From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject A Jewish Congregation Considers Affirming Anti-Zionism as a Core Value
Date January 28, 2022 1:05 AM
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[ At our December 2021 meeting, the board of Tzedek Chicago, voted
unanimously to recommend amending our core values statement to state
explicitly that anti-Zionism (rather than “non-Zionism”) should be
articulated as one of our core values.] [[link removed]]

A JEWISH CONGREGATION CONSIDERS AFFIRMING ANTI-ZIONISM AS A CORE
VALUE  
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Rabbi Brant Rosen
January 25, 2022
Shalom Rav
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_ At our December 2021 meeting, the board of Tzedek Chicago, voted
unanimously to recommend amending our core values statement to state
explicitly that anti-Zionism (rather than “non-Zionism”) should be
articulated as one of our core values. _

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Recognizing the significance of such a step, the board also agreed
unanimously that this decision should be processed, discussed and
ultimately put to a membership vote. To this end, Tzedek Chicago is
holding a series of town hall meetings and will send out an online
ballot to members in March.

Here, below, is the text of a Q/A that the Tzedek board drafted and
sent out to its members to explain its decision:

_WHY DID TZEDEK CHICAGO ORIGINALLY INCLUDE “NON-ZIONISM” AS PART
OF OUR CORE VALUES?_

When our congregation was established in 2015, our founders developed
a set of core values
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provide the ideological foundation for our congregational life. In our
final values statement, we included the following words in the section
entitled, “A Judaism Beyond Nationalism”:

_While we appreciate the important role of the land of Israel in
Jewish tradition, liturgy and identity, we do not celebrate the fusing
of Judaism with political nationalism. We are non-Zionist, openly
acknowledging that the creation of an ethnic Jewish nation state in
historic Palestine resulted in an injustice against its indigenous
people—an injustice that continues to this day._

From the outset, our founders made a conscious decision to state that
Tzedek Chicago would not be a Zionist congregation. Most Jewish
congregations in North America are Zionist by default. Among other
things, Tzedek Chicago was created to provide a Jewish congregational
community for those who did not identify as Zionists—and who did not
want to belong to congregations that celebrated Zionism as a necessary
aspect of Jewish life.

_WHY IS THE BOARD RECOMMENDING THE CHANGE
FROM __“__NON-ZIONIST__” TO __“__ANTI-ZIONIST?__”_

Zionism, the movement to establish a sovereign Jewish nation state in
historic Palestine, is dependent upon the maintenance of a demographic
Jewish majority in the land. Since its establishment, Israel has
sought to maintain this majority by systematically dispossessing
Palestinians from their homes through a variety of means,
including military expulsion
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demolition
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expropriation
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of residency rights
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among others.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to deny the fundamental
injustice at the core of Zionism. In its 2021 report
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the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem concluded that Israel is an
“apartheid state,” describing it as “a regime of Jewish
supremacy from the river to the sea.” In the same year, Human Rights
Watch released a similar report
[[link removed]] stating
Israel’s “deprivations are so severe that they amount to the
crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”

Given the reality of this historic and ongoing injustice, we have
concluded that it is not enough to describe ourselves as
“non-Zionist.” We believe this neutral term fails to honor the
central anti-racist premise that structures of oppression cannot be
simply ignored; on the contrary, they must be transformed. As
political activist Angela Davis has famously written, “In a racist
society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”

_WHAT ABOUT THE CLAIM THAT ANTI-ZIONISM IS ANTISEMITISM?_

While there are certainly individual anti-Zionists who are
antisemites, it is disingenuous to claim that opposition to Zionism is
fundamentally antisemitic. Judaism (a centuries-old religious
peoplehood) is not synonymous with Zionism (a modern nationalist
ideology that is not exclusively Jewish
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Since the founding of the Zionist movement in the 19th century, there
has always been active Jewish opposition to Zionism
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While Jewish anti-Zionists are still a minority in the Jewish
community today, their numbers have been increasing
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particularly among those under 30 years of age. Not coincidentally, we
are witnessing increasingly vociferous calls
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the Israeli government, Israel advocates and Jewish institutions to
label anti-Zionism as antisemitism
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There have also been public calls to categorize anti-Zionist Jews as
“Un-Jews
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and “Jews in name only
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Given the tenor of the current moment, we believe the need for public
stances by principled Jewish anti-Zionists is all the more critical.

_“__ANTI-ZIONIST__” DESCRIBES WHAT WE OPPOSE—BUT WHAT ARE WE
POSITIVELY ADVOCATING FOR?_

While we affirm that Tzedek Chicago is an anti-Zionist congregation,
that is not all we are. This value is but one aspect of a larger
vision we refer to in our core values statement as a “Judaism Beyond
Borders.” Central to this vision is an affirmation of the diaspora
as the fertile ground from which Jewish spiritual creativity has
flourished for centuries. Indeed, Jewish life has historically taken
root, adapted and blossomed in many lands throughout the world. At
Tzedek Chicago we seek to develop and celebrate a diasporic
consciousness
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joyfully views the entire world as our homeland.

Moving away from a Judaism that looks to Israel as its fully realized
home releases us into rich imaginings of what the World to Come might
look like, where it might be, and how we might go about inhabiting it
now. This creative windfall can infuse our communal practices,
rituals, and liturgy. We also believe that Jewish diasporic
consciousness has the real potential to help us reach a deeper
solidarity with those who have been historically colonized and
oppressed. As we state in our core values:

_We understand that our Jewish historical legacy as a persecuted
people bequeaths to us a responsibility to reject the ways of
oppression and stand with the most vulnerable members of our society.
In our educational programs, celebrations and liturgy, we emphasize
the Torah’s repeated teachings to stand with the oppressed and to
call out the oppressor._

_DOES TZEDEK CHICAGO EXPECT EVERY MEMBER TO PERSONALLY ADHERE TO THIS
NEW POSITION?_

As is the case with all of our core values, this position is not an
ideological “litmus test” for membership at Tzedek Chicago. It is,
rather, part of our collective vision as a religious community. We
understand that every individual member of our congregation will
struggle with these issues and must come to their own personal
conclusions. The main question for all of Tzedek’s members is not
“must I personally accept every one of these core values?” but
rather, “given these values, is this a congregation that I would
like to support and to which I would like to belong?”

_WHAT WILL THIS DECISION MEAN FOR OUR CONGREGATION GOING FORWARD?_

We believe the core value of anti-Zionism will open up many important
opportunities for our community. It will guide us in the programs we
develop, the Jewish spiritual life we create, the coalitions we join
and the public positions we take. In a larger sense, we believe this
decision will create space for other Jewish congregations to take a
similar stand—to join us in imagining and building a Jewish future
beyond Zionism.

In the end, we are advocating for this congregational decision in the
hopes that it may further catalyze Jewish participation in the
worldwide movement to dismantle all systems of racism and oppression.
May it happen בִּמְהֵרָה בְּיָמֵינוּ—_bimheira
be__’__yameinu_—soon in our own day.

_[RABBI BRANDT ROSEN is the founding rabbi of I’m the rabbi of
Tzedek Chicago [[link removed]]. He is a
native of Los Angeles, Rabbi Brant was ordained by the
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1992 and served congregations
in Los Angeles and Denver before coming to the Chicago area in 1998 to
serve as rabbi of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (JRC)._

_During the course of his rabbinate, Rabbi Brant became an
increasingly vocal activist for justice and human rights, particularly
in Israel/Palestine. After publicly wrestling with his relationship to
Israel and openly questioning his lifelong Zionism, he eventually
became a prominent Jewish presence in the Palestine solidarity
movement, co-founding the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council
and Ta'anit Tzedek - Jewish Fast for Gaza._

_In 2014, he left JRC to become the Midwest Regional Director of the
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). Shortly after, Rabbi Brant
and several other kindred spirits founded Tzedek Chicago. Through his
leadership, our congregation quickly grew to the point that by 2019,
he became our full-time rabbi._

_Rabbi Brant's writings have appeared in many journals and
publications, including Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune, the Jewish
Forward, Tikkun and Truthout. He is also the author of the popular
Jewish social justice blog, Shalom Rav; his curated collection of blog
posts and reader comments, Wrestling in the Daylight: A Rabbi’s Path
to Palestinian Solidarity
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was published by Just World Books in 2012 (updated in 2017). _

_Rabbi Brant has contributed essays to a number of anthologies
including "Zionism and the Quest for Peace in the Holy Land," "On
Antisemitism: Solidarity and the Struggle for Justice," and
"Reclaiming Judaism from Zionism: Stories of Personal Transformation."
He is also a prolific poet and liturgist whose prayers and poems can
be found on his blog Yedid Nefesh. In 2018, Tzedek Chicago published
his chapbook of prayers, "Songs After the Revolution: New Jewish
Liturgy."  In 2020, he was named as a Topol Fellow in Conflict and
Peace in the Religion, Conflict and Public Life Institute at Harvard
Divinity School.]_

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