This article is reprinted with permission from The Jewish Week.

It is in vogue to say that liberal Zionism is in crisis. Last summer’s war in Gaza provoked a spate of essays purporting that the confrontation between liberal values and the policies of a hawkish Israel were making the ideology untenable. In this portrayal, liberal Zionism was a precarious political ideology that entailed support for the State of Israel while believing that the state had to express progressive values, and that history and politics were conspiring to unmake an ideology and prove it to have been feeble and unrealistic all along.

This portrayal is the result of an unwitting conspiracy between right and left. Several thinkers on the left — Peter Beinart, Alan Wolfe and others — locate the failure of Zionism in the growing ideological divide between the younger generation and the American Jewish “establishment” and its support for an Israeli government which acts at cross-purposes with the central Jewish values important to most American Jews.

Their discomfort, also expressed after the recent Israeli elections, provides fodder for this thesis, namely, that Zionism is contingent on the absence of dissonance between Israel and the values significant for American Jewish identity. The belief is that discord creates a crisis resulting first in “distancing” from Israel and, eventually, a collapse of the ideology and the relationship altogether.

To the right, the struggles of liberal Zionists are a source of glee and triumphalism. They affirm the right’s belief that their opponents’ ideology was fragile all along and implicitly connect it to the struggle for survival of liberal Judaism, which is suffering from its abandonment of Jewish particularity. The rise of anti-Semitism in Europe — and perhaps also on American college campuses, which the right is tracking carefully and presenting as a crisis — signals an essential Jewish “otherness” that liberal Zionists and their universalist values never took seriously.

This is a challenging moment for me. I am an American Jew deeply connected personally, professionally and spiritually to the State of Israel. I have struggled recently through periods of deep disappointment bordering on outrage about actions undertaken by the state and trends that signal the rise of antidemocratic tendencies among the electorate. I have also felt a deep sense of impotence as a non-citizen and non-resident who is both implicated — out of a good sense of Jewish peoplehood — in the actions of the State of Israel, as well as in the behavior of Jewish communal organizations that sometimes give cover to these actions, and are largely incapable, except through complicated networks of influence, to lead toward processes of change.

To paraphrase David Hartman, z”l, Israel has lost the quality of being primarily a “naches machine” for American Jews; it is now exporting meaningful quantities of disappointment.

But the issue now is not me, and it is not Israel; the problem we face is that both the right and the left have misconstrued and misrepresented liberal Zionism. The problem of the moment is not merely one of identities, but of ideas.

Simply put, one of the greatest philosophical mistakes we Jews made following the creation of Israel was the too-quick transformation of Zionism from a discourse of imagination into a discourse of loyalty.

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 Yehuda Kurtzer, a Wexner Graduate Fellowship Alum (Class 15) is President of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America (SHI).  He has a doctorate in Jewish Studies from Harvard University and an MA in Religion from Brown University. Yehuda is the author of Shuva: The Future of the Jewish Past, a work of constructive theology that offers new thinking on how contemporary Jews can and should relate to our past while living profoundly in the present. As a fellow in SHI’s iEngage Project, Yehuda writes and teaches widely on the central challenges facing Jewish life in both America and Israel, and how new Jewish thinking can help us stand up to these challenges. Yehuda can be reached at