Tuesday, July 17th | 5 Av 5778

July 16, 2017 12:39 pm

Alan Dershowitz: So Now American Zionists Want to Boycott Israel

avatar by Alan Dershowitz

Email a copy of "Alan Dershowitz: So Now American Zionists Want to Boycott Israel" to a friend

The Western Wall in Jerusalem. Photo: Wikicommons

This article was first published by Gatestone Institute.

Several prominent American Zionists – including long-time supporters of Israel – are so outraged at the Israeli government’s recent decision regarding the Western Wall and non-orthodox conversion, that they are urging American Jews to reduce or even eliminate their support for Israel. According to an article by Elliot Abrams in Mosaic, Ike Fisher a prominent member of the AIPAC board, threatened to “suspend” all further financial support for Israel. Daniel Gordis, a leading voice for Conservative Judaism, urged American Jews to cancel their El Al tickets and fly Delta or United. He also proposed “withholding donations to Israeli hospitals, so that ‘They start running out of money’ and ‘begin to falter.’”  This sort of emotional response is reminiscent of the temper tantrum outgoing President Barack Obama engaged in when he refused to veto the UN’s recent anti-Israel resolution.

I strongly disagree both with the Israeli government’s capitulation to the minority of ultra-Orthodox Jews, who wield far too much influence in Israeli politics, and with the proposals to cut back on support for Israel by some of my fellow critics of the Israeli government’s recent decisions with regard to religion.

I strongly support greater separation between religion and state in Israel, as Theodor Herzl outlined in his plan for the nation-state of the Jewish People in Der Judenstaat 120 years ago: “We shall . . . prevent any theocratic tendencies from coming to the fore on the part of our priesthood. We shall keep our priests [by which is meant Rabbis] within the confines of their temples.”

It was David Ben Gurion, Israel’s founding Prime Minister, who made the deal with the Orthodox Rabbinate that violated Herzl’s mandate and knocked down the wall of separation between religion and state. He allocated to the Chief Rabbinate authority over many secular matters, such as marriage, divorce and child custody. He also laid the ground work for the creation of religious parties that have been a necessary part of most Israeli coalitions for many years.

So don’t blame Israel’s current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for the recent capitulation. His government’s survival depends on his unholy alliance with allegedly holy parties that threatened to leave the coalition and bring down his government unless he capitulated. The alternative to a Netanyahu government might well be far to the right of the current government, both on religious matters and on prospects for peace. Reasonable people may disagree as to whether Netanyahu did the right thing, but I believe that given the choice between the current government and what may well replace it, PM Netanyahu acted on acceptable priorities.

This is not to say that I am happy with the end result. As a post-denominational Jew, I want to see a part of the Western Wall opened to conservative and reform prayer. I also want to see conservative and reform and Modern Orthodox rabbis deemed fully competent to perform rituals including marriage and divorce. I will continue to fight for these outcomes, and I think we will ultimately be successful. But in the meantime, I will also continue to fly El Al, contribute to Israeli hospitals, attend AIPAC events, and encourage Americans to support Israel, both politically and financially. To do otherwise is to engage in a form of BDS – the tactic currently employed by Israel’s enemies to delegitimize the nation state of the Jewish people.  Supporters of BDS will point to these benign boycotts as a way of justifying their malignant ones. If BDS is an immoral tactic, as it surely is, so too is punishing the people of Israel for the failure of its government to be fully inclusive of Jews who do not align themselves with the ultra-Orthodox.

Tough love may be an appropriate response in family matters, but boycotting a troubled nation which has become a pariah among the hard-left is not the appropriate response to the Israeli government’s recent decisions regarding religion. The answer is not disengagement, but rather greater engagement with Israel on matters that involve world Jewry. I, too, am furious about the arrogant and destructive threats of the ultra-Orthodox parties in the current government. I, too, would prefer to see a coalition that excluded the ultra-Orthodox parties. I, too, would like to see a high wall of separation that kept the rabbis out of politics. But I do not live in Israel, and Israel is a democracy. Ultimately it is up to the citizens of Israel to change the current system. The role of American Jews is limited to persuasion, not coercion. In the end, we will be successful in persuading the Israeli people to take the power of religious coercion out of the hands of the ultra-Orthodox minority because that would not only be good for secular Israelis – who are a majority – but also for religious Israelis. History has proved that separation of state from religion is better not only for the state, but also for religion.

Follow Alan Dershowitz on Twitter: @AlanDersh – Facebook: @AlanMDershowitz. 


The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

Share this Story: Share On Facebook Share On Twitter Email This Article

Let your voice be heard!

Join the Algemeiner
  • Eliot Schickler


  • Ilbert Phillips

    I find it amazing that Jews who will visit a foreign country and cover their heads, if required to enter a place of worship out of respect, believe they have the right to dictate to Israel how it should conduct its political and religious affairs. While I would like for Israel to set aside a place for non-Orthodox Jews to pray at the wall, there is a measure of immaturity for Jews in the diaspora to insist that they have the right to tell Israel how to conduct its affairs. While I am not an orthodox Jew, all of my children, grandchildren and many of my cousins are (numbering over 60 in total). All except four live in Israel. So to threaten the withdrawal of contributions to Israeli hospitals (who care for all regardless of religion) is down right mean. I guess “tikun olam” for this group is out the window.

  • Moshiach770

    I think Mr Dershowitz never recovered from his first cheeseberger—a golus Yid in need of tshuvah

  • Hamanhanger

    But in any event, the 2% of Israelis who are Conservative or Reform DO have an area of the Kotel where they can pray without separation of males and females. I just saw — a few days ago — a video showing them doing that and celebrating a Bar Mitzvah. The noises made by American Reform and Conservative Jews (their Rabbis, mainly, because THEY are the ones deprived of recognition and legitimacy — not the congregants!) are in the same class as the rabbis who help organize and/or join anti-Zionist groups like the JVP (Jerky Virus for Putzes; nothing at all “Jewish” about it!) or even the Joke Street hate-Israel-pretend-I -Love-it sewage.

    Rabbi Dershowitz — oops, excuse me, PROFESSOR Dershowitz, Esq., I admire your article, and laud you, as a liberal, for stating the case against the American Jews (mostly their leadership, not the average common Jews) who would turn their coats so easily. Some day I would love to enlighten you — as a sabra who is not particularly observant — about the difference between Ultra Orthodox, “Moderate” Orthodox, NRP Orthodox, and the vast majority of Israeli secular Jews who still insist on NOT accepting the philosophy of Reform American Jews and on having their sons circumcised, getting married and divorced in accordance with traditional Jewish law, and on maintaining a Jewish identity that does not get diluted by mixing with non-Jews — even though they have some problems with some of the control exercised by the Rabbinate.

  • ElmoGlick

    Yes. I have read that 85% of American Jews (most of whom are liberal) have never visited Israel. In a sense, that is a boycott. They have only the most tenuous connection or identity with the Jewish homeland.

  • ElmoGlick

    I’m not sure that it is. In fact, the existing Jewish community 50, or more likely, 100 years ago, will be those who are more traditional, most likely the Orthodox. Another generation or two, and most offspring of today’s non-Orthodox Jews will have assimilated out through intermarriage. It is going on apace. I’m amazed at how many of today’s young offspring of Jewish ancestry (note that I do not call them today’s young Jews, because they are not) have virtually no Jewish identity, even a cultural non-religious one.

  • ElmoGlick

    That’s right. They think they have the right to run the country when they don’t pay the price. It’s even worse among the liberal Jews who advance a “two-state” solution when common sense demonstrates that it is not realistic at least under current conditions.

  • ElmoGlick

    Gordis’ comments are absolutely evil, evil. What kind of person says to boycott humanitarian institutions so that those in need might be deprived of medical treatment? This man is absolutely sick.

  • kushintuchis

    You’re confusing him with Fox news

    • ElmoGlick

      Stupid comment, a non-sequitur.

  • kushintuchis

    Where are the angry punitive reactions? There are merely opinions which differ from yours.

  • kushintuchis

    You may believe in Israel’s right to exist. The vast majority of its enemies do not. By boycotting Israel you are supporting its enemies, knowingly or not. You can criticize without harming the country financially. Btw, do you agree with all the policies of Saudi Arabia, for example? Do you boycott them? Hmmm. Why the double standard?

  • lovezion

    WELL SAID DERSHOWITZ!!! It’s always religion which causes injustice and maliciousness!!! I always said those who want religion let them practice it only in synagogues, temples and at their homes, NEVER IN GOVERNMENT, SCHOOLS, ETC.

    Hard to believe but religious Jews, especially the so called orthodox (read extremists) always come to our Jewish protests and/or celebrations in NYC with signs and shouts contradicting our support of Israel. UNBELIEVABLE SUCH SAVAGE IGNORAMUSNESS!!! WHOSE BUSINESS IS TO MESMERIZE THE PEOPLE TO FORCE THEM INTO ***THEIR*** BELIEFS!!!

  • Taly Kay

    I wish Alan or any other would comment on my points. I genuinely seek to understand rather than being right. What am I missing?
    1) The same reform conservative jews threatening BDS against israel, maintain policies and support for giving back the western wall.
    2) Majority of Israeli Jews; black/white/sephardi/ashkenazi/observant/not observant, share a single wall and a single policy. no problems. So just like there is no proposal for a sephardi section and an ashkenazi section, notwithstanding that they would each feel more comfortable with their own traditions, why do reform/conservative desire a separate section for own individualistic preferences? Do they wish to insist that they are different? Perhaps their soul is saying that they are not Jewish?
    I dont know what to think. Seems so absurd.
    3) The US founding fathers have brilliantly established separation of church and state. But not G-d and state. what they were saying is that church does not equal G-d. They were deeply religious and studied hebrew so they can relate to the torah directly and not tainted by translation. They would never propose separating G-d from state. Likewise, in israel, the rabbinate institution does not equal G-d and its functions should be absorbed by the state PROVIDED that the state absorb as well the torah as basic law. Modesty and appropriate separation of men and women in certain circumstances is a fundamental value. Applying this at the holy places (unlike buses) has always been the case in our history. there was a separate women’s and men section in the bet hamikdash. So separate sections at the kotel is part of living a G-dly life and cannot be separated from state.

    • ElmoGlick

      I guess the rabbinate hasn’t established a policy for those of confused or uncertain gender, a concept which is being increasingly recognized in the decadent United States. Please, don’t go there Israel. It’s another sign of America’s decline.

  • Gershon

    Whilst I completely concur with your condemnation of the “soft boycotting” of Israel, urged by some north American Jewish leaders, in light of the Western Wall crisis, I strongly take issue with some of your other remarks vis a vis the religious community in Israel.

    You quote Theodore Hertzl – a man who had absolutely no open attachment to his religion – as saying: “We shall keep our priests [by which is meant Rabbis] within the confines of their temples.” You claim Ben Gurion “violated Herzl’s mandate and knocked down the wall of separation between religion and state.” What “mandate” are you referring to?! He had no mandate for anything other than to try to promote his own ideas. He wasn’t elected by the people of Israel to anything (Ben Gurion was) – indeed he died in 1904 – 44 years before the state was born! There was never a time in the existence of the State of Israel when there was a separation between state and religion. So where Hertzl comes into all this I have no idea. [Ironically, your quoting of Hertzl here, rather than supporting your argument, refutes it. Hertzl at least accepted that in matters of obvious religiosity (ie their “temples”) the rabbis should be allowed to decide how to run things etc. You seem even more extreme by advocating that even this right should be removed even the rabbis!]

    You write: “As a post-denominational Jew, I want to see a part of the Western Wall opened to conservative and reform prayer.” I ask you this: If you are a “a post denominational Jew” why do you mention denominations (Conservative and Reform) altogether: these are “denominations.” And since you do mention different groups, why do you stop there? why don’t you mention Masorati, Liberal and Reconstructionist . Furthermore, according to this logic every group should have their own (seperate) section at the Wall; and why not have separate places for LGBT and IQ. Then why not for left wing and right wing Israelis, and teenagers and other rebels. You could have at least 20 separate sections. Its is so ironic that the extreme liberal mindset that urges unity and equal rights and social justice should seek to divide the Jewish people at the one place on earth that (until now, thank God) has been beyond division, beyond denomination and beyond discrimination.

    You know very well that the “non-orthodox” can live with going to the Wall as it is. There is no religious (or human) principle being sacrificed by anyone when they stand and pray next to a soldier with a kippa sruga or a chassid with a black hat or a student or a taxi of unknown observance. But there is a major break of religious principle to treat the Jewish people as distinct units and, yes , “denominations” that need separating from their fellow Jews. Don’t we have enough walls separating us that we need to build more and more, that we need to remind each other of the many divisions that already exist – that is immoral that is cruel – that is destructive to our unity. Are you really looking to institutionalize our differences at the one place where those divisions don’t mean anything, because we are all one people with one Temple. Sadly that Temple as you may know was destroyed thanks to sinat chinam – baseless hatred. As long as it has not been rebuilt we are obviously making the same mistakes. Lets try to fix our errors of divisiveness and divisions not magnify them!

  • Keith James

    hey Alan, also see if you can end American money being used for the Occupation of people of color……we want out!…

    • ElmoGlick

      What the hell are you talking about? You can get out anytime you want…if you can find a place to take you.

  • Bet Moshiach

    saying what a “jew” is – is religious issue to be resolved by the rabbi – and not by the state – this is something so logical and obvious that i am surprised that there is even something that needs to be said – and if so – this would not be a case of “mixing state and religion”. also, i do agree that those who support the state should continue to do so, but at the same time try to reach out to the people in israel to hear what their issues are with the government and try to hold the government accountable to make real change on things that matter – for example – the process for a Jew to get citizenship is tiresome and grueling due to lack of help or interest in supporting those in their “aliyah process” the “apostille” document required for making aliyah is very hard or expensive to obtain for the average jew making aliyah – the american embassy does not help with this service nor does the israeli “misrad hapnim” someone can have children, a spouse, brothers and parents all israeli citizens, yet he will not be admitted as a citizen as long as he does not bring this document that can only be obtained with the fbi or something.

  • Hard Little Machine

    Go ahead. And then they can join J-Street, NIF, JVP and Hamas. Go ahead. We don’t need them.

  • Joseph Feld

    Perhaps Americans, with their presidential system, don’t understand the British parliamentary system. Israel is based on the British Constitution, with a neutral head of state who asks the head of the winning party in the national election to try to form a government, often a coalition. Like Britain, Israel has an official religion with tolerance for other religions, plus an independent judiciary. As Israel has several dozen political parties the government is usually a coalition and if a large party in the coalition votes aganst the government the coalition can fall and cause new elections and the formation of a new government. I understand that work is proceeding on the Robinson’s Arch prayer pavillion and the only thing ‘frozen’ is the shared entrance to the three segments of the Western Wall. Calling on American Jews to stop supporting Israeli hospitals until they falter — is this the Voice of Torah and Henrietta Szold or is this the Voice of Amalek ?

    • YehoshuaFriedman

      Mr. Feld, you are right that Israel has a parliamentary rather than a presidential system. But Americans are not making the mistake of failing to distinguish between the two. If they would ask President Rivlin to actively intervene in this or any other issue, or the Queen of England to take a political position, that would be a failure to understand that distinction. The relation of religion to state is in no way tied to the presidential vs. parliamentary distinction. The establishment of the Chief Rabbinate antedated the formation of the state of Israel although the first government under Ben-Gurion, an intense secularist, supported it for reasons of national unity. The problem that Prof. Dershowitz refers to is that unlike in the UK, Israel does not have two or three main parties in a parliament which are elected by district. Israel’s Knesset is elected by one national constituency and chosen by proportional representation. The parties which run in the elections operate according to various criteria including foreign and defense policy, religious-secular issues, economics, and identity politics. Forming a government sometimes resembles trying to herd cats. There has never been, unlike in the UK, a government which has not been a coalition government, and there is no hope for such in sight. The fractious Israeli voter always starts out by trying to game the system as best he can for whatever interest he considers paramount. Fortunately many Arab citizens stay home on election day, or there would be many more Arab Knesset members, which would present Israeli Jews with a lot more problems. In forming a coalition, the leader of the largest party almost always prefers to strike a deal with one or more religious parties because they will accept concessions on religious issues which most non-religious people passively accept rather than make strong demands on core state policy issues (foreign affairs, defense, economics). If Netanyahu would give preference to the opinions of Conservative and Reform Jews in the US, who are not represented here in any large numbers of votes, over the local Orthodox public and their representatives, then neither he nor anyone else can form a government. The orthodox parties would not be likely to support a government led by the much more secular left and center parties because they would not be comfortable working with them. Therefore no party would be able to form a government. That would be an existential threat to the political system. Professor Dershowitz rightly realizes that the PM is not crazy and would not go there. If he did, many traditionally minded voters who vote Likud would vote for Bayit Yehudi and it would form the government and bring the Likud in as second fiddle. That is what Dershowitz fears, as does Netanyahu.

    • ElmoGlick

      It’s not a question of not understanding a parliamentary proportional representation system where alliances and coalitions are necessary to form governing coalition. These people, like Gordis are smart enough to know what is involved. They are not thinking rationally and have the mentality so prevalent in the diaspora of always looking over their shoulders and always apologizing to the world for actions which would be readily accepted or at least ignored, if committed in other countries.

  • Tziyona Kantrowitz

    I love listening to Alan Dershowitz and is inescapable logic and wisdom. But this time I think he got it wrong.

    Israel is not America. It is a democracy (and actually a much more legitimate democracy since there are more than 2 parties), but it is not a place where there is freedom of religion. It is a Jewish state, the only Jewish state in the world.

    That means the Jewish protocol is respected. All government meetings and across the board is kosher, and not on Shabbos. That means shuls, and religious places are protected and kept an orthodox look (men and women separated). And because it is a democracy as well, that is how most Israelis like it. In Israel, unlike America, but more in tune with other Jews around the world, the orthodox system is the shul that Israelis don’t go to. (They do not find reform or conservative legitimate at all.)

    This doesn’t go against that Israel has become the safest and best place for growth for Christians and Muslims in the middle east. It is a pluralistic government when it comes to other religions, but it will not become a pluralistic when it comes to religion. As we have seen the demise of the Jewish people have been through the followings of the Reform, who don’t even want to live her only to dictate their havoc.

    The ultra-religious do not wield a unhealthy control over anybody, they have the same power as any other small (and we are talking about small) party. But all and all, the Israeli mindset is not into integrating the Kotel for some radical women who put on tefillin once a month for the tv cameras. They like the Kotel as is.

    • ElmoGlick

      There IS freedom of religion because it is a country where other people of other religions are free to practice their faiths without restriction or persecution.

  • HaLeviSHmuel

    We noticed the terrific amount of comments elicited by your publication! Oh yes!

  • Grantman

    Once again Dershowitz shows he has the ‘sechel’ that too many American Jews don’t have. Thanks, Alan

  • Thought is Free

    Shame on the American Jewish “leadership”. Make aliyah and vote if you want change, rather than throwing tantrums from the sidelines,