Zionism and American Jews: Bringing us Together and Pulling Us Apart marks the State of Israel’s 75th birthday by gathering twenty internationally recognized scholars at the Center for Jewish History to discuss the long relationship between the American Jewish community and the Zionist movement.
Since the Jewish state’s founding in 1948, American Jews have been stalwart supporters of Israel. But growing domestic political instability in Israel, spiking tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, and surging antisemitism in the U. S., have caused new splits to emerge among American Jews about the Zionist movement. Generationally as well as politically, American Jews appear to be more divided about Zionism than ever. Yet these divisions are hardly new. In fact, for nearly a century and a half, Zionism has been a source of contention, not just consensus, among Jews in the United States and around the world. The question of whether the Jewish people should be viewed as an ethnically defined nation or merely a religious community has been hotly contested within Jewish communities from the late 19th century to the present. Zionism and American Jews chronicles this long history in the effort to explain present-day tensions and opportunities in the relationship between the American Jewish community and the State of Israel.
The symposium, which is organized in partnership with the National Library of Israel, is the first installment in a larger series of public symposia sponsored by the Center for Jewish History’s brand new Jewish Public History Forum. Visit the Jewish Public History Forum website to learn more about the forum and the schedule of future symposia.
This introductory panel asks what Zionism means, both in a global and American context. We will begin with a famous pamphlet written by American Supreme Court Justice and Zionist leader Louis Brandeis in 1915 and ask the panelists how it corresponds to, or diverges from, their own personal definitions of Zionism. We will also explore which aspects of the Zionist thought of Brandeis and other early figures in the movement still have meaning in our own era and which are no longer relevant. Lastly, we will ask whether Zionism wards off, or is susceptible to, the criticisms of Zionism that are so widespread today.
What did it mean to be a Zionist during the first half of the 20th century? This panel aims to unravel the different threads of Jewish engagement with Zionist ideas during a period when the establishment of the State was far from assured. Jewish organizations and individuals in the US, Eastern Europe, and Palestine in these years engaged with Zionist ideas in surprising ways, displaying a spectrum of attitudes ranging from hostility to advocacy. This range of responses is especially relevant today as the State of Israel debates the future of its political system.
This panel addresses how the 1948 War of Independence changed American Jewish attitudes towards Zionism. The three panelists will upend prevailing assumptions about this pivotal year in Jewish history by reassessing the origins and consequences of the Jewish state's creation. The panel will examine the surprising degree of U. S. government opposition to Israel's creation before 1948; the tensions between the principles underpinning the new state's political order and their realization in practice; and the ways in which popular culture created an idealized image of Israel in the minds of American Jews.
From the beginning, Zionism and Israel have been entwined with American religious identity. This panel explores recent and contemporary snapshots of Israel as a repository of spiritual meaning, a central dynamic of the American gaze. We will explore the intersections of American Judaism in its multiple manifestations, including the question of Aliyah, the role of consumption and consumerism and the image of Israel in the American Jewish imagination, and the wider context of American Evangelical embrace of Israel over recent decades.
In an age of deep social divisions both in the US and in Israel, what is happening to the relationship between American Jews and Israel? Is the US government's support for Israel contingent on a broad American Jewish consensus on Israel? How might these relationships develop in the decade to come?
Eric Alterman is Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York. From 1995-2020, he was The Nation’s “Liberal Media" columnist and is now a contributing writer to the magazine and also to The American Prospect. In the past, he has been a senior fellow of the Center for American Progress, the World Policy Institute and The Nation Institute, a columnist for Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, The Guardian, The Daily Beast, MSNBC.com, The Forward, Moment and the Sunday Express (London) as well as a contributor to The New Yorker, The Atlantic and Le Monde Diplomatique, among other publications. Alterman has also been named a Media Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, a Schusterman Foundation Fellow at Brandeis University, a Fellow of the Society of American Historians and a member of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.
Alterman is the author of the national bestseller What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News, as well eleven other books, including We Are Not One: A History of America’s Fight Over Israel, published late in 2022 by Basic Books, which was added to The New Yorker’s list of the best books of that year after both the list was initially published. In past years, he has won the George Orwell Prize, the Stephen Crane Literary Award and the Mirror Award for media criticism (twice). Alterman holds a PhD in US history from Stanford (minoring in Jewish Studies), an M.A. in international relations at Yale and a B.A. from Cornell. He lives in Manhattan and tweets at @eric_alterman and has an open Facebook page at facebook.com/alterman.eric
Omer Bartov is the Samuel Pisar Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Brown University. His early research concerned the involvement of the German army in war crimes, elaborated in The Eastern Front, 1941-1945(1985) and Hitler's Army (1991). He then turned to total war and genocide, explored in Murder in Our Midst (1996), Mirrors of Destruction (2000), and Germany's War and the Holocaust (2003). The study The "Jew" in Cinema (2005) examined twentieth-century antisemitic stereotypes. More recently Bartov has focused on Eastern Europe and the Holocaust, in such publications as Erased (2007), Anatomy of a Genocide (2018), and Tales from the Borderlands (2022). His forthcoming book, Genocide, The Holocaust, and Israel-Palestine (August 2023) links past interests to ongoing research. Bartov’s first English-language novel, The Butterfly and the Axe, was published in January 2023.
Zev Eleff is president of Gratz College and professor of American Jewish history in Melrose Park, PA.
Yuval Evri is Assistant Professor of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and Marash and Ocuin Chair in Ottoman, Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish Studies at Brandeis University. He is a cultural historian specializing in Sephardi/Mizrahi modern history and culture, with a particular interest in Palestine/ Eretz Israel during the first half of the 20th century.
His current book project traces the invention of the Mizrahim/Sephardim as go-betweens and mediators on the borderline that emerged between the Jew and the Arab and between Hebrew and Arabic and explores how the fluidity inherent in this position became a source of resistance to the dominant national and monolingual forces. His last book, titled: The Return to Al-Andalus: Disputes Over Sephardic Culture and Identity Between Arabic and Hebrew, was published by Magnes press in 2020.
Jonathan Gribetz is Associate Professor in the Near Eastern Studies Department and the Program in Judaic Studies at Princeton University, where he also directs the Near Eastern Studies Program. He is the author of Defining Neighbors: Religion, Race, and the Early Zionist-Arab Encounter and of the forthcoming Reading Herzl in Beirut: The PLO's Research on Judaism, Zionism, and Israel.
Jeffrey Herf is Distinguished University Professor, Emeritus, Department of History, University of Maryland, College Park where he has taught modern European political and intellectual history, especially modern German history. He was educated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Brandeis University; had post-docs at Harvard, University of Chicago, German Historical Institute in Washington, the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton; and taught at Harvard, and Ohio University before coming to Maryland in 2000.
He has lectured widely in the United States, Europe, and Israel. His seven books have been translated into eight languages. They include Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich (1984); War by Other Means: Soviet Power, West German Resistance and the Battle of the Euromissiles (1991); Divided Memory: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys (1997); The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during World War II and the Holocaust (2006); Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World (2009); Undeclared Wars with Israel: East Germany and the West German Far Left, 1967-1989 (2016), and Israel's Moment: International Support and Opposition for Establishing the Jewish State, 1945-1949 (2022); and forthcoming “Three Faces of Antisemitism: Right, Left and Islamist.”
His books have won the Fraenkel Prize of the Wiener Library in London (1997); George Lewis Beer Prize of the American Historical Association (1998); the National Jewish Book Award (2006); Washington Institute for Near East Policy Bronze Book Prize (2010); Sybil Halpern Milton Prize of the German Studies Association for work on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust (2011); and Bernard Lewis Prize from the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (2022).
In addition to many articles in scholarly journals and edited collections He has published essays and reviews on contemporary history and politics in American Interest, American Purpose, Commentary, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Dissent, Fathom Journal, History News Network, The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, Jewish Review of Books, The Jewish Quarterly, The New Republic, The National Interest, Partisan Review, Quillette, Tablet Magazine, Telos, Times of Israel, Washington Post, and Die Welt.
Essayist and biographer Adina Hoffman is the author of five books, including Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architects of a New City and My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century. A biography of Taha Muhammad Ali, My Happiness was named one of the best twenty books of 2009 by the Barnes & Noble Review and won the UK’s Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize. She is also the author, with Peter Cole, of Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, which was awarded the American Library Association’s Brody Medal for the Jewish Book of the Year. Her Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures was a finalist for the 2020 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Prize for Biography and selected as one of the best paperbacks of 2020 by the Sunday Times. The recipient of a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, she was among the inaugural winners of the Windham Campbell literature prize. She lives in Jerusalem and New Haven.
Shaul Kelner is Associate Professor of Sociology and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University, and past chair of Vanderbilt's Jewish Studies department. He has been a Fellow of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute for Advanced Studies and the University of Michigan’s Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies, a visiting scholar at Tel Aviv University, and a board member of the Association for Jewish Studies. He served for a decade as chair of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship / Davidson Scholars selection committee. Publications from his National Endowment for the Humanities-supported study of the movement to free Soviet Jews have appeared in American Jewish History, Jewish Social Studies, and edited volumes in English and French. His 2010 ethnography of Birthright Israel, Tours That Bind, received the AJS's Jordan Schnitzer Book Award. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vanderbilt recognized him with an Innovative Teaching Award for Creating Engaging In-Person Learning Environments.
David Makovsky is the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at The Washington Institute and director of the Koret Project on Arab-Israel Relations. He is also an adjunct professor in Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). In 2013-2014, he worked in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of State, serving as a senior advisor to the Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations. He is also the creator and host of the Decision Points podcast, now in its fourth season, which examines Israel, Zionism, and the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Sallai Meridor is the Chairperson of the Board of the National Library of Israel. He served as Israel’s Ambassador to the USA from 2006 to 2009, and as the Chair of the Jewish Agency from 1999 to 2005. From 2011 to 2018, he served as the Chairperson and co founder of a cyber security focused VC fund. Since 2018, he serves as the Chairperson of the Pension and Provident fund of the Jewish Agency. He is a board member of the Israel Democracy Institute, the Jewish People Policy Institute, and the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research.
He is married to Noa and they have 3 daughters and 9 grandchildren.
Photo credit: Muki Schwartz
Deborah Dash Moore is Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor of History and Professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan. From 2005 to 2015 she served as Director of the Jean and Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and the Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies. Prior to coming to the University of Michigan, she was Professor of Religion on the William F. Kenan chair at Vassar College.
An historian of American Jews, she specializes in twentieth century urban history. Three of her monographs form a trilogy, moving from studying second generation New York Jews (At Home in America) to examining the lives of Jewish American soldiers in World War II, and culminating in a history of migration that carried big city Jews to Miami and Los Angeles after the war (To the Golden Cities). Her book, GI Jews: How World War II Changed a Generation served as the basis for a documentary of the same title.
Most recently, she has explored the formative encounter of Jews and American cities in the Urban Origins of American Judaism, and written a comprehensive history of New York Jews, Jewish New York: The Remarkable Story of a People and a City. Her forthcoming book, Walkers in the City: Jewish Street Photographers of Mid-Century New York (2023) extends her interest in urban Jewish history to photography.
She has also edited or co-edited three books in addition to the three-volume City of Promises: A History of New York Jews. Currently she serves as editor in chief of The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, a ten-volume anthology of original sources translated into English from the biblical period to 2005, selected by leading scholars.
Photo credit: Leisa Thompson
Dr. Jess Olson is an associate professor of Jewish history. Interested in questions of nationalism, religion, and Jewish identity in nineteenth and twentieth century Europe, Dr. Jess Olson’s areas of research include the Jews of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany, history of Zionism and Jewish nationalism, and the intersection between Jewish Orthodoxy and political engagement. His manuscript on early Zionist, later Yiddishist, and finally executive in the Agudat Yisrael, Dr. Nathan Birnbaum, "Nathan Birnbaum and Jewish Modernity" was released in December, 2012 by Stanford University Press. His publications include: “Nathan Birnbaum and Tuvia Horowitz: Friendship and the Origins of an Orthodox Ideologue,” "Nation, Peoplehood and Religion in the Life and Thought of Nathan Birnbaum," and “The Late Zionism of Nathan Birnbaum: The Herzl Controversy Reconsidered.” Dr. Olson was a Yad Hanadiv/Beracha Foundation Fellow for the 2010-2011 academic year and was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship for 2011.
Derek Penslar is the William Lee Frost Professor of Jewish History at Harvard University. He previously taught at Indiana University, the University of Toronto, and Oxford University, where he was the inaugural holder of the Stanley Lewis Chair in Israel Studies. Penslar’s books include Jews and the Military: A History (2013), Theodor Herzl: The Charismatic Leader (2020), and Zionism: An Emotional State (2023). He is currently writing a global history of the 1948 Palestine War. Penslar is a Fellow of the American Society for Jewish Research and the Royal Society of Canada. He is also an Honorary Fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford.
Noam Pianko is the Samuel N. Stroum Chair of Jewish Studies and Professor in the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. Pianko’s research interests include modern Jewish history, Zionism, and American Judaism. His book Jewish Peoplehood: An American Innovation (Rutgers University Press), won the American Jewish Historical Society’s Saul Viener Book prize.
Gavriel D. Rosenfeld is President of the Center for Jewish History in New York City and Professor of History at Fairfield University. His areas of specialization include the history of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, memory studies, and counterfactual history. He is the author of numerous books, including the forthcoming co-edited volume (with Janet Ward), Fascism in America: Past and Present (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2023), The Fourth Reich: The Specter of Nazism from World War II to the Present (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2019), Hi Hitler! How the Nazi Past is Being Normalized in Contemporary Culture (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015), Building after Auschwitz: Jewish Architecture and the Memory of the Holocaust(New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011), The World Hitler Never Made: Alternate History and the Memory of Nazism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005), and Munich and Memory: Architecture, Monuments and the Legacy of the Third Reich (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000). He is the editor of What Ifs of Jewish History: From Abraham to Zionism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016) and the co-editor of Beyond Berlin: Twelve German Cities Confront the Nazi Past (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008). He edits the blog, The Counterfactual History Review, and is an editor at the Journal of Holocaust Research.
Zohar Segev is professor of Jewish History at the University of Haifa. Prof. Segev has published books and many articles on American Jewish History including, The World Jewish Congress During the Holocaust: Between Activism and Restraint (De Gruyter, 2014). Prof. Segev Last Book: Immigration, Ideology, and Public Activity from an American Jewish Perspective: A Journey Across Three Continents [Brill 2022, 280p]. Prof, Segev’s last paper: “Rethinking the Dilemma of bombing Auschwitz: Support, Opposition and Reservation.” Jewish Quarterly Review, 2 (2021): 155-184. Prof. Segev was the NYPL – Fordham Research fellow (2020/2021).
Mira Sucharov is Professor of Political Science at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, where she specializes in international relations and the politics of Israel/Palestine. She is the author or editor of five books, including Borders and Belonging: A Memoir (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021); Public Influence: A Guide to Op-Ed Writing and Social Media Engagement (University of Toronto Press, 2019); Social Justice and Israel/Palestine: Foundational & Contemporary Debates (University of Toronto Press, 2019, co-edited with Aaron J. Hahn Tapper); Methodology and Emotion in International Relations: Parsing the Passions (Routledge, 2019, co-edited with Eric Van Rythoven): and The International Self: Psychoanalysis and the Search for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2005), and she has published over thirty-five scholarly articles and book chapters. Her latest journal article is “Dear Omar, Dear Mira: Exploring Zionism Across the Ethnic Divide,” SHOFAR: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies (with Omar M. Dajani), forthcoming 2023.
She is a nine-time teaching award winner, including having received the top university teaching award in Ontario, and is a winner of the Faculty of Public Affairs Excellence in Public Commentary Award. Her many op-eds and articles have appeared in The Globe and Mail, Haaretz, The Forward, The Daily Beast, the Toronto Star, Jerusalem Post, JTA and Jewish Currents. She serves on the Advisory Council of the New Israel Fund-Canada; she is a founding signatory of the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism for which she also serves on the Advisory Council, and she is the immediate past co-editor of AJS Perspectives. She is currently working with Omar M. Dajani on a podcast about Palestinian and Jewish life in Jaffa called “The Vacant Lot.”
Raquel Ukeles, PhD, is the Head of Collections of the National Library of Israel; from 2010-2020, she was Curator of the Islam and Middle East Collection. Ukeles is responsible for the overall development of all the Library's collections and for digital, cultural and educational initiatives based on the NLI collections as well as in partnership with other institutions. She is the chief editor of the forthcoming book, 101 Treasures from the National Library of Israel.
A New York native, Ukeles received her BA from Princeton (1993) and MA and PhD from Harvard University in 2006, all in comparative Islamic and Jewish studies. She also studied Jewish law in Jerusalem and New York, and Islamic law and Arabic in Egypt, Morocco and the Netherlands. Ukeles has published and taught on a wide array of subjects related to comparative Jewish and Islamic traditions, medieval Islamic law, the history of Islamic manuscripts, Jewish intellectual history under Islam, Arab culture in Mandatory Palestine, and historical currents that shape Israeli culture and society.
Dov Waxman is the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation Professor of Israel Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and the director of the UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies. He is the author of four books: The Pursuit of Peace and The Crisis of Israeli Identity: Defending / Defining the Nation (2006), Israel’s Palestinians: The Conflict Within (2011), Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict over Israel (2016), and most recently, The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: What Everyone Needs to Know (2019). His writing has also been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and The Atlantic,among other publications. He is currently working on a book about contemporary antisemitism and the Israel-Palestine issue.
Amy Weiss holds the Maurice Greenberg Chair of Judaic Studies and is an Assistant Professor of Judaic Studies and History at the University of Hartford. During the 2022 – 2023 academic year, she is also a Faculty Fellow in Ethnic Studies for UHart’s Center for the Humanities and a Center for Jewish History—Fordham University Research Fellow. She previously held the Thomas and Elissa Ellant Katz Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania’s Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. Her research and publications focus on the intersections of American Jewish history, Israeli culture, and Jewish-Protestant relations. She is currently writing a book manuscript on the evolving relationships American Jewish communal organizations have forged with evangelicals on issues relating to Israel. Most recently, her articles have appeared in the journals American Jewish History, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and Israel Studies. Her work has also appeared in the edited volumes Armed Jews in the Americas, Teaching the Arab-Israeli Conflict in the College Classroom, and Minhagim: Custom and Practice in Jewish Life. Weiss received her PhD from the departments of Hebrew and Judaic Studies and History at New York University.
Dr. Einat Wilf is a leading thinker on Israel, Zionism, foreign policy and education. She was a member of the Israeli Parliament from 2010 to 2013, where she served as Chair of the Education Committee and Member of the influential Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Born and raised in Israel, Dr. Wilf served as an Intelligence Officer in the Israel Defense Forces, Foreign Policy Advisor to Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres and a strategic consultant with McKinsey & Company.
Dr. Wilf has a BA from Harvard, an MBA from INSEAD in France, and a PhD in Political Science from the University of Cambridge. She was the Goldman Visiting Professor at Georgetown University and a lecturer at Reichman University in Israel.
Dr. Wilf is the author of seven books that explore key issues in Israeli society. We Should All Be Zionists, published in 2022, brings together her essays from the past four years on Israel, Zionism and the path to peace; the co-authored “The War of Return: How Western Indulgence of the Palestinian Dream Has Obstructed the Path to Peace”, was published in 2020.