The organized American Jewish community continues to provide almost blind support for the government of Israel, regardless of what policies it advocates and pursues.
In September, the Rabbinical Assembly, which represents Conservative Judaism, asked its rabbis to read a political statement in lieu of the traditional Shofar service on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
Among other things, this declaration stated: “On this Rosh Hashanah our brothers and sisters in Israel face the threat of a nuclear Iran–”a threat to Israel’s very existence. Today, we Jews around the world also confront anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment of the Goldstone report which blames Israel disproportionately for the tragic loss of human life incurred in Operation Cast Lead, which took place last winter in Gaza. This unbalanced U.N.-sponsored report portends serious consequences for Israel and the Jewish people. On this holy day, which is not only Rosh Hashanah, but also Shabbat, the Shofar is silent in the face of this spurious report, the world is far too silent. Today the state of Israel needs us to be the kol shofar, the voice of the shofar.”
Making Israel–”rather than God–”the object of worship is hardly new in some Jewish circles. By any rational standard, it is a form of idolatry. It is ironic, of course, that the author of the U.N. report vilified as part of a sacred religious service is South African Judge Richard Goldstone–”who is Jewish, a Zionist, and long a supporter and friend of Israel (see November 2009 Washington Report, p. 12).
In his speech to the United Nations, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called the Goldstone report a “travesty,” “a farce” and “a perversion.” He compared Hamas to Nazi Germany and said that the report sought to undermine Israel’s “legitimacy.”
Judge Goldstone said that he was “upset” by the speech, declaring: “It is disingenuous, to put it lightly, what Netanyahu said. The idea that this is aimed at delegitimizing the state of Israel–”that is the last thing I would want to do.” Israel’s leaders were behaving contemptuously, he argued, “ignoring the specific allegations and simply launching a broadside.”
What is not widely known–”and should be–”is that Richard Goldstone is one in a long line of committed Jews, often Zionists, who have warned for more than a century that the Zionist enterprise–”and blind support for it–”would, in the end, seriously corrupt Jewish moral values.
An important new book, Between Jew and Arab: The Lost Voice of Simon Rawidowicz (Brandeis University Press), brings new attention to Rawidowicz (1897-1957), the wide-ranging Jewish thinker and scholar who taught at Brandeis University in the 1950s. At the heart of this book, written by David N. Myers, professor of history at UCLA and director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, is a chapter–”also entitled “Between Jew and Arab”–”that Rawidowicz wrote as a coda to his 1957 Hebrew tome, Babylon and Jerusalem, but never published.
In this coda–”now published for the first time in English–”Rawidowicz shifted his decades-long preoccupation with the “Jewish Question” to what he called the “Arab Question.” Asserting that the “Arab Question” had become a most urgent political and moral matter for Jews after l948, he called for an end to discrimination against Arab residents of Israel–”and, more provocatively, for the repatriation of Arab refugees from 1948.
Neither a Palestinian nor an Israeli, Rawidowicz was a Jewish thinker, ideologue and scholar who followed a long and meandering career path from his native Eastern Europe to Germany and England before arriving in the U.S. at the age of 51. A few years after coming to the U.S., he joined the faculty of the newly founded Brandeis University as professor of Jewish thought. It was while at Brandeis that he arrived at the conclusion that the most compelling moral and political challenge facing Jews after 1948 was the resolution of the “Arab Question,” a term he used to refer to the status of Arabs resident in the new state of Israel, as well as to the Arab refugees who fled Palestine in 1948. Rawidowicz issued a plea to address the Arab Question, culminating in his bold call to repatriate Arab refugees.
In his book Professor Myers notes that, “The creation of the State of Israel in 1948, Rawidowicz affirmed, marked an epochal turning point in the history of the Jews…But the ascent to political power by Jews also posed major challenges. Rawidowicz approached this new development not as a pacifist opposed to the use of force, but as a skeptic wary of the misuse of power. Would the sensitivity that Jews had cultivated and internalized over centuries of existence as a national minority in the Diaspora vanish? Would they adopt the ways of Gentiles–”an especially unappealing prospect in the wake of the Holocaust–”when relating to the new national minority in their midst?”
Rawidowicz was hardly alone in his concerns. His assessment of the Arab question parallels that of a Jewish figure whom he held in the highest esteem, the Israeli author S. Yizhar (nÃ© Yizhar Smilansky, 1916-2006). In 1949, Yizhar published a well-known short story, “Hirbet Hiz’ah,” that described the expulsion of local Palestinians by a callous and indifferent group of Jewish soldiers during Israel’s war of independence.
Of particular relevance are Yizhar’s words delivered at a memorial tribute to Martin Buber in 1990. Yizhar was no longer addressing the events of 1948, but rather the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War. He called for an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, not the least on ethical grounds, which he described as “the primary consideration, the strongest, and in the final analysis, the most decisive.” He declared: “The Palestinian Question is not an Arab Question, but entirely a Jewish Question…It is a question for the Jews and a question for Judaism. And instead of continuing to run away from it, one must stop and turn to face it, turn and look at it directly.”
As Dr. Myers notes, “there is clear evidence that Jewish and Israeli forces engaged in the expulsion of thousands, and likely hundreds of thousands, of Palestinian Arabs from the country. We also know that some Israeli government officials were more than happy to be rid of these hostile (or theoretically hostile) residents…Moreover, the new Israeli government often undertook to erase traces of the physical presence of Arabs in parts of Palestine that fell under the jurisdiction of the State of Israel, a process chronicled by Meron Benvenisti in Sacred Landscape. This effort was intended not only to ‘Judaize’ the new state, but to set firmly in place the image of the mythic Hebrew reclaiming his land. One consequence was that reminders of Palestinian Arab dispossession were largely repressed from the early 1950s, soon to be supplanted in Israeli public consciousness by an even larger wound: the searing tale of Jewish victimization in the Holocaust.”
Like the prophets Amos and Jeremiah, Rawidowicz beseeched his people to retain a measure of humility in their behavior and to acknowledge their errant ways. He particularly lamented the manner in which Jewish groups in the United States and elsewhere stood in lockstep with the Israeli government and refused to confront the challenge to Jewish morals and ethics inherent in the actions of that government.
After 1948, in Rawidowicz’s view, “the nature of the battle between Jew and Arab in the Land of Israel has been transformed.” Resorting to a familiar rabbinic image, he elaborated: “This is no longer about ‘two people holding on to a garment,’ both of whom claim to the master watching over them that the garment is all theirs. Rather, one has grabbed hold of it, dominates, and leads, while the other is led. The first rules as a decisive majority, as a nation-state. The other is dominated as a minority. And domination is in the hands of Israel.”
In the ancient Jewish teachings of the Mishnah (the writing down of the oral law) the remedy in a case in which two parties lay claim to the same object is equitable division. But that principle, Rawidowicz suggested, was not adhered to in the battle over Palestine between European Jews and Arabs. Driven by the Zionist injunction to overcome their centuries of powerlessness, the Jews had assumed power and, in the process, displaced the Arabs. This did not mean that sovereignty was an illegitimate goal. Rather, Rawidowicz believed, in paraphrasing the Book of Proverbs, that the risk was great when “the servant has come to reign.”
In fact, Ahad Ha’am, the early advocate of cultural Zionism, used this expression in his essay, “Truth From Erets Yisrael,” written after his trip to Palestine in 1891, half a century before the Holocaust. Far from departing in a state of euphoria, he was demoralized and depressed by what he saw on the part of his fellow Jews, particularly their attitude toward the local Arab population.
Ahad Ha’am enjoined them to learn from both past and present experience: “How much we must be cautious in our conduct toward a gentile people in whose midst we now live, how we must walk together with that people in love and honor and, needless to say, in justice and righteousness. And what do our brothers in Erets Yisrael do? Exactly the opposite. They were slaves in Exile, and suddenly they find themselves in a state of unrestrained freedom…This sudden change has planted in their hearts a tendency toward despotism, as always happens ‘when a servant comes to reign.'”
There was a time, Rawidowicz argued, when the Zionist movement attempted to “redeem Zion with justice” (Isaiah 1:27). But after 1948, he asserted, the movement had entered a new era, “as a state, as a government that breaches boundaries without anyone raising a voice.” Full of prophetic indignation, he declared that “it is forbidden for the Jewish people to adopt the laws of the Gentiles and expropriate the property of an enemy or combatant who was vanquished on the battlefield…Nothing stands before me–”before Israel and the entire world–”except this simple fact: hundreds of thousands of Arabs, man, woman and child, left this country and the State of Israel will not permit them to return to their homes and settle on their land, the land of their fathers, and of their father’s father. From 1948 on, I have spent much time thinking about this fact, from all angles, and to the best of my ability. But it is impossible for me to come to terms with it in any way, shape or form.”
Another important critic of Israeli policy at that time–”the scientist and philosopher Yehayahu Leibowitz–”questioned whether there was such a thing as Jewish, as opposed to universal, morality. In reflecting on the notorious Kibya massacre of October 1953, in which Israeli forces killed 60 Jordanian villagers in a reprisal raid, Leibowitz placed the blame for the actions of Jewish soldiers not on a failure of “Jewish morality,” but on the misapplication of the Jewish religion, and particularly the core notion of holiness, to the Zionist project. “For the sake of that which is holy,” Leibowitz warned in terms that echo powerfully today, “man is capable of acting without any restraint.” The dangerous conflation of the sacred and profane, he asserted, was anchored in the famously euphemistic reference to “the Rock of Israel” in Israel’s Proclamation of Independence. And it was this conflation, he implied, that empowered Jewish soldiers to act with such impunity in Kibya.
The corruption of Jewish values by “statism,” the idolatry of geography and the advent of a “cruel Zionism” was predicted by a host of thoughtful Jewish voices–”from Ahad Ha’am, to Martin Buber, to Albert Einstein, to Yehyahu Leibowitz. It was they–”not the government of Israel and its blind defenders within the organized Jewish community–”who have kept the genuine Jewish spirit alive.
And now, the first publication in English of Simon Rawidowicz’s “Between Jew and Arab” chapter is a notable contribution to that tradition which, it is to be hoped, will flourish in the future. Judge Goldstone, in holding Israel to precisely the same moral standards applied to others, finds himself in that same tradition.