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The newest Finklers

These affluent Diaspora Jews claiming to embrace Israel by criticizing it are the ones doing damage
Ronald Lauder in Leipzig, Germany, Aug. 30, 2010 (Sean Gallup/Getty Images, via JTA)
Ronald Lauder in Leipzig, Germany, Aug. 30, 2010 (Sean Gallup/Getty Images, via JTA)

The American Council for Judaism, an anti-Zionist organization founded in 1942 by a group of Reform rabbis determined to resist the establishment of a Jewish state, appeared just as European Jews were being herded by the tens of thousands into Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Terrified by any accusation of dual loyalty, Council members resolutely asserted the undivided loyalty of American Jews to the United States.

That bygone sorry chapter of modern Jewish history seems to be experiencing a revival. Last month The New York Times, for decades before 1948 apprehensive over the prospect of Jewish statehood and a hectoring critic of Israel ever since, published an op-ed column by World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder (March 18). Echoing other prophets of demographic doom, he anticipated that unless current trends are reversed, “Israel will face a stark choice: Grant Palestinians full rights and cease being a Jewish state or rescind their rights and cease being a democracy.” Lauder neglected to reveal how his proposed ethnic cleansing of 400,000 Jews from their homes in Judea and Samaria would preserve Israel as a democratic Jewish state.

Across the pond British business executive Mick Davis chimed in with his endorsement of Lauder’s (final?) solution to the Israel problem (Times of Israel, April 2). Articulating what he claimed to be “a statement of the obvious,” shared by “large swathes of Diaspora Jewry,” he enunciated his fundamental principles. If Israel chooses the one-state solution that settlements seem to portend, “It could either be Jewish or democratic but it couldn’t be both.” Fearing that “the occupation” was “harming Jewish and Zionist identity,” he warned of its “impact on the Jewish identity and connection to Israel of young Diaspora Jews” – to say nothing of Diaspora adults such as Lauder and Davis.

Then Davis exposed his deepest concern. He took Lauder’s article as a sign of Diaspora despair, which he clearly shares, over “how strained the Israel-Diaspora relationship has become during the last nine years of Netanyahu’s leadership.” Claiming to speak for the “younger generation” of Diaspora Jews, 60-year-old Davis sees “their pride in Israel dented by actions taken by the Israeli authorities that undermine their Jewish values.” Among these “actions,” he cited “discrimination against progressive Judaism” and “ongoing settlement expansion.” Consequently, “young Diaspora Jews” (and, evidently, one 60-year-old Diaspora Jew) “are too often being asked to make their attachment to Israel the exception to their values rather than the embodiment of them.”

Davis yearns for “a sincere [Israeli] commitment to a two-state solution.” This may be “the most persuasive tool in our advocacy tool kit.” But Davis does not waste a word on 70 years of Palestinian resistance to precisely the solution he embraces, endorsed by Israel ever since 1948. As for his critique of Prime Minister Netanyahu, he fails to note that the Israeli leader is on the verge of becoming its longest-serving Prime Minister, soon to pass David Ben-Gurion. To Israeli voters, if not to Diaspora critics, he must doing something right.

Professing concern lest young Diaspora Jews “become detached from Zionism putting at long-term risk the Jewish people’s greatest project since biblical times,” Davis seems oblivious to the possibility that the hectoring of Israel by diaspora leaders (such as Lauder and himself) may contribute to the result he claims to abhor. It may only be coincidental that wealthy diaspora Jewish leaders in the United States and Great Britain gain publicity by criticizing Israel, the world’s only Jewish and democratic state. Then again, maybe not. Perhaps they are the ones who are most frightened by the dreaded demon of divided loyalty.

Encountering Davis’s article, so soon after reading Lauder’s (if not in the same Times), I was reminded of Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question (2010), the classic literary mockery of “ashamed” Jews. As literary scholar Edward Alexander perceptively observed in his incisive review of Jacobson’s book, “These ashamed Jews are in many respects like the assimilated Jews of old, insisting that Jewish particularism, Jewish peoplehood, a Jewish state constitute the sole obstacles to universal brotherhood and peace.”

It is sad to encounter successful and wealthy Diaspora Jews who claim to embrace Israel by relentlessly criticizing it for permitting its citizens to reside in the biblical homeland of the Jewish people. By now, however, it is altogether predictable.

About the Author
Jerold S. Auerbach is author of Hebron Jews: Memory and Conflict in the Land of Israel (2009). His new book, Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016, will be published in February by Academic Studies Press.