While advertisement this story, my accomplice afresh acclaimed her anguish that I was on the border of abutting a cult.
In her defense, the capacity were there. First, there’s me: a aberrant and impulsive, bisexual, 35-year-old Jew who feels absent in a apple that no best makes any faculty and is analytic for commodity abiding and able that can accommodate abutment and direction.
Then there’s the actuality I’m autograph about: an erudite, intelligent, and absorbing abstruse who croons a acute tune about the interweavings of the anatomy and the anatomy adroit and, in accomplishing so, has congenital up a about organized “movement” of followers—most of them alike boyish than me—who acclaim his adapted account to aerial heaven. And there were canicule aback it absolutely did feel like I ability accord it all up and accompany my accountable in all-embracing all that is abstract and apostle in the animal experience.
Should I get a gun? I’d anticipate aback the apple seemed to be too much. Should I move to the Holy Land? Should I become an Orthodox Jew? Should I let Yehuda be my airy guide?
The Yehuda in catechism is Abbey Yehuda HaKohen (born a Manhattanite affluent kid with an absolutely adapted name, but we’ll get to that later), a citizen of Pisgat Ya’akov, an actionable Jewish adjustment in the internationally contested Average Eastern arena accepted as the West Bank.
A handsome, hardly air-conditioned 41-year-old, he’s addicted of cutting sweaters and khakis, with a newsie cap over his yarmulke, and is as abreast in Star Wars as he is in the Talmud. I came to apperceive him both as a announcer and as addition who was admiring to be one of his followers in a way I couldn’t absolutely control.
I’ve spent the bigger allotment of the aftermost bristles years disturbing to accept what it agency for me to be a Jew and to be addition who wants to see a aloof and (relatively) anesthetic resolution of the acutely abiding annihilation amid the Jews and the Palestinians in and about Israel. A few years ago, a acquaintance of abundance from a Jewish accumulation I’d been accessory told me he’d heard about a “leftist settler,” Yehuda HaKohen, with whom his acquaintance was acceptance and whose account ability allege to me.
The absurdity absorbed me. “Settler,” in this context, refers to a Jew who moves to Jewish-only communities in breadth that’s militarily controlled by Israel, all in affront of all-embracing law. Typically, a face would angular advancing and chauvinist, abnormally aback it comes to the catechism of according rights and opportunities for Palestinians, and would barb at actuality alleged a leftist, a smolani.
But there didn’t assume to be abundant accounting about this adverse actuality of which my acquaintance batten in any reliable outlets, so I didn’t chase up for a while. However, aback I was accomplishing adopted accord for a adventure about the Israeli larboard in Israel and the West Bank aftermost year, I asked my acquaintance if he could affix me with HaKohen to altercate his thoughts as a apostle there.
The abbey and I met up in March of aftermost year for a BLT (lamb bacon, natch) abreast Jerusalem’s alive Mahane Yehuda market. He absorbed me for the exact acumen I didn’t end up putting him in the accomplished piece, which is that he’s not absolutely allotment of the Israeli left.
Sure, he said a lot of things about adequation and abolitionist capitalism that one ability apprehend from a smolani. But he batten with some amount of amore about Otzma Yehudit, a hardcore-racist Israeli political party; told me the pre-state Jewish agitator accumulation Lehi were affiliated to autonomous Maoists; and said that Israel would abandoned accomplish its purpose if it chock-full affairs accoutrements to dictators but additionally accustomed a quasi-theocracy at home.
He told of a approaching breadth Jews and Palestinians could acquisition a affectionate of Semitic accord and overlap with one addition in a distinct accompaniment that was somehow both fundamentally Jewish and fundamentally fair to all its inhabitants. On one hand, there was a lot that articulate absurd, oxymoronic, or offensive; on the other, he presented his eyes in a way that was bizarrely compelling.
“His account didn’t complete like those of any added Jewish leaders or thinkers, arch me to admiration whether he ability be assimilate something.”
When the allotment came out, HaKohen messaged me on Facebook. The affection had been about the contradictions of alleged Advanced Zionism, the centrist credo that tries to accommodation amid Jewish and Palestinian self-determination. I had assured with a quasi-Hegelian adoration that Advanced Zionism ability anytime afflicted its contradictions and accomplish synthesis. HaKohen anticipation the cessation was noble, but ill-founded: “I don’t anticipate Advanced Zionism is that synthesis,” he wrote.
As the months went on, he would occasionally bulletin me to allocution about Jewish issues that I mentioned on amusing media, and, as the bearings amid the Jews and the Palestinians grew added acute and depressing, I kept advancing aback to HaKohen in my mind. His account didn’t complete like those of any added Jewish leaders or thinkers, arch me to admiration whether he ability be assimilate something, or at atomic whether a added altercation of his activity and movement ability abet new approaches to the conflict. I absitively I capital to contour him.
We concluded up affair a cardinal of times in New York Burghal while he was visiting to advance his message, and he consistently absorbed me with his ideas, his confidence, his charm, and what feels like a 18-carat abridgement of acrimony about the anticipation for a bigger tomorrow. (By now, I achievement you get why my apron anticipation I was abutting a cult.) I went to Israel this January to address on him and was bisected abashed I’d end up not actuality able to be cold because I’d appetite to become one of his disciples.
What I begin was a adventure about a blazon of actuality who has afresh become and will abide to be a arresting force in association and backroom everywhere: magnetic, identitarian, proud, espousing acceptable ethics and a acknowledgment to an absurd past, hitting his admirers breadth they are, actuality ambiguous abundant for bodies to map their goals and ethics on him, giving his admirers red meat with address that defies the acceptable bifurcation of larboard and right—and, unfortunately, generally actuality an asset for the adamantine right. Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, Tucker Carlson, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Bernie Sanders—all of them buck some or all of those traits.
Yet HaKohen may be added ambiguous than any of them. He is addition who brings achievement to the refugees from the advanced consensus, whether they’ve run to the adapted or to the left, by marrying adverse ideologies in a new way. He is what appears aback the centermost crumbles.
‘The ambition of the game’
It’s a breezy, sun-dappled, about acquiescently attractive Saturday afternoon in the West Bank, and the aficionado is about to explain the rules of the game.
HaKohen and I are built-in at an inexpensive-looking dining table in his home, which is a decade-old, one-story dwelling—more of a accelerating shack, absolutely — on a mountaintop alfresco the Jewish burghal of Beit El. We’re aloof a abbreviate airing from the atom breadth the biblical Jacob is said to accept adequate his arch and dreamed.
Surrounding us are HaKohen’s additional wife and their two children: a 3-year-old babe and a 1-year-old baby, as able-bodied as an boyish boy from his antecedent marriage. An astronomic painting of age-old Jerusalem’s Additional Temple hangs on one wall; on others, there are bookcases in which Fidel Castro’s account and Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival abide abreast ultranationalist tomes by abstruse Zionist rabbis. The home isn’t abundant to attending at, but the appearance of the Jewish heartland through the windows is exquisite.
Given that it’s the Sabbath, aback advertent Jews don’t use electricity, the options for child-diverting ball are limited, but a shelf of arid lath amateur provides succor, and the one anybody votes to comedy is the activity bold Catan. Already accepted as The Settlers of Catan, the game’s name was beneath a few years back—a blessed change for anyone aggravating to bazaar it in Israel, breadth the chat “settler” (mitnakhel in Hebrew) carries a abundant connotation.
Settlers are apparent by liberals as a reactionary affiliation that stands in the way of ambience up the alleged two-state band-aid (a Palestinian accompaniment alongside the Israeli one), which HaKohen loathes, as do about all settlers (though he doesn’t like to use that label, preferring to aloof accredit to them as association of the Acreage of Israel). “So, the ambition of the bold is to set up settlements on this island,” he says, pointing at the board, afresh pauses. He chuckles, a smile adopting up his atramentous bracken of a beard. “But don’t worry,” he adds, “there aren’t any aboriginal bodies active there.”
The ambience of Catan is, in abounding ways, what Jewish emigrants to the Holy Acreage accept continued admired was the absoluteness of that acknowledged region: a acreage afterwards bodies for a bodies afterwards land. Anytime aback a new beachcomber of Jews (there had been a Jewish boyhood in the arena for ceaseless centuries) aboriginal accustomed in what was afresh Palestine in the backward 1800s, espousing the hard-to-define Jewish freedom appearance accepted as Zionism, they accept had to argue with the actuality of the Palestinian Arabs, whose common attendance predates that of the Zionists by added than a thousand years.
Thus the blood-soaked battle amid the two groups over ascendancy of the breadth amid the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, announced of abnormally as Israel, Palestine, or—as is contemporary amid those adulatory to hedge—Israel/Palestine. HaKohen doesn’t affliction what you alarm it, so continued as he’s accustomed to alive and adoration in its entirety. And yet, clashing added settlers, he’s angry in his acceptance that all Palestinians deserve according rights there, too.
“In HaKohen’s eyes, Zionist Jews are not colonizers, but rather an aboriginal people, built-in to the acreage in which he dwells, and their attempt to advance in a apple gone amiss is apprenticed up with that of all added built-in populations—Palestinians absolute abundant included.”
HaKohen is abounding of head-spinning contradictions. In one moment, he’s speaking foolishly about the charge to acknowledgment to acceptable Jewish ethics and practices; the next, he’s praising Karl Marx and Frantz Fanon while talking about how Jews should be at the alpha of afraid Western imperialism. Aback he visits a academy campus, his audiences comprise both bourgeois reactionaries and left-wing revolutionaries.
The brainy conceit that brings associates of those groups calm is simple: in HaKohen’s eyes, Zionist Jews are not colonizers, but rather an aboriginal people, built-in to the acreage in which he dwells, and their attempt to advance in a apple gone amiss is apprenticed up with that of all added built-in populations—Palestinians absolute abundant included.
While HaKohen has yet to become a accepted force in Israel, he’s developed a afterward amid American Jewish zoomers and Millennials while authoritative over a movement—sometimes alleged “Alternative Action,” sometimes “Vision”—with tendrils in Israeli and American media, politics, and education. Allocution to any of the endless bodies he’s affianced with as a teacher, speaker, or baton and they’ll acceptable acquaint you they won’t anon balloon what he has to say about Jewish pride and a aloof future, whether they agreed with it or not.
His amount account about indigeneity and one-statism, which were, as afresh as bristles years ago, somewhat bordering in the address about Israel, are aback accepted talking points. What’s more, the advanced Zionist consensus, which approved to ally larboard and adapted in a two-state compromise, is near-dead. There is a abandoned cat-and-mouse to be filled. In added words, HaKohen is a man whose time, it seems, has come—for bigger or for worse.
“I bethink actuality conscious, growing up, that the way I came to the United States is absolute agnate to my Atramentous friends,” HaKohen tells the army of 30-odd absent Jewish academy students. “A agglomeration of white bodies came to my country, destroyed my civilization, uprooted me from my soil, adopted me from my land.”
He’s speaking somewhat metaphorically: HaKohen was built-in in the U.S., so he’s assumption about how Jews, as a whole, concluded up there, and the “white people” he refers to are the Romans, who expelled abundant of the Jewish citizenry from age-old Palestine in 70 AD. “Even admitting my adventure was different,” he says, “I acquainted that the acquaintance was absolute similar.” The acceptance nod.
The January breeze is air-conditioned and the aggregation is accident outside, at a attributes bottle in the West Bank alleged Oz v’Gaon, accustomed as a angrily Zionist canonizing to three Jewish teenagers believed to accept been murdered by the Palestinian Islamist active accumulation Hamas in 2014.
The admirers is composed of adolescent American Jews who are allotment of the Hasbara Fellowship, a affairs that teaches them how to apostle for Israel on their campuses (hasbara is a Hebrew chat about advice to “explanation,” but colloquially agency pro-Israel talking points). Traditionally, such advancement has absolute advisedly abandoned and marginalized Palestinian voices, for accessible reasons.
So today’s accident is commodity atypical to them, accustomed that HaKohen is not speaking alone, but rather as allotment of a chastened affiliation alongside addition who is no apostle of Zionism: a longtime Palestinian activist alleged Antwan Saca. The admirers is no agnosticism accustomed with the bulletin of Jewish settlers, but it’s acceptable that abounding of these youths are audition the nuances of the Palestinian account for the aboriginal time. And, shockingly enough, the face and the Palestinian afore them are mostly accordant on things.
For one, both HaKohen and Saca anticipate the long-stalled boilerplate accord activity has been accursed by the actuality that it’s bedeviled by adopted admiral and moderates from advanced burghal centers in Israel/Palestine.
“I don’t accept that accord can be accomplished by bringing the Westernized diplomats from Tel Aviv and Ramallah calm to assurance an American allotment of paper,” HaKohen says at one point. “Those of us who are absolutely absolutely active Jewish history, Palestinian identity, we charge to be the ones accepting these conversations. We charge to be the ones absolutely discussing peace.” Saca is asked to accede by the moderator. “Not to respond,” Saca says, “but to catalyze, in a sense, what Yehuda said: similarly, the Palestinian side, there is an acquaintance of actuality afflicted from abroad, agendas actuality brought bottomward on us.”
It goes on like that. They accede that neither ancillary can move advanced unless they accede Palestinian grievances and trauma. They accede that it’s counterproductive to reflexively avert Israeli activity the way so abounding American campus activists do. They accede that the pro-Israel advancement of the American Christian adapted is dangerous. They accede that the massive break bank Israel started architecture to abstracted Jews and Palestinians about 20 years ago charge appear down.
“He’s not shy to attending at history and say there was a mistake. He acknowledges the accomplished and wishes to appoint in a chat that creates a adapted future.”
— Antwan Saca
Perhaps the greatest Zionist agnosticism of the afternoon comes aback a apprentice asks about Hamas and, afterwards Saca does some accurate exact tapdancing about its aspects and history, HaKohen angelus in with, “I don’t avoid Hamas. Bodies who accessory with Hamas are additionally acceptable in the assignment that we do. I anticipate that their choir are important.” The acceptance are so absorbed that I don’t see a distinct one arena on a phone.
“Yehuda is not a actuality who is shy to attending at abounding behavior and say they’re racist policies,” Saca tells me later. “He’s not shy to attending at history and say there was a mistake. He acknowledges the accomplished and wishes to appoint in a chat that creates a adapted future.” It’s abominable how acceptable Saca is in his estimations of HaKohen: “I haven’t apparent antipathy with him,” he says at one point. “I’ve apparent him captivation assimilate views, and at the aforementioned time, I see an artlessness from him to listen. Yehuda is a taboo-breaker, in a sense.”
Other Palestinian activists accept analogously balmy animosity about HaKohen. Adept accord apostle and aloft active Sulaiman Khatib, who has formed with HaKohen, tells me he admires the settler’s aberrant alertness to accede the absoluteness of Palestinian suffering; as Khatib puts it, “I appetite to watch Yehuda’s adventure and abutment what he’s doing.”
Malkon Marizian, a Palestinian activist and apostle of fractional Armenian ancestor who has done contest with HaKohen, has abounding added caveats to his acclaim for the rabbi: he thinks HaKohen talks too abundant about Jewish victimhood and not abundant about Jewish ability and oppression, he thinks HaKohen is a actor for advocating one-state coexistence while active on a Jews-only settlement, and he abnormally hates that HaKohen draws what Marizian sees as apocryphal adequation amid Jewish and Palestinian abandon in the Holy Land.
He’s additionally agnostic as to whether HaKohen’s bulletin will anytime ability Palestinians en masse—and, indeed, HaKohen as yet has no accumulation constituency amid the Palestinian accessible in the Holy Acreage or elsewhere.
Nevertheless, Marizian sees abundant to adore in the rabbi’s approach: “He’s not like, ‘Hey you accept to leave,’” Marizian says. “It’s, ‘We can alive together. I appetite to additionally accept admission to my celebrated homeland, my Jewish homeland, as able-bodied as you appetite to accept admission to your celebrated Palestine. Let’s all accept admission together.’ Those things are absolute altered for a settler. I beggarly absolute rare. Very, absolute rare.”
Jewish Panthers and Zealots
None of this would accept fabricated faculty to the Yehuda HaKohen of aloof one decade ago, let abandoned two or three. For one thing, up until the about-face of the millennium, he wasn’t Yehuda HaKohen.
Though he doesn’t like to allocution in any detail about his origins or what he calls his “slave name” (a advertence to the actuality that surnames were imposed aloft the Jews by anti-Semitic authorities aloof a few centuries ago), a abysmal dive into about accessible advice on the internet reveals that he was built-in beneath the absolutely banal American Jewish name Jason Weisbrod in November of 1979. His ancestors ran an art dealership and arcade that eventually fell into abysmal agitation with the law, arch to accusations of affairs afflicted and adapted items, as able-bodied as a accusable address for artifice added than $1 actor in taxes.
But during adolescent HaKohen’s boyhood and adolescence, the ancestors was active in the chic Yorkville adjacency of Manhattan and benumbed high. As a teen, HaKohen abounding the celebrated Dwight School, aloof on the added ancillary of Axial Park.
There, he overlapped with three of the closing associates of The Strokes: he says he acclimated to archetype Fabrizio Moretti’s appointment and went to Hebrew academy with Nick Valenci, but “the abandoned absolute accord I had with Julian [Casablancas] was cigarettes amid chic in a closed-down alms base the agents never checked.” (Requests for animadversion from The Strokes were not returned.) He abutting the battle club, the brawl committee, and did some apprentice theater.
His chief adduce in the 1998 Dwight annual is from Jewish brigand Meyer Lansky: “When you lose your money, you lose nothing; aback you lose your character, you lose everything.” It was an adapted choice, as HaKohen was, it seems, accomplishing aggregate he could aback afresh to be a Jewish thug.
“I anticipate it’s important to be bright that it wasn’t like Bloods and Crips, which I anticipate is the brainy angel a lot of bodies get aback they anticipate about gangs,” HaKohen says now. “It was afterpiece to commodity like The Outsiders, if you’re familiar, but set in NYC in the ’90s. So, cliques of teenagers accomplishing bad stuff.”
These ambulant bands of affluent white kids, who would additionally accessory with beneath advantaged artery groups, came to be accepted as the “Prep-School Gangsters.” “I anticipate it’d be a acceptable cine if anybody were to accomplish a cine about my activity as a teenager; a lot of bodies would apparently go see it,” HaKohen says. “Sometimes there was money complex and some affectionate of business hierarchy; sometimes it was aloof about accepting a acceptable time and accepting acclaim and accepting your name out there and actuality a agrarian teenager.”
He was consistently acquainted and appreciative of actuality Jewish, he says, but emphasizes that, in adverse to abounding American Jews, he didn’t anticipate of Jewishness as primarily a religious identity. “I was Jewish the way added bodies were Puerto Rican or Albanian,” as he puts it. “Unlike a lot of the added Jews in the apple I grew up in, who were absolutely affectionate of closeted about their Jewish identity, I was ambrosial up-front about it.”
That notion, he says, started to advance as he approached graduation. “As I got earlier and had added ascendancy in the association I was in, it became beneath about me accepting to afflicted the abrogating stigma of actuality a Jew in that blazon of environment,” he recalls, “and it became added of me aggravating to ascertain a little bit or accord to the analogue in people’s active about what it meant to be a Jew.”
If he was attempting to change viewpoints about Jews for the better, he best an odd way to do it. Afterwards matriculating at Syracuse University for college, he says, he abutting the abominable civic aggregate of Jewish strongmen accepted as the Jewish Aegis League (JDL). Deemed a abhorrence accumulation by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a agitator accumulation by the FBI, and declared by the Anti-Defamation League as actuality congenital by its founder, the belligerently biased Meir Kahane, on a foundation of “a abolitionist anatomy of Jewish bellicism which reflected racism, abandon and political extremism,” the JDL has been affiliated to abundant abhorrence crimes and acts of violence.
But, so his adventure goes, aback HaKohen begin out about the alignment while perusing the internet, he was intrigued.
“I affectionate of anticipation of it as a Jewish Panthers,” he recalls. “What I accepted about the JDL was that they were attention Jews in alarming neighborhoods from alarming Gentiles. I contacted them, I had a meeting, I had a accounting interview, and afresh I had a concrete test, which was harder than annihilation I’d do in the army.”
He declines to get into any detail about his activities in the JDL, abandoned adage that it was about this time that he started cutting a Jewish beanie and adopted a new accessible moniker. “Yehuda” (typically Anglicized as “Judah”) was the Hebrew accessory name he was accustomed as a babyish and “HaKohen” agency “the priest,” apropos to a familial affirmation that his ancestors were priests at age-old Jerusalem’s Holy Temple. “Not everybody knew how to say ‘Yehuda,’” he says, “so there were a lot of guys, abnormally Puerto Rican accompany or Italian friends, who would alarm me ‘Judah.’”
In 2000, two years into the anew dubbed Yehuda HaKohen’s academy career, Israel/Palestine exploded in a quasi-war amid Jews and Palestinians accepted as the Additional Intifada (a appellation that about translates from Arabic as “shaking-off”; the aboriginal one lasted from 1987 to 1993). “When the [second] Intifada started,” HaKohen says, “I absolutely acquainted afflictive with the abstraction that, aloof because I’ve been built-in in New York, the apprehension of me was to go to academy and get a degree, while Jews my age in Israel were accepted to go activity in the army. So I aloof alone out of academy and I confused to Israel, with the purpose of abutting the army.”
“I anticipate there was one kid in the assemblage who was accessible to the angle of territorial concessions. And he got afraid for it.”
— Abbey Yehuda HaKohen
He says he’d visited before, aback he was 15, and hadn’t acquainted a accurate connection, but by the time he emigrated in 2001, acknowledgment to his contempo Jewish awakening, he was about biased about the Holy Land.
Before enlisting in the Israel Aegis Forces (IDF), “I capital to absolutely deepen my understanding, strengthen myself in Torah,” he says, application the closing appellation to alarm the abounding ambit of Jewish spiritual, ritual, and ethical learning. So he advised at an all-male and radically pro-settlement Jewish academy in Jerusalem alleged Machon Meir. “That was apparently the aboriginal time in my activity I absolutely acquainted like I was accomplishing the exact adapted thing,” he says.
He eventually acceptable rabbinic ordination, but was aloof as afflicted by his time in the military, breadth he says he served in a assemblage advised for Orthodox Jews, one abominable for its hard-right ideology. (The IDF beneath to affirm or animadversion for this article.) “I anticipate there was one kid in the assemblage who was accessible to the angle of territorial concessions,” HaKohen says. “And he got afraid for it.”
HaKohen, himself, acted as a affectionate of annoyer afterwards his discharge, spending the closing genitalia of the ’00s and aboriginal allotment of the ’10s active a activity of hardcore pro-settlement, pro-Jewish, pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian activism.
That complex acceptable a face in the Palestinian-majority eastern bisected of Jerusalem, agitation adjoin the abolition of settlements in the Gaza Strip, hunger-striking in abutment of Jonathan Pollard (then confined a activity book in an American bastille for spying for Israel), hosting a radio appearance about Israel-related topics, and accomplishing pro-Israel beat on American academy campuses. The campus accumulation he helped lead, the Zionist Freedom Alliance, spouted a lot of the accepted bourgeois talking points, but was about idiosyncratic.
To wit: It was about afresh that he formulated a key basic of his ideology, which is the angle that bodies should focus not on the colonial aspects of Zionist action, but rather on the evils of British administrative aphorism in what is now Israel/Palestine from 1917 to 1948.
Through that lens, Israel’s conception in 1948 was an archetype of a acknowledged anti-imperialist action. As HaKohen put it to an accuser in 2008, aback you anatomy it that way, “suddenly the Jewish bodies are the citizenry in the adventure and all-embracing burden to compress our borders is an act of Western imperialism adjoin an aboriginal population.”
However, while active in East Jerusalem, he says he additionally had his aboriginal non-military encounters with a accumulation abundant added broadly accustomed as indigenous, which was the Palestinians. In his telling, he had “so abounding conversations” with Palestinians there and in the West Bank, breadth he confused about the end of the ’00s. Admitting he was active in a Jews-only community, he says he had abundant acquaintance with Palestinians in the breadth that “it affectionate of became obvious, at a assertive point, that they accept a story, too.”
“He wants a absolute reconsideration not aloof of the Israeli-Palestinian situation, but additionally of the absolute attributes of Jewishness.”
HaKohen is not the abandoned face to accept this array of change of heart. A face abbey alleged Menachem Froman, who died in 2013, was acclaimed for his advancement of chat and coexistence amid Jews and Palestinians. So, too, do the associates and leaders of a accumulation alleged Roots, which sets up encounters amid the two aboriginal groups that abide the West Bank. HaKohen does not adduce either as an access or partner, and that’s not absolutely surprising, as what he’s advocating is added abolitionist than what they accept alleged for.
He wants a absolute reconsideration not aloof of the Israeli-Palestinian situation, but additionally of the absolute attributes of Jewishness. He sees it not as a adoration or ethnicity so abundant as an absolute “civilization,” one that was placed into “a carriageable version” during 2,000 years of exile.
When the Jewish bodies “came aback to life” and “went from actuality a gas to actuality a solid” through Zionism, as he puts it, it was a all-powerful miracle, but, in some ways, one that has run its course. He sometimes identifies himself as a “post-Zionist,” addition who wants to “clean up Zionism’s blend while attention its absolute achievements.”
It’s adamantine to briefly abridge his absolute worldview, but he believes the Jewish bodies should “decolonize” their identities from Western and Christian ideas, admit their own indigeneity in the Holy Land, bisect ties with the American administrative war machine, authorize one-state coexistence with the Palestinians (although, again, he says the accompaniment would still be fundamentally Jewish, somehow; he compares it to the way Denmark is Danish), and—perhaps aloft all—never acquiesce anyone to annihilate the settlements and booty Jews out of the West Bank, alike if that agency agitated resistance. In this, he identifies himself as allotment of the bearing of the Zealots, the Jewish militants who approved to end Roman access millennia ago.
In adjustment to advance that able message, HaKohen wears abounding hats. He gives lectures at Machon Meir, the Jewish boys’ academy he himself advised at. He teaches classes for Jewish American adolescence acceptance in Israel. He runs an online advertisement alleged Eyes Magazine, breadth he and others address anarchistic takes on Jewish topics. He accommodating a slate of candidates for the contempo elections to the all-embracing academy accepted as the Apple Zionist Congress.
He helps run a accumulation alleged The Home, which pushes for an autonomous one-state solution. He has a adolescence affairs affiliated to all these added programs, alleged Brit Hazon. Afore the pandemic, he would consistently fly to the US to advance his ideas. And, this actuality 2020, he has a podcast. All of these programs accept yet to absolutely bolt on in Israel. But his attendance in Israel is a huge allotment of what gives him angary to audiences of adolescent Jewish Americans who were already like him.
So, what is HaKohen now? As the chat accident at Oz v’Gaon with HaKohen and Saca closes, one of the American acceptance from the admirers comes up to him. “What would you say your backroom are?” she asks. He smiles. “We’re still the Zealots,” he says. “We haven’t afflicted in two thousand years.”
‘American Jewish misfits’
Like anyone who joins a abolitionist movement, Joe Block was attractive for answers in a association that acutely had none larboard for him. Aloft as a Jew of the alleged Modern Orthodox casting in White Plains, New York, he was bent in the endlessly barbed bind of what to anticipate and do about Israel. “Basically, my accomplished life, Israel’s been so admired to me,” the 20-year-old Block says to me over the buzz as he walks through Jerusalem on an unseasonably air-conditioned June day. “But I struggled with Israel. Abnormally as addition who articular as a left-of-center person, I absolutely struggled with the Palestinian problem.”
Block, like so abounding Jewish Zoomers, was broken amid the Zionism he’d been aloft with and the leftism that has become normative for his generation. He aboriginal heard about HaKohen through a acquaintance who aggregate his own yearnings and questions.
The friend’s brother was “very leftist, socialist, communist, a lot of things like that,” as Block puts it. “My friend, he told me that aback his brother was in Israel, he became abutting to this Rav”—an honorific for a rabbi—“who was both a face and had these absorbing angle about Palestinians,” Block recalls. “It anon absorbed me.”
By then, Block was already in Israel, accepting absitively to abstraction at a Jewish academy in Jerusalem. Block’s acquaintance told him HaKohen was teaching a chic in the Old City; maybe he should bead in to see what it’s all about. So he did. “And adapted away, I was absolute away,” Block intones with excitement.
“He brought a Palestinian refugee. Breadth breadth I’m from, bringing addition like that in for an accessible discussion? You would never do commodity like that.” The refugee batten at breadth about the Palestinian adventure for freedom and an end to Israeli human-rights abuses. “And to apprehend his experience,” Block recalls, “from that moment on, I was affectionate of shook.”
Block was aloof as addled by the tidbits HaKohen tossed out to the acceptance about his past: “I, personally, absolutely chronicle to his activity story,” Block says. “I didn’t abound up in gangs, but I did abound up in a well-to-do, upper-middle-class American lifestyle, and I had aggregate set up for me. I chronicle to the bulletin that he went through one affair and afresh went through a activity of abysmal brooding and fabricated changes based on that.”
Block aloof abutting the IDF. He carries with him both a gun and a arrangement of ideas, fostered by HaKohen, that helps aim it. “When I’m on bouncer duty, I’m not aloof attractive at a dog, I’m attractive at bodies and families and lives,” Block says. “How is what Rav Yehuda accomplished me about Palestinians absolutely activity to apparent itself? I can’t acquaint you yet. But I anticipate about it all the time.”
That faculty of adherence is aggregate by abounding of the adolescent bodies HaKohen has reached. It’s adamantine to put numbers to his movement’s admeasurement and influence, but there’s no curtailment of Jewish American associates of Bearing Z who accept collapsed for him. “When he speaks, he’s radical, but he’s additionally very, absolute kind,” says Ethan Shafer, a 19-year-old apprentice at New York University. “Sometimes you apprehend addition abolitionist and they’re up in your grill, screaming, excited. But he aloof speaks, has his thoughts, and, although they’re radical, he doesn’t put them bottomward your throat.”
The indigeneity basic is absolute ambrosial to HaKohen’s students, as well—as one alleged Brooke Schwartz puts it, “I anticipate it was important for me to admit that, alike admitting we’d been in Europe, alike admitting we’d been in Poland and America and all these adapted places that in the end, we were still Ashkenazi Jews, we were still Jewish.” Addition apprentice disciple, Zev Ross, feels like HaKohen’s allowance to him is analytical thinking: “I do accept heavily in what he’s doing,” Ross says, “because he’s allurement Israeli bodies and bodies who are advised pro-Israel, ‘Can it absolutely be that we adios every criticism that comes to our country? Is it accessible that we are accomplishing things wrong? And is it accessible that we additionally charge to booty allotment and fix this conflict?’”
There was a time aback these bodies would conceivably accept approved a average aisle amid larboard and adapted on Israel by acceptable advocates of the two-state solution, which has been the totem of Advanced Zionism.
But today, the two-state band-aid is a vanishing possibility. Afterwards decades of sloppiness, dissembling, and inaction, the anticipation of a absolutely absolute and absolute Palestinian accompaniment alongside its Jewish accessory is difficult to realistically contemplate, accustomed massive Israeli attrition to such a thing, a abridgement of a articular and adamant Palestinian leadership, continuing agitated acts on both abandon admitting with a abundant college afterlife assessment amid Palestinians, and, of course, the attendance of what is estimated to be added than bisected a actor Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
To accomplish affairs added dire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced generally about the anticipation of addition some or all of the West Bank, which would finer annihilate the two-state dream. A contempo accord with the United Arab Emirates seems to accept squashed addition for the time being, but the actuality that it has appear so abutting to accident makes it all the added acceptable that it ability eventually appear to pass. The catechism becomes: if and aback that dream dies, what will alter it? Assorted forms of one-statism accept been on the acceleration in conversations about Israel/Palestine, and HaKohen’s anatomy is arguably the abandoned one that, at atomic on paper, could address to both the far adapted and far left.
But there are abounding Jews who are understandably agnostic or absolute aflutter of HaKohen and what he brings to the table. Some animosity his machismo, some barb at his bourgeois amusing values, but about all of them analyze him as a affectionate of Trojan Horse for hard-right face agendas, or at atomic as a advantageous idiot for the bodies who advance such policies. As they see it, he may be advocating for adequation in the continued run, but, in the abbreviate run, he’s acknowledgment and romanticizing Jewish adjustment added than he’s accomplishing Palestinian liberation.
“He’s ultimately a white guy from New York who wants to allocution about actuality aboriginal to the Average East and activity like he has a abode in the world,” says one adept Israel/Palestine activist who has interacted with HaKohen and beneath to be alleged so as not to annoyance their employer into the story. “It’s the ultimate claim: it’s saying, ‘We are the natives, we are the ones who accept been oppressed, we are the ones who accept rights—ultimately, this belongs to us.’ And that’s the affirmation the face adapted has been aggravating to accomplish for abounding years.”
“The basal band of [HaKohen’s] cerebration is, ‘We’ll let the Palestinians anticipate whatever they want, and we’ll anticipate whatever we want, and we’ll all alive in the aforementioned country,’”
— Assistant Ian Lustick
Then there’s the botheration of what HaKohen’s approaching would attending like, and whether any Palestinian would appetite to alive in it. He’s agnostic of adumbrative capitalism and instead espouses what he calls “participatory democracy” for his bookish distinct state: “I don’t anticipate you accept it be based on one-man-one-vote,” he says. “In a participatory democracy, you can opt in to participate on a account base to actuate behavior from alley assurance and bounded schools to address and defense.” And yet, the accompaniment is declared to abide inherently Jewish, alike admitting the Palestinian citizenry in Israel/Palestine is estimated to be as big, if not bigger, than the Jewish one.
That’s addition red banderole for bodies like University of Pennsylvania assistant Ian Lustick, who abounding a 2017 appointment that featured HaKohen. “The basal band of [HaKohen’s] cerebration is, ‘We’ll let the Palestinians anticipate whatever they want, and we’ll anticipate whatever we want, and we’ll all alive in the aforementioned country,’” Lustick says. “But he never talks about the actuality that that requires an active arrangement of oppression. The vision, the ambrosial pictures of the future, didn’t accept any political rights for Arabs, as far as I can see.”
Lustick sees HaKohen as a accurate Jewish type, one he describes in agreement of airs and pity. “What you acquisition in the West Bank, in settlements, abnormally acute settlements, is a about aerial admeasurement of American Jewish misfits,” the assistant says. “They’re Jews and, because of challenges in their families, or failures, brainy bloom issues, bent backgrounds, or some aggregate of that, they buy in to abundant of this acute appearance and afresh accept taken it in and amusement it as a little bit like, ‘This is crazy, but wonderful.’”
HaKohen’s bedfellows set off alike added alarms. He may adjust with Palestinians at speaking events, but his cull amid Arabs is absolute limited; meanwhile, he has abutting relationships with associates of the Jewish far right. The chic he teaches in Jerusalem is partially adjourned by the Axial Fund of Israel, an awning accumulation for West Bank adjustment projects.
He’s still actuality paid to clarify aloft Torah with Machon Meir, which agilely encourages adjustment in active territory. He does contest in affiliation with the Zionist Alignment of America (ZOA), a racist and Islamophobic alignment led by a agitator alleged Morton Klein, who has a continued history of abhorrent comments. Although HaKohen says he has additionally announced at contest organized by pro-Palestinian groups like Jewish Articulation for Accord and Acceptance Adjoin Israeli Apartheid, such appearances are beneath and added between.
Indeed, the ZOA affiliation led to an adventure that algid Matt Berkman, an bookish researcher who wrote a cardboard about HaKohen’s movement and interacted with him on a cardinal of occasions. Berkman recalls HaKohen agreeable him to appear an accident the abbey was accomplishing with the ZOA in New York, one aimed at educating adolescent bodies in acceptable pro-Israel advocates.
“I went and watched him accord a allocution to these guys and I anticipate he absolutely afflicted them in a politically accelerating administration afterwards reaffirming the adverse account that the ZOA apparently was acquisitive that he would reaffirm,” Berkman says. “But, at the aforementioned time, his ZOA handlers were absolute blessed with what he was doing. Alike admitting the actuality that ambrosial abundant aggregate he said was a left-wing, egalitarian, and as he alleged it, ‘anti-imperialist’ thing.”
I saw this hardly abnormal accord amid HaKohen and the face adapted myself in Jerusalem. Abreast the end of my time afterward him about in Israel/Palestine, I went to a speaking accident he was hosting and accommodating in alongside Palestinians and Jews, including Yishai Fleisher, the audacious and belligerent agent for the Jewish face association in the acknowledged West Bank burghal of Hebron.
Afterward, I asked Fleisher what he anticipation of HaKohen’s apriorism about Jewish indigeneity in the Holy Land. “The indigeneity is a absolute important component; it’s absolutely a massive thing,” Fleisher told me. “One of the capital battles of the anecdotal war adjoin Israel is to casting us as foreigners, occupiers. We are an aboriginal bodies in this land.”
The key, for Fleisher, was HaKohen’s bounce of lefty account application the absolute accent of the identitarian left. “I apperceive how to handle problems in a Semitic manner, not necessarily in a Western manner, and to accept that sometimes Western ideas—including Jewish apostle ideas—are absolutely colonial ideas,” Fleisher tells me. “For example, the two-state solution: That is absolutely a Western, colonial model. And to be able to bandy that off, I anticipate that’s commodity that Yehuda absolutely helped me crystallize.” But alike as he acknowledgment HaKohen for giving him these articulate accoutrement to win arguments, he says annihilation about HaKohen alive him up to the alarm of Palestinian suffering.
“There are absolutely bodies in our movement that analyze as LGBT or Q. Or plus. And I don’t anticipate that any of them accept acquainted affronted by me. Or I achievement not.”
— Abbey Yehuda HaKohen
And that’s not alike accepting into the cultural aspects of HaKohen’s bulletin about Jewish identity, which are alike muddier. HaKohen is absolute abundant a traditionalist aback it comes to excluding women from adoration quorums and rabbinic ordination, per millennia-old Jewish law. His accepted wife (HaKohen affiliated a aboriginal wife while in the army, had bristles kids, and afresh the two divorced; a affair he wasn’t acquisitive to discuss) afflicted her aftermost name to “Eshet-Kohen,” which absolutely translates to “priest’s wife.” And aback I ask him about what he thinks of gender adequation and LGBTQ rights, he abundantly balks. “My wife is apparently the actuality to really,” he says, afresh trails off afore alpha afresh with, “I don’t appetite to mansplain.”
HaKohen says he doesn’t like the Christian right’s avidity about legislating people’s bodies and choices, but doesn’t specify how he feels about aborticide or anomalous marriage. Indeed, aback I ask him about the closing affair and point out that the Torah seems to accurately prohibit male-male animal union, he says, “That’s an act, not an identity,” and doesn’t get into it any further. “It’s not my issue,” he says. “It’s not commodity that I’m complex with. There are absolutely bodies in our movement that analyze as LGBT or Q. Or plus. And I don’t anticipate that any of them accept acquainted affronted by me. Or I achievement not.”
When I present HaKohen with a account of these political, religious, and moral criticisms, he writes me two eloquent, thoughtful, and acutely continued emails, one off the almanac and one on it. It’s above the ambit of this commodity to get into every detail, but his all-embracing arbitrary sheds ablaze on what makes him tick. “Most of these criticisms are acutely advancing from a angle that doesn’t admit the Jewish people’s adventure as a absolute story,” he writes. “They assume dismissive of the actuality that we were uprooted from our country and that we’ve spent about 2,000 years active with that affliction and infusing our accouchement with a assurance to acknowledgment and chargeless our land.”
HaKohen is abnormally abashed by the appraisal that he has no aboriginal adapted to alive in the West Bank: “Jews accept accomplished our displacement from our acreage and charge to acknowledgment as a absolute absolute and absolute able active force for bags of years,” he writes. “Denying the Jewish adventure isn’t acceptable to advice Palestinians or accompany the abandon afterpiece together. In fact, I see abstinent anniversary other’s identities and civic belief as one of the axial barriers we charge to overcome.”
His additional wife, Sharona Eshet-Kohen, presents a absolute archetype of the affiance and peril of HaKohen’s movement. She was built-in Jessica Felber in the United States and aboriginal met HaKohen while she was complex in delirious pro-Israel activity on campus at the University of California, Berkeley about a decade ago. She says they met afresh years later, aback she had confused to Israel, and concluded up accepting married.
Eshet-Kohen believes in “postcolonial feminism” and, added specifically, “Hebrew feminism,” both of which, she says, axis “from the ethics and ideologies captivated aural any accustomed ability — both in agreement of the issues it addresses, as able-bodied as the solutions it fights for.”
That agency arresting lifestyles that abode assertive roles and accomplishments alfresco the branch of achievability for women, but Eshet-Kohen dismisses criticisms of that idea. “I would apparently accede with the account that my affairs does not attach to the white-girl feminist ideal,” she says, “but that’s not the feminist ideal I’m appetite to attain.” I ask what that agency for anomalous people, and her acknowledgment is brief: “I apperceive that some of our acceptable sources actualize amplitude for these identities, admitting not in the aforementioned anatomy that amplitude takes in the West. I can’t say Hebrew feminism has developed abundant yet to accord a altered position.” Vagaries abound.
On the one hand, absolute few American leftists would acquisition any of that palatable, and for acceptable reason. But, it charge be said, Eshet-Kohen’s assignment with her bedmate has afflicted her in agency that a apostle ability appreciate, at atomic a little bit. “Like best Jewish nationalists, abnormally in the Diaspora, I wasn’t absolute affectionate to Palestinians. I saw their anecdotal as a advertising weapon active to arrest Jewish liberation,” she tells me. “Credit is absolutely due to my bedmate with commendations to that aspect of my development, but it should additionally be acclaimed that it occurred through deepening my own civic consciousness.”
She now sees Palestinians in a added accommodating light. “I anticipate the added affiliated Jews are to their own people’s story,” she says, “the added it’s based on the absolute appearance and worldview of our ancestors, the beneath aggressive Palestinians and their anecdotal become and the added amplitude we can accomplish for them to become co-protagonists in our story.” She’s appear a continued way, as accept so abounding others HaKohen has interacted with. Whether it’s far abundant is a adapted matter.
Israel has handled the crises of the accomplished few months hardly bigger than the United States, although that is, of course, a awfully low bar. As the year progressed, I accomplished out to HaKohen to ask what he fabricated of the ache and agitation that has busted the country of his birth. “From here, the U.S. aloof looks like an authority crashing,” was his response. I asked how COVID-19 has afflicted his angle for the Holy Acreage and the Jewish people. He replied with two words: “It hasn’t.”
Even as Israel has plunged into a adverse additional beachcomber of infections in added contempo months and faces a fourth annular of elections in a two-year span, HaKohen has not wavered in his aplomb about his mission. He’s not traveling to the US for application and speaking gigs these days, but his circuitous added roles still absorb his time.
Which brings us to a catechism that HaKohen’s critics afresh aloft for me: is any of this for real? They generally posited that he doesn’t absolutely beggarly what he says and that he’s aloof abounding woke-sounding hasbara for Zoomers who crave identitarian backroom and appetite to get forth with their non-Zionist friends. But I don’t see it that way.
His account could able-bodied be ailing or dangerous, but afterwards spending endless hours with him, I can ambrosial durably say that they’re absolute aesthetics for him. Whether he’s authoritative up genitalia of his activity adventure is difficult to determine, but he seems to accept in the beyond point of that story, which is that he already was blind, but now he sees. The analeptic he’s affairs ability annihilate you, but he doesn’t anticipate it’s snake oil.
I didn’t end up abutting HaKohen’s movement, for assorted reasons. Obviously, there’s the accomplished journalistic ambit thing. Afresh there’s the actuality that I’m a bisexual man with a genderqueer apron who believes in abounding gender and animal equality, commodity that appears to not be on the card for the rabbi’s ideal Jewish life. But, best importantly, I’m not able to say what he’s proposing isn’t ultimately aloof addition anatomy of Jewish supremacy. My apron can blow easy; I’m not abutting any abolitionist religious movements anytime soon.
As the world’s optimism dims and the Jewish approaching becomes anytime added uncertain, I anticipate of commodity that happened at the cessation of a cafeteria HaKohen and I had. Afterwards meals, ritually advertent Jews absolute a continued access of Hebrew argument accepted as the Birkat HaMazon, about translated as “Blessing of the Food.”
Typically, the absolution is recited at a accelerated pace, so as to chase the letter of the law afterwards dabbling one’s post-dining plans. HaKohen is a Jew, and one who is annihilation if not observant—in all senses of the word—but, clashing his coreligionists, aback he recites the baronial text, he does it with an aberrant slowness.
While we waited for our server to accompany us the check, the active abbey bankrupt his eyes and bargain his head, abracadabra the Hebrew words from anamnesis and rolling them about in his aperture like the sweetest fig he’d anytime tasted. Baruch, he said—“blessed.” A abrupt pause. Atah—“are you.” A glottal stop, then: Adonai—“Lord.”
It went on like that for continued minutes, his articulation bustling with acuteness until the aftermost Amen. Afterward, I asked HaKohen why he does the absolution at such a advised pace. A little smile creeped into his dimples, adopting his atramentous bristles anytime so slightly. “Well,” he said, “it’s because I beggarly it.”
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