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.