In May, when Israelis were attacked by Hamas missiles from Gaza, the criticism from some voices within the American Jewish community seemed not only more intense but categorical, escalating very quickly from what Israel did to what Israel is. In many blue state cathedrals, it was no longer good enough for critics to call themselves “pro-Israel” and “pro-peace” or affirm their Zionist credentials while blasting Israel for real or supposed misdeeds. Echoing social justice talk, dozens of Jewish and Israel studies scholars defined Zionism as “a diverse set of linked ethnonationalist ideologies … shaped by settler colonial paradigms … that assumed a hierarchy of civilizations” and “contributed to unjust, enduring, and unsustainable systems of Jewish supremacy,” while the CUNY Jewish Law Students’ Association more concisely demanded “a Palestinian right to return, a free and just Palestine from the river to the sea, and an end to the ongoing Nakba.” This language effectively denied the need for a Jewish state, thereby declaring war not just on Israel’s existence but on modern Judaism as we know it.
Within American Jewry, this surge in anti-Zionism openly targets the broad Zionist consensus the Jewish world developed after the Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel—as well as the post-1990s Birthright consensus embracing Israel and Israel experiences as central Jewish-identity building tools. Admittedly, anti-Zionist Jews are a small fraction of American Jewry, wildly outnumbered by polls showing 70% to 80% of the American Jewish community supports Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. But at a time when 85% of American Jews also say that it’s “important” or “very important” for them to “stand up for the marginalized or oppressed,” it is no wonder that for many American Jews, especially those in public spaces, Israel has become the ball and chain that endangers their standing as good progressives. It is also no surprise that this threat to their cherished identities as “progressives” is met by a corresponding fury that leaves no room for reasoned argument about specific Israeli policies or actions.
The anti-Zionists know exactly what they are doing, and what they are undoing. They are trying to disentangle Judaism from Jewish nationalism, the sense of Jewish peoplehood, while undoing decades of identity-building. In repudiating Israel and Zionism, hundreds of Jewish Google employees rejected what they call “the conflation of Israel with the Jewish people.” The voices of inflamed Jewish opponents of Israel and Zionism are in turn amplified by a militant progressive superstructure that now has an ideological lock on the discourse in American academia, publishing, media, and the professions that formerly respected American Jewry’s Zionism-accented, peoplehood-centered constructions of Jewish identity…
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