“The Struggle Israel”

I would like to open this blog as a place of thoughtful discussion and discourse. I have been wrestling, struggling, and contending with this topic for quite a while now. I must be forthright in admitting that I am by no means any sort of expert on this subject, and I wish to learn much more along the way. This can be a sensitive issue of much contention, but as thoughtful Jews, it certainly should be our responsibility to tackle such difficult issues. 

Speaking of wrestling, struggling, and contending–Israel. The English translation of the word Israel is to wrestle struggle, or contend with God. In today’s world, the words “Zionism” or “Zionist” immediately make ears perk up. As I have stated in an earlier post, if one is truly interested in delving into Zionist ideals in depth, I would highly recommend reading Gil Troy’s comprehensive update of Theodor Herzl’s original volume on Zionist thinkers. According to history.com, the term Zionism simply refers to the movement to create a Jewish presence in Israel. Theodor Herzl is widely considered the father of what is known as modern Zionism. Herzl theorized that the Jewish people needed a land of their own in order to ultimately survive, and he believed that the area that was known in his time as Palestine was the proper place for this to occur. Many people believe that the horrors of the Holocaust catalyzed the creation of Israel in 1948, but the Zionist movement had already been set in motion decades prior to the Shoah. Theodor Herzl actually organized the First Zionist Congress in 1897, and died in 1904, many years before the Holocaust shook the world. 

Without getting into the particulars of the current Netanyahu government, there has always been a group of people who feel as if Israel is an illegitimate state that has occupied Arab land, and commits human rights violations against the Arab or Palestinian people on a regular basis. The questions are commonly asked: Is anti-Zionism synonymous with anti-Semitism? Is it Jewishly responsible to openly criticize Israel? 

I will not claim to have the “correct” answers to these questions, and I truly do welcome you, the reader, to chime in on these questions. I will point out some issues that I have been struggling, wrestling, and contending with. The Jewish people have been the subjects of anti-Semitism over the course of thousands of years. Jews have commonly been scapegoated whenever social or economic problems arise. Just quickly gaze back to the not-too-distant past at Hitler’s Germany. In a post World War I German society that was mandated by the Treaty of Versailles to limit military power and pay damage reparations, the German people were attracted to a leader who homed in a particular target of blame–the Jews. The thought of the Jews having their own land? Does this innately bother some who still view Jews as the stereotypical people who wander as vagabonds of no nation?

At the time of this writing, I do believe that anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism. If one does not even believe in the right of Israel to exist, we will likely have a difficult time finding common ground for discussion. According to a 2016 Democracy Index study, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. I believe that this one fact should give us pause. Why is the only country in the Middle East that is democratic and free the subject of so much widespread and open criticism in terms of its very right to even exist? What other democratic countries’ rights to existence are even called into question in such a fashion? Again, does the idea of a Jewish state somehow grind the gears of those who are historically comfortable with the idea of a marginalized Jewish population? 

Now, I would like to quickly address the second query that I have posed. As Jews, should we be criticizing Israel? It seems that Jews must be a bit careful when doing so, as there are those who would gladly cling to any word uttered by a Jew that could be used in the case against Israel. I believe it is acceptable to criticize the particular and specific policies of the Israeli government without criticizing the state itself. Using words like “apartheid” and “occupation” seem irresponsible and counterproductive to any Jewish cause. Comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa, wherein the white minority systematically put into place governmental policies to repress the black majority, is simply inaccurate. The Israeli Declaration of Independence was written to garner equal rights to all of its citizens. I have no doubt that there are messy problems in The West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip due to the fact that security is an enormous issue. Does Israel have the right to safety, and to protect itself from those who would rather the state, and thus the Jews, not exist? 

I have certainly posed many questions in this short blog post. I know that these issues are not simple, and many will not remotely agree with what I have written here. I welcome respectful discussion, and I believe that the fate of Israel is important not only to Jews, but also to Americans in general, and anyone interested in the spread of democracy and equal rights throughout the world. 

Thanks for letting me have the floor for a moment. More to come. 

Shalom,

Joshua

Published by Joshua Gray

I am Joshua Gray. I am a husband, father, not-for-profit-worker by day, and a former professional actor/singer. I am very active in the Jewish community in my area, helping to teach at religious school on Sundays, while also serving on the board of trustees at my local temple. My relationship with Judaism is a joy of mine, and I find great pleasure in studying texts and learning more and more Hebrew. I still enjoy warbling tunes, and I even got to sing the Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur, which was a definite highlight. Please feel free to contact me with any ideas for topics, conversations, or general inquiries. Shalom!

2 thoughts on ““The Struggle Israel”

  1. Here are some counter-thoughts (or other things to think about):

    1) Power – the issues that are happening in that area have been there for awhile, and I wonder if it’s because of power (political power, at the least).

    2) Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism are two different topics. AZ is political, whereas AS is spiritual.

    3) The reason why Israel is the only democracy in that region is because its political rule is not based in theology, whereas most of the countries in that region are theocratic in nature and action. Islam, in a simple description, is all about submission: Woman to man, man to Allah, and the lands to Islam. Remember # 1

    4) It is never wrong to question the politics of a country or place. Criticizing the religion is wrong, but it is okay to question it (if you intent is to grow in your knowledge of your faith and strengthen your foundation). See # 2

    I hope I have played the part of Devil’s Advocate well. I feel it helps me to learn and it helps the other person to gain strength in their position with the topic or topics being discussed.

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  2. This is a touchy subject, but one that has always interested me. You may remember that in undergrad, I wrote my thesis on human emotion in ethical choice, and focused on the language rules implemented by nazis to repress their own human emotions during the Holocaust. There were certain phrases that were repeated and internalized that allowed the perpetrators to remove the responsibility of their own anti-Semitism from themselves – that allowed individual humans to conduct or support vile and heinous acts against other humans. That allowed them to do the unspeakable things they did, and think of it as “going to work.” The evil occurred through what they told themselves about “duty” and “rights” and “land,” in combination with the dehumanization of the Jewish people, as well as queer people, disabled people, and the Roma. Hannah Arendt’s book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, is my favorite book of all time, and did a phenomenal job illustrating how unremarkable this detachment from humanity was. The empathy was lost in the language. Arendt said evil is banal. Evil doesn’t happen the way it does in movies – evil has a white-picket fence and a 9-5 job. We each must be constantly vigilant in our own daily lives so as not to reproduce the apathy that allows evil in.

    We see the same thing now in American and European politics. The words we use to describe people who have different political beliefs, who come from different backgrounds, from different races or religions or countries – the dehumanization always has to happen before the violence. South American refugees are “flooding” and “swarming” before they’re put in cages. Human beings, at least ones that aren’t sociopaths, cannot generally cope with exerting physical violence on others, unless they find ways to reconcile the status of their victim as subhuman.

    I studied a similar thing when I went to grad school, but I shifted my focus to Islamaphobia in America and around the world. I conducted a study that analyzed public statements by the Israeli government, Israeli news media, and large Zionist groups. I conducted another from US news media, both conservative and liberal, and the US government, as well as the British news media. Guess what? Eerily similar patterns of dehumanizing language as they talked about the expulsion of Palestinians residing within the Jewish state, about “land”, about “rights,” about “duty.” There’s a study showing that the same language used to describe Jewish refugees to the US in the 1930s and 40s is being used now about Syrian and Palestinian refugees, and the support from Americans willing to allow refugees in is at about the same level as it was then – low. The Antisemitism then is the Islamophobia now. Not that Islamaphobia didn’t exist then, or that anti-Semitism isn’t an horrifically serious issue now. It is. That’s the point – As you trace the historical trajectory of hatred toward these two groups, particularly within the US, it is uncanny in its similarity.

    I believe there must be a two state solution. I also believe that any foreign policy that reaches a peaceful accord will only do so with human empathy at its heart. The suffering of the Jewish people and the suffering of Arab people is not so different. It all stems from the loss of empathy for people unlike us. It stems from dehumanization. Both of these groups are saddled with the burden of indescribable generational trauma. Our own suffering, no matter how great, does not excuse our ignorance of the suffering of others, and we must always remember that. It’s not a contest of who has suffered more, morality is a question of how we can ease the suffering of others, regardless.

    I was told, repeatedly, to be very careful in comparing the experiences of Jews and Muslims, as it could damage any future career I had in academia. Some of my mentors were Jewish scholars, and they warned me that legitimate queries about the actions and policies of the Israeli government, and the violence that results from them, is often called Anti-Semitic by certain Zionists who want to stifle open dialogue. Academics won’t touch it, diplomats wont touch it. Just talking about the conflict could literally ruin your career. I am acutely aware now of the blowback I may get from your or other people about this comparison. No matter how much I have studied the subject, I am not Jewish, and so do not have any right to tell Jewish people what to feel or think about this. I do know of a few resources by Jewish thinkers and advocacy groups tackling this issue that have been helpful for me. Here’s one – http://jfjfp.com/understanding-the-conflict/

    Anytime you want to talk about this with someone who has a different perspective and a background in human rights, I’m around. I cannot promise agreement, but I can promise respect.

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