A new history of the American Jewish relationship with Israel focused on its most urgent and sensitive issue: the question of Palestinian rights
American Jews began debating Palestinian rights issues even before Israel’s founding in 1948. Geoffrey Levin recovers the voices of American Jews who, in the early decades of Israel’s existence, called for an honest reckoning with the moral and political plight of Palestinians. These now‑forgotten voices, which include an aid‑worker‑turned‑academic with Palestinian Sephardic roots, a former Yiddish journalist, anti‑Zionist Reform rabbis, and young left‑wing Zionist activists, felt drawn to support Palestinian rights by their understanding of Jewish history, identity, and ethics. They sometimes worked with mainstream American Jewish leaders who feared that ignoring Palestinian rights could foster antisemitism, leading them to press Israeli officials for reform. But Israeli diplomats viewed any American Jewish interest in Palestinian affairs with deep suspicion, provoking a series of quiet confrontations that ultimately kept Palestinian rights off the American Jewish agenda up to the present era.
In reconstructing this hidden history, Levin lays the groundwork for more forthright debates over Palestinian rights issues, American Jewish identity, and the U.S.‑Israel relationship more broadly.
Geoffrey Levin is assistant professor of Middle Eastern and Jewish studies at Emory University. He specializes in the history of modern Israel and in the politics of international discourse about Israel/Palestine. He lives in Atlanta, GA.
“Provide[s] an essential backstory to one of the keenest debates today within Jewish communities.”—Kenan Malik, The Guardian
“Levin deftly and with scholarly precision presses the ‘undelete’ button and suddenly, as if in a hologram, a world largely forgotten pops back into focus. . . . Our Palestine Question . . . is the work of an adept historian, based on archival research and sound historical method, and its tenor is not ideological or histrionic.”—Shaul Magid, +972 Magazine
“Remarkable insight into the creation and evolution of the relationship between the world’s two largest Jewish communities. . . . Our Palestine Question achieves what historians do at their best: it challenges communal memory, complicates what was once considered solid, and disrupts the perceived inevitability of our current political moment.”—Zev Mishel, Tel Aviv Review of Books
“Many of these voices of dissent have been overlooked over the years. . . . Levin found them.”—Andrew Silow-Carroll, Jewish Telegraphic Agency/Times of Israel
“Overturning conventional understandings of American Jewry’s relations with Israel during the state’s formative decades, Geoffrey Levin depicts a long arc of American Jewish concern and protest over Israeli treatment of Palestinians. Meticulously researched and powerfully argued, Levin’s book provides essential background for the current state of Israel-diaspora relations.”—Derek Penslar, Harvard University
“Intelligent, compelling, and riveting. Levin gives us, for the first time, a truly transnational history of the relationship between American Jews and Israel.”— Melani McAlister, George Washington University
“Geoffrey Levin’s engrossing study powerfully dismantles conventional wisdom about the attitudes and activities of American Jewish communal leadership vis-à-vis Palestinian rights in the decades after 1948. The result is a book that should be read by all interested in the past and future of justice in Israel/Palestine.”—James Loeffler, author of Rooted Cosmopolitans
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