Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Magnes Zionist in the New York Times

Marc Oppenheimer wrote a nice piece in his Beliefs column in the New York Times for which I was interviewed. The piece features Stefan Krieger, Corey Robin, Rabbi Alissa Wise,  Danny Boyarin, Noam Pianko, and me.  The headline given to it was  “A Conflict of Faith: Devoted to Jewish Observance, but at Odds With Israel.”  In my case that’s a bit misleading. I do have a conflict, but not between Jewish observance and Israel.  I have a conflict because I am an Israeli; I live in a country that I believe is fundamentally flawed, despite the wonderful things it also possesses.  In my blog I only talk about the flaws, but that’s because they are fundamental. Perhaps I will post one day a list of my favorite things about Israel (hint: You wont’ find most of them in Ari Shavit’s new book.)

The piece says my religion leads me “to  oppose Israel.” That’s ambiguous; it could mean “oppose Israel’s policies” (yes) or “oppose  how the Jewish state was envisioned and came into being” (yes), or “oppose the very idea of a Jewish state” (that depends). No, I am not opposed to any Jewish state. As my colleague, Jerome Slater, has said, I don’t have a problem with a Jewish state – it’s this Jewish state I have a problem with. I can imagine Israel  evolving into a liberal state of all its citizens, a state that fosters both Hebrew culture and a connection with the Jewish people, and a state that sees its non-Jewish citizens as belonging with the Jews to the Israeli nation – a Hebrew (and Arabic) Republic, to use Bernard Avishai’s phrase. I can also see Israel/Palestine evolving into a binational state or a federation, or whatever. What I insist upon is that both peoples – the Israeli and the Palestinian – have maximum self-determination, maximum security, and maximum opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  And that cannot be done, in my opinion, within the framework of the current ethnically-exclusivist state that is mired in nineteenth religio-ethnic nationalism. Rightly called by Oren Yiftachel an “ethnocracy,” Israel presents itself to the world and to itself as a liberal democracy.  In fact, it is marching backward and not forward. 

My idea of a Jewish state is a state that Jews and Palestinians can be proud of, and that incorporates in its public space and public support elements of the Jewish and Palestinian cultural past.  With over five million Israeli Jews, I am not looking to de-Judaize the culture of the state of Israel. But I would separate religion and state, and when the Palestinian Israeli writer Sayed Kashua writes a column in Hebrew in Haaretz,  I, as an Israeli, celebrate my fellow Israeli as an Israeli writer, a member of the Israeli people. But the  phrase the Israeli people is one you will never hear in Israel – it’s only Am Yisrael, the Jewish people. And I don’t want a nation-state of the Jewish people in that sense.

But don’t the Jews have a right, like other peoples, to a state of their own? No they don’t, and neither do other peoples. Self-determination, yes; statehood, that depends – and never at the expense of other people’s rights, in this case, the natives of Palestine.

Anyway, my thanks to Marc Oppenheimer, and if the NY Times wants to get the interviewees together for a group shot, I’m game.

PS. In working on my blog before Shabbat, I inadvertently distributed an old post about Justice Goldstone. My bad; I was rushing for Shabbat.


Heidi Wilson said...

Jerry, please ship this piece off to the NY Times op-ed page instantly.

Unknown said...

BDS china. Cause of Tibet. And Turkey because of Cyprus.

Marty Federman said...

Thank you for your lucid response to Roger Cohen's misinformed view of BDS and its threat to the existence of Israel. It is particularly fitting that this response is posted on a blog called "The Magnes Zionist" since Magnes and his [good Zionist] colleagues [e.g., Martin Buber] argued for precisely the kind of bi-national state that Cohen says is impossible. Actually Cohen may be right about this, it may be a pipe dream that can no longer come into existence but might of if things had been done differently in their time. The sad reality is that Buber, for instance, described what he believed would happen if there wasn't a democratic bi-national state and his description was frighteningly prescient in projecting precisely the situation we now find ourselves in. So, thanks for your needed rebuttal.

Peter Schwartz said...

"But the Palestinians are double victims – first of being forced to leave their homeland by foreign settlers, and second by seeing their homes settled by Jewish refugees."

Not entirely clear on this double whammy. Jews were forced to leave by governments that were presumably theirs. Arguably, that's worse, but it's hard to measure these things.

Second, who is occupying their old homes other than, say, non-Jewish Egyptians, etc. What's the difference here?

Jerry Haber said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jerry Haber said...


You clearly have not read much about the "Jewish refugees" from Arab lands. Jews, for the most part, were not "driven out" of Arab countries, and the Zionist movement did not view them as refugees but as returning to their Jewish homeland. Yes, for many life was miserable, and laws and policies in those countires were discriminatory, because the Arab governments racistly wanted to punish Jews in their country for the sins of the Zionists in another country. But it was in the Zionist interest for them to immigrate to Israel (many did not), and Zionists did all they could to encourage them to immigrate.

So who suffered from forced emigration of Jews from Arab lands? The Jews themselves, of course, but really the Palestinians, since they were prevented from returning to their homes, which were now occupied by Jews. I don't want to minimize the suffering and the anguish of people who leave their country. And the Mizrahim have not been well-absorbed into Israel.

But the fundamental difference is that no Arab country bars the return of Jewish refugees, whereas Israel will not let in a single one. And why not?

Because Egypt would have stayed Egypt had all the Jews stayed. But Israel could not have stayed Israel had the Palestinians stayed -- so expelling the Palestinians and replacing them with Jews was part of a national ethos that remains to this day.

In any event, all refugees should have the return to return their country, whether it is the Jews to North Africa or the Palestinians to Israel. It should be up to them to decide whether this is worthwhile. And no refugee bears any responsibility for the sins of the governments.

Not convinced? Here's a good piece to start with:

Rabbi Mordechai Martin Goodman said...

Please read and tell me what you think of my framework for peace?

David said...

As has been stated numerous times and just recently by Naftali Bennet when in the US. A person or people cannot " Ocupy " its own home. We belong in Hevron and Schcem as we do in Tel-Aviv ( even more so ). There is no nobler more just cause than the historic return of an ancient people to its historical homeland.
All the liberal mumbo jumbo in the world cannot change that we have come home.
I live in a small town near Jerusalem that is over the green line and our realtionship with Arabs here is very friendly. They in fact depend on us for work to feed thier families.

The last thing they want if for us to leave.

It is clear to me that no matter what I say will not sway you.

Nonetheless your moral compass is clearly in disrepair.

I for one do not belive anyone should be removed from their homes.
Whether Jew or Arab ( unless they are proven terrorists)

Do you share the same basic moral code?

Or is it ok to remove Jews by force?

Chirpy said...

Haber, isnt another fundamental difference that Palestinian refugees are not able to become citizens of the Arab countries that they have been living in for over 60 years while all of the Jewish refugees were given citizenship in Israel? That article you linked to proves nothing. Nothing stopped Egypt, Syria, etc, from giving citizenship to the Palestinians and they would probably have assimilated far better then the Mizrahi Jews did in Israel.

And as for dishonoring or using Mizrahi Jews, Perhaps We should let them decide if thats happening and also whether they felt like they would have been able to continue to live in the Arab countries they left. Articles like the one you linked to always give a quote or 2 from Jews that say they didnt think of themselves as refugees as if that proves all Mizrhim simply left due to Zionism.

It has been over 65 years. You really think the right of return makes any sense? At this point it makes as much sense as the Zionist's justification for claiming the land due to it once being the homeland of the Jewish people.

In terms of the conflict, people should look to the future. The 2 state solution is the closest thing to something that might work and it is kind of incompatible with the RoR.

Unknown said...

Dear "Jerry" -- I think it's important that you make your "corrections" known to not only the NYT, but also the Baltimore Sun (your hometown newspaper) and other organs that might reprint the NYT article. It has been sent around in a loving manner to many of your old classmates (not by me!), and although we know you and understand that you are NOT opposed to a Jewish state -- you just have some problems with the way THIS Jewish state does things -- I'm not sure that distinction is understood. L'chaim, Bezalel. mulbo

Unknown said...

Hey, "Jerry" -- I wrote a comment but I'm not sure it got to you -- there was some sort of weird glitch when I sent it in. I wrote it for publication but it doesn't really matter -- it simply asked you to send your original column (this one) to the Baltimore Sun, and why I felt that doing so was a good idea.

Jerry Haber said...


I don't know where to begin with your response...well,maybe here:

I live in a small town near Jerusalem that is over the green line and our relationship with Arabs here is very friendly. They in fact depend on us for work to feed their families.

The last thing they want if for us to leave.

David, you could be describing a white family in apartheid South Africa who employed blacks and gave them decent wages. Let me ask you this question. When do you thing Jews will start working for Palestinians? Not just as laborers, but in Palestinian factories, owned by Palestinians.

You are describing a situation in which you are the lords of the land, and out of noblesse oblige, and maybe cheap labor (perhaps you pay them the exact wages and social benefits that Jews get in the State of Israel) you hire then natives.

You know, during the apartheid era, there were sanctions against South Africa, and hundreds of thousands of blacks lost their jobs. The whites said that the blacks were being hurt by the sanctions, and they were right. But ask blacks in South Africa now whether they would like to go back to that era.

So I guess in order to understand my moral compass, I can give you a simple test. In every sentence describing the relations between Jews and Arabs, substitute one for the other -- and see ifyou would be happy. Let's say for example -- I would quintuple your salary and guarantee cheap loans for your children's apartments, provided that you live in Palestinian state under a Palestinian military government.

If you would agree to that offer, then I offer you an apology. But if you wouldn't then you will understand why the other side feels the way it does.

And one more thing -- I know you believe that Eretz Yisrael is your home. I am sure there are Spanish nationalists who believe that Florida should be Spanish. Sadam Hussein had a very good case for seeing Kuwait as Iraq. And don't forget the large percentage of Germans in Sudetenland.

At the end of the day, it's not important what you think. It's important what the world things. And the world has accepted the necessity of a Palestinian state. So the question is going to be, how long are you going to hold out against the world? When sanctions start to bite,and the Israelis start to split more deeply on the issue, what will you do? Will you go the route of the Afrikaners and other colonialists who didn't see themselves as colonialists?

Unknown said...

Chosen People Clashes with Democracy

The strength of the Jewish "Chosen People" camp stems mainly from the belief that their religious ideology arrived from heaven, and cannot be a matter of discussion. This is a Devine Law, eternal, which was not decided on by human beings and cannot change by them. A Jew must obey this Devine Law, rather than the Knesset laws. A Jewish soldier must obey his Rabbi rather that his commander.

What is the Law of "Chosen People"? It can be extracted in one sentence: not all men are equal ("men" means men and women). A Jew has greater value than non-Jew. "Chosen People" Law does not deal with theory only. It directs the believers to conduct their life in a manner that keeps sharp distinction between a Jew and a non-Jew. A Jew cannot be a spouse of a non-Jew. A Jew does not eat what a non-Jew prepared. A Jew does not drink wine from a bottle that a non-Jew touched, even if this wine has been prepared by Jews and is kept in a sealed bottle. The Jewish mark is ethnic: if you have been born to a Jewish woman then you are a Jew. This ethnic mark is valid even for a person who was born to a non-Jew woman, and requested to convert. How does it work? The conversion is not only acceptance of the Jewish faith, but also separates the converted from his family. His parents are no more his father and mother, those who were his brothers and sisters become straight strangers, and he is declared to be "Son of Abram ", a direct offspring of the mythical fathers of the Jewish people. By conversion he or she is annexed to the Jewish race.

"Chosen People" Law definitely contradicts liberal democracy. The essential characterization of democracy is not just a government elected by majority, but first and most of all a clear assumption: Law is one for all men under the same rule, and all of them are equal in their duties and rights. When in a democratic society there are groups which are divers in some features, such as a faith or a spoken language, the democratic society will not allow one group to take privileges which are not common to all citizens. Specifically, democracy does not recognize any "ethnic characteristics" to influence validity of a law. Democratic state does not intervene in religious matters of groups of citizens. The state only keeps an eye that no one is discriminated against owing to the fact that his faith is not the same as others'. "Not discriminated" but not that on the basis of his/her religious community he/she will get privileges that others do not share.

This description fits the ideas and aims of "Ani Israeli" organization. This group indeed strives to drive our society back to the endeavors of our forefathers in the beginning of the New Yishuv, in the turn of the twentieth century, 120 years ago, which wrote on their flag "A Nation like all Nations".

Uzzi Ornan

Emeritus Prof. Hebrew University
Visiting Prof, Computer Science, Technion I.I.T.
Member, Academy of the Hebrew Language,
Chair, Ani Israeli

RĂ©mi said...

An separation between the state and the church is not even enough. An Israeli nation (with Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis) cannot include Jewish nationals of other nation : an Christian/Muslim/Druze Israeli and an Jewish French wouldn't share a thing.
You have to go through the all logic : there cannot have any link between an Israeli nation and Jews.

Professor, your problem is that you believe in a Jewish people that doesn't exist : Jews don't share the same ethnicity, nor the same culture. There are several Jewish peoples but not a unique Jewish people/nation. That's where lies the dreadlock.
Our fondamental problem is that there are some Jewish peoples that basiquely forgot their ethnicity and started to refer to themselves only as Jew. So somebody from those communities in our modern times who is agnostic or atheist or convert to another religion doesn't have a word to refer to his/her ethnicity as the memory/history has been lost. Something has to be made to fix it. Regainging his/her ethnicity would be a solution for them to be able to explain the past.
We lack of a word that distinguish an agnostic who comes from an Ashkenazi community from an agnostic who comes from an Sefaradic community.
Jewish Iranians, for example, don't have this problem because they don't have lost the memory of their ethnicity. If someone from this community becomes agnostic, s/he would be an agnostic Iranian.

Judaism should be strictly a religion. Mixing religion and ethnicity and collective powers is a fault and it leads to Jewish nationalism that one may hardly distinguish from Jewish racism.

The Jewish nationalism completely destroyed the Jewish Arabs and that should afraid all Jews of the world : having his/her heritage destroyed by an terror-driven colonialist racist idealogy.