In his thought-provoking essay, Answer to Rosenfeld: Jewish History, Anti-Semitism, and the Challenge, Dr. Mark Braverman takes on the man who famously attacked progressive Jews who are critical of Israel. Alvin Rosenfeld’s essay, “Progressive Jewish Thought”, was written at the behest of the American Jewish Committee, and caused a large firestorm.
Rosenfeld’s report’s sloppy methodology and overt ideological approach have been duly noted by numerous critics. Braverman adds something new to the conversation by addressing something even more insidious. Rosenfeld’s work betrays a disturbing sense of superiority (that is partly a response to Jewish oppression) which profoundly belittles Palestinian suffering and by extension, the fundamental humanity of all Palestinians.
In Rosenfeld’s strident call for a circling of the wagons, we see the tragedy of modern Jewry in its confrontation with the uncomfortable realities of Israel: the refusal to deal with anyone’s suffering but our own. To be sure, and as discussed above, there are historical reasons for this attitude, and we are doubtless not the only group to have been guilty of this willful blindness, this inexcusable sense of entitlement and specialness. But this tendency among many Jews today is so powerful and pervasive that it reaches the level of outright denial. Nowhere – nowhere in Rosenfeld’s piece is to be found even a gratuitous nod to the suffering of the Palestinians – not even the minimizing, grudging, disingenuous acknowledgment of the “unfortunate abuses” suffered by the occupied Palestinians that one sometimes hears from the “pro-Israel” camp. But even more important, and ultimately more disturbing and potentially tragic, is the absence of any consideration of the issue of justice. To be sure, Israel may be threatened – the future is uncertain, geopolitics are fickle. In the global arena, what gives you birth and supports you one day can turn against you the next – and to be sure, anti-Semitism is alive, and where not active it is very likely dormant – but where is Justice, what is the state of your conscience?
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