The Truth hurts

In a letter to Dr. Bill Friend, Rev. Labib Kobti, asked the good Jewish friend about the need of cooperation and the difficults that faces peoples of good will to create an atmosphere of harmony, sharing and love. Dr. Friend answered:


Dear Rev. Kobti,

Thank you for your letter. I notice you are on America On Line. If you go to the Jewish Community Forum Message Board (Keyword : Jewish ), you will see that in the folder ISRAEL, sections Arab Israeli conflict part 7 (there have been 6 prior ones, that is how hot the topic is) and Can Jews and Arabs coexist, I have been one of the few Jewish voices calling for the things you ask in your letter.

For my efforts I have been lambasted with the usual insults; self-hating Jew, anti-semite, Communist, Nazi, Karaite(!?) [I liked that one, at least it had some originality- basically it meant apostate, which is fine since if the religion Judaism has become Zionism, then I am an apostate.], along with the usual Yiddish slang insults, putz, schmuck, ganif etc.

For the vast majority of American Jews the truth hurts, when they have to confront it. They do not want to know (and many do not know) about the atrocities committed against the Palestinian people for almost 100 years. Early on, some Jews did know, and spoke out, including Moshe Menuhin, the father of the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, Asher Ginsberg (Ahad Ha'am), Dr. Judah Magnes and Nahum Goldmann. Unfortunately the things they saw that proved the anomaly of the Zionist philosophy were either glossed over or ignored.

Anti-Zionism was once a "legitimate" position for a Jew to hold, and indeed from it's inception, and even after the issuance of the Balfour Declaration, most Orthodox Jews and practically all Reform Jews (along with their movements leaders) were in fact against Zionism. That all changed with the Holocaust. To at that time to be against a "safe haven" for Jews in view of the enormity of that crime, became tantamount to an untenable position. The Orthodox and Reform movements changed their official positions. In spite of that such groups as the American Council for Judaism, headed by Rabbi Elmer Berger (who is still alive at 90 and living in Florida) and Lessing Rosenwald (dec.) continued up until the 1967 war, when it split over internal differences. Rabbi Berger continued to write independently , and two years ago at the age of 88 had a book published, which has had spare circulation, but I actually saw a copy of it at the Jewish Museum in NY. Apparently no one had read it or it wouldn't have been on the shelves.

Currently there are even more voices speaking up, such as Norman Finkelstein of CCNY and NYU, Benny Morris in Israel, Amos Oz, MK Yael Dayan and others.

You cannot really blame the majority of American Jews for the position they take, because the true story of the last 100 years is not taught in schools, is certainly not taught in Jewish day schools or afternoon Hebrew schools at congregations, is not taught in any adult education classes that I know of; and some of the more cogent books on the subject are often deliberately given poor shelf space in the book stores. Most of what American Jews know is spoonfed through a poorly informed media (for example I get bulletins and updates from several middle-east news services, virtually none of it reaches the U.S. media, or if it does is never even brought up on the non-News on TV [CNN makes an effort], and even such vaunted papers as the NYTimes ignore most of it. Therefore the American Public remains ill informed, and much of the information about Israel comes through the well oiled and well funded machine of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee(AIPAC), made famous by former Rep. Paul Findley in his book "The Lobby".

I myself have had first hand experience with a book that had an attempt made on it to be kept off the shelves. This was in 1978, and the book was by Alfred M. Lilienthal, and is titled THE ZIONIST CONNECTION, what price peace? The book had received favorable reviews in the NY Times Book Review and in that same issue had a 1/4 page ad from the publisher for it. It is almost 900 pages. At that time I was like most American Jews who as kids had gone to afternoon Hebrew school in the 50's and were spoonfed the usual: It was a desert, we made it bloom; we went there to start a new life, and the Arabs [who were always portrayed much the same way native Americans were, as ignorant savages] assaulted us at every turn, and then when Israel was formed it was attacked by an "overwhelming" force of seven Arab armies, but miracle of miracles, the Jews prevailed. This is the kind of tripe that is still fed to kids today in Hebrew schools connected with the Synagogues they attend for their bar/bat mitzvah lessons. Is it any wonder there is no mainstream Jewish protesting over things that, were they done here to say African Americans or other minorities, Jews would be in the frontlines protesting, as they did in the 50's and 60's.

After I had seen the advertisement for the book my curiosity was piqued and I went about two weeks later up and down all the major book stores on 5th Ave at the time. Either, they hadn't heard of the book, they thought it was on order, they heard of it but didn't know if it was ordered etc. At any rate no store had it on the shelves. I went into the class act of stores at the time, on the Ave, Skribners. I looked in Current Releases, History, Politics, even Judaica - nothing. So I asked a clerk. He was very helpful and mentioned that he had thought he remembered seeing it and asked me to please have a seat and wait. 45 minutes later he came back almost out of breath, he had found them. They were under a pile of books to be shipped out as remainders in the basement. This of course stirred my interest even further and I finished it in two days. After that I knew why there was apparently an attempt made to sabotage it.

I called Dodd-Mead, the publishers. They thanked me and put me in touch with the author. I spoke to Mr. Lilienthal on the phone and he also thanked me (he now has a form of alzheimer's disease), and told me he had expected that, and was going to have some of the people from the publisher make sure it got on the shelves. Sure enough two weeks later it was out. He also put me in contact with Rabbi Berger whose study I visited on a few occasions. Rabbi Berger lent me some books that were very hard to find, and even some manuscripts. He admonished me not to go public with what I knew since I was at the beginning of my career, and if I said certain things I would be attacked by the organized Jewish community (which I hadn't realized being naive.). I asked him why that didn't stop him. He said , number one it was his duty as a Rabbi to teach the truth as he saw it and number two he was independently wealthy, so inspite of the incessant attacks on him, he was untouchable (of course he could not get a pulpit job anywhere, but I don't think he was really interested in that.).

I remember him as being quite self-effacing, having a wonderful sense of humor, but being in dead earnest about what had happened to Judaism.

I know that for some people this is a truism -Zionism=Judaism. For many people who have lost faith in the religion of Judaism, Zionism has become it's substitute in the form of "a golden calf". Were it not for Israel, they would have nothing as a Jew to identify with. This is why you see such emotional responses on SvS from the pro-Zionist individuals. I find it interesting that a forum which is supposed to be a place for Jews and Gentiles to dialogue about middle east peace is almost as confrontational as other lists on the same subject. Some progressive Jewish lists such as Jews Renewing Judaism, which are almost exclusively Jewish are far more critical of Israel's actions, but within a still thinly veneered Zionist context. to whit "Jews are not supposed to behave this way". No they are not, they're right.

Many things go unspoken in the Jewish community. One of these which if you pinch someone hard enough, is that many American Jews who have met Israeli Jews, will admit (and this is a generalization) that they find Israeli Jews to be rude and unpalatable. I found this out, and prior to meeting Israelis, I had the typical American Jewish attitude that they were our "brave pioneers" to be looked up to, esp.after the 1967 war. American Jews who have been raised in a pluralistic society in which separation of church and state is taken for granted, in which freedom of speech is taken for granted, and in which a Constitution is the ultimate arbiter of legal and illegal, find the attitude of Israeli Jews living in a different cultural venue, befuddling. They don't know how to deal with it, "After all didn't Jews found democracy?" [another myth taught in Hebrew school, along with founding monotheism].

I was frankly taken aback during some encounters, and my hidden thoughts were, If I can't stand them, how do non-Jews feel? It's sad. For the most part people are products of their environment with regard to their political views and world views.

Most American Jews, or American's in general have a dim understanding of any or all of the following, if they even heard of them in the first place: Moses Hess, Theodor Herzl, The Zionist Congress, The Balfour Declaration, The Hussein McMahon Understanding, The Sykes Picot Agreement, The White Paper (that one they know about), the dispossession on an immense scale of the indigenous Palestine population, the fact that Israel DOES NOT have a Constitution (most Jews assume it does), the carry over of some of the repressive Mandate Laws, the absence of habeas corpus, and other things which have poisoned the reality of the middle east.

Even fewer know about all of the diplomatic machinations, and have virtually no understanding of strategic national interests, and tactics, and have no idea that these often diverge from one country to another. Most American Jews think that the interests of the U.S. and the interests of Israel have always been in sync (they are now more than ever), and that Israel's form of democracy is consonant with the U.S.

If a Jewish convert undergoes a non-Orthodox conversion outside of Israel they are still permitted in under the law of Return. The Orthodox Jewish parties such as the NRP in the Knesset tried to have this changed but were unsuccessful. However in the U.S. if the chidren of a convert who was not converted according to Orthodox rules (halachah) but by a non orthodox methode, their children would not be recognized as Jewish unless the mother was Jewish.

Moreover, most American Jews who visit Israel (and 80% haven't) think of it as some kind of Jewish "disneyland", not as a war zone. Since in a 10 day visit they only hit the high spots, like Yad Vashem, Masada, the main sections of Tel Aviv, the Old City, the Kotel etc. they do not come away with a true view of the country. They come back "transformed". It is like a European visiting only NY city in the US and thinking that is representative of this country.

At this time, there are more and more American and Israeli Jews (probably the percentage of Israeli Jews is higher) speaking out against the policies of the Israeli government vis-a-vis the Palestinians. There is certainly more literature on the subject of what the real history is, but it is still hard to find among the coffee table tomes, such as Abba Eban's "history book".

There will come a point, and it is approaching thanks to the Likud and the machinations of Netanyahu and co. that Israel's positions will become untenable for American Jews to adhere to. American Jews have an inherent sense of fairness built in, and many are seeing that what is being done to the Palestinians is manifestly unfair. If they do not speak up, it is not because they do not believe that, it is because they are afraid of being called the names I have been called and being marginalized. They do however vote with their pocket books and their feet. Tourism to Israel is way down, the Jerusalem 3000 which was highly publicized was an immense flop, the Gift to Israel Foundation's attempt to bring American Jewish youth to Israel over the summer to absorb zionism by osmosis is a failure, and donations to the UJA and purchase of Israel bonds is down. (The donations to UJA being down are due to another factor - the hegemony of the Orthodox over religious affairs of Jews in Israel,which is highly resented by the non-Orthodox groups, and this is a very strong bone of contention, inter-alia.).

As far as the Gift to Israel goes, I know about this because my wife worked on it, when she was chairman of the education committee at our Synagogue. It is funded by the Bronfman family, and has not met with much success, in spite of the monetary inducement which gets a kid over there for a nominal amount of money. Most Jewish parents, will NOT send their kid to a place they sense is dangerous, in spite of the protestations of the foundation that these kids are under constant supervision by experienced people. It just doesn't fly. Disneyworld, or the Rockies are far more amenable. In fact in our congregation, not one kid was sent in spite of huge publicity to the congregation. That speaks volumes.

I have this feeling that the constant decrying and lamenting over the high intermarriage rate among Jews is not a lament for a discontinuation of Judaism in the future (that will not happen). I have a feeling that the official missives against this (which are universally ignored, except among the Orthodox), have quite another reason, having to do with a loss of political influence here. The Orthodox are always so quick to point out the high rate of assimilation and intermarriage by the Reform (it's about 60%), but I always feel as if they are crocodile tears, and inside they are secretly gloating over it.

Continuity for the sake of continuity makes no sense. If something has value, it will continue. I have no doubt in my mind that Judaism will remain a viable and subscribed to religion. Zionism, not being a religion, will someday be seen as what it is, a mirror reaction to 19th Century racist European anti-semitism, and an anomaly, and as such will become nothing more than a curiosity of history. This may take another twenty-five years or more, but it will happen. False doctrines always whither and die, but as a poet once said "the wheels grind exceedingly slow".

Shalom which is peace. Pray for it.

Dr. Bill Friend