ACJ and battles over Zionism inside Jewish social
by Allan Brownfeld
syndicated columnist, associate editor of The Lincoln
Review and the editor of Issues, the quarterly journal
of the American Council for Judaism. He is a
contributing editor to The Washington Report on Middle
East Affairs. Brownfeld served on the faculties of St. Stephen's
Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia, and the
University College of the University of Maryland. Mr.
Brownfeld has written for such newspapers as
The Houston Press, The Richmond Times Dispatch, The
Washington Evening Star, and The Cincinnati Enquirer.
His weekly column appeared for more than a
decade in Roll Call, the
newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have
also appeared in such journals
as The Yale Review, The Texas
Quarterly, the North American Review, Orbis and Modern
Age. Mr. Brownfeld served as a member of the
staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee
and also served as Assistant to the Research Director of
the House Republican Conference.
It's a great pleasure to be here and to meet many of my
longtime readers in the
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs with which
I have been associated—it seems like—for decades.
Now, we all
know that Zionism has distorted American policy in the
Middle East. At the same time, it has had a terribly
negative impact upon Jewish life in the United States
and throughout the world. And it is important to
remember that, historically, Zionism was a minority view
within Judaism, particularly in America.
organization whose journal I edit, the American Council
for Judaism, was established in 1942 and it was
established primarily because the established Jewish
organizations, which had previously opposed the concept
of Jewish nationalism, had changed course. So the
Council was organized to maintain this older view that,
first, Judaism is a religion, not a nationality, that
American Jews are American by nationality and Jews by
religion, just as other people are Protestant, Catholic,
This was the
view maintained by the vast majority of American Jews
all through history. In my opinion, it's the view of the
silent majority today. Zionism gained a foothold largely
because of the reaction to Naziism. Something had to be
done in the wake of the horror of Europe.
But I just want to give you a little bit of the history
so you understand where we're coming from. In 1841, at
the dedication of Temple Beth Elohim in Charleston,
South Carolina, the oldest reform synagogue in America,
Rabbi Gustav Posnanski declared, "This country is our
Palestine. This city is our Jerusalem. This house of God
is our temple."
when the Union of American Hebrew Congregations was
established in Pittsburgh, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, the
leading reform rabbi of the time, was instrumental in
writing what was called the "Pittsburgh Platform." In
it, he declared, "We consider ourselves no longer a
nation but a religious community and, therefore, expect
neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship
under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any laws
concerning the Jewish state."
One of the
leading Jewish theologians of the 20th century, Abraham
Joshua Heschel said, "Judaism is not a religion of space
and does not worship the soil. So true the state of
Israel is not the climax of Jewish history but a test of
the integrity of the Jewish people and the competence of
And in 1929, a respected Orthodox rabbi, Aaron Samuel
Tamarat wrote that the very notion of a sovereign Jewish
state as a spiritual center was a contradiction to
Judaism's ultimate purpose. He wrote, "Judaism is not
some religious concentration that can be localized or
situated in a single territory. Neither is Judaism a
nationality in the sense of modern nationalism, fit to
be woven into the threefoldedness of homeland, army, and
heroic songs. No, Judaism is Torah, ethics, an
exaltation of the spirit. If Judaism is truly Torah,
then it cannot be reduced to the confines of any
particular territory, for as scripture said of Torah,
it's measure is greater than the Earth."
It is my opinion that what has happened to American
Judaism has completely corrupted its religious nature.
What we are witnessing today, synagogues flying Israeli
flags, programs urging American Jews to immigrate to
Israel, their real homeland, is a form of idolatry,
making the sovereign state of Israel the object of
worship, rather than God.
In 1999, the
Union for Reformed Judaism adopted a resolution saying
Israel is central to our religion. Israel, not God. And
one of the prominent Zionists, Professor Wisse of
Harvard University, said at one time, "I would rather
surround myself with Jews who loved Israel and didn't
believe in God at all than with those who believed in
God and did not love Israel."
It is also
my view that Zionism is a subversive enterprise. What
would we, as Americans, think of any religious
institution in our society that flew a foreign flag in
its houses of worship, that told young Americans that
this is not really their homeland, that some place else
is their homeland, and that the highest form of their
religious expression is to immigrate to that country?
Now, I doubt that very many American Jews believe any of
that. Very few American Jews are immigrating to Israel,
yet their religious institutions manifest that
If you read
the Jewish press, whether the
Forward or the
Jewish Week or local Jewish papers in Los
Angeles or Cleveland, you get the feeling that you are
reading the papers of an expatriate community. It's as
if you were reading the papers of recent immigrants from
El Salvador who are reading about the daily events in
their home country and were being urged to return.
have been many distortions in American Jewish life.
Consider the hypocrisy of American Jewish organizations
which have gone to court to remove voluntary school
prayer from our schools, remove Christmas trees from our
schools, yet support a theocracy in Israel where there
is no separation of church and state. The Israel calls
itself a Jewish state, yet non-Orthodox Jews have fewer
rights in Israel than any place in the Western World.
Reformed rabbis have no right to perform weddings or
funerals. Conversions by reformed rabbis are not
recognized. Israel is not a free society with regard to
then arises, American Jewish organizations who have
dedicated themselves with such fervor to a strict
separation of church and state seem not really to
believe in separation of church and state when Jews are
a majority. It's interesting that when Thomas Jefferson
and James Madison wrote the Virginia Declaration of
Religious Freedom, they were not members of a persecuted
minority. They were people who believed in religious
freedom. One wonders if the American Jewish
establishment shares that belief.
Israel has infiltrated American Jewish life to the
extent when resolutions were proposed in Congress to
recognize the Armenian genocide by Turkey, Jewish
organizations led the crusade to remove that legislation
and defeat it because Israel, at that time, was allied
with Turkey. I suspect if the same resolution came up
today, these organizations might take a different,
itself, there is a growth of racism, there is a growth
of religious extremism. The book The King's Torah
was a bestseller. This is a book that said Jews and
non-Jews are basically different in nature, Jews are
much closer to God than non-Jews, who are referred to as
The Ten Commandments, thou shalt not kill, according to
this book, written by Orthodox rabbis whose yeshivas on
the occupied West Bank are financed by the Israeli
government, this book says that thou shalt not kill
refers only to one Jew killing another, not killing
non-Jews. In fact, it discusses the circumstances under
which it is all right to kill non-Jewish children,
religious extremism of the highest order. Rabbis have
made proclamations telling Jews in Israel not to rent
homes, apartments to non-Jews.
understand there's religious extremism in many parts of
the world. My point is why don't American Jews say a
word about this? Not a word of criticism of the racism
and extremism growing in Israel. It has distorted Jewish
values. It has distorted American Jewish life.
Now, I'm not
a pessimist because, as I said earlier, I believe that
the position I represent represents a silent majority of
American Jews, not those who are members of
AIPAC or the
American Jewish Committee.
But the vast majority of American Jews believe they are
Americans, believe that Judaism is their religion, do
not believe that Israel is their homeland. Zionism is in
retreat, in my opinion, within the Jewish community.
We've seen a number of events. Hillel foundations in
various parts of the country are rejecting the
guidelines set down by the Hillel Foundation officially.
And Eric Fingerhut, the former congressman from Ohio who
is now the head of Hillel, said, "According to our
guidelines, no anti-Zionists will be permitted to speak
at Hillel foundations." Mr. Fingerhut must not be aware
of the long tradition of Jewish opposition to Zionism
that I have just recited.
And do you
know this is nothing new among the established Jewish
community? When Napoleon invaded Russia and Napoleon was
bringing religious freedom to Russia, Napoleon tore down
the ghetto walls all over Europe. But the rabbis in
Russia supported the czar and opposed Napoleon because
if the ghetto walls were torn down and religious freedom
came to Russia, the authority of the rabbis would be
So among young people, there's a great belief in freedom
of speech, in freedom of debate, and a desire that moral
values, treating each individual with human dignity, be
applied everywhere: in Palestine, as well as in Israel,
as well as in our own country.
So I think
Zionism within the Jewish community is in retreat, and
time will tell whether I'm right. Thank you very much.
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