Daniel Gordis

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Daniel Gordis is Senior Vice President of the Shalem Center and a writer on Zionism, national identity, currents in Israel, Jewish identity in Israel and the Diaspora and biblical political thought.

Prominent pro-Israel academic Alan Dershowitz has called him “one of Israel’s most thoughtful observers".[1]

Leonard Fein has described him as “perhaps the single most popular speaker on Israel to American Jewish audiences.”[2]

Activities

His writing has appeared in magazines and newspapers including the New York Times, The New Republic, Moment, Tikkun, Azure, Commentary, and Conservative Judaism. Gordis also writes a regular column — “A Dose of Nuance” — for the Jerusalem Post.[3].

His book, Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End was awarded the National Jewish Book Award. His next book on Israel, The Promise of Israel: Why Its Seemingly Greatest Weakness is Actually Its Greatest Strength, will be published in August 2012. His biography of Israel’s sixth Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, will be published in spring 2014.[4]

Gordis has lectured at a number of universities internationally and has also spoken at AIPAC conferences on several occasions.[5][6] [7]

History

He received his BA from Columbia University, his M.A. and Rabbinic Ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and his Ph.D from the University of Southern California.[8]

Gordis was the founding dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism, the first rabbinical college on the West Coast of the United States.

In 1998 he emigrated to Israel[9] and worked at the Mandel Foundation in Israel for nine years as vice president and director of its Leadership Institute.

In 2007 he joined the Shalem Center where he is currently senior vice president and the Koret Distinguished Fellow.

Views

Interpretation of the Bible as an argument against multiculturalism

Gordis has written that the Hebrew Bible can be interpreted as "an eloquent argument in favor of the ethnic-cultural commonwealth — a precursor of sorts to the modern nation-state — as an indispensable condition for human freedom and self-realization"[10], and "advocates not only the concept of ethnic and cultural heterogeneity (expressed here as the “dispersion” of different peoples), but also the formation of political entities that can promote the flourishing of those ethnicities and cultures—what is known today as the nation-state".[11]

On 'the issue of Arabs'

Gordis has penned an open letter to Avigdor Lierberman in which he discussed demography and "the issue of Arabs", writing:

"There’s a basic truth about Israeli society that no one is addressing. For this country to remain both Jewish and democratic, it is imperative that it retain a significant Jewish demographic majority. That’s why all discussions of Palestinian refugees being returned are non-starters. But as you well know, Palestinian refugees aren’t the only challenge to our democracy. So, too, are the country’s Arabs. If they were to become a larger percentage of the population – no matter how loyal they were to the state – they would by definition undermine Israel’s creation as a country, to paraphrase Lincoln, “of the Jews, by the Jews and for the Jews.”"[12]

Elsewhere he has written that because "Israel’s central purpose is the healing, and flourishing, of the Jewish people", an Arab Prime Minister of Israel "not committed first and foremost to Jewish flourishing" - or a "predominantly Arab Knesset" - would be "incommensurate" with Israel's purpose. He states: "while Israel must absolutely strive to make race a non-issue (even among Jews, as with Ethiopians, for example) and to accord Israeli Arabs a significantly greater piece of the pie, we ought to be honest: If Israel one day were to have a Knesset in which a majority of the members were Arab, Israel will have failed in its purpose."[13]

Criticism of J Street

In May 2011 Gordis addressed a J Street 'Leadership Mission to Israel and Palestine' in Jerusalem and accused the group of being "arrogant and intellectually shallow" and not clearly pro-Israel. First he told the audience:

"As most of you know, I disagree strongly with much of what you do. But I think that we have an obligation to meet with people with whom we disagree. Given the extent of the forces aligned against Israel, seeking to delegitimize the very idea of a Jewish State, the pro-Israel camp needs a big tent. Neither Israel nor the Jewish People will survive if we work only with those with whom we agree".[14]

Then he challenged the group to prove they would "stand up for Israel, not her enemies" and questioned why BDS campaigners had been invited to their annual conference:

"[I]f you want those of us who are still unsure to become convinced that you are part of the Big Tent, then I have another piece of advice for you - recognize that not everyone can be part of the tent. There are groups who are clearly opposed to Israel's existence as a Jewish state; they are our enemies. It doesn't matter if they are in Israel or outside, or if they are Jewish or not. If they are working to end Israel, or to end it as a Jewish and democratic state, then they are our enemies, plain and simple. There are enemies who cannot be loved or compromised into submission, and you need to recognize that. The BDS [Boycott, Divest and Sanction] movement is a case in point".[15]

J Street Founder Jeremy Ben Ami is said to have responded by calling it "astounding" that Gordis had given an entire presentation "without mentioning the occupation of another people.[16]

Support for Operation Cast Lead, opposition to Goldstone report

During Operation Cast Lead Gordis described Israel's actions as "long overdue" and, responding to international criticism of the attacks, stated that "Israel ought to ignore most of it, for despite protestations to the contrary, it comes from people who would just as soon see the Jewish State eroded to the point of indefensibility."[17]

He has also reportedly argued against the Goldstone report into Israel's 2008-9 bombing of Gaza, which accused Israel of committing war crimes[18]

Diaspora: Rabbinic training in America as a 'battleground'

Gordis has written of what he calls a "troubling but undeniable shift in the loyalties of many rabbinical students", suggesting that the next generation of Rabbis are becoming less supportive of Israel and this will alter what American Jews will hear from their spiritual leaders. He claims that Zionist rabbinical students are often treated like "pariahs" by fellow students and says "they are the frontline in a battle that must be won, a battle to ensure that the next generation of American rabbis is unabashedly committed to the continued flourishing of a Jewish State of Israel".[19]

He goes on to suggest possible ways to counter this trend:

"[C]ould we find the funding to place academically superb and unequivocally Israel-supportive professors in the schools that want them? Can we create settings where these students, from across movements, spend more time together than they are currently able to, deriving strength from the knowledge that they are not alone? Are there foundations that might want to support them and their studies, both financially and content-wise?"

The article sparked some debate and a wide range of groups and individuals responded.[20]

Elsewhere Gordis has expressed concern about a perceived abandonment of the idea of Jewish peoplehood among American Jews and growing rates of intermarriage. He advocates ensuring more young American Jews visit Israel on Taglit Birthright trips as this 'dramatically lowers intermarriage rates'.[21]

On Israeli universities

In September 2009 Gordis wrote of what he perceived as the "widespread and long-standing hostility of Israeli academe to Jewish statehood" and cited Neve Gordon of Ben Gurion University (who advocated boycotting Israel and called it an 'apartheid' state) and Shlomo Sand of Tel Aviv University as high profile examples. He took issue with Sand's view that universities should be centres of scholarship and not Zionist institutions and criticized the "narrow" education Israeli universities provide, arguing that Israel needed an American-style liberal arts college. Gordis also advises American donors, rather than withholding funds from all Israeli higher education institutions, "to channel their support and their knowledge to create an Israeli version of the “college in the service of the nation.”[22]

"Without dramatic change, Israeli universities will produce only more Neve Gordon’s – scholars of varying quality, who feel no love for the very country that has saved their people. If it learned from American education, Israel might actually begin to cultivate a new wave of leadership, and with it, a generation of Israelis who actually love their nation.

The Shalem Center was at the time in the midst of plans to create Shalem College a private higher education institution set to open in 2012-13.

Affiliations

Publications

Resources

Notes

  1. About, DanielGordis.org, accessed June 25, 2012
  2. Leonard Fein, Will the Real Daniel Gordis Please Stand Up?, The Jewish Daily Forward, accessed June 25, 2012
  3. About, DanielGordis.org, accessed June 25, 2012
  4. Biography of Menachem Begin, DanielGordis.org, accessed June 25, 2012
  5. Boston AIPAC, DanielGordis.org, accessed June 25, 2012
  6. AIPAC Policy Conference Washington DC, DanielGordis.org, accessed June 25, 2012
  7. Address to AIPAC Conference, DanielGordis.org, accessed June 25, 2012
  8. Daniel Gordis Biography, Shalem Center, accessed 18 June 2012
  9. About, DanielGordis.org, accessed June 25, 2012
  10. Daniel Gordis, The Tower of Babel and the Birth of Nationhood, Azure Online, Spring 5770 / 2010, no. 40, accessed June 15, 2012
  11. Daniel Gordis, The Shape and Meaning of Biblical History, Azure Online, Summer 5771 / 2011, no. 45, accessed June 25, 2012
  12. The Campaign That Lieberman Should Have Run, DanielGordis.org, accessed June 25, 2012
  13. An Israeli Arab Prime Minister?, DanielGordis.org, accessed June 25, 2012
  14. Daniel Gordis, In The Tent Or Out: That Is Still The J-Street Question, Huffington Post, accessed June 25, 2012
  15. Daniel Gordis, In The Tent Or Out: That Is Still The J-Street Question, Huffington Post, accessed June 25, 2012
  16. Daniel Gordis, In The Tent Or Out: That Is Still The J-Street Question, Huffington Post, accessed June 25, 2012
  17. Does Uncle Leonard Have A Say?, DanielGordis.org, accessed 25 June, 2012
  18. Rachel Abrams, Arianna in Israel, The Weekly Standard, accessed June 25, 2012
  19. Daniel Gordis, Of Sermons And Strategies, Jerusalem Post, accessed June 25, 2012
  20. Debate About Young Rabbis and Israel, DanielGordis.org, accessed June 25, 2012
  21. A Requiem For Peoplehood, DanielGordis.org, accessed June 25, 2012
  22. Neve Gordon Is Not The Problem, DanielGordis.org, accessed June 25,2012
  23. Daniel Gordis Biography, Shalem Center, accessed 18 June 2012