A History of American Jewish Dissent on Israel: A Conversation with Marjorie Feld and Geoffrey Levin

March 14, 2024

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In the months since October 7th, we’ve witnessed a high-water mark in American Jewish anti-Zionist politics. As thousands of Jewish leftists have protested Israel’s war on Gaza, Jewish leaders like ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt have maligned them as antisemites and as misguided youth bucking their communal tradition. Two new books make the case that, to the contrary, such dissent has a long history in the American Jewish community.

In Our Palestine Question: Israel and American Jewish Dissent, 1948-1978, the historian Geoffrey Levin counters the common narrative that the creation of Israel in 1948 essentially ended the once-lively American Jewish debate over the Zionist project, instead showing that even in the decades following the state’s founding, there were American Jews who remained vocally concerned for Palestinian rights and skeptical of nationalism. These individuals and organizations—including, at times, key figures within mainstream organizations like the American Jewish Committee—were gravely concerned about the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians that had been displaced by the fledgling state and about Israel’s treatment of its Arab citizens. In The Threshold of Dissent: A History of American Jewish Critics of Zionism, Marjorie Feld traces such debates from the late 19th century to the 1980s, showing how Jewish communal leaders often worked tirelessly to marginalize dissenting perspectives, ultimately leading each new generations of critics to believe no one before them had strayed from the pro-Israel party line.

Join Feld and Levin for a members-only conversation, moderated by Jewish Currents associate editor Mari Cohen, on those figures in the American Jewish past who questioned the community’s unqualified support for Israel, and on the lessons this history holds for politics today. Register here!

This live event and its recording will have automated closed captioning. For accommodation requests or questions about accessibility, please reach out to events@jewishcurrents.org.

Marjorie N. Feld is professor of history in the History and Society Division at Babson College. She is the author of, most recently, The Threshold of Dissent: A History of American Jewish Critics of Zionism.

Geoffrey Levin is assistant professor of Middle Eastern and Jewish Studies at Emory University. Our Palestine Question: Israel and American Jewish Dissent, 1948-1978, published by Yale University Press in November 2023, is his first book.

Mari Cohen is associate editor at Jewish Currents.