As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict escalates, a dangerous illusion persists that the American Jewish community speaks with a single voice, expressing universal, uncritical support for the policies of the Sharon government. This appearance of unanimity does grave disservice to the heterogeneity of Jewish thought, and to the centuries-old Jewish traditions of lively dispute and rigorous, unapologetic skeptical inquiry. Wrestling with Zion brings together prominent poets, essayists, journalists, activists, academics, novelists, and playwrights, representing the diversity of opinion in the progressive Jewish-American community regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All the participants share three things: a Jewish identity, an American identity, and a sense of urgency, refusing to ignore the catastrophic injustice that has been visited upon the Palestinian people, while at the same time being passionately committed to Jewish survival and American legacies of compassion and moral courage. The contributors — including Nathan Englander, Susan Sontag, Robert Pinsky, Daniel Wolfe, and many others — have considered certain essential questions: What is at the heart of the connection between Israel and American Jews? What is Israel's role in shaping Jewish-American identities? How has this role changed historically? And what is the history, both familiar and forgotten, of Zionism's political, cultural, and spiritual meaning?
With violence between Israeli Jews and Palestinians continuing and the death toll rising, playwright Kushner and journalist Solomon have compiled a book of thoughts by a progressive and diverse group of notable Jewish writers on the current situation in the Middle East and the prospects for peace. According to the contributors, the media presents an apparent unanimity of Jewish opinion on the conflict, which distorts the real diversity of the community's convictions. To give some historical perspective to the debate, the book begins with the writings of such figures as Ahad Ha'am, Martin Buber and Hannah Arendt; contemporary contributors include Arthur Waskow, Ellen Willis, Susan Sontag, and lesser-known writers. The essays address such issues as how and why American Jews are connected to the land of their ancestors, and how Zionism has influenced Jewish identity. Rather than distancing themselves from controversy, the editors have encouraged contributors to examine the covenant that links the Jewish people and Israel and to let it be "loosened and strengthened, de-mythified, de-fetishized, considered as a dynamic problematic, as is only appropriate to the consideration of a living bond."
For left-wing "or progressive" American Jews, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to present a wrenching predicament. Many are almost genetically sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, viewing Palestinians as oppressed, even colonized, victims. Yet their sustaining identity as Jews will not allow them to abandon Israel, or even Zionism, entirely. Kushner and Solomon have assembled a wide variety of journalists, scholars, and activists who consider the dilemmas and even suggest possible solutions. Some of these articles are thoughtful, provocative, and certainly worthy of further consideration. Some are filled with pointless guilt-mongering and lead nowhere. If there is a common theme here, it is that, given compassionate and reasonable Israeli policies, a comparable Palestinian response will be forthcoming. This is an interesting, useful compilation that offers an alternative to the seemingly unanimous support the Sharon government receives from many "mainstream" Jewish writers. Jay Freeman