Jewish Year in Review: 2007

The year that might have mattered.

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When MyJewishLearning's editorial staff got together to consider the top Jewish stories of 2007, the conversation was surprisingly boring: no wars, no major political changes, nothing too out of the ordinary in the arts. We did, however, identify some potentially noteworthy instances in which the Jewish community rethought its positions and priorities. How important are these stories? That all depends on what happens next.

 

It seems that 2007 was the year that might have mattered. Many of this year’s decisions and events are likely to create some change in the Jewish community. We're just not sure what that will look like.

The Israel Lobby

2006 saw the publication of two high profile works that were critical of Israel and its supporters abroad: John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's "The Israel Lobby" and Jimmy Carter's Palestine Peace Not Apartheid.

These works tested the boundaries of what could be said about Israel, and coming from respected academics and a former US president, they also tested who could say it.

This story continued in 2007 with Alvin Rosenfeld's "Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism," which was published by the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

The question of whether anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism was raised with Walt and Mearsheimer, Carter, and many before them. But Rosenfeld pointed his pen at a different crowd: Members of the Tribe who, according to "Progressive Jewish Thought," are helping to fuel anti-Semitism--and might even be anti-Semitic.

Rosenfeld's article sparked vociferous debates about the nature and parameters of hostile rhetoric. While many agreed that some of the writers mentioned (Jacqueline Rose, Michael Neumann) likely crossed the line when discussing Israel, Rosenfeld's decision to include people like Tony Kushner and Richard Cohen in a conversation about anti-Semitism damaged his credibility.

Indeed, the Forward wrote a scathing and bold attack on Rosenfeld in an editorial titled "Infamy," in which the editors opined: "this booklet teaches nothing worth learning about antisemitism or progressive thought. On the other hand, the fact that it was commissioned and published by an organization that once stood for dignity and civility in Jewish communal discourse speaks volumes about the state of Jewish leadership today."

Of course, Rosenfeld's article was hardly the end of the story. British unions called for a boycott of Israel and a book-length version of Walt and Mearsheimer's paper was published in the fall.

Yet while left-wing critics of Israel, as well as their critics, have floated deeper into the mainstream discourse about the Middle East, few--if any--have managed to balance rhetorical grace with a passionate call for justice and truth. Rosenfeld, Carter, Walt/Mearsheimer, and the British unions have brought important questions about Israel to the fore, but until now they have been too riddled with flamboyant and ideological excesses.

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