February 17, 2020

Club Z Panel Focuses on Zionism and American Jewry

Photo courtesy of Club Z.

Club Z, a Zionist youth organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area, held a panel on January 20 during their Youth Zionist Leadership Forum discussing Zionism and American Jewry.

The panel began with Kasim Hafeez, the founder of The Israel Campaign, who discussed how the biggest challenge facing Diaspora Jews “is the Jewish community” because he thinks there seems to be an attitude of doing nothing in response to anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism because “it could be worse.”

“I’ve never seen that attitude in my life,” Hafeez said.

Hafeez later added that it seems to stem from this “neurosis” about asking “what can I do to stop you from beating me up.”

“It makes no sense,” Hafeez said.

Hafeez said that there are always going to be people who are going to “make you feel bad about who you are” and the way to confront it is to “be proud of who you are” and not view Israel as a “burden.”

Ryan Bellerose, founding member of Canadians United for Israel, recalled how, in downtown Calgary, six Jewish Zionists that he knew were attacked by a crowd of 100 pro-Palestinian protesters for showing support for Israel. Bellerose said that there was initially “absolute silence” from the Jewish community in Calgary over the incident.

He added that four of the pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested and, as a result of Canadian law, their sentence was a fine and to write an essay.

“Beat up some Jews, get some homework,” Bellerose said.

Bellerose singled out the progressive Jewish groups IfNotNow and All That’s Left for trying to “ostracize me out of the Jewish community, which is funny because I’m not Jewish” over his pro-Israel activism.

“The problem with IfNotNow and those groups is that they don’t have a firm Jewish identity,” Bellerose said. “They always talk about ‘my Jewish identity.’ Come on.”

Ran Bar-Yoshefat, the deputy director of the Kohelet Policy Forum think tank, said that the difference between American Jews and Israeli Jews is that American Jews view Judaism as a religion, whereas Israeli Jews view it as a nationality.

“Israelis are particularistics, usually American Jews are very universalistic,” Bar-Yoshefat said, an idea that Israelis take pride in being different while American Jews take pride in being like everybody else.

For instance, Bar-Yoshefat argued that American Jews tend to base Jewish identity “on being a good person,” a trait that he doesn’t think is unique to only Jews. He also doesn’t believe in there being Jewish values and leadership since he thinks that being Jewish is mainly a form of “identity.”

“For me to be Jewish, there has to be other words connected to it,” Bar-Yoshefat said.

He suggested that American Jews need to focus on establishing a Jewish identity among the youth, and that identity should include an unconditional love for Israel, even when there are disagreements in government policy.

When asked about the nature of pro-Palestinian students on college campuses, Hafeez said that such students, who are typically members of organizations like Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), will either walk out of his speaking events, ask questions or become “hostile.” Hafeez said he loves it when they become hostile since they typically “get laughed out of the event.”

Bellerose said that the best way to debate anti-Zionists is to “talk about identity” and ask them “what specifically is it about Israel that they hate so much.”

“They usually expose themselves pretty quickly,” Bellerose said.