(the writing on the wall of rightwing Zionism at a Jaffa mosque)
I have no intention to defend Peter Beinart’s The Crisis of Zionism, but if you haven’t read Daniel Gordis’ appalling critique you should probably read it. It’s a very sad index of where things stand. Once again, its Zionism, the most important project of the Jewish people in modern times, and Judaism, the religious heritage of the Jewish people, both transformed into a crude ideological cudgel to beat up in defense of rightwing Zionism the critical voice of American liberal Jews.
Gordis used to be a liberal, I think, when he lived in LA. Maybe he wasn’t. I don’t know. Now he is senior vice president and Koret distinguished fellow at the über rightwing Shalem Center in Jerusalem, bankrolled almost entirely by the American neoconservative Tikvah Fund. At this post, Gordis has taken it upon himself to attack in high dudgeon “the crisis of American Judaism. You’ve heard it all before. It’s the crisis of assimilation, the attenuated Jewishness and Judaism, the confusion and self-hatred.
What’s new here is to accuse liberal American Jews of inadequate “tribalism.” I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean.
As a rule, American rabbis trained at the liberal seminaries learn how to balance “particularism” and “universalism,” combining genuine Jewish and human commitments. This does not appear to be on the agenda at the Shalem Center.
Very often (almost always?) in conservative and rightwing political thought and cultural politics, a false choice is forced between particularism and universalism, commitments to a collective or individualism. In this case, it’s the choice between Zionism and liberalism. In trashing Enlightenment universalism, Gordis rips up the roots of Zionism, which at its origin was a liberal project. The tribalism reflects more the dystopian worldview of Meir Kahane, not the utopian values of Herzl and Ahad Ha’am.
Is it liberal Judaism that has lost its way of late? Maybe Gordis and the post-Zionists and ant-Zionists are right. Perhaps indeed the tribalism of Gordis constitutes the true and inevitable terminus of the Zionist project from the very start. I’m not inclined to make these kinds of teleological or essentialist assertions about the history and ideology of Zionism. But at this late juncture, one should be permitted one’s doubts about this. Reasonable people should disagree.
No doubt there continues to be a crisis of American liberal Judaism. I don’t think it’s going to get resolved by Gordis at the Shalem Center. Gordis is just making stuff up. “Why,” he asks about Beinart, “this relentless hatred for Israel?” His own essay might be a good place to start to consider the sad state of affairs that today besets discourse about Zionism.
Gordis cites political philosopher Michael Sandel to claim that liberal American Jews feel no attachment to Jewishness and Judaism. I daresay that this is a cliche. The young American Jews whom I meet at Syracuse University don’t seem to carry the sense of stigma which Gordis attributes to them. I don’t think, though, that the Judaism they want is one defined by the rhetorical violence served up by with such gusto by Gordis.
All this tribalism smells too much like Carl Schmitt and fascism, the pathos and bathos, this obsession with enemies and defining borders, the sacrifice of children to the State, the livid anxieties, and the “winning wars that may never end” (whatever that means).
Gordis and the Zionist right want to coral Israel and discourse about Israel into a very bad place. Has he forgotten how unhappy the tribal system ends in the book of Judges? Gordis doesn’t seem to understand that a “people” is not a “tribe.” That’s what makes his response to Beinart technically reactionary.
I really don’t know what Gordis means by “tribalism.” Are we going to see the distinguished American born rabbi joining the “death to Arabs” crowd or the hill-toppers or price-taggers? I don’t know. I know I’m being unfair. But this is one possible endpoint to which this logic of tribalism leads, and Gordis’ readers deserve a bit more clarity as to what distinguishes him from these more odious expressions of Jewish tribalism in Israel and the Occupied Territories.
I’m certainly not sure how the miasma of anger and self-pity reflected in the review by Gordis is going to serve as a gateway to more Jewishness and Judaism and to more support for Israel from the American Jews and other liberals whom the author so clearly reviles.
With this kind of talk, there’s no need for a BDS Movement (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions). Israel will simply isolate itself. This to me was the radical core of Beinart’s original article, not the redundant call to boycott settlements, which people like Beinart and me in the U.S. (and in Israel?) already shun. And once we agree to that, that the rightwing in Israel will do the actual and effective work of isolating Israel, then we in the United States can all save ourselves the energy and finally stop arguing about or against Israel.