Identity, Israel, Politics

Two more takes on the Rosenfeld debate

The American Jewish Committee stirred up quite the contreversy when it released Alvin Rosenfeld’s “Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism,” (here’s Jewschool’s coverage). Recently, R. Arthur Waskow and Shaul Magid & Paul Bogdanor have returned to the subject.
We’ll begin with Reb Arthur. In a piece titled Renewing Jewish Culture or Excommunicating Jewish Thinkers in The Huffington Post, Waskow goes beyond the scope of the paper, and accuses the AJC of some pretty nasty things:

AJCom sees no value in major contributions to Jewish culture that come outside the conventional box of defending Israel and keeping Jewish lineage pure. Indeed, the AJCom implicitly sees these crossing-the-line contributions as a threat to its own one-dimensional definition of Jewish values:
For the AJCom, the only test of Jewish value is whether one wholeheartedly and single-mindedly supports the policies of the Jewish State. It is anathema, with almost all the weight that word carried in medieval Christian practice, to question those policies and to agonize over the conundrum of how to uphold the democratic values of the Israeli Declaration of Independence and affirm the Jewishness of the state at the same time.
Yet it is precisely the policies of the Jewish state that are undermining its Jewishness in both demographic and ethical terms. And these policies the AJCom does not criticize. Nor does it dare address the conundrum of Jewish-and-democratic.

Waskow examines the role of the AJC in recent American politics, especially as they relate to the Middle East, and arrives at the following conclusion:

I would accuse them of arrogance and the stupidity that is bred by arrogance. I do think their perspective is so shortsighted that they have forfeited the kind of respect they used to command – indeed, the kind of respect that recently brought great newspapers to pay more attention to their attack on bright lights of Jewish culture than those same papers would have given the scrawls of nasty graffiti-makers on walls of beauty and intelligence.

Full Story.
In this month’s Zeek, also features criticism of the Rosenfeld piece. The Zeek editors sum up:

The Jewish world is abuzz with Prof. Alvin Rosenfeld’s controversial report, “Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism,” which claims that progressive Jews have been giving succor to antisemitism by criticizing Zionist ideology and Israeli foreign policy. Here in Why Must Jews Support a Jewish State?, Rosenfeld’s Indiana University colleague Prof. Shaul Magid disputes Rosenfeld’s argument, suggesting that the anti-Semitic quotes he has used were taken out of context. Paul Bogdanor, whose book provided Rosenfeld with much of his original material, responds in Dissent or Hatred by providing, for the very first time, the original sources for Rosenfeld’s essay, as well as additional citations. In Response to Paul Bogdanor, Magid counters by arguing that Judaism as a religion is distinct from its manifestation in a nation-state and suggests that Bogdanor and Rosenfeld have abandoned Judaism for a secular Zionist nationalism.
This second round in the Rosenfeld debate ends with a more provocative question than it began: Can left and right in the U.S. dialogue any further at all?

Full Story.

4 thoughts on “Two more takes on the Rosenfeld debate

  1. I don’t get the new Jewschool background image.
    On Topic:
    I thought Magid’s piece was fairly straight and to the point, and found Bogdanor’s reply to be something of a dodge. When Zionism was riding the wave of European nationalisms, it was easy to justify it purely political-theoretical terms. Today, few seem up to the challenge of explaining or justifying any nation-state at all, let alone a particularly Jewish one. Questions of political obligation can barely be answered in the academic political theory world, so it’s no surprise that people like Alvin Rosenfeld and Paul Bogdanor can’t explain why American Jews should feel a sense of political obligation towards the State of Israel.

  2. Bogdanor did ignore the central issue raised in Magid’s piece – namely that the Rosenfeld essay is based on a number of unstated assumptions regarding the centrality of Zionism in modern Jewish life that should have been addrssed explicitly. The problem is that Magid was not content to simply make his points regarding the complex relationship between Jewish tradition and Zionism. Rather, he felt a need to provide particularly strained defenses of the indefensible rhetoric of Rose and Neumann. (Magid assumes that Rose and Neumann are discussing Zionism in good faith, when it is clear from their work that they are not.) It is not surprising that Bogdanor chose to focus on this aspect of Magid’s effort, which provided a much easier target.
    While Magid’s arguments regarding whether Zionism or anti-Zionism is more authentically grounded in Jewish tradition are interesting,
    I’m not convinced that it a particularly useful conversation to be having. The Jewish state is a reality – its dismantling would entail the loss of many Jewish lives. It is therefore reasonable that the organized Jewish community would place criticism of the legitimacy of Israel (as opposed to specific Israeli policies) as beyond the pale of acceptable discourse within the community.

  3. “I think you mean “Rav Arthur” (Rabbi Arthur), not “Reb Arthur” (Mr. Arthur).”
    I suppose that depends upon whether you’re trying to be insulting or not. Or also could be following the general habits of the renewal types, who don’t actually make (don’t understand or know?? I’m not sure) that distinction.

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