basic laws (the building blocks of an Israeli constitution) that favour Jews over non-Jews, to state institutions that restrict land ownership for non-Jews, the State of Israel officially privileges Jews and discriminates against non-Jews’ (23–24). Emily Siegel says: ‘What the exact solution is is not for me to define. . . . However, today I understand that peace cannot come without justice and that it must bring freedom, justice, and equality for us all, not just some. I am also proud to proclaim that I am anti-Zionist; as such, I believe that solidarity is the true path to safety and liberation for everyone and that it offers the only way for us to fight against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and all forms of white supremacy’ (104). I say in my narrative: ‘With its diverse membership nationally and locally, JVP is trying to model the future society toward which we aspire: a society that has made the notion of a Jewish state obsolete by transcending ethno-religious divisions, universalising solidarity, and promoting freedom, equality, and justice for all’ (140). Alice Rothchild differentiates herself from the ‘good liberal Jews in the middle who are holding on to the idea that Israel can be Jewish and democratic and are not yet willing to face the deep contradictions within Zionist society’; these Jews, she says, call for ‘an end to the Israeli occupation without facing what I see as the core issue: Jewish privilege and its consequences’ (248). Hasia Diner asks: ‘What does “Jewish state” mean? Who has the power to determine its nature? Does “Jewish” constitute a race or an ethnicity, and as such, does a Jewish state mean a racial state? . . . [W]hat does that mean for the more than 20 percent of its people (excluding the residents of the occupied territories) who are not Jewish? If, I asked myself, it means their exclusion or relegation to second-class citizenship, how can I support it’ (300)? Finally, Rabbi Alissa Wise says: ‘We fervently believe that a future where everyone in Palestine-Israel is free and equal is only a matter of time’ (346).

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N.B. This is a timely and important book. Everyone who wants to challenge the conflation of antisemitism with anti-Zionism should read it. The personal narratives are informative, revealing and intellectually and emotionally engaging.

It can be bought on-line or from your local bookshop


Leon Rosselson

Written by Leon Rosselson, Singer/songwriter, children’s author. Here you will find provocative musings on songwriting, politics and life’s little ironies. http://leonrosselson.co.uk

Comments (1)

  • Philip Ward says:

    It is good to see the religious Jews are speaking out more and more about the oppression of the Palestinians. One thing I would remark on though, is the statement that “what Jews around the world have in common with each other is only the body of sacred texts on which their ancestral religion is founded”. This appears to ignore the fact that there is a large body of Jews who know almost nothing of their religious or of Jewish culture. This has partly happened through assimilation and (forced) migration. I am one of these people, the son of a German Jewish refugee, who herself was not religious and was assimilated until she was forced to flee and was culturally “more German than Jewish” – and I certainly have even less affinity with Jewish culture, religious or secular. What makes me Jewish is that, according Israeli law, I have the right to live there and that an anti-semite would consider me Jewish. I think there are a lot of people in my position and we are quite likely to get missed in surveys of Jewish attitudes etc., but to me those two factors are sufficient to qualify someone as Jewish.

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