Judaism Unbound Episode 130: Israel-Optional Judaism


Dan and Lex close out their unit on the relationship between American Jews and Israel. In their conversation, they explore a wide range of issues, ranging from the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, to civil disobedience in American-Jewish life, to the idea of loving Israel.

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(0:01 - 15:35): To begin the episode, Dan gives a shout-out to our friends at Clal, and encourages listeners to look into its Spark Fellowship, along with the Shift and Start programs (6-weeks and 20-weeks respectively) that it offers through the GLEAN Network. [1] He also puts out a friendly reminder that anyone can bring us to their community to discuss the future of American Judaism. He and Lex then begin their reflection on their 14-episode series on the relationship between American Jews and Israel. [2] They offer up a number of different ways in which American Jews relate to Israel, and they also name that for many, Israel is not such an important issue. Dan argues that a key problem that manifests around Israel is that people label each other as espousing beliefs that, when really engaged, they do not actually hold. 

(15:36 - 32:34): Lex draws a distinction between those who question particular Israeli policies and the growing group of American Jews that question whether Jewish statehood can ever manifest in a way that is democratic. [3] Relatedly, he and Dan both argue that no Jew should be barred or sidelined from Jewish institutions due to their orientation to Israel and Palestine. They also examine the set of Jewish institutions, in particular, that claim to be representative bodies. Lex argues that such organizations cannot honestly claim that they are both representative of an entire Jewish community (local, regional, or national) and permitted to draw red lines barring the opinions of some of those constituents from their ideological tents. [4] 

(32:35 - 49:04): The two co-hosts explore the question, and language, of antisemitism. They push back on the idea that, because some antisemites support boycotts, divestments, and sanctions towards Israel, that BDS is an antisemitic ideology. They similarly push back on the idea that, because some antisemites admire and support the state of Israel, that support for Israel constitutes an antisemitic ideology. Dan calls for increased conversation and dialogue, by those who strongly disagree with one another, around Israel-Palestine, and Lex calls for forms of Jewish education that primarily look to instill knowledge about Israel, and not an emotional connection to it. To close the unit, Dan and Lex re-visit the idea of loving Israel. They argue that it should be entirely permissible for Jews to feel love towards Israel or not, without any fear that their connection, or lack thereof, will be treated as inauthentically Jewish. [5]

[1]  Learn more about Clal's Spark Fellowship by clicking here.  We also encourage you to check out Shift and Start.

[2] To listen to any (or all!) of our episodes in this unit, head to our Find Any Episode page. This unit consists of episodes 117-130.

[3] In this section, Lex cites recent controversy around Israel's nation-state law. Explore that issue further by reading this piece, by Allison Kaplan Sommer, in Haaretz

[4] For an example of how the question of representation can loom large for Jewish institutions, especially around Israel and Zionism, see "Hillel does not represent all Jewish students, Open Hillel informs federal court in Amicus Brief." For the full text of the brief, click here.

[5] For another voice on the idea of loving Israel, see this piece, entitled "Why I Love Israel But I Am Not a Zionist," written by past Judaism Unbound guest Shulem Deen