A Reflection on Webinars presented by The Forward and Independent Jewish Voices
By Judith Weinroth
Recently The Forward newspaper sponsored a panel entitled “From civil rights to anti-racism”with Professor Anthea Butler, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Africana Studies, University of Pennsylvania; Professor Marc Dollinger, Jewish Studies Department, San Francisco State University, author of “Black Power, Jewish Politics”; Ginna Green, a Jew of colour, Fellow of the Kogod Research Center, Shalom Hartman Institute of North America; and Professor Susannah Heschel, Eli M. Black Distinguished Professor of Jewish Studies, Dartmouth College. If these are examples of those who teach Jewish studies to our young people, we are really in trouble.
All the panelists discussed anti-Black racism and stated that the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement was good. BDS is not a concern for them. Professor Butler, a black woman, the only non-Jew on the panel, was the one who included Antisemitism as an issue in the USA, part of the “existential crisis” of systemic racism, but she didn’t want to talk about Israel.
Professor Heschel (daughter of the late scholar and civil rights activist Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel) felt that leaders in the Jewish community today don’t recognize the need to discuss racism. In fact she said many Jews use the State of Israel and leaders such as Farrakhan as a way to avoid talking about racism. She asked ‘where are the Jewish prophets today while Black people are being murdered with impunity’?
Ginna Green said that white Jews feel challenged by an external projection of privilege, that what one does with privilege is under one’s control, and that being in coalition and solidarity with BLM does not require her to hold the same viewpoints as everyone else around her.
Professor Dollinger described himself as a liberal white male Jew. He lectures on Jews and race. During the webinar he said that white Jews benefit from white supremacy and also said that concern about Zionism is a diversion. He described a conversation with a black businessman in Alabama who thought Jews have power and access to the banks, so they should finance redevelopment of black neighbourhoods. The Professor thought that was a reasonable request!
As for the webinar hosted by Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), an organization that describes itself as a ‘grassroots organization grounded in Jewish tradition that opposes all forms of racism and advocates for justice and peace for all in Israel-Palestine’, I have more serious concerns. Their webinar was titled, “Jews against Zionism” featuring one of the IJV founders, Professor Yakov Rabkin, emeritus Professor of History at the University of Montreal, author of a book on Jewish Opposition to Zionism, which he states was well received in Israel.
Professor Rabkin was wearing a Kippa. He called himself a non-Zionist, but did not clarify how that differs from an anti-Zionist. He stated he was discussing political Zionism, not the religious Zionism of our prayers and Bible, but went on to use a passage in the Talmud to show why Zionism should be rejected. He used photos of religious Jews in Israel during his talk, taking them out of context in order to make negative comments about the State of Israel. Never in his talk did he explain that Haredi Jews, whom he used as examples of anti-Zionists, love the land of Israel, and pray for the return to Zion, but whose objection is to the current State of Israel, since they are waiting for the arrival of the Messiah to establish the new Zion.
Rabkin ignored all historical and legal issues related to Jewish sovereign rights to Israel, ignored the United Nations commitment to the re-establishment of the Jewish homeland in Israel, ignored facts on the ground such as there being over 7 million Jews living in Israel and with increasing antisemitism world-wide, this is incentive enough for many more to make Aliyah. Rabkin did not acknowledge that being antiZionist is being antisemitic as it negates Jewish rights to self-determination in the land of Israel.
So, is IJV grounded in Jewish tradition, or not?