Gold­berg’s vari­a­tions on Zion­ist think­ing

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts & Entertainment -

OF­TEN OUT­SPO­KEN Libe r a l r a bbi e mer­i­tus David Gold­berg’s This Is Not The Way is a sear­ing cri­tique of Is­rael’s slide from demo­cratic val­ues, and a lament about how the state has come to dom­i­nate the Jewish agenda world­wide. Yet it is also a book writ­ten in a spirit of love for his peo­ple.

Much of Gold­berg’s ire is re­served for the febrile talk of the “next Holo­caust”, of anti-zion­ism merely mask­ing old fash­ioned an­tisemitism (ig­nor­ing the fact that Zion­ism was once a dis­tinctly mi­nor­ity opin­ion among world Jewry).

He chides Ai­pac and oth­ers as con­sti­tut­ing a pow­er­ful lobby that para­dox­i­cally de­nies its own ex­is­tence. In fact, he says, the lobby is, iron­i­cally, less rep­re­sen­ta­tive than it claims to be of main­stream Jewry.

We have, he says, dropped the old iden­ti­fiers of Jewish val­ues — God, To­rah and the Jewish peo­ple — for a new trin­ity of Holo­caust, an­tisemitism and fealty to the state of Is­rael. This can and should be reversed, Gold­berg be­lieves, if we ac­knowl­edge a new cat­e­gory, be­yond Con­ser­va­tive, Pro­gres­sive and Ortho­dox — that of the cul­tural Jew.

The book’s ti­tle draws on the pre­scient es­say, This Is Not The Way, by Ahad Haam, the great thinker who was a Zion­ist be­fore Theodor Herzl even knew the term. Like Ha-am, Gold­berg casts his gaze on the moral short­com­ings of Jewish chau­vin­ist at­ti­tudes to Arabs al­ready liv­ing in Pales­tine, and now Is­rael.

Gold­berg ex­cels in splic­ing to­gether schol­arly ob­ser­va­tions with sur­pris­ing hu­mour and re­viv­ing ne­glected Jewish eth­i­cal val­ues by hold­ing a Passover for Pales­tini­ans — some­thing even Elie Wiesel should ap­prove of, he guesses.

On­theother­hand,gold­bergex­ploits the space to, for ex­am­ple, re­hearse his over­long spat with An­thony Julius over the lat­ter’s tome on an­tisemitism or to segue into ab­struse ter­ri­tory about in­ter­mar­riage, con­ver­sion, and the old Pro­gres­sive vs Ortho­dox ding-dong.

If this sounds as though Gold­berg is over con­cerned to ap­pear “right on”, his crit­ics may be sur­prised by his ob­ser­va­tions about Mus­lim an­tisemitism in Bri­tain.

Once, writes Gold­berg, Zion­ism was a bold re­sponse to moder­nity that “adapted metaphors of faith to [its] own sec­u­lar pur­poses” and “posi- tioned it­self in the main­stream of Jewish his­tory as a ful­fil­ment of, not a rup­ture with, the Jewish past”. Now it has trans­formed into a more tribal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion that brooks no dis­sent and sub­or­di­nates “the dic­tates of Jewish con­science to the tawdry ma­noeu­vrings of Is­raeli pol­i­tics”.

At the same time, Is­rael is piv­otal to the Jewish ex­pe­ri­ence, and Gold­berg writes com­pas­sion­ately and proudly about “my peo­ple, stub­born, stiff-necked, dis­pu­ta­tious, en­er­getic, adapt­able, re­silient and enor­mously tal­ented”. To those, like Arnold Toyn­bee, who call Ju­daism a fos­silised re­li­gion, Gold­berg ar­gues that it will add its own “dis­tinc­tive con­tri­bu­tion to im­prov­ing the world” for cen­turies to come. Lawrence Joffe’s ‘An Il­lus­trated His­tory of the Jewish Peo­ple’ will be pub­lished later this year

David Gold­berg and friend: “dis­pu­ta­tious”

Eli Amir: pleads for mu­tual tol­er­ance

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