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Palgrave Macmillan

Nations Divided

American Jews and the Struggle over Apartheid

ISBN 9781137029706
Publication Date July 2014
Formats Hardcover Ebook (EPUB) Ebook (PDF) Paperback 
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan

The anti-apartheid struggle remains one of the most fraught episodes in the history of modern Jewish identity. Just as many American Jews proudly fought for principles of justice and liberation in the Civil Rights Movement, so too did they give invaluable support to the movement for racial equality in South Africa. Today, however, the memory of apartheid bedevils the debate over Israel and Palestine, viewed by some as a cautionary tale for the Jewish state even as others decry the comparison as anti-Semitic. This pioneering history chronicles American Jewish involvement in the battle against racial injustice in South Africa, and more broadly the long historical encounter between American Jews and apartheid. In the years following World War II and the Holocaust, Jewish leaders across the world stressed the need for unity and shared purpose, and while many American Jews saw the fight against apartheid as a natural extension of their Civil Rights activism, others worried that such critiques would threaten Jewish solidarity and diminish Zionist loyalties. Even as the immorality of apartheid grew to be universally accepted, American Jews continued to struggle over persistent analogies between South African apartheid and Israel's Occupation. As author Marjorie N. Feld shows, the confrontation with apartheid tested American Jews' commitments to principles of global justice and reflected conflicting definitions of Jewishness itself.

Marjorie N. Feld, Ph. D., is Associate Professor of History and Faculty Director of the Center for Women's Entrepreneurial Leadership at Babson College in Massachusetts, US. She teaches courses on US labor, gender, and social history. Feld is the author of Lillian Wald: A Biography (2008), which won the Saul Viener Book Prize of the American Jewish Historical Society.

Introduction: Apartheid and American Jews
Chapter One: Postwar Conflicts over Racial Justice
Chapter Two: American Zionism and African Liberation
Chapter Three: Jews or Radicals?
Chapter Four: 'South Africa Needs Friends': Cold War Narratives and
Chapter Five: Jewish Women, Zionism, and Apartheid
Chapter Six: New Agendas: The Organizational Jewish Response to Apartheid
Chapter Seven: 'Our South Africa Moment': American Jews' Struggles with
Apartheid, Zionism, and Divestment


"Feld has written an important – and sobering – book about how American Jews responded to South African apartheid. Her research brings us inside the multiple Jewish communities engaged with thie anti-apartheid struggle, vividly illustrating both what united American Jewish activists and what divided them. The relationship of South Africa to Israel was, of course, central to the issue, but so were debates over the importance of Jewish unity and the proper balance to strike between universalist ethics and more parochial concerns about Jewish security. In Feld's book these debates and disagreements are fully aired and explored, deepening our understanding of the various motivations for Jewish political activism, and reminding us how thoroughly international and domestic concerns intertwined to shape the views of American activists." - Cheryl Greenberg, Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of History, Trinity College, USA
"Nations Divided examines the controversy among American Jewish activists and organizations over South African apartheid. Marjorie Feld illuminates the contradictions among the Jewish commitment to social justice, unwavering support for Israel, and how best to pressure the racist regime in South Africa. Feld's focus on the politics of identity, solidarity and nationalism deepens our understanding of the multicultural connections across transnational struggles against oppression." - David Hostetter, author of Movement Matters: American Antiapartheid Activism and the Rise of Multicultural Politics (2005)
"Why did prominent American Jewish leaders during the Cold War hesitate to take an early or decisive stand against the manifest injustice that was South African apartheid? And by what spiritual and political paths did other American Jews become anti-apartheid activists – interpreting their Jewishness as integral to their struggle on behalf of the liberation of Black South Africans? In laying out her sensitive and deeply-researched responses to these questions (and much more besides), Feld has given us a terrifically innovative and exciting book that is certain to become a landmark contribution not only to American Jewish history, but also to post-colonial studies and the history of global human rights." - Michael E. Staub, author of Torn at the Roots: The Crisis of Jewish Liberalism in Postwar America (2002)
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