Op-Ed Column in New York Times

The ‘Real Jew’ Debate

LONDON — Ira Stup was raised in Philadelphia attending Jewish day school and camps. He found his home in the Jewish community and was “intoxicated with Jewish democracy” as framed in the ideals of Israel’s foundation. Now he has returned deeply troubled from a one-year fellowship based in Tel Aviv.

The worst single incident occurred on Ben Yehuda Street in central Jerusalem. Stup, 24, a Columbia graduate, was returning from a rally with a couple of friends carrying a banner that said, “Zionists are not settlers.” A group of religious Jews wearing yarmulkes approached, spat on them and started punching.

“About 20 people saw the whole thing and just watched. They were screaming, ‘You are not real Jews.’ Most of them were American. It was one of the most disappointing moments of my life — you can disagree as much as you want with a banner but to allow violence and not react is outrageous. For me it was a turning point. Nobody previously had said I was not a real Jew.”

The view that American Jews supportive of Israel but critical of its policies are not “real Jews” is, however, widespread. Israel-right-or-wrong continues to be the core approach of major U.S. Jewish organizations, from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

To oppose the continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank (“Zionists are not settlers”), or question growing anti-Arab bigotry as personified by Israel’s rightist foreign minister and illustrated by the “loyalty oath” debate, or ask whether the “de-legitimization” of Israel might not have something to do with its own actions is to incur these organizations’ steady ire.

Debate remains stifled, despite Peter Beinart’s important piece this year in the New York Review of Books describing growing alienation among young American Jews asked to “check their liberalism at Zionism’s door.” Oh, sure, you can find all sorts of opinions about Israel all over the place; America remains an open society. But Aipac has systematically shunned a debate with J Street, the upstart Jewish organization that supports Israel, opposes the settlements and attempts to reclaim the progressive ideals of Zionism by saying that the systematic oppression of the Palestinians undermines Israel.

“These organizations’ view remains essentially that any time you engage in an activity critical of Israel you are trying to destroy the state of Israel,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, told me. “Here are all these Jewish kids being raised on great liberal values at Hebrew schools — walks for the homeless, Darfur, AIDS — but God forbid we talk about what’s happening in Israel! It’s a dynamic that cuts off discourse.”

The issues are worth debating at the highest level. Middle East talks have just broken down again, precisely over settlements. President Barack Obama had virtually no domestic constituency for his attempt to denounce the continued growth of settlements as unacceptable and as undermining a two-state peace at its core: land.

Obama was left dangling, more so after the midterms, and had to retreat. This is not merely a failure of the parties. It is a failure of U.S. politics and the way those politics are straitjacketed by an Israel-right-or-wrong mantra that leads inexorably, over time, to one state with more Arabs in it than Jews. What then will remain of the Zionist dream?

Stup’s research took him often to the West Bank. He would come back to Tel Aviv and talk about Palestinian humiliation he’d seen and found that Israelis seemed unaware or unconcerned. He read in one newspaper that 53 percent of Israeli Jews would encourage Israeli Arabs to leave — “and I saw and felt that anecdotally.”

A painful question hardened: “Seeing what the occupation looked like, and given the ideals of Jewish democracy I was raised on, I wondered: Could Israel be failing and could we American Jews be defending that failure?”

It’s time to think again and, above all, think openly. Last month, Ben-Ami was scheduled to speak at a Reform Jewish synagogue, Temple Beth Avodah, in Newton, near Boston. At the last minute the event got canceled because of what the rabbi described as strong opposition from a “small, influential group” within the congregation.

Jewish groups, or Hillel societies, on U.S. campuses sometimes discover they will lose their biggest donors if they allow a J Street youth group to form within them.

Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking to the Jewish Federations of North America in New Orleans, was heckled by protesters holding banners suggesting the occupation and loyalty oaths de-legitimize Israel. Their banners were ripped (with teeth) and the young Jews dragged out. Where an important conversation could be held, confrontation prevails.

Stup, moved to act, has joined J Street. This decision caused tremendous pressure on his family back in Philadelphia. One very close family friend came over to his mother’s house recently and accused him of “poisoning the minds of young Jews.” The friendship has been strained to breaking point.

“Why,” Stup asked me, “is it poisoning minds to encourage them to think critically about the actions of the Israeli government?”



  1. December 11, 2010 at 11:21

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by burgerchrist, Pascal Uccelli. Pascal Uccelli said: NEW YORK TIMES JOINS THE ‘REAL JEW’ DEBATE | DesertPeace […]

  2. Bonnie said,

    December 11, 2010 at 17:25

    Yes, as I said before, DOWN WITH RELIGION!

    Reglion was invented for the specific purpose of separtiong us Human Beings.

    We are after all, just Human on this Planet! We’re in here together, but some scum Controllers got here, and decided to do what they do best, CONTROL us. Together, we’re too much for them to handle, there are MORE OF US, THAN THERE IS OF THEM.

    The only way tptb can handle us is to have us continually divided by religions and even further, by sects in those religions.

    And the best thing about it, is that we, Human Be-ings are in the over all, so naive, gullible and plain dumb, not to figure it out!

    Tptb are ROTFL at us!

  3. Ld Elon said,

    December 11, 2010 at 23:36

    There is not as many as you, as you would like to think.
    The sphere of light is surounded by a colour of light, this in turn is surrounded by another colour of light as is the rainbow, until thee end which is the void, those closest to the void are those that are the many, or the highest number, those closest to the sphere of light are those small in number, each color has a different space, this entails the amount of mass needed for the souls within each order of light.
    Those closest to the sphere of light will influence the rest of the colours outward, or foward in motion, by force alone, being the strongest of the influence to the sphere, all other colors from the sphere will influence one-another also, using the force balance.
    So this is to say, the christ blood would be smallest in number but vast in scale. etc etc. probably equaling 1, in human logic un the sphere being -0+ or in shape, the tri.

    Thee only thing separating Man is, language, un that task is soon to be innovated.
    Ive personally thought of an invention to solve this problem of word of tongue communications,, and to hint, spectral analising equiptment with the help of scripts and a spoken word dictionary as the intel imput from each nation, one finds it qutie simple.
    im sure this is how you get your over the network communications.
    and certain translation materials.

  4. Ld Elon said,

    December 11, 2010 at 23:38

    forgot to mention, you CAN change colour.

  5. Ld Elon said,

    December 11, 2010 at 23:39

    Yes, it can mean one is lost if one touches the void.

  6. Marz said,

    December 12, 2010 at 07:59

    You had me until ‘one state with more arabs than jews’. Delusional. You lost track of the fact that Zionland has pretty much swallowed Palestine. Apartheid must end here as it did in South Africa. This J street movement must prevail. Remember that zionism was rejected at first then those criminals prevailed. These invaders have no blood ties to that land. The semites are the ones being victimized by the ashkenazis. No justice no peace. An ashkenazi jews only state cannot exist. It’s too evil. Judaism is supposed to be thou shalt not kill, steal or lie. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Jews are required by their own law to live among all peoples and pray FOR their host country NOT prey upon!

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