The rise and rise of humane Judaism

One of the only positive legacies of the Bush years has been the rise in Jewish voices of dissent in the mainstream. Sure, Diaspora dissent has existed for decades but rarely as loudly and influential as today. Inspirations and friends such as Tony Karon and Phil Weiss in the US, Brit Tony Judt and Independent Jewish Voices in the UK (whose Verso book on these issues, A Time to Speak Out, is released in October, and features a chapter by yours truly.)

All of us come from radically different backgrounds but we share the belief that Judaism should no longer be defined solely through Zionism. Israeli behaviour remains so shocking, brutal and unacceptable (bravely documented by an Israeli human rights group such as B’Tselem) that a growing number of Jews have started to publicly condemn the Jewish state’s criminality and immorality. A group I co-founded last year, Independent Australian Jewish Voices, was part of this process.

And now, in a further sign that our Jewish voices won’t be silenced due to Zionist intimidation or threats, a feature in today’s Australian newspaper that begins to articulate what kind of Jewish writing is possible (away from blind Zionist love or Holocaust porn):

Journalist and author Antony Loewenstein says his book, My Israel Question, and his print and online articles stem from a interest in “re-defining or shifting the definition of what Judaism is. Judaism does not have to be interlinked with Zionism.” His Jewish identity does not define his self or his work, he says: “I see myself as a human being first and a Jew second.”

But his background has led him to question what he perceives as a reluctance to discuss Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians among some in the Jewish community and in the Western media. Loewenstein’s grandparents were assimilated European Jews who migrated to Melbourne in 1939 and lost most of their relatives in the Holocaust. Because of their experiences he understands the strong emotional connection of Holocaust survivors to Israel. Yet “years of listening to Jewish family, friends, (and) community dehumanising Palestinians and Arabs” has fired his interest in human rights.

His work has raised the ire of many in the Australian Jewish community, which became, according to Freadman, almost universally Zionistic after the Holocaust. Though he has received death threats and hate mail, Loewenstein says he has also had support from Jews and non-Jews grateful that he has provided a forum for discussion.

Post-Zionist or anti-Zionist Jews may be in the minority in the Diaspora, but we’re determined to no longer allow hardline Zionists to define who we are as human beings.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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