Henry Schwarzschild's Letter of Resignation from Sh'ma

Henry Schwarzschild was a German Jew who came to the United States in 1939 and devoted his life to the protection of liberty.  Reprinted here, for your consideration, is his letter of resignation from the journal Sh’ma in 1982:

This is my resignation from the Editorial Advisory Board of Sh’ma.

The contributions from me that you have published over the years have been few in number and less than earth-shaking in import, and you are therefore not deprived of a great editorial asset.  In any case, my resignation has almost nothing to do with my relationship to Sh’ma as such.  It is the consequence of a very much superordinated reorientation by me of my relationship to the Jewish community in the largest sense. Let me explain as best I can.

For a generation now, I have been deeply troubled by the chauvinistic assumptions and repressive effects of Israeli nationalism.  I have experienced the War on Lebanon of the past few weeks as a turning point in Jewish history and consciousness exceeded in importance only by the End of the Second Commonwealth and the Holocaust.  I have resisted the interference for over thirty years, but the War on Lebanon has now made clear to me that the resumption of political power by the Jewish people after two thousand years of diaspora has been a tragedy of historical dimensions.  The State of Israel has demanded recognition a the modern political incarnation of the Jewish people.  To grant that is to betray the Jewish tradition.

The State of Israel and its supporters have probably been right all along in arguing that political power comes at the price of the normal detritus of the nation state, such as Jewish criminals, prostitutes, and generals. They may also be right in asserting that the War on Lebanon is the sort of thing a Jewish state has to do to survive.  I am not disposed to await the outcome of debates by politicians and theologians on whether the threat from the Palestine Liberation Organization was sufficiently clear and present to justify the killing of so many Lebanese and Palestinian men, women, and children, or only so many.  I will not avoid an unambiguous response to the Israeli army’s turning of West Beirut into another Warsaw ghetto.

I now conclude and avow that the price of a Jewish state is, to me, Jewishly unacceptable and that the existence of this (or any similar) Jewish ethnic religious nation state is a Jewish, i.e. a human and moral, disaster and violates every remaining value for which Judaism and Jews might exist in history.  The lethal military triumphalism and corrosive racism that inheres in the State and in its supporters (both there and here) are profoundly abhorrent to me.  So is the message that now goes forth to the nations of the world that the Jewish people claim the right to impose a holocaust on others in order to preserve its State.

For several decades, I have supported those minority forces in and for the State that wanted to salvage the values of peace and social justice that the Jewish tradition commands.  The “blitzkrieg” in Lebanon, terrifying and Teutonic in its ruthlessness, shows how vain those hopes have been.

I now renounce the State of Israel, disavow any political connection or emotional obligation to it, and declare myself its enemy.  I retain, of course, the same deep concern for its inhabitants, Jewish, Arab, and other, that I hold for all humankind.

I remain a member of the Jewish people—indeed, I have no other inner identity.  But the State of Israel has now also triumphed over the Jewish people and its history, for the time being at least.  I deem it possible that the State, morally bankrupted and mortally endangered by its victories, will prove essential to the survival of the Jewish people and that it may likely take the Jewish people with it to eventual extinction.  Yet I believe that the death of the Jewish people would not be inherently more tragic than the death of the Palestinian people that Israel and its supporters evidently seek or at least accept as the cost of the “security” of the State of Israel.  The price of the millennial survival of the Jewish people has been high; I did not think the point was to make others pay it.  That moral scandal intolerably assaults the accumulated values of Jewish history and tradition.

If those be the places where the State of Israel chooses to stand, I cannot stand with it.  I therefore resign all connections with Jewish political and public institutions that will not radically oppose the State and its claim to Jewish legitimacy.  Sh’ma is one of those.

Reprinted in “What We’ve Always Known: A Century’s Sample of Dissenting Voices” by Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark, which is part of a collection of writings on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict entitled Wrestling with Zion, Tony Kushner & Alisa Solomon, eds. (2003)

See also Palestine / Israel:  An anthology of useful articles on Palestine and Israel from a variety of perspectives

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