Yesterday I ran part one of an interview I did with The Washington Times concerning Zionism. If you missed it, you can read it here. It is
going to run in four parts. Today part two was published. The repugnant, anti-Jewish views expressed by political
columnist Allan C. Brownfeld are front and center in the article. Perhaps write Joseph Cotto feared being targeted by anti-ssemites and Israel haters as being a puppet of the "Jewish lobby."
"Should American Jews care about Israel?" Joseph Cotto, Washington Times Communities, October 3, 2013,
The question of Zionism’s role in twenty-first century America continues to press itself.
While many of those with extreme political ideologies speak
of Zionism in heated terms, it has a fairly simple definition: The
desire for a Jewish state, the continued support of that state, and
policies which encourage Jewish emigration to said state.
This state is Israel.
Over the last several years, free birthright trips to Israel
for American Jews have become quite popular. These trips build sympathy
for Zionism. What can be said about them?
“Since its founding in 1999, the Birthright Israel program
has sent more than 260,000 young Jews from around the world to Israel at
a cost of more than $600 million,” explains Allan C. Brownfeld,
publications editor at the American Council for Judaism. His
longstanding group has opposed ethnocentric Jewish politics since its
founding in the 1940s.
“The goal,” he continues, “in the words of co-founder
Charles Bronfman is ‘the selling of Jewishness to Jews.’ His partner in
founding Birthright, Michael Steinhardt, who describes himself as an
atheist, says that identification with Israel is ‘a substitute for
Later, Brownfeld remarks that “Birthright seeks to tie its
participants not to Judaism, but to Israel, which it proclaims to be
“What would we think if other religious groups sponsored
trips for their young people which urged them to identify with and
emigrate to another country? It is as if the Episcopal Church or the
Presbyterian Church, concerned about declining membership, sent young
people to England or Scotland to rejuvenate their faith. If they did,
one supposes, they would expect them to return home and join local
Pamela Geller, one of America’s most vociferous Jewish
political pundits, disagrees: “I love [Birthright Israel trips]. Why
shouldn’t American Jews come to know and love their ancestral homeland?”
Beyond Birthright Israel, the line between Jewish religious
ethics and an Israeli national identity has become blurred in American
politics. What is going on here?
“The Israeli government,” Brownfeld tells, “sadly, has never
recognized that Jewish Americans are very much at home and are not
‘Israelis in exile.’ Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly
called upon American Jews to make a ‘mass aliya’ (emigration) to Israel.
No other foreign government argues that millions of Americans, because
of their religion, are in”exile” in the United States and that their
“real” homeland is that foreign country.
“While we wish Israel well and hope for a lasting peace in
the Middle East, we believe that Israel should content itself with being
the government of its own citizens.
“Some Jewish groups, in our view, have engaged in a form of
idolatry by placing Israel, rather than God, at the center of Jewish
life. For religious organizations to be engaged in political activity,
such as promoting military attacks upon Syria and Iran, is to
dangerously confuse the realm of religion and politics.
“It has corrupted Judaism. As one of the leading Jewish
theologians and philosophers of the 20th century, Abraham Joshua Heschel
(who accompanied Martin Luther King 50 years ago at the March on
Washington) said: ‘Judaism is not a religion of space and does not
worship the soil. So, too, 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 Judaism.’”
Geller challenges the question itself: “Are you saying that
support for Israel has become part and parcel of Jewish religious
ethics? I disagree. Look at the overwhelming percentage of Jews who
voted for Obama, despite his career-long identification with foes of
Israel. And on the other side, isn’t the overwhelming evangelical
support for Israel a refutation of the idea that Zionism is merely a
Irrespective of one’s views on these issues, both Birthright
Israel and Israeli identity among diaspora Jews speak to the heart of
concern over sociocultural assimilation.
Brownfeld believes that there really isn’t much to fear.
“In a free and open society such as ours, religion is part
of an open marketplace of ideas,” he says. “If Judaism is relevant and
meaningful, it will retain members, and attract new ones. Some Jewish
groups express concern about the growth of inter-faith marriage and some
have even called it a ‘silent holocaust.’
“This is an unfortunate response to the challenges of living
in freedom, as if the ghetto walls of medieval Europe were preferable
because they kept the group together. Judaism is moving toward being
more open and welcoming, which is a good thing, although this subject is
not the focus of the ACJ’s attention.”
Geller has a quite different perspective.
“Israel was founded by non-religious Jews,” she begins.
“Sociocultural assimilation is a problem but has never been absolutely
correlated to anti-Zionism. Many Jews are concerned about sociocultural
assimilation; are sociocultural assimilation and a love of freedom
“The orthodox betrayers of Jews and Israel, the anti-Zionist
Neturei Karta, are hardly assimilated, but they still work with
Israel’s enemies who want a new genocide of the Jews. Neturei Karta
stand with ‘Palestinians’ calling for annihilation of Israel. They have
gone to Iran and met with the former President of the Islamic Republic,
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for “the cancer” of Israel to be
‘wiped off the map.’
“There is nothing Jewish or righteous about these imposters in Jewish garb.”
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