Mira Sucharov at Center for Jewish History panel on Zioinism and its strains with American Jewry. Aprile 30, 2023. 

The Center for Jewish History in New York yesterday held an all-day conference about American Jews and Zionism to mark Israel’s 75th anniversary, and it exposed the great tension inside the Jewish community over Zionism.

Three speakers insisted on talking about the Nakba. And there was pushback– in one case boos and shouts of “Shame.”

Omer Bartov, a professor at Brown, gave a talk on the “Legacy of 1948” that described the Holocaust and the Nakba as “irreconcilable” events. While Zionism was a logical response to the Jewish genocide in Europe, he said, “in the wake of the Nakba, nothing could sound more just than the demand of the Palestinians to be allowed back into their own land, from which they were brutally expelled.”

A scholar of Eastern Europe, Bartov said that the impossibility of partitioning the land points the way toward a democratic future: “to dismantle the barriers, to recognize that this land can be a home only when it is finally all of its peoples’ homeland.”

Bartov was heckled and booed. Audience members reportedly shouted “Shame!” and one walked out. There were also groans when a panelist referenced J Street!

Mira Sucharov, a Canadian scholar, addressed the hecklers respectfully at the start of her talk to try to disarm them. She then detailed the shelling of Jaffa in April 1948, in which 68,000 of the 70,000 residents of the Ajami quarter were “emptied out into the sea.” She then observed that when her relatives fret about Jews being pushed into the sea, this is “literally” what took place to Palestinians in 1948, before the creation of the state. (A point I have made myself.)

Sucharov went on to say that she teaches Ari Shavit’s piece about the ethnic cleansing of Lod (or Lydda) in the New Yorker because at the end Shavit declares that he would do it all over again to get a majority-Jewish state. Shavit hands over the Zionist position “on a silver platter,” she observed.

Eric Alterman was even more pointed. He said that Palestinians would not accept any of the Zionist arguments that were being offered at the Center for Jewish History– and, of course, no Palestinians were invited to relate their deep knowledge of Zionism. 700,000 Palestinians were expelled before May 1948 by the Zionist militias that preceded the Israeli army, Alterman said, and Palestinians’ lands and property were then confiscated by the state and given to the Jewish National Fund.

“Everything about Palestinian life is discriminatory. And it’s nothing we [as Jews] would accept,” Alterman said.

“They have no rights,” he went on. “I’m totally cool with the divorce between American Jews and Israel” because so-called “shared values” between the societies have been a disaster for American Jewish identity.

Alterman also said The Exodus narrative is “collapsing” inside the Jewish community. And– my favorite bit — Jews are tired of having “neocons” speak for the community.

Alterman and Sucharov got pushback on their own panel. “We’re not going to solve 1948,” panelist David Makovsky said– code for, Please stop talking about the Nakba.

So– you have three Jewish professors, two of them once prominent liberal Zionists, expressing fairly mild criticisms of Israel inside a Jewish space– and there is a lot of anger.

Sucharov captured this tension when she told of being shunned by her own family for participating on a panel that discussed whether “apartheid” is applicable to Israel/Palestine. One aunt called another aunt in dismay; and “the result has been official shunning.” Sucharov can no longer visit her aunt in Israel and wasn’t invited to her 80th birthday party. “It’s very painful.”

This is just a taste of what will come to the Jewish community soon. Since the 2014 Israeli massacre of Gaza, there have been tensions over Zionism in the Jewish community, and in Jewish families, too, to the point that rabbis avoid the subject at all costs.

During Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2021, 94 rabbinical and cantorial students signed a letter to the “heart of the Jewish community” bewailing Israeli violence and the “intentional removal of Palestinians.” Alterman says that at a J Street conference some of these students said they had lost jobs over the letter, and “one was crying.” (And I reported that hot-shot Rabbi Angela Buchdahl declared that she would not hire any of them.)

That smoldering tension cannot last. The forces are too strong: Israel is too f*-d-up for young Jews to countenance anymore. And the Israel lobby– American Jewish political support– is simply too important for Israel’s existence. Neither will give way without a battle, and there will be open warfare before long.

One day young Jews will demand that the Nakba be named and consecrated inside liberal American Jewish entities that armed the ethnic cleansing, and denied it. They will demand the inclusion of Palestinians who describe the Nakba as a “genocide.”

P.S. Makovsky kept offering a roseate view of Israeli values. And for good reason: “shared values” with the U.S. is a “pillar” of Israel’s existence. So Makovsky asserted (against all evidence) that the massive democracy demonstrations in Israel will now “continue to the next hilltop,” the Palestinian issue. He said that the U.S. government “tried to hit the home run” on peace talks three times, and some of the blame for the failure goes to Palestinians.