The Widening Cracks in Zionism

Zionism has imposed an ideological orthodoxy that seeks to lock Jews – and Western politicians – into unquestioning support for whatever Israel does, but more people are breaking ranks, observes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

Ideological movements, be they religious or secular, are demanding and Procrustean movements. By ideological movements I mean those that demand of their adherents resolute belief in some “deep set of truths” posited by a deity, by supposed immutable historical laws, or by some other equally unchallengeable source. Their followers, once initiated, or even just born into the fold, are expected to stay there and, as the saying goes, “keep the faith.”

However, in cultural, political and religious terms, there are no eternal deep truths. History has an abrasive quality that erodes our beliefs in this god and that law. Though the process might take a longer or shorter time to manifest itself, yesterday’s faith will at some point start to ring less true. At some point followers start to fall away.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pressed his case for the military offensive against Gaza in a meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in 2014. (Israeli government photo)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pressed his case for the military offensive against Gaza in a meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in 2014. (Israeli government photo)

What happens when ideologically driven leaders start to lose their following? Well, they get very upset because those who are supposed to affirm everything the movement stands for are now having doubts. Such doubters are dangerous to the supposed true faith and so are usually dealt with in one of two ways: (1) the ideologues in charge attempt to marginalize the disaffected by denigrating them and then casting them out of the fold or (2) if we are dealing with totalitarian types, they send the dissenters off to a gulag, or worse.

This sort of unraveling – the loss of growing numbers of traditional followers of an ideological movement – seems to be going on within the Zionist community, particularly among American Jews.

Zionism is an ideological movement that preaches the God-given Jewish right to control and settle all of historical Palestine. Since the founding of Israel in 1948 the Zionists have also claimed that the “Jewish State” represents all of world Jewry, thus self-aware Jews owe allegiance to both Israel and its prevailing Zionist philosophy.

However, in the last decade or so, that allegiance has been breaking down. In the U.S. a growing “disconnect” has been noted between the outlook and actions of the ideologically rigid leaders of major U.S. Jewish organizations (who remain uncritically supportive of Israel) and the increasingly alienated Jewish-American rank-and-file whom, at least up until recently, the leaders claimed to represent. This gap has been repeatedly documented by several sources ranging from, Pew Research Center surveys, to the Jewish Forward newspaper, and the organization of Reform Judaism.

As characterized by the Jewish Forward the situation is that ordinary American Jews are “far more critical of Israel than the Jewish establishment.” Almost half of the American Jews surveyed by a Pew study in 2013 did not think the Israeli government was making a “sincere effort” to achieve peace with the Palestinians. Almost as many saw Israel’s expanding colonization of the West Bank as counterproductive.

Thus, this disconnect is not a sudden or new situation. The numbers of questioning American Jews have continued to grow, and things have only gotten worse for the Zionist leadership. Indeed, just as many young American Jews may be joining pro-peace activist groups as are cheering on AIPAC at its conventions.

Leadership Reactions in the U.S.

Following the two-option scheme described above, the main reaction of the leadership of American Jewish organizations is to try to marginalize these questioning Jews – to dismiss them as “uninformed, unengaged, or wrong.”  To that end American Jewish officials are now conveniently asking if they really need to represent “the disorganized, unaffiliated Jewish community … the 50% of Jews who, in a calendar year, do not step into a synagogue, do not belong to a JCC [Jewish Community Center], and are Jews in name only.”

A map showing Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Territories.

A map showing Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Territories.

This sort of marginalizing of all but the true believers was articulated by Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. He told the Jewish Forward, “you know who the Jewish establishment represents? Those who care.”

Here Foxman was engaging in a bit of circular thinking: the important constituency is those represented by the establishment. How do we know? They are the ones who still “care” about Israel. How do we define caring? Caring means continuing to believe what the Jewish establishment and the Israeli government tell them.

Eventually Foxman goes even further, concluding that Jewish leaders aren’t beholden to the opinions of any aspect of the Jewish public. “I don’t sit and poll my constituency,” Foxman said. “Part of Jewish leadership is leadership. We lead.” It would appear that, over time, he is leading diminishing numbers.

Reaction out of Israel to reports of the growing alienation of American Jews has been aggressively negative. After all, Israel is the centerpiece of Zionist ideology – its grand achievement. Being the subject of criticism by growing numbers of Jews, in the U.S. or elsewhere, is utterly unacceptable to those now in charge of Israel’s ruling institutions.

These leaders, both secular and religious, have begun to write off critical and skeptical Jews as apostates, even to the point of denying that they are Jews at all.

Seymour Reich, who is a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (such folks always wait until they retire to speak out critically), has recently described Israel’s current leadership as alarmingly anti-democratic. He writes of “the Israeli government’s assault on democratic values” and its use of “legislation and incitement to strike down dissent,” be it expressed through “speech, press, religion [or] academic freedoms.”

He goes on to quote the Israeli Minister of Religious Affairs, David Azoulay. “Speaking about Reform and Conservative Jews,” who happen to make up the majority of Jews in the U.S., are often of liberal persuasion, and increasingly alienated by the ultraorthodox policies of Israel’s religious establishment, Azoulay said, “I cannot allow myself to call such a person a Jew,” and, “We cannot allow these groups to get near the Torah of Israel.”

Things appear potentially even worse when we hear Israel’s Intelligence Minister Israel Katz calling for the “targeted killing” of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) leaders. In the U.S., many of these leaders are Jewish.

Such official Israeli attitudes make a mockery of the claims of American politicians, such as Hillary Clinton, that Israel “is built on principles of equality, tolerance and pluralism. … And we marvel that such a bastion of liberty exists in a region so plagued by intolerance.” It should be noted that in January 2016 the Israeli Knesset rejected a bill that would have secured in law equality for all the country’s citizens.

In truth, Zionism and the state it created have always been ideologically rigid. Every effort at modifying the movement’s basic demand for a state exclusive to one people, from early concepts of “cultural Zionism” to more recent notions of “liberal Zionism,” has failed.

The occasional bit of propagandistic dissimulation notwithstanding, Zionist leaders from Ben Gurion to Netanyahu have been dedicated to (a) territorial expansion based on the principle of Eretz Israel (greater Israel) and (b) the principle of inequality – none of them have ever seriously considered equal social and economic, much less political, treatment for non-Jews. That means that the present, obnoxiously rigid hardliners both in the U.S. and Israel are pushing persistent racist and colonialist themes.

It is the persistence of these Zionist themes that has led to increasing skepticism among U.S. Jews, most of whom take the ideals of democracy seriously. And it is the ideologically rigid refusal to reach a just peace with the Palestinians, who 67 years after the triumph of Zionism are still being ethnically cleansed, that has pushed many otherwise passive Jews into open opposition.

It has taken us several generations to get to this point, but our arrival has been predictable all along. That is because the ideology of Zionism brooks no compromises and admits to no sins – even as Israeli behavior grows evermore barbaric.

Thus, the number of dissenters and critics grow and the ideologues start to become anxious and vengeful – a display of aggression that only alienates more Jews. Thus it is that Zionism has begun to unravel.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

15 comments for “The Widening Cracks in Zionism

  1. Tara McFly
    May 22, 2016 at 10:05

    Everyone worldwide should watch the Roger Waters documentary “The Occupation of the American Mind”. It’s only $5.00 to stream and $19.99 to purchase the DVD.
    My heart bled for the Jews after what happened to them in the Second World War. I am NO jew hater so don’t come back on me and call me such as that is just more propaganda to try to shore up their side of this farce. I no longer have an ounce of sympathy to waste on these people and CANNOT believe I was so mistaken about the true story for so long.
    They have pulled the wool over the eyes of the entire world’s population with their constant whining, lobbying of governments, and propaganda in the MSM. Their continuous theft of monies from the rest of the world’s respective taxpayers for their phony war on the Palestinian people, just so they can steal more of their lands, needs to end IMMEDIATELY. They’re criminals, murderers, liars and thieves, nothing more.
    The theft of Palestinian land is real, the murders they (the Israelis) commit are real.
    I don’t care what some omnipotent sky fairy in a fairy tale book ‘supposedly’ stated, the land DOES NOT belong to them, nor should it.
    It’s time we, the citizens of the world, collectively stood up to them as this shiite needs to stop.

    • Zachary Smith
      May 22, 2016 at 19:17

      They’re criminals, murderers, liars and thieves, nothing more.

      Just because a lot of the Israeli Jews fit that description doesn’t mean they all do. And it’s certainly unfair to use the criminal elements in Holy Israel to bash every Jew on the planet.

      It’s difficult for me to get information I trust, but it’s my belief that a substantial number of Israelis are either leaving that country or are quietly preparing to do so by getting the necessary paperwork done in other nations. The saner ones can see what the lunatic settler faction is getting them into, and they don’t like what they see.

  2. May 21, 2016 at 21:39

    Many American\ Jews, after the last Gaza mass brutality and he appearance of Sanders and his independent stance, are somewhat close to changing. Perhaps another Gaza event, like the last one, plus the rise of a younger, charismatic Jewish politician, or other leader, might cause them to to take the chance, and live their present convictions..

  3. Peter Loeb
    May 21, 2016 at 09:14


    In essence, Lawrence Davidson’s essay is an optimistic view
    of a world that doesn’t exist. Unfortunately Abraham Foxman is
    more to the point. The powerful and elite do not go by
    polls and are not affected by the numbers of followers they
    may have at a particular time. This has been the way
    of Zionism since its inception. It has acted from
    privilege and power and has used every means at its
    disposal from boycott to death threats to economic reprisal
    to get its way.

    In another context, the late historian Gabriel Kolko once

    “What is cause for pessimism is the fact that the main
    beneficiaries of American power show not the slightest
    hesitancy in acting to retain or magnify their power
    and will at home and abroad—they have in brief, both
    a will and a still substantional capacity to survive…”

    The pro-Israel support in the US Congress seems to
    become more and more solid. Instead of reducing the
    billions per year to Israel for weapons, our current
    president is already in discussion with the PM of Israel
    on its increase. And in Israel itself, oppression of
    Palestinians continues unabated, rallies with shouts
    of “Death to Arabs” have not gone away. In public
    forums (such as the UN) the US continues to protect
    the immunity of the State of Israel. The US is not
    below calling any criticism of Israel as a form of

    Whatever the numbers of more moderate American
    Jews, they remain a weak political force. They are
    unorganized to move established forces which
    have long dominated. They do not make million
    dollar contributions to politicians and the like.

    As one born Jewish but not raised in Jewish tradition or
    practice, I am personally ashamed that a movement would
    attach itself to my group as though it represented it. In fact,
    Jewish origins aside, I would feel the same shame were
    such behavior countenanced in any other group. (This
    is not limited not only to Israel as a state but to the
    entire history of the Zionist movement,)

    —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  4. Zachary Smith
    May 20, 2016 at 20:04

    That many American Jews are waking up is a good sign, but it’s also irrelevant. The entire Jewish population of the US is reported by Google to be 2.2%. Contrast that with a Christian Zionist percentage of over 50%.

    It’s the ignorant but highly devout Protestants in the US which are the real problem, in my opinion.

    • JWalters
      May 20, 2016 at 21:16

      They’re financed and duped by the same war profiteers.

    • Brad Owen
      May 21, 2016 at 08:31

      Yes, the Christian Zionists…and THAT has been the TORY Project all along. The Tories? Yes the British Empire…what Professor Carroll Quigley described as “The Anglo-American Establishment” (what Cecil Rhodes sought all along; the recapture of the “Rogue Colony” for the Empire). The Grand Objective is to SECURE the African “Colonies” for the British/Euro Empire, and PERMANENTLY forestall the revival of the dreaded MUSLIM EMPIRE that destroyed the previous Euro Empire (Romans, Byzantines, threatened Hapsburgs, Italy, France, swallowed Spain & Portugal for centuries, etc…). To accomplish THIS, the “Rogue Colony” had to be reclaimed, and Its’ power & might put into service FOR the Empire, and no longer AGAINST it, in the interest of The Republic (for which It NO LONGER stands). The Zionist BeachHead (like D-Day Normandy) accomplishes this objective perfectly. So just maybe NOW we can finally see that the Zionist tail does NOT wag the “Anglo-American” Dog. It’s not all about the Zionists. It’s all about the Tories/Imperialists, and the securing of Empire, and DEFLECTING attention AWAY from this, with a zionist “Red Herring”.

      • Larry
        May 21, 2016 at 20:07

        Local, regional, and global war criminals and civic despots everywhere, including Israel, England, the United States, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Myanmar, Honduras, Colombia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Russia, China, et al (get my point?), need to be put on trial and prosecuted, period. To focus myopically only or predominantly on Israel is racially based, and by this I mean is bigotry, even though the attention there is definitely warranted. The attention is definitely warranted also in all the places mentioned above and dozens more as well. It would be constructive if people would check their personal biases, bigotries, obsessions, and hatreds – and political myopias – at the door of justice. Otherwise, justice is not served and is no longer just, but becomes persecution. Bigotry is not welcome, anywhere.

    • Helga Fellay
      May 22, 2016 at 12:12

      Zachary Smith, I would not call the waking up of many American Jews “irrelevant.” The fact that 2.2% of the population have been able to achieve total dominance over the US political and financial systems, as well as the 4th estate – the MSM – proves that numbers alone are not necessarily significant. Keep in mind that the highly devout Protestants didn’t start out being zionists, they were “converted” to zionism by the same highly funded and highly organized hasbara system which conquered our supine government. Change has to come from within the Jewish community, both here in the US and in Israel. As this article points out, it is coming, and the speed with which it is coming, is accelerating. Once militant zionism has been fully exposed for what it is, it will no longer have the power to dominate as it does. This also means that eventually the veil hiding the ugly face of the zionist deity to which the ignorant but highly devout Protestants in the US are praying will have fallen off and with it, lost its power over those 50%. Everything that has been learned can also be unlearned.

      • Zachary Smith
        May 22, 2016 at 19:09

        Keep in mind that the highly devout Protestants didn’t start out being zionists, they were “converted” to zionism by the same highly funded and highly organized hasbara system which conquered our supine government.

        Ok, I’ll concede that “irrelevant” was a bad choice for what I was trying to say. What you wrote is quite true, and that process has been going on for a century and a half. The movement captured the British government a long time ago.

  5. Joe B
    May 20, 2016 at 19:23

    Zionism is certainly as doomed as fascism in the long run. The victims of right wing bullying usually form their own right wing, initially in defense, which must create outside enemies to pose as protectors and demand power in their group, which leads to imperial over-reach. Napoleon and then Hitler underestimated Russia’s generals January and general February, and we may hope that the Zionists underestimate those they bully. They would have been wiped out long ago by their victims but for the corruption of US elections and mass media, for which we must blame them in large part.

    I wept for them fifty years ago, learned what a damnable gang of fascists they were in the US thirty years ago, and still advocated a two-state solution with equitable resource distribution. But having seen the possibly irreparable damage they have done to the mass media and elections in the US, I really don’t care what happens to them any more. I would not be sad to see a collapse of the obstacles to letting their victims wipe them out, such as the stability of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Probably only such a scenario will discredit them and bring them into sufficient fear to negotiate a fair solution, which has never even been on the table. It would be very good indeed to be rid of the fanatical scoundrels, so that peace can be made in the Middle East.

    • Joe Tedesky
      May 20, 2016 at 22:44

      Joe B, I can’t help but attach my sentiment on this subject to your comment here. While, I was reading Mr Davidson’s article, I kept thinking about ethnic backlash. I worry that the non-Zionist Jew could suffer a terrible fate, if the world should ever decide and punish the Jews for the crimes which have been committed by their Zionist brothers, if they were to be put on trial. After all, America is the country which locked up innocent Japanese-Americans during WWII, just for their being Japanese. It isn’t as though the world has never seen this kind of brutal racist public reaction before. I like you, have evolved from once being an Israeli sympathizer to now becoming a harsh critic of almost everything Israeli. Although, I am able to separate my criticism between the average Jewish person, and the Zionist/Likud type that lurks amongst them, I’m not so sure that this formula will work out well for everyone. Netanyahu and his ilk are doing the Jewish people a dishonor, by portraying their crimes behind their Jewish culture and ethnicity. I hope more good Jewish people, along with more Americans, may someday soon put responsible decent leaders in charge, and be done with the wickedness these criminals have bestowed upon the people of this earth.

  6. Bob Van Noy
    May 20, 2016 at 16:00

    “However, in cultural, political and religious terms, there are no eternal deep truths. History has an abrasive quality that erodes our beliefs in this god and that law. By Lawrence Davidson

    What a fine essay by Professor Davidson. There is great wisdom being expressed here; just what one would expect from a history professor. Many thanks…

Comments are closed.