“Some of my best friends are Zionists”—a documentary that you can help complete!

From Alan Sokal:

Dear signers and supporters of the “Open Letter from American Jews”:

A long time has passed since we last communicated back in 2006.

Though many things have changed — the emergence of J Street,
the Arab Spring, the Palestinian request for recognition by the U.N. —
the key facts remain: unconditional U.S. financing has permitted
the right-wing Israeli government to expand the settlements and
undermine the possibilities for peace; and American Jewish opinion
continues to play a key role in securing political support for that

These days there are hopeful signs of greater independence of mind
among American Jews, but those signs haven’t been broadcast widely enough
and haven’t made it to the ears of Congress and other policymakers.

Two years ago, one of us (Bruce Robbins) undertook with several
colleagues to make a documentary film highlighting the views of
American Jews who dissent from the standard AIPAC line on Israel
and the Middle East. Carrying the wry title “Some of my best friends
are Zionists”, the film does not try to push any one view. Some of
the interviewees would consider themselves Zionists, others not.
One fought for Israel in 1948, another volunteered to fight in 1967.
The real heart of the story is how they changed their minds,
how they gave up on the Israel-right-or-wrong policy of the mainstream
American Jewish organizations, how they settled on a sense of Jewish
identity that involves basic fairness.

We have launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the completion of the film.
Small contributions are very welcome. The website only lasts for 3 weeks,
so time is of the essence.

Here’s the link:


This web page also contains a 10-minute trailer giving a taste of the film.

We think that a film centered on how people change their minds
will be more effective with the broad American public than a film
that argued for one particular view. In this sense we think that
the film is true to the ideas and motives of the signatories of the
Open Letter, who wanted to get the word out that we American Jews are
much more varied and independent-minded than the world thinks we are.

In solidarity,

Bruce Robbins
Alan Sokal


In the wake of the recent bloodshed in the Middle East, many Israelis and
Palestinians — and their supporters in the United States — have reverted to
an us-versus-them thinking in which they see themselves as righteous victims
and ignore or minimize the injustices they have done, and continue to do,
to the other people.

In fact, both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples have suffered great
wrongs at the hands of the other, albeit in different and unequal ways;
both have legitimate grievances, legitimate fears, and legitimate distrust
of the other people’s willingness to compromise for the sake of peace.

Though the signers of this letter have a wide range of views about the
blame for the present situation, we have a common view of what a solution
will have to consist of.

Incremental attempts at building trust have reached an impasse. The only
alternative to endless war is a comprehensive settlement based on simple
but radical principles:

— Israeli and Palestinian lives are equally precious.

— The Israeli and Palestinian peoples have equal rights to national
self-determination and to live in peace and security.

— The Israeli and Palestinian peoples have equal rights to a fair share
of the land and resources of historic Palestine.

Fair-minded people throughout the world have long understood with some
precision what a tenable solution, respecting these principles, would entail:

— Two national states, Israel and Palestine, with equal sovereignty,
equal rights and equal responsibilities.

— Partition along the pre-1967 border as modified only by minor
mutually agreed territorial swaps.

— Israeli evacuation of all settlements in the occupied territories
except those within the agreed swapped areas.

— Palestinian and Arab recognition of Israel and renunciation of
any further territorial claims.

— Palestinian acceptance of negotiated limitations on the “right of
return” in exchange for financial compensation for refugees.

Several years ago, polls showed that majorities of both Israelis and
Palestinians were willing to accept a compromise settlement of this kind.
Despite the current carnage, that may still be the case; but compromise
is difficult when majorities on both sides support provocative military
actions that they view as purely defensive, while powerful minorities
pursue maximalist territorial aims.

If Israelis and Palestinians are unwilling or unable to negotiate
a workable peace, the international community must take the lead in
promoting one. This is in the long-term interest not only of Israelis
and Palestinians, but also of Americans: recent events have made
painfully clear that our own national security is deeply undermined
by instability and injustice in the Middle East.

The U.S. bears a special responsibility for the current tragic impasse,
by virtue of our massive economic and military support for the Israeli
government: $500 per Israeli citizen per year. Our country has an
extraordinary leverage on Israeli policy, if only our government would
dare to use it. As American Jews who care deeply about the long-term
security of Israel, we call on our government to make continued aid
conditional on Israeli acceptance of an internationally agreed two-state

Rejectionists on both sides will of course attack any such settlement.
Foreign troops may well be required to enforce it, and they must be
prepared to accept casualties. One may nevertheless hope that majorities
of both Israelis and Palestinians will realize that an imperfect peace
is preferable to endless war.

There is no guarantee that this approach will work; but it is virtually
guaranteed that all alternatives will fail.

One thought on ““Some of my best friends are Zionists”—a documentary that you can help complete!”

  1. Dear Mr. Sokal:

    I would like to give my humble opinion to the video that I viewed. It is moving and well done but it appeals, in my judgment, to too narrow a political viewpoint.

    Sometimes in my more frustrated moments, I wish there was some kind of organization like “Hawks for Ending Israel’s Occupation” or “Jewish Marines and Green Berets for Israel but Against the Occupation.” or a reincarnation of someone like Mr. Rabin (who before becoming Prime Minister was best known for using very harsh tactics in the West Bank).

    Why such categorizations because I believe that unless those like us who have similar views regarding Israel’s occupation use a different framework of reaching others we will continue to be marginalized.

    Here is the major point. If you argue about justice for Palestinian refugees, you get into an argument about Jewish refugees from Arab countries or about claims that the present Palestinian refugee problem is as much a creation of Israel’s Arab neighbors as it is Israel. Whether one accepts that argument is immaterial, it provides a barrier to reach the central priority-convince others that the occupation is wrong regardless of viewpoints on many other issues concerning Israel.

    If you talk about Israel’s forays into Lebanon or Gaza as being disproportionate or immoral you get into a heated argument about the numerous terrorist attacks against Israel, many of whom are seen as heroes within the Palestinian community and the greater Arab and Moslem world. Those are real arguments that carry weight that would be utilized against what most said in the video.

    In the end, you end losing your main argument about the occupation. Instead, we marginalize ourselves to too many others we need to convince, as some ivory tower intellectuals, the same old “lefties” naïve about the “real word” or even worse.

    I am not proposing anyone abandon his or her core beliefs. I truly respect those who speak with such passion on the tape regardless of whether I completely agree with them. Nevertheless, I am asking you to consider that if we can utilize arguments that appeal to a larger audience that still promote our priority concern is that not want you want more then anything else to achieve? An argument that reaches those who still hold Israel with a passion, may believe much of what it does is justified, but still hold the possibility that they can be convinced that Israel’s present settlement policy is self-destructive.

    The occupation is wrong for numerous reasons. Let us set aside moral arguments just long enough to talk about political arguments and strategic arguments.

    For one, you can believe that Israel will always have enemies, will always need a strong defense even with a peace treaty and still argue that that the PA is not Hamas, Mr. Fayyad and even Mr. Abbas are neither Mr. Meshal of Hamas or Mr. Nasrallah from Hezbollah (excuse my spelling) or Mr. Arafat. And the Saudi Proposal is certainly different then what the Arab League announced at Khartoum back in the 70’s (if I recall correctly).That any wise tactician seeks to divide its adversaries…not multiply them and where possible seek to convert potential enemies to at least the sidelines and even to possible allies. That Israel will have X amount of enemies no matter what it does, does not mean it should follow a policy that multiplies that many times over or fails to note changes within the ranks of its adversaries. Arguments that former Israel generals have pointed out and even someone like Ehud Olmert has recently done.

    If that argument is not sufficient, you have the demographic argument that Israel either exists as an apartheid state in the future like the former South Africa or cease to be Israel since a majority of non-Jewish citizens would not likely want to maintain its Jewish character.

    If the two above arguments are not enough you can talk about that in any political struggle one seeks allies. Israel does not need, nor will likely ever gain, the entire world’s approval. Nevertheless, it certainly needs to take into account, as do those who profess to love Israel, that policies that strengthen its adversaries, increases support to them, and isolates itself is not wise in any conflict.

    If that is still not sufficient, you can raise that prior to 1967 Israel smashed its adversaries. Since 1967 even with its expansion the threats are greater and its adversaries more numerous and more powerful. Who in their right mind pursues a policy that expands on that trend?

    If you need more, you can point out that a few additional miles (and I fully aware that Israel is only about 9 miles wide at its waist) do not provide much security. We live in a world of long-range rockets and missiles. You can further state that even a reluctant partner like the PA, that at least partially cooperates with Israel on preventing terrorist attacks, has been far more effective in preventing terrorist attacks then having them as all out enemies.

    If you need to appeal to those who believe that Israel should make no concessions because the other side is only trying to destroy Israel in stages you can argue that not one soldier or even one settler needs to be removed to at least place the proposition on the table. The proposition like the one you proposed in 2006 and placed in the New York Times and other papers. The same proposition that many others have also proposed that meets the most basic demands of both sides (i.e. one example being the Geneva Accords). Did not the icon of conservatism, Ronald Reagan, once state that one can hope but you need always to verify. Is there a better way to verify the real intent of the other side then to place such a proposition on the table? Not to mention along the way find out whom Israel’s real adversaries are and divide them into those willing to accept Israel and those who will continue to refuse to do so? In addition, you can add to that if Israel placed such a proposal on the table would it not also reduce Israel’s international isolation and strengthen the unity of Jews around the world? Is that not a win/win?

    Many arguments can be made that appeal to those who have a need to see themselves as “tough,” “uncompromising to moralizing in a mean and unfair world,” and “totally committed to Israel.” Those who see themselves this way we must reach. I am afraid the video as presently made does not reach those people. Without reaching such people, I fear we will continue to be marginalized. Yes, even I have other arguments that I have put aside as not my primary argument exactly for the same reason. One I hold passionately as a student of history is that I have never known one people to accept another that comes as a minority, regardless of past claims, and willingly gives up their national aspirations to that minority without a struggle. To demonize the Palestinians for resisting seems to ask more of them then history gives us a right to expect.

    I end by saying I believe we need to promote a message that can reach many others. That is what I believe is the challenge before us. In my opinion, that challenge will not be met unless we reframe our primary arguments so that we reach a larger audience. If our priority is to change present attitudes toward Israel regarding the occupation within this country, is it not our responsibility to use our most persuasive arguments? To do so, should we not have the discipline to put other beliefs we may have to the sidelines in order to promote arguments that have the best chance of convincing the greatest number of people to change attitudes? I am very much in favor of what you proposed in 2006…I am not exactly sure the full parameters of what this video is proposing and that makes me hesitant….thanks for reading this…

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