How I came to critique the Israel Lobby
Date: Monday, September 17 2007
Rather long. Does support my position
Rabbi Michael Lerner ( THE AUTHOR) is the editor of Tikkun Magazine and the national co-chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives.
1. A Zionist Boy Reads the Prophets—How I came to critique the Israel Lobby
I grew up in the heart of what would eventually become the Israel Lobby in the U.S.
My father and mother were national leaders of the Zionist movement in the U.S. My mother used to talk proudly of how, at five years old, I was standing outside the local bank on Bergen Street in the mostly-Jewish Weequahic section of Newark New Jersey, holding a Jewish National Fund (JNF) box, singing “Hatikvah,” and collecting money to plant trees in Israel. When my mother won election as local chair of Hadassah and my father as chair of the Zionist Council, the elation at home was even greater than when she was appointed the administrative assistant in charge of political affairs for the U.S. Senator she helped elect, or when my father became a judge. All the external political accomplishments, I was led to believe, were really not what counts in the world except to the extent that they allowed my parents to help Israel gain support in the U.S.
To me, this seemed a very noble enterprise, and I’m sure that I learned from my parents that activities for a social movement were really far more important than personal advancement. They were idealistic and motivated by a genuine concern for the Jewish people. Their Zionism emerged in the 1930s and 1940s when Jews were being attacked and discriminated against in the U.S. and eventually murdered in the millions in Europe. The staggering refusal of the U.S. government to allow refugees fleeing Nazism into this country unless, like the atomic scientists and some other well–known Jewish intellectuals, they had special skills that could be “useful” to the government, was only the tip of the iceberg. Country after country around the world shut their doors to the Jews. No wonder, then, that the Zionist movement, which had seemed far-fetched and unrealistic in its first decades, suddenly began to receive majority support from Jews after the Holocaust—Jews felt that the world had shown that the Jewish people could only be safe if we had our own country and our own army. I’m still proud of my parents for their commitment to an ideal outside of themselves. Their idealism and commitment to a larger movement made a big impact on me, even when I later chose different ideals and a different kind of movement with which to identify.
Nobody ever mentioned to me in the years that I was growing up that there had been a major expulsion of Arabs from their homes in 1947–49 and though I heard about it from the Left in the 1960s, I found it hard to take seriously until Benny Morris, an Israeli historian, published in Tikkun a summary of some of his findings gained from the opening of the historical archives in Israel in the late 1980s. But even as a child I knew that there were Palestinian Arabs who had stayed in their homes and who were in the 1950s living under martial law in Israel. And when I began to question this and the purity of the Zionist movement that my parents were leading, I was quickly led to believe that anyone raising questions of this sort would be dismissed as a “self-hating Jew” or a budding anti-Semite. Those terms are not specific to the last two decades—they have been thrown around quite loosely by the leaders of American Zionism for at least the past seventy years (I first heard these epithets being used to describe the American Council for Judaism, a Reform movement based group that dared question the assumption that a Jewish state in Palestine would be the best strategy for Jewish survival). It was taken for granted in my household that anyone who didn’t buy into Zionism was in fact a Jew-hater.