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Renegade Jews?

Posted on October 14, 2009 in Default

In a recent article in the Jerusalem Post , the writer and activist Isi Leibler takes an uncompromosing stance against leftist Jewish critics of Israel. Amongst those he damns as ‘renegade Jews’  are Israeli post-Zionists (particularly within Israeli universities), the J Street lobbying group in the US and the newspaper Haaretz. He is dismissive of ‘fringe groups of “non-Jewish Jews,” many with no prior involvement in Jewish life, exploited their Jewish origins or Israeli nationality to defame Israel’. He argues that:

Such odious Jews can be traced back to apostates during the Middle Ages who fabricated blood libels and vile distortions of Jewish religious practice for Christian anti-Semites to incite hatred which culminated in massacres. It was in response to these renegades that the herem (excommunication) was introduced.

He recommends the following solution to the problem:

The Israeli government must now take steps to neutralize the impact of renegade Jews who present themselves as legitimate alternative Jewish viewpoints. Such an initiative by a country which provides genuine democratic rights to all its citizens, including Arabs, could hardly be categorized as eradicating freedom of expression. It would rather represent a highly overdue effort to exorcise such odious groups from the mainstream and expose them as unrepresentative fringe groups with no standing.

Strong words indeed. Regardless of whether those that Leibler targets really are as odious as he claims; regardless of whether it is possible to maintain a democratic Israel (and indeed a democratic diaspora Jewish community) that at the same time ‘neutralises’ dissenting voices; regardless of whether  those he despises really are confined to small minorities of ‘non-Jewish Jews’; Leibler’s views are reckless in the extreme. The herem he wishes for might have been possible at a time when Jews lived in small, homogeneous self-governing communities. In a time when individuals have the freedom to identify as they please, it is simply a recipe for dischord. Even were it desirable you simply cannot ostracise people in this way anymore – communities and identies are too fluid to be policed in this way. Whether Leibler likes it or not, some Jews in Israel and the Diapora will continue to identify as Jews whilst being severly critical of Israel and Zionism.

Leibler’s proposal is simply a recipe for yet more intra-communal strife and bitterness. Do the Jewish people really need another source of tension to add to progressive-secular-orthodox tensions? It is sheer fantasy to imagine that Leibler’s ‘renegade Jews’ can be cut out of the body of the Jewish people.Instead of such fantasies, Jewish leaders and opinion formers need to start grappling with the reality and inevitability of dissent.