Daniel Gordis and the Transferists Among Us
Daniel Gordis has yichus. He comes from the American Jewish élite. He is a scion of the Gordis family which produced the seminal scholars, David and Robert Gordis, both major figures in Conservative Judaism (David was my Talmud teacher at Jewish Theological Seminary and someone I respected a great deal). Daniel eventually made aliya and has gone from a centrist political outlook to Likudist over the years. He is now a senior vice president at the Shelly Adelson-financed, Bibiphile, Shalem Center, where his colleagues are Natan Sharansky and (until he was named Israel’s ambassador to the U.S.) Michael Oren. It is safe to say that Daniel has politically gone off the family reservation. He is now a full-fledged Likudist apparatchik with a rabbinical degree.
Because of his Conservative pedigree he has a ready-made American Jewish audience and is a regular on the Jewish speaker circuit at synagogues, Jewish federations and the like. His writing plays on a reputation for centrism and moderation by making it appear that his views are the height of reason and common sense. Not so fast.
My friend Jerry Haber has written a critique of Gordis’ latest book, Saving Israel. The book flirts with the notion that forced transfer of Israel’s Palestinian citizens may be necessary to preserve its Jewish majority and the notion of Jewish self-determination.
Jerry notes that Gordis begins chapter six of his book with this quotation:
Israel cannot be defined as a democratic state. The only way to make Israel a democratic state is to eliminate its Jewish character.
—The Future Vision of Palestinian Arabs in Israel, National Committee of the Heads of the Arab Local Authorities in Israel
There is only one problem. While the first sentence is in the document (page 9), the second isn’t. I’ve both browsed through the entire paper and done searches on every phrase in the second sentence and it isn’t there. So either Gordis confused his sources and has misattributed this quotation or else he’s fabricated it.
I would never claim there are no Palestinians who believe Israel must eliminate its Jewish character to become a democratic state. But the point is that the document and organization behind this document didn’t publish the words that Gordis put in their mouth. And in fact, if he’d actually read the entire document he’d realize that considering other arguments that are in the document which call on Israel to recognize the religious rights of the minority, that it would make no sense for them to demand the elimination of the religious rights of the Jewish majority.
What this document does demand is that Israel deny superior rights to Jews in the state it envisions. There is a huge difference between this and eliminating Israel’s Jewish character entirely. Only the farthest of the far-left anti-Zionist movement demands this and Gordis has done a deep disservice to Adalah in claiming what he has. He owes it an explanation and an apology unless he can explain what he did and why.
Menachem Klein of Bar Ilan University argues in his new book, The Shift, that efforts like Gordis’ are part and parcel of an:
Expansion of the conflict to include also the Israeli Palestinians [along with] the misreading of their vision documents by the current Jewish majority.
So what Gordis has possibly done is to engage in a political and intellectual fraud, but it is one that isn’t his alone. But rather it is part of a deliberate distortion of the actual views of Israeli Palestinian nationalists. The Shabak, in its campaigns to persecute Israeli Palestinian leaders like Ameer Makhoul, also fabricates a nationalist position that calls for the destruction of Israel, which is not at all what Adalah or Balad believe.
The sixth chapter of Gordis’ book also recounts in that way that ideologues have of tailoring their memories to suit their political agendas, his two years of study at Baltimore’s Episcopalian Gilman School. He was irked as a Jewish student that the entire student body said the Lord’s Prayer every morning. He uses this as an allegory for contemporary Israel in which he compares Palestinian Israelis to the well-tolerated Jewish students at Gilman. His point is that no Jew should’ve expected to be fully accepted or integrated into Gilman because it was a school based in a religious tradition (much as Israel is allegedly). Any Jew who chafed at this situation had a right to leave (as Gordis did after two years). In other words, you can’t change a religious institution from within if you’re of a different religious tradition than the founders. If you don’t like it you should leave.
Jerry Haber, who was a student at Gilman earlier, also notes that Jews were compelled to attend religious instruction an even more onerous requirement that Gordis doesn’t even mention. But unlike Gordis, Haber stayed in touch with friends at Gilman and the School itself and watched its remarkable progress in ridding itself of some of the more offensive Christo-centric customs. It did this because it genuinely wanted to welcome Jews as equal partners in the School. You won’t see any of this in Gordis’ book because it is distinctly “off message.”
Gordis wants to posit an Israel that has a right to be Judeo-centric and a right to accord superior rights to Jewish citizens. That is how he even flirts with the Kahanist transferist program advocated by Avigdor Lieberman and the Israeli far-right. That a mainstream American Jewish rabbi should be speaking about transfer as if it is an unfortunate, but necessary concept that may be necessary to preserve Israel as a Jewish state indicates how far to the right Israel discourse has gone both in the U.S. and Israel. This rabbi, who speaks favorably of the notion of forcibly expelling hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens from their homeland, is toying with Jewish fascism. But you wouldn’t know it by the generous accolades on his book cover from the likes of Cynthia Ozick and Natan Sharansky.
Here is some of Gordis’ writing on transfer:
Therefore, despite the great pain, these potentially agonizing solutions to an undeniable problem have to be raised… Those who seek to restore purpose to Israeli life will have to decide how to preserve Israel’s Jewish majority. For it is that majority that enables Israel to serve as such a beacon of hope for Jews. That, in turn, invariably will entail more than rhetoric. It will require abandoning the pretense that Israel is just like other countries, the charade that claims that Israel can deal with its minorities precisely as other democracies do…If Israelis genuinely believe in that purpose, they will then have to be willing to discuss what they are actually willing to do to protect the existence of the state that has saved the Jewish people.
First, it should be noted that Israel has not lost its Jewish majority and if it completes the negotiation of a Palestinian state soon, this eventuality may not happen for decades. Second, where is it written that the only way in which Israel can be a beacon of hope to Jews is if there is a Jewish majority there? Why can’t Israel be a beacon of hope to Jews no matter how many Jews live there as long as there is a strong, protected, vibrant Jewish life there?
Most important here is Gordis riding willingly down that slippery slope from democracy to ethnocracy and worse. In Gordis’ view Israelis and Jews are naïve if they believe that country can be a democracy as other western nations are. The Likudist rabbi does seem to believe that somehow Israel will still be a democracy, just one that is “different” that others democracies like the U.S. which treat their minorities on an egalitarian basis.
So, Gordis asks, what ARE you willing to do to protect the superior rights of Jews in Israel? Transfer? Not out of the question according to Gordis. Though Daniel Gordis was never as far left as Benny Morris once was, it seems to me that you’re watching in Gordis the gradual transformation of a plain vanilla American Zionist into a politicized Likudist hack. One with great yichus and a rabbinical degree to boot. What a great catch for Shalem!
In all of Gordis’s discussions of Israeli Palestinians there is one glaring omission that topples his whole argument like a house of cards. Israeli Palestinians are indigenous to Israel. As Haber notes in his own critique, they preceded Gordis and Haber who are both immigrants. The Palestinians were there before the ancestors of most current Israeli Jews arrived. So their tie to the land is deep and inalienable. Gordis writes about Palestinian citizens of Israel as if they are a nuisance to be tolerated or dealt with. Read this sample:
The differences between the plights of Israeli Arabs and Palestinian refugees is more an accident of history in 1948 than anything else [!]. Some fled, some stayed, but those who stayed did not do so out of Zionist convictions [!]. They either hoped that Arab forces would derail the newly formed Zionist state, or thought they could better protect their property by staying.
You will read nothing in that passage or anything Gordis has written about Israeli Palestinians that acknowledges their indigenous rights. For Gordis, there seems to be no such right at least as far as the territory on which Israel is situated stands. I suppose he believes that Jews maintain some sort of historical bond with Israel that precedes even the relatively recent Palestinian bond. But the truth is that I can’t trace my lineage back to ancient Israel in any way that is meaningful to me especially in the sense of feeling an ownership of the land of Israel.
Haber eloquently summarizes the Israeli Palestinian claim to being an equal partner with the nation’s Jewish citizens:
What is particularly striking about [Gordis’] account…is the utter failure to understand why most Israeli Arabs refuse to leave Israel: Their motivation is crystal clear from their writings and their statements: This land, and this state, are their homes in three ways: As natives, it is their home in a way never can be for Rabbi Gordis and myself, who were born and lived much of our lives outside of Israel. As members of the Palestinian people, with the consciousness of having a common history and identity, this land is their homeland. And finally as Israeli citizens, it is most assuredly their homeland. For despite the best efforts of ethnic nationalists on both sides, there has evolved an Israeli identity shared by native-born Israelis, whether Jew, Arab, and immigrant children of foreign workers.
With all due respect to Rabbi Gordis, neither he nor I can ever be as Israeli as Ahmed Tibi, Emile Habibi, or Azmi Bishara. We are immigrants; they are not. Because it is their home, they want, like ethnic minorities everywhere, to participate in the governance of the state. And the more Israel defines itself as a Jewish ethnic state, the greater and more legitimate their claim for national rights and power-sharing, like ethnic minorities in multi-ethnic societies everywhere.
If Daniel Gordis wants to argue that the only way of saving Israel as he envisions it is to rid the nation of its Palestinian minority that’s a position he’s entitled to. But he’s no longer entitled to call himself a centrist or mainstream Zionist. He is a far right nationalist like all of his new friends at Shalem and in the Likud. Let no American Jewish institution that books his make the mistake that they will hear from an eminently reasonable, common-sensical Israeli-American Zionist. They will hear from someone wants his audience to think of him that way. But he’s long gone from the liberal Zionist center where his uncles David and Robert would doubtless would feel much more comfortable.
23 thoughts on “Daniel Gordis and the Transferists Among Us – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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Transfer of Israel’s non-Jewish (or merely of its Arab) citizens might be accomplished either by transferring the people to another place or by transferring the territory (where they live) outside Israel. Assuming that Gordis means the first, and further assuming that such transfer (if not the choice of the people to be transferred) is illegal (anyone know an analysis of this question?), then Gordis is proposing that Israel’s desire to be “Jewish State ” entitles it to violate international law.
What other desires or what other state would Gordis imagine entitles such other state to violate international law? Does he care?
And if international law is “caduc” (as far as Gordis’s opinions go, and perhaps also as far as the opinions of the government of Israel go), let us all welcome what should be called the Israeli-moderated arrival of the New World Disorder.
I’m always bemused by the contempt Zionists like Gordis have for Jews. Israel is the “state that saved the Jewish people”? The Jewish people survived for thousands of years without a state, under conditions of sometimes extreme persecution, yet their survival is now dependent on a state founded in 1948?
The other thing about “The State that save the Jewish people” is that some of its founders were more obsessed with hating the British than saving the Jews or fighting those trying to exterminate Jews. They continued to pass information on Allied shipping movements to the Nazi’s naval intelligence service up until March 1945, stopping, not because death camps were being exposed, but because the German navy was no longer in a position to kill American and Commonwealth sailors supporting the soldiers carrying out the liberation.
This was “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” taken to its demented extreme. There’s an awful lot in Israel’s current policies which reminds me of this.
Always remember that your enemy’s enemy may actually be a worse bastard than your enemy.
Richard tends to get antsy whenever I make an argument that amounts to what’s sauce for the goose is gravy for the gander. Thus, I will state explicitly that I am making below a hypothetical inversion argument that I already posted on Jeremiah Haber’s site.
If we are looking at involuntary transfer as a solution to the conflict over Palestine, why are we only discussing the involuntary transfer of the native Palestinian population?
Why not look at the removal of the Zionist settler colonists as the proper solution?
Doesn’t Gordis see that the logic of transfer applies far more strongly to Israeli Zionists?
Under Nuremberg Tribunal Law and the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, the native Palestinian population has suffered an immense tort at the hands of Zionist colonists, who do not count as a protected population under the Nuremberg Precedents or the Convention and who continue to engage in genocide and terrorism to this day right before our eyes.
Removing the Zionist colonists would be reasonable relief because ethnic Ashkenazim, Moroccan Jewish Arabs, Iraqi Jewish Arabs, and Yemeni Jewish have no claim whatsoever to historic Palestine beyond a twisted and extremist misinterpretation of certain religious texts and mythology.
To be realistic, transferred Israeli Jews could easily assimilate into Jewish communities throughout the world while another forced transfer of the native Palestinian population would probably create at least another two generations of Muslim anger against the USA.
Believing that the State of Israel saved the Jewish people is questionable at least.
Replacing am yisrael or klal yisrael with haam hayehudi is a reinterpretation of Eastern European Ashkenazi ethnicity for the purpose of staking an insupportable claim to Palestine.
We need an open discussion of Jewish history since the assassination of Czar Alexander II. Arguing that Christian anti-Semitism is an eternal threat to Jews simply is not supported by the factual data.
I know that the discussion could be painful, but I am really tired of Zionist platitudes.
Zionism probably closed havens for Jews throughout the Islamic world during the Hitler years while the role of ethnic Ashkenazim in Bolshevism and communist revolutionary activity throughout Central and Eastern Europe made it hard for the USA, Canada, Latin American countries, and the UK to accept larger numbers of Jewish refugees after the German Nazis took power than were granted asylum.
BTW, I have never understood Jewish objections to the Lord’s prayer, which when translated into Hebrew sounds like any of a number of Jewish prayers that one might find in a traditional Jewish prayerbook.
Muslims have more reason to object to such a prayer because Islam tends to reject the imagery of “God the Father.”
[Of course, the similarity of Christian and Jewish prayer might be a source of Jewish objection to the Lord’s prayer.]
PS. Jeremiah Haber corrected me and essentially substituted leshon kodesh for Hebrew in his reply.
Joachim Martillo proposes (as a gedanken experiment I suppose) transfer of Israel’s Jewish population to — elsewhere. A lovely thought, if just to get humane people thinking about what Israel’s idea of transfer (and its execution in 1948) really mean in human terms. (Merely thinking about Palestinians seems not to turn on the humanitarian “light” for many people, so they need this help!)
The term “transfer”, however, is always used to describe an Israeli action, and Israel has shown a propensity to act. Removal of israeli Jews from anywhere (whether from Golan and West Bank see: Obama-should-end-illegalities-of-Israeli-occupation-before-pressing-for-an-Israeli-Palestinian-peace.php or from pre-1967 Israel does not appear to be something that any “power” has yet shown a propensity to seek to accomplish.
And Israel’s open and notorious and contumaceous defiance of international law and the laws of war is too well known for anyone to suppose that Israel, as a Spartan warrior state, would show any hesitation to execute “transfer” if it thought it would advance its ends to do so.
Israelis often refer to the disengagement from Gaza as the Israeli transfer, and the same applies to future disengagements from the West Bank.
In fact, many Israelis support the idea of mutual transfers of settlers & Israeli Palestinians.
That shows that ‘many Israelis’ do not live in the Real World. The Palestinians living within the State of Israel do so on legal grounds whereas the settlers in the OT live there illegally – and that’s one of the main reasons they’ve been encouraged to settle there: as ‘monnaie d’échange’ in any future négociation.
Instead of 55% of Mandatory Palestine with a nearly 50 % Arab population, the ‘moderate’ Israelis now considerr 78% without any Arabs as a fair deal.
This just confirms Richard’s statement about the Gordis-like Israelis: Palestinians don’t count !
While I really doubt settlers have been encouraged to settle for the purpose of serving as monnaie d’échange, I agree about the rest.
It is quite sad, really, but I think many of them completely disregard the legal aspect. Then again, it’s quite understandable as nobody else in the Middle East seems to do otherwise.
If the settlers weren’t encouraged to settle in the OT for an eventual future negociation, does that mean that no Israeli government ever had the slightest intention of transferring them back within the ’67-borders after a Peace Treatment ? So you acknowledge that Camp David was a fake ?
I just don’t think they ever had any intention to negotiate these territories…
Shai’s comment about ignoring the legal aspect represents a typical sort of Jewish Zionist bigotry that projects historical ethnic Ashkenazi cultural propensities onto Arabs.
Arab Muslim political culture has tended to be highly legalistic and scrupulous in obeying precedents, providing proper formulations for international actions, and in carrying out treaties.
If one looks for example at the documents that Arab regimes issued to justify intervening in Palestine in 1948 after the Zionist militias engaged in wholesale mass murder, ethnic cleansing and genocide, unlike Jewish racists who babble incoherently about living in a dangerous region, the Arab policy makers dotted every i and crossed every t in formulating the basis for humanitarian intervention on behalf of native population under attack by murderous merciless Eastern and Central European invaders.
By our own standards the USA should have assisted the native Palestinians against Jewish Zionist invaders that were engaging in a rerun of the barbarism with which Jewish Bolsheviks treated the Polish and Ukrainian peasantry.
There has not been sufficient study of the degree to which Russian Jewish anti-Muzhik hostility was translated in the Palestinian context into hatred of the Palestinian fellah.
[Of course, to be honest, Herzl, who was not Russian Jewish, evinces in Altneuland a vicious bigotry against Palestinian peasants.
Kingscourt und Friedrich beeilten sich auch fortzukommen. Sie fuhren auf der schlechten Eisenbahn nach Jerusalem. Auch auf diesem Wege Bilder tiefster Verkommenheit. Das flache Land fast nur Sand und Sumpf. Die mageren Äcker wie verbrannt. Schwärzliche Dörfer von Arabern. Die Bewohner hatten ein räuberhaftes Aussehen. Die Kinder spielten nackt in Straßenstaube.
Kingscourt and Friedrich hurried to get away. They traveled on the miserable railroad to Jerusalem. Even on this route scenes of the deepest depravity. Flat land almost only sand and swamp. The spare cultivated fields as if scorched. Colorless villages of Arabs. The inhabitants looked like robbers. The children played naked in the street dust.
“Verkommenheit” is something rotten, neglected, ruined; “sand und sumpf,” an infertile land, not cultivated by “civilized” people; scorched fields and the neglected, colorless villages reminds us of a country devastated
by war; the inhabitants are either second-class human beings or not human at all; they are criminals, homeless, dishonest, not trustworthy.]
# Joachim Martillo)
Jesus C… What a pretentious commentary ! In fact reading you is as tiresome as the worst Hasbara propagande ! How do you know that Shaï is projecting ‘historical ethnic Ashkenazi blabla . . ” ?
He might be Mizrahi.
And your statement on ‘genocide’ is totally off the line. You’re doing NO favor to the Palestinians with that kind of extremist and ‘brain-washed’ commentary. Do you have any idea what a genocide is ?? What a bore !
Not to mention the absolutely ludicrous suggestion that Zionist Ashkenazi Jews inheritly disregard law.
Joachim has some wild & wacky views which I take w. a huge grain of salt.
Yeah, I’ve had the ‘pleasure’ of reading him on Mondoweiss a year or so back, under different pen names, and I think he managed to get banned there – which takes a lot !
Reading him makes me sweat – I had a orthodox Marxist teacher at university, no new ideas since the ’60: same effect. Or the impression of being in a “camp for resocialization” in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, the Goulag or other ‘camps for brain-washing’.
A ludicrous statement. If there are 10 or 50 who do it would be a lot. I can think of no Israelis who support forcing settlers to return to the Green Line AND support expelling Israeli Palestinians. You’re makin’ it up.
No I’m not. It’s commonly heard around and supported by many of those who root for “Two states for two nations”. I am not making this up.
These people believe that there can never be peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and the only solution is complete segregation. Therefore, it would be legitimate to have a full mutual population exchange.
You’d be surprised to find out how many Israelis are reluctant to support a withdrawal to the ’67 borders simply because it would result in the creation of a “Palestinian state” and another, “Israeli-Palestinian state”, which would face the same demographic problems (Arab birth rate vs. Jewish birth rate) that would “endanger” Israel’s Jewish majority.
Of course for many who believe in this, the population exchange stretches to include Israeli Arabs, whom would have to decide if they wish to continue having Israeli citizenship or abandon it in favor of a Palestinian citizenship. This is something I have heard MANY times before, it is NOT something new, and there are A LOT more than 50 Israelis who support this. I do not have statistics to back this up. This is my impression from living in Israel.
The majority of Palestinians oppose settlers gaining Palestinian citizenship if there are two states, and support their expulsion to Israel. Would it be so hard to believe that while it’s certainly not the majority, but a significant part of Israelis feel the same about Israeli Palestinians?
First, there are a significant number of Palestinians (though perhaps a minority) who would be willing to accept Israeli Jews living in Palestine as long as they accepted Palestinian sovereignty. Second, Israeli Palestinians are already citizens of Israel. Israel Jews are not citizens of Palestine. Therefore, expulsion of one group is neither morally nor logically comparable.
I did not say it was. I merely stated that there are many Israelis who support this idea.
“Gordis begins chapter six of his book with this quotation:
Israel cannot be defined as a democratic state. The only way to make Israel a democratic state is to eliminate its Jewish character.”
Whether partially fabricated or not, this statement is absolutely correct. There cannot be a democratic Jewish state any more than there can be a democratic Islamic, or Christian, or Hindu or Buddhist state as long as that state has even one citizen who is not Jewish, or Muslim, or Christian, or Hindu. That is simply reality whether any of us likes it or not.
None of the Israeli Palestinian documents proposing a new basis for Israel as a state of all its citizens proposes eliminating the Jewish character of the state any more than they would propose to eliminate the Muslim character of such a state. Because the citizens adhere to various religious traditions they must be taken into account in determining the character of the State. In other words, the state would have a Christian, Jewish AND Muslim character. If you disagree w. this formulation then you disagree w. Adalah, Mossawa & many of the other Israeli Palestinian human rights groups.
If you wish to argue that the state should be completely secular then you’re welcome to do so but I think that’s an even more dubious proposition at this pt in time than to have a single unitary state in all of Palestine.
I did not suggest that any of the documents proposes eliminating the “Jewish character of the state”. I doubt very seriously, though, that any of them endorses retaining the “Jewish character” either. Realistically, any state that has a “Jewish character” – whatever that actually means – by definition excludes non-Jews as fully entitled citizens.
Setting aside the thorny question of how in any practical sense you create a Christian, Jewish AND Muslim character for a state, by doing so you have automatically excluded from full entitlement Druze, Sabaeans, Baha’is, and other religious minorities, as well as secular persons, who I believe make up a plurality of Israeli citizens, so you have not created a truly pluralistic state at all, but rather an illusion of one.
And by the way I don’t know to what extent I actually disagree with Adala, etc. on these matters, but I don’t have a problem with it if I do. I know that their official positions on some matters are questions of political realism and not true conviction,and I don’t fault them for that. Sometimes progress requires that one temporarily set aside what is right in favor of what is possible.
I think Druze and Bedouin should have their ethnic identity represented too in this new Israel we envision. I simply don’t see how in the current MIddle East you can create a state that doesn’t ratify religious and ethnic identity in the character of the state. If you could create a truly secular state as we more or less have in the U.S. (on a good day), then yes, you could avoid this. But I think the current realities dictate religion as a major factor in the identity of a state. The key is not to allow the nation or national identity to become subsumed by religious identity. That would be very bad.
I don’t think it’s a question of explicitly saying they favor “retaining” Israel’s Jewish character. I think, as articulated in this document, they are merely pragmatically recognizing that it exists.