J.J. Goldberg

The N.Y. Times and the Jewish Nationalism Question. Bring Your Own Elephant.

By J.J. Goldberg

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The New York Times touched off a lively little debate Wednesday morning, probably unwittingly, with an article from its Jerusalem bureau that was headlined “Jewish Nationalists Clash With Palestinians.” You don’t see the term “Jewish nationalist” very often these days, except in historical discussions of Zionism and its attempt to rebuild the Jewish nation. Suddenly, here it is in the newspaper of record, describing a group of people who probably wouldn’t get much sympathy from most Times readers. It seems that more than a few New Yorkers woke up Wednesday morning, scanned the paper over a cup of coffee, came to Page A-12 and suddenly found themselves wondering if the Grey Lady was now using Zionism as a term of abuse, equating the movement for Jewish liberation with its most extreme wing.

I heard about the buzz before I checked the paper that morning when I found an email from my friend Andy Silow-Carroll, the editor of the New Jersey Jewish News. He had heard from an anxious reader who was wondering what to make of that headline. Then I heard about other people talking and emailing each other, trying to figure out what sort of insult was intended. The debate hit the media when the Huffington Post covered the clash in question, generating a thread of readers’ comments arguing the meaning and moral valence of the Times’ phrasing. Why would a distinguished newspaper with a large Jewish readership even think of using such charged language?

The answer is to be found, I think, in the ever-growing gap of incomprehension that divides Israelis and American Jews.

To begin with, the Hebrew word for “nationalist” is le’umi, from the word le’om meaning “nation.” (Le’umi also means simply “national,” as in Bank Leumi Le-Yisrael, or Israel National Bank.) It doesn’t particularly carry the emotional charge to Israeli ears that “nationalist” carries to Americans.

But there’s also a more subtle cultural message at work here.

At least since the 1970s, the Israeli right wing has styled itself hamachaneh hale’umi, the National or Nationalist Camp, to distinguish itself from the left which, the right means to imply, doesn’t care about the welfare and destiny of the nation. It’s a popular political pastime, the name-game as blame-game: You choose a name not so much for its efficiency in self-description but rather to make the other side look bad. Think of “pro-life,” or “pro-choice.”

We don’t much see this Israeli use of the word “nationalist” because it doesn’t readily occur to the Jerusalem correspondents who provide America with most of its Middle East coverage. But it comes naturally to Israelis. The Times correspondent who wrote that article, Isabel Kershner, immigrated to Israel from her native England as a young woman and spent a couple of decades in Israeli journalism and Jewish education before joining the Times a few years ago. By now she’s thoroughly Israeli (and, for full disclosure, a friend).

I did a Web search for “Jewish nationalist” and “New York Times,” and the only other place where I found the Times using the term in recent years was in this article from a year ago — also by Isabel Kershner.

But wait. We’re not done. There is another message packed into that phrase. Why “Jewish nationalist” rather than the more obvious “Israeli nationalist”? Well, for starters, “Israeli nationalist” implies little more than a patriotic citizen of Israel who cares for the country’s welfare, and these come in a variety of colors, wardrobes and religions. A patriot looks around, sees many nations, and takes pride in his or her own. By the same token, Jewish nationalists are aware of many ethnicities and religions and devote themselves to their own group. But where Israeli nationalists distinguish themselves from other nations near or far, Jewish nationalists distinguish themselves from their neighbors across the street. Right now that’s playing itself out in a bitter, zero-sum, house-to-house struggle between (some) Israeli Jews and (some) Palestinian Arabs for (total) control of the real estate in their common homeland.

“Jewish nationalism” is just the right term for the Israeli side of that zero-sum struggle, and if it makes American Jewish readers feel a bit queasy — well, it’s about time.

Moshe Shoshan Thu. Dec 3, 2009

It is important to distinguish between the hebrew terms "leumi", and "leumani" both of which could be translated as nationalist. The use inthe Times seems to me to correspond to "leumani" which in my understanding has a pejorative sense to it.

Qol Thu. Dec 3, 2009

I don't think that J.J.Goldberg has interpreted the identities correctly. "Israel" is clearly a Jewish identity - both in the eyes of Jews and in the eyes of Arabs. "Israel" means in essence the "Jewish people" - in both Hebrew (bnei-yisrael) and in Arabic (bani israil).

You can run into an American Jew touring the world, and he'll tell you: "I'm an American". I always find this surprising since I would expect him to say that he is an American Jew. But, indeed, his primary identity in the cultural sense is American, not Jewish. When you run into an Arab from Israel, he'll probably tell you that he is an Israeli Arab. His primary identity is not Israeli (which he interprets as a Jewish identity); rather he is an Arab who happens to have citizenship of Israel. A Jew from Israel says: "I'm Israeli" - and it is understood that he is a Jew (his national and primary culture is Jewish). Indeed, as Mr Goldberg writes, there is an "ever-growing gap of incomprehension that divides Israelis and American Jews".

Even if Isabel Kershner would have reported about "Israeli nationalists", she would have meant "Jewish". Here's a little test that you, Mr Goldberg, could do with your Hebrew-speaking friends. Ask them to fill in the blank: "The Six-Day War is a central event in the history of the _____ people". I can promise you that the answer will always be: "The history of the JEWISH people" (not ISRAELI). "Israel" is a Jewish identity, hence its history is understood to be part of the drama of the Jewish collective experience.

Daveed Aleph Fri. Dec 4, 2009

Perhaps a more accurate definition would be "Israeli ultra-nationalists". Also, when most secular Israelis use the term "Jewish" the context is more often related to religious issues. Others tend to mix religion and nationalism.

Czarkazem13 Fri. Dec 4, 2009

Agreed. Jews in the U.S. and Americans in general better get used to terms like "fundamentalist Jew" or "Jewish terrorist" to - as the article states, "Jewish Nationalists." They're there in Israel (amongst elsewhere) just like "fundamentalist Muslims," "Muslim terrorists" and/or "Muslim nationalists" (or amongst other religous and ethnic groups). Though, less in numbers.

Jingoist Jews and their Judeophile goyim need to realize that Jews are not perfect (like anyother group) and need to stop treating the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in black and white.


I would find that most Israeli Arabs identifying themselves as "Israeli Arabs" instead of just "Israeli" is due to the fact that when most people hear "Israeli" they think 'Jew'. The Arab from Israel just skips past the other person's assumption preemptively (besides the social stigma and issues in the region).

Also, even with Israel and Jew being equivalent, to me it still makes sense to say "Jewish nationalist" over "Israeli nationalist" do to the fact that they are Jewish over Israeli. Many don't even recognize the authority of the Israeli government. Plus, not to mention that not all Israelis are Jews and these groups tend to fight against other citizens (namely Arabs).

BTW, "The Six-Day War is a central event in the history of the ISRAELI people". That works too. I wouldn't make promises on knowing how millions of people think.

The Other Alan Fri. Dec 4, 2009

Whatever! Jewish nationalist. Israeli nationalist. More important is Mr. Goldberg's comment regarding "their common homeland". Now that you've said it, stop trying to tear it apart by supporting partition, and get in gear with the meaning of 'common'.

There are too many Jewish nationalists masquerading as Israeli nationalists. They have divided and they are falling.

Qol Sat. Dec 5, 2009

Czarkazem13 - For you it seems to sound right to say ""the Six-Day War is a central event in the history of the ISRAELI people". But your understanding wasn't the issue (I assume that you are not a Hebrew speaker). I was suggesting to Mr Goldberg to ask Hebrew-speaking Israelis to fill in the blank. There is no doubt that they would say "The Six-Day War is a central event in the history of the JEWISH people". In other words, for Israelis, the whole experience of Israel (its history, its culture) is a Jewish experience. And indeed, the forces of Jewish history and tradition are behind the rise of the State of Israel and the making of its Hebrew culture.

The Other Alan - The important aspect of Mr Goldberg's comment regarding "their common homeland" is the term "their". It's in the third person - it's about someone else. On the seder of Pesach, we read about the four sons, one of whom asks: "What is this Pesach to YOU". Mr Goldberg mentions in his article that there is an "ever-growing gap of incomprehension that divides Israelis and American Jews". It's apparently very true. For an Israeli, the Land of Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people - even if many Jews live in the Diaspora. The Jewish tradition defines this land as such. Yet, Mr Goldberg (and the Forward in general) always are careful to use the third person - it's a clear declaration meant to define that gap.

Daveed Aleph - Secular Israelis use the term "Jewish" as an ethnic definition. They say "Jewish" as a parallel term to "Arab". There are "Jewish towns" and there are "Arab towns". The kids study "Jewish history" in school (it's a history of a people, obviously).

akher Sat. Dec 5, 2009

What's wrong with standing up for the Jewish people?

Call it Jewish nationalist if you will but the issue is that Jews are different and that the Land of Israel is our land.

The true occupiers are those who usurped it since the expulsion of Jews in 70AD. These include the Romans, Turks, British and, of course, the Arabs.

The Arabs are occupiers. The land never was their land. It is and will remain Jewish land.

Ultimately, they will be removed, one by one, if necessary. Their stolen property will be reclaimed. The remnants of their hegemony erased forever.

Any Jew who would disparage the Jewish nature of the Jewish Homeland can step aside and let the real article do the job.

And we are more than ready.

Michael Levin Sun. Dec 6, 2009

Philip Weiss [in Mondoweiss], points to another elephant-in-the-room -- the NYT's correspondents covering Israel:

[Excerpt] "So: (Isabel) Kershner’s Israeli. And she is married to an Israeli, Hirsh Goodman. The other Times correspondent, Ethan Bronner, is an American Jew also married to an Israeli. At the most important newspaper in determining the conventional wisdom in the U.S., that is quite a mishpocheh, as my mother would say (Yiddish for clan). South Africa never had it so good!

http://mondoweiss.net/2009/12/nyt-correspondent-in-israel-is-thoroughly-israeli.html Note -- J.J. Goldberg's post (above) is referred to in this Mondoweiss post.

Julian Mannino Sun. Dec 6, 2009

The obvious reason why the correspondents are Israeli is they speak the language. How common is it for non Israelis to speak Hebrew?

Michael Levin Sun. Dec 6, 2009

"potsherd December 5

Is there a practical issue here? Isn’t it an advantage in a foreign correspondent to speak the local language?

David December 5

Arabic not being a local language?

[. . . . ]

"potsherd December 5

More Palestinians probably speak Hebrew than Jews speak Arabic.

David December 5

Ergo, couldn’t you find a Palestinian correspondent? Since many Palestinians speak Hebrew and Arabic, whereas many Israeli Jews and American Jews do not speak Arabic?"

["‘NYT’ correspondent in Israel is ‘thoroughly Israeli’" -- Excerpts from readers comments -- http://mondoweiss.net/2009/12/nyt-correspondent-in-israel-is-thoroughly-israeli.html#comments ]

NYer Sun. Dec 6, 2009

NYT uses "Jewish Nationalist" because they are too scared to call it what it is: Jewish extremists.

Miriam Chartier Sun. Dec 6, 2009

G-D has not authorized Israel to take control over all of the biblical lands of ancient Israel. G-D wants them to get control of themselfs.

Israel is our of control.... The attacks are not of G-D on the Palestinian. Through their , sacred vigilantism not only are the rights of the Arab but the people all who live in the land threatened. The rest of the world sit and look, but in truth, the world is none too safe.

Mike Mon. Dec 7, 2009

Huh? When has Zionism ever been anything but Jewish nationalism?

We have our socialists, our centrists and our fascists... but they are all, if they called themselves Zionists, nationalists each one.

Obviously, "post-Zionism" is "post-nationalist".

The New York Times inadvertently hits only on this truth - the Israeli right tends toward being true believers in "nationalism", while the left is a little uncomfortable about accepting the quite accurate label. But as long as people are marching off to the army, serving the Zionist state, defending a set of laws and institutions that privileges Jews over Arabs, and reaping the benefits of the occupation of another people (and I think we can acknowledge that this includes most Israelis), of course we are all nationalists. Some of us on the left view this nationalism as an unfortunate and necessary reaction to the antisemitic nationalism of surrounding people. Some of us view nationalism as something we'd like to move beyond.

The difference between left and right in Zionist reality is the difference between uncomfortable and reluctant nationalists and enthusiastic nationalists. Presumably that is the difference that the Times is referencing. But obviously, Zionism is Jewish nationalism, from one end of the spectrum to the other.

Dave Tue. Dec 8, 2009

Jewish Nationalist. I like it! Sounds old school. Sort of Ari Ben Cannan meets Bar Kochba. I hope it sticks.

Lisa B Wed. Dec 9, 2009

Jewish Nationalist is about as accurate as it comes. Israelis focus on the country as a whole. Jewish nationalists are focused on a very specific piece of land and hold in utter contempt anyone, including other Jews who aren't in complete lockstep.

American Jews are not at all aware of how far the situation has gone and considering how much money is sent over there, they should be. They'll proudly talk about how Israel banned a racist party (Kach) without being aware that Israel is filling up with Kahanists.

Miriam Chartier Thu. Dec 10, 2009

Do Jews and Muslims pray to the same G-D? Religious extremists, hummm, I donot fit in. Given this image, a very few individuals profess to being Kahanists, the term is frequently misused to discredet Religious Zionists, Zionists in general, or violent Jewish nationslists who may not be connected to Meir Kahane or Kahanism in any way.

Mankind, has the ability to----think-----in the arena of strategy, but most fail to do so. Mankind thinking who's the best---who's the strongest, like our friend above wrote....."step aside let the real article do the job." Mankind thinking matching wits as a major source of headackes. Most people donot think, they follow. Like children, following the leader. Oh, yes and it gets even better, they sometimes do not even know the name of whom they are being lead by.

These people, base their choices of leaders on personal desires. Human nature, like the garden, were the heart goes one way and thinking ability gives over to the heart alone. Heart and mind should be together. It is just this error that leads mankind to fall in the pit of darkness. In every generation a remenant is found, those that give their free-wills over to G-D. Peace, is found in our Dwelling place. for it is written...LORD, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Psalm 90. A remenant that is found in every generation. In Psalm 51...the path that we go down...read it for Truth makes us know Wisdom in the Hidden Place. David speaks of the hidden place in Psalm 118.....The Stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. Read Gen. 28. Scripture speaks of us, we follow the G-D of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Our G-D is the G-D of All Mankind.

Ezekiel 34....And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the LORD, G-D unto the shepherds:(Rabbis, Priest, Pastors, Ministers, ect... ) Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed them selves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?

(G-D speaks of the decption....the lie)

read it in full...open your eyes...

For it is written of the remenant.....Ezekiel 34....For thus saith the LORD G-D; Behold, I even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out.

As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all palaces (all nations of people) where they have beeb scattered in the cloudy and dark day.

And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them form the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country.

Please take note whos land Israel will belong to....people that G-D will ,"deliver them out of all palaces."

Why, becouse it is His will....please read all of Jer. 31, I will give you one verse....Behold, the day--ssssss come, (in every generation) saith the LORD, that I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Juda with the seed of man, and with the seed of beast.

G-D does not lie....nor does time contain Him, time contains every generation....G-D speaks, it is done.

Benjamin Fri. Dec 11, 2009

Jewish nationalism is extra-territorial and predates the state of Israel. See http://state-of-exile.blogspot.com/2009/05/lost-cause-of-ashkenazi-nationalism.html

It is quite possible to be a Jewish nationalist without being an Israeli nationalist: i.e. Simon Dubnow, Gustav Landauer, the autonomist movement.

It is also possible to be an Israeli nationalist without being a Jewish nationalist: i.e. the Canaanite movement, Semitic Action (HaPeulah Hashemit).

Miriam Chartier Fri. Dec 11, 2009

Who is who, mankind thinking. G-D know who you are. Do you know who you realy are?

The temple below had its counterpart in the Temple above, and everything there, holy vessels and holy ministers, corresponded to something above. The same was true of the Tabernacle which Moses erected in the desert. And the Synagogue must have the same object: it must be a ----true house of prayer.

Were is this house of prayer here on earth----what religion has it, were on earth is it??? For it is written in Daniel 6....Now when the writting was signed,(wittten on his inward parts Ps.51) he went into the house: (the temple above, the hidden part Ps. 51...and his windows being open (the eyes of his heart and mind) in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his G-D, as he did aforetime.

Three times a day Daniel, gave a free-will offering and asked forgiveness for sin. Abraham paryed in the mornning and Isaac the after noon and Jacob the evening...the pillars to the Temple. And faced towards the city of G-D the city of Peace, the city of Jerusalem, that will come down when the King of Kings come with his holy ones.

The temple above has windows...for it is written...second Samual 2...My beloved....he looketh forth at the windows, showing himself through the lattice".

Mankind pray in the sight of mankind---the holy children that are brought forth as David in the declared decree Ps.2 were he was brought forth into the house-hold of G-D as a son of G-D. The windows of the hidden part, the true temple, the Rock, the mountain of the LORD are seen through the eyes of your hearts.

For it is written.....Psalm 118...The Stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The eyes of David seen what Danile seen in chapter 6 of Danile. They looked with their hearts and the mind and seen the house of G-D above.

At first, when the Israelites entered into the Covenant of the Holy One, there was something lacking in them, namely the final act of circumcision, so that the holy sign was not manifested in them, they rejected G-D- death again came to all of the world.

For it is written Psalm 111...He provided redemption for His people; He ordained His covenant forever holy and awesome is His name. So the covernant...is everlasting...and can be obtained. In Jeremeriah 31...the new covernant for Israel is written.

For it is written....Jeremiah 31....But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of israel; After those day-ssss(found in all generations after the wilderness) ...saith the LORD, I will write it in theiir inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their G-D, and they shall be my people.

G-D must do it for them, for they would not give up their free-wills to G-D or desire G-D in truth.

This is the everlasting covernant...for every generation that puts sin out. Ps. 51

Ps. 51.....Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part(the temple above, the Rock, the Stone that the builders rejected) ...thou shalt make me know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whitter than snow.

For it is written....Job 33....The Spirit of G-D made me(below, flesh, death) but the breath of the Almighty gives me life. (above, a spirit body, everlasting life) This is the final act of circumcision that did not happen in the wilderness with Moses. Remember the food of which the Israelites partook in the wilderness, each of them ate food of the celestial princes.

Even at this appointed time there are those then who partaked of the similar food, and that in a "double measure." And who are they? They are the ones that embraced the two sided law, and it is written on their inward parts, and come under the everlasting covenant. They put the desire of G-D in them, in all they do and say. These are the ones down through all generations that were granted a more spiritual food than the "unleavened bread". But the sons of Wisdom, are the students of the law that Truth makes them know. This is found in Ps. 51...... The food of those absorbed in the Torah nourishes only the soul and the spirit, but not the body, coming from the shere of "Wisdom", the highest and most glorious supernal region. dust to dust, ashes to ashes but Spirit to spirit

These are the children of peace.-----they do not belong to mankind's movements. It is the Spirit of G-D in them, that moves towards Him alone.

Robbie Gringras Mon. Dec 14, 2009

Isobel Kershner knows exactly what she's doing, and has a perfect hold on her English (and Hebrew) (and Arabic). She was translating the 'nun hamadgisha' - the emphasising letter nun. Leumi is national. LeumANi is nationalist - with exactly the same connotations as nationalist has in English

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