Measuring the modern Israeli state against Jewish religious tradition;
By Robert Marquand
Robert Marquand is on the Monitor's staff. BOOKS critical of Israel are usually controversial items - but especially so when their authors are Jewish. Roberta Feuerlicht's parents were impoverished Orthodox Jewish immigrants on New York's Lower East Side. Feuerlicht's mother passed along to her a rock-ribbed sense of traditional Jewish morality and ethical responsibility. Out of this sense of right and wrong comes the theme for ''The Fate of the Jews'': that Israel's current geopolitical behavior does not approach, or attempt to approach, the Jewish tradition and teachings - the true Judaism Feurerlicht says she finds in such ethical teachers as Moses, Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the author of the Book of Job. Feuerlicht, who describes herself as an ethical Jew, explained in an interview with the Monitor that she ''grew up in a family where you were supposed to be good, and where this was equated with Jewishness. We also have the prophets who tell us how to be good and just.'' About her desire to write the book, she added: ''The real turning point for me was the day two Arab mayors were blown up, and the New York Times had a headline saying, 'Jews Are Suspected.' My reaction was 'Not Jews, but Israelis.' '' Feuerlicht takes the position that the Israeli government today is using sacred historical imperatives as an excuse for aggression. Yet, she says, within that same tradition - which grew out of the Old Testament and Talmud - are plenty of sacred, ethical, religious imperatives that would avert the kinds of disruptive expansionism represented, for example, by the West Bank settlements and the recent Lebanese venture. The book stakes out this high moral ground throughout. What bothers Feuerlicht is her feeling that alternatives to military solutions are never seriously discussed in Israel. That they are not discussed more widely by Jews in America bothers her even more. If you offer criticism of Israel as a Jew, she told the Monitor, you are supposed to be ''self-hating.'' If you offer criticism of Israel as a non-Jew, you are labeled anti-Semitic. ''We criticize Reagan,'' Feuerlicht continued. ''We criticize the Soviets; we can criticize any country in the world. But we cannot criticize Israel. That is very dangerous for American democracy.'' ''The Fate of the Jews'' is Feuerlicht's attempt to write openly and critically about the forces that led to the formation of the Jewish state, the problems it must deal with, and the relationship of American Jews to that state. In a relentless delivery reminiscent of a trial lawyer who could make Perry Mason squirm, Feuerlicht looks at the facts of Jewish history in a way she feels many Jews are unwilling to do. Israeli aggression is nothing new, she writes, pointing out the barbarity and cruelty of countless ancient Jewish kings. She also gives evidence that the Jewish problems with Rome in the first century, which led to the final breakup of the early Jewish state, were brought about by Israelites themselves. Originally, she notes, ''Romans did not come to conquer Judea, but to rescue it from the (Jewish) Zealots at the request of the Jews.'' Feuerlicht in no way denies that the Jews have been a persecuted people throughout history, although she feels that in the popular mind such martyrdom often reaches mythical proportions. Instead, what she concentrates on in her brief historical narrative is the Jews' mistreatment, prejudice, and political isolation of one another in the Diaspora. She documents intra-Jewish exploitation in 18th- and 19th-century Russia, and in 19th- and 20th-century America. She then gives a vivid and interesting portrait of the Jewish struggle to gain political and social maneuverability in the ethnic hotbed of turn-of-the-century New York, and thereafter in the rest of the United States. Also included is a chapter on the emotional relationship between Jews and blacks in America. Feuerlicht brings up Jewish sympathy with, and charity for, the black movement; she also points out subtle forms of Jewish prejudice against blacks, and of economic competition between the two groups in urban areas. The final part of her book is mainly on Israel's internal problems, and of what she perceives to be an Israeli ''double standard,'' in which a wronged people finds it expedient to wrong others. She documents little-known acts of aggression against Arabs, including the currently sanctioned terrorist training in Israel, and the control Jews hold over Israeli Arabs. The book points to the mounting uneasiness caused by the powerful minority of Ashkenazi Jews (from the European Diaspora) who have relegated Sephardic Jews (from the Middle Eastern Diaspora) to second-class citizenry. Also mentioned is the lack of religious pluralism in Israel. Conservative and Reform Jews are considered ''sinners'' by Orthodox Jews. Feuerlicht writes, ''A great many of the Six Million who died because they were Jews would not be recognized as Jews in Israel today.'' The theme that binds the book throughout is Feuerlicht's criticism of Zi-onism - a movement she feels has as many flaws as America's 19th-century doctrine of Manifest Destiny. She shows how, again and again, Zionist politics have hurt ordinary Jews. One particularly ugly bit of documentation reveals that in 1941, LEHI, a Zionist terrorist organization, offered to assist Nazi Germany in its war effort, provided Berlin start sending Jews to Palestine. Feuerlicht, author of 17 previous books, is an excellent writer; her sentences are fat-free. The analysis is sharp-edged and canny - unemotional, yet penetrating. Publishers Weekly called the book an ''outcry right out of Jeremiah.'' Feuerlicht says she has been ''stoned to death by silence'' by the American Jewish community. Not without reason, perhaps. The book's arguments are fairly one-sided. With such a volatile subject, one might have hoped for a bit more balance and qualification, since anti-Semitism will usually grab whatever it can hold on to. Also, in the heat of the Mideast, Arab terrorism can sometimes make the high moral ground seem soggy. All told, though, this is a book to be reckoned with.
The Fate of the Jews: A People Torn Between Israeli Power and Jewish Ethics, by Roberta Strauss Feuerlicht. New York: Times Books. 288 pp. $18.65.