Political Circles in NYC

One of the most important needs of the Jewish community is open spaces for discussion and dialogue about Judaism, Zionism and Israel. Such spaces were created in the last year, some by campus-based activists and others by ‘leftist’ peace activists. One such open space is the Creative Zionist Circle, which ipso facto limits its discussions to the context of Zionism. The meetings are extremely interesting. Another political circle is the Israel Forum (co-founded by myself) which is more concerned with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and promotion of political diversity. I think these discussions circles are very important as they create alternative spaces for people to discuss views which do not find their way through the institutionalized American-Jewry. Jewschool becomes sometimes some kind of online political circle.

Ariel Beery, co-founder of the Creative Zionist Circle, pointed out today in the circle’s website the need for having decentralized circles around the issue of Zionism. I would like to extend this call also to discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Zionist/Post-Zionist/Anti-Zionist debate and of course all topics that can be included under the general umbrella of Judaism.

A fellow activist from Philadelphia started a Jewish Dialogue program. This is a great resource to check out if you are thinking of facilitating dialogue. I would encourage you all to formalize political and cultural circles in your community.

10 thoughts on “Political Circles in NYC

  1. I agree wholeheartedly. After hearing Adam Shatz of The Nation, Jen Goldstein of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, Danny Shapiro of Israel on Campus, and Guy Ben-Dror from Hashomer Hatzair I was pretty disturbed about their seemingly rote and unproductive responses to issues of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Zionism and the way in which political Jewish identities manifest themselves on the streets of New York. After hearing them speak, I’ve begun to see a clear dichotomy between two types of Jewish activists.
    The first predicates their activism on their ideological conflict with the establishment which they consider to be dominant. For example, on the back of Adam Shatz’s new book it remarks that “contrary to popular belief, Jews do not speak with one voice about the Middle East.” One with a broader view of the world would answer “duh.” To suppose in the first place that Jews speak with one voice about the Middle East is to quietly suppose that their is even a potential for such actual uniformity in the Jewish community. The relatively large recognition of the Jewish left, most notably on the Tikkun community clearly presents centrist and right wing Jewish people with the idea that their is diversity within the larger Jewish community. It seems that this first group, which acts in the interest of “political diversity” “the tradition of social justice found in the prophets” and “ending the occupation” are more concerned with finding other Jews with their own politics than with unity (both Jewish and universal) as a fundamental and undeniably Jewish tradition. In these groups I see the same /selective fundamentalism/ that they claim to abhor.
    The second Jewish activist is one who has a general love and fascination for the political identities that Jews have shaped for themselves in the wake of their tragedies and their triumphs. For example, Sam Friedman, another speaker at the New Voices conference remarked how each stream of Jewish religious and political identity has been born out of an existential threat – whether it be spiritual or political. For example, Hasidism came from the need to rebel against the regimented Judaism wrapped in the dry sentiment of the ghetto, and Zionism was born as a political means to unite Jews under violent existential threats, both through pogroms and spiritual stagnation.
    It seems that there is a great silence on the importance of Jewish Unity among progressive activists because they fail to recognize that The Likud has, to this day, been an incredibly successful movement for Jewish unity. There is no concern that the Israel Forum and other progressive communities have relinquished their ties with other progressive Jews who feel their ideological adherence to abstract terms called “end the occupation” and “political diversity” is divisive in its attempt to achieve broad reaching and effective change.

  2. israel forum and creative zionist circle arent “progressive” in the sense you are using the word- the creative zionist circle is comprised from people faaar from being leftist. the israel forum on the other hand – i guess you’ll have to attend yourself 🙂 we have soundfiles from our last event. listen to it and tell me what you think.

  3. I realize now that so called “Jewish progressives” are failing in their attempt to attract young Jews who balance their idealism with the real suspicion of “activists” who claim not to be working for the betterment of many individual Jews, both Israelis and American, but for political ends that we must see as abstract and in the hands of leaders we have no personal connection to. The most profoundly disturbing phenomenon among progressive communities is not that they seek “dialogue” or “political diversity” but rather the freedom to form more grassroots Jewish groups with leftist orientation. Ways to combat this? Creative communities that seek to unify Jews NOT through political, intellectual, emotional, religious, or spiritual uniformity, but through creative expression, most notably through the arts. check this out http://www.yadarts.com/

  4. I see. I am using the word progressive to characterize a movement that actively strives to achieve new policies, ideas, or methods. I would like to think that the Israel forum stands by this universal ideal and is therefore progressive. I also use the word progressive to characterize an organization that considers itself in adherence to the liberal tradition. I use liberal to characterize a movement that functions as a result of the free society in which it is formed. For example, Ma’avak Echad is a progressive organization because it functions as a result of the liberal social framework in which it dwells. As a result it works to /progress/ this /free/ society. I percieve the Creative Zionist Circle and The Israel Forum as being in this same tradition of progression and liberalism – their politics don’t much matter because they are particular to the individuals that make up the groups. This thinking is not nessecarily my own – it is found in the work of Horace Kallen, a social philosopher who worked closely with Hebrew Union College and is one of the founders of the New School. He has a couple books on Israel and many more on the “melting pot” idea in the US.

  5. your characterization of maavak echad, i think, is wrong. they do not accept the notion that we are living in a free society thus they are revolutionary, not progressive.
    regarding all the rest of your coments – i am truly lost.

  6. the creative zionist circle is comprised from people faaar from being leftist.
    Interesting: it almost sounds like you are saying that either one is Zionist, or one is leftist, but that one cannot be both.
    Which is, as we know, incorrect. That said, I’m curious: who are these faaaar-from-leftist folks? What political leanings do the Creative Zionist crowd tend towards, for example?
    Which reminds me: the Creative Zionist Circle, which ipso facto limits its discussions to the context of Zionism. That seems like a good thing to me. Most discussion of Zionism seems to be based on a hackneyed, caricatured version which people bend into the straw man of their choosing. It’s productive to see some getting past the “pensée unique” to start actually developing new ideas.

  7. 8opus, i just said that in this certain case, the group is not a leftist group (though there are a few who would consider themselves lefties). it doesnt mean there arent zionist leftists.
    the discussions of the creative zionist circle are great. thats all i got to say. never said this is good or bad, that its limited to zionism. i just think there should be other forums as well, where zionism is not preassumed to be defining limits of discusison

  8. your characterization of maavak echad, i think, is wrong. they do not accept the notion that we are living in a free society thus they are revolutionary, not progressive.
    I agree that this is how they view themselves, but the society at large must view them as something else because their ability to exist depends wholly on their surroundings. This is why, for example, Maavak Echad doesn’t have a Sudanese equivalent. The political and social structure of Sudan wouldn’t allow for (what you call) revolutionaries to exist in solidarity.
    As for you being truly lost on my other comments – perhaps I wasn’t articulate enough or my ideas regarding the very real failure of new “alternative” Jewish spaces to remedy their knack for losing bright Jewish minds who are turned off by the revolutionary aesthetic that so often accompanies a radical departure from Jewish traditions of resistance, solidarity, and justice. All in all, my comments call for alternative “safe” spaces for dialogue, rather than alternative spaces where many Jews are afraid to go lest they hear sentiment that claws at their hearts. Even Asaf noted earlier his trials with the “Free Palestine” across from Virgin in Union Square. The problem is many fail to see the difference between the rhetoric in the so called “alternative” spaces for dialogue and the realms of “free palestine” organizations. There is almost no effort to combat this, and that is why many liberal, lefty Jews are running as far as they can from organizations like Brit Tzedek v’Shalom and the Israel Forum. The problem is, after hearing many of their representatives speak, I’ve yet to hear the nuance I need in order to join.

  9. hey eli-
    regarding maavak echad – the only criterion that distiniguishes between what is progressive and what is revolutionary, is the agenda of movement X itself. Thus X may be a subversive fascist movement, using a democracy’s weekness in order to take over it – such as the Nazi party in the Vimar Republic.
    In any case anarchist groups seem to be in a totally different group to me because usually they base their activities in some kind of Temporary Autonomous Zone strategy – momentary liberation. I dont see any other way to categorize such movements unless they want to call themselves reformist revolutionaries 🙂
    regarding your second comment – Israel Forum is not brit tzedek, its something completely different. nobody is running away from it. we are actually hosted by the Hillel at NYU and are a quickly growing organization. i really think you should learn more about it by attending our events next year.

  10. In regards to Maavak, I accept that analysis. But as you probably have discerned, a lot of their tactics are more funny than inspirational.
    I would like to attend your events, but I’ll be living in Berlin, Krakow and Jerusalem to study Jewish history through the summer of 2005. But when I get back, you got it brother / I’ll be there to stir it up.

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