• President of prominent Jewish group urges fellow American Jews to break with “best ally”
By Dave Gahary
What is viewed by many gentiles as a Jewish unquenchable thirst for the ongoing murder, maiming and humiliation of not just Palestinian men, women and children, but of anyone with a conscience opposed to the longest military occupation in world history, may have finally reached a breaking point.
An influential pro-Israel American Jewish scholar is sounding the alarm that unprecedented numbers of American Jews are admitting to being embarrassed by Israel’s decades-long dehumanizing occupation of the Palestinians, and is urging—through an educational project—that American Jewry break from Israel and Israelis.
Yehuda Kurtzer is the president of the New York-based Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, “a center of transformative thinking and teaching that addresses the major challenges facing the Jewish people and elevates the quality of Jewish life in Israel and around the world.” He has been studying Jewish opinion for decades and finds that revulsion among many Jews toward the misery heaped on Palestinians by Israel has reached a tipping point.
An observant Jew who completed his doctorate in Jewish studies from Harvard University, Kurtzer is a visiting assistant professor and the inaugural chair of “Jewish Communal Innovation” at Brandeis University. Described as “a lecturer who has written books and studies about Judaism, Americanism and the connection between the two,” Kurtzer can hardly be described as “anti-Israel” or “anti-Zionist.” In fact, he visits Israel monthly to build bonds between North American Jewry and Israel.
In an interview with Ynet, the most popular Israeli news website on the Internet, Kurtzer suggests a disconnect between U.S. Jews and Israel, noting that he “and his friends must deal with the shame—the prevalent feeling among average American Jews when the word ‘Israel’ or ‘Israelis’ is raised along with ‘occupation.’ ”
“It really is a difficult problem,” Kurtzer told Ynet. “Young Jews really feel ashamed, especially in light of what they hear on campus.”
Kurtzer lamented to Ynet the stranglehold the Israeli lobby has on Washington, D.C. “Try to imagine the American foreign policy toward Israel without an organization like AIPAC,” he said. “Ask yourself whether without it the government would be so pro-Israel.”
He also takes a swipe at the constant claims by the Anti-Defamation League and their ilk that “anti-Semitism” is on the rise in the United States. Jews “have never been persecuted in America, and if 50 years ago they felt comfortable with their Jewishness, but did not feel comfortable expressing it in public, today the situation is completely different.”
Perhaps not incidentally, considering his maverick views, Kurtzer is the son of Daniel C. Kurtzer, a career State Department official, who (from 2001 to 2005) was U.S. ambassador to Israel under George W. Bush after having served as U.S. ambassador to Egypt under Bill Clinton. While in the State Department, the senior Kurtzer was subject to fierce criticism from hard-line American neoconservative supporters of Israel (and their allies in Israel) who perceived the diplomat as being too concerned with appeasing the Palestinians. Retiring from the State Department, he assumed a chair in Middle East studies at Princeton University, and in 2007 he served as the Israel Baseball League commissioner.
Repeated attempts by this writer to interview Yehuda Kurtzer were unsuccessful.
Dave Gahary, a former submariner in the U.S. Navy, is the host of AFP’s “Underground Interview” series.