By Samuel Green
“I don’t think Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state”. These are thirteen words I thought I’d never hear uttered at the Shabbat dinner table of a Charedi rabbi. Yet at a recent Shabbat dinner with a buttoned-down Litvish rebbe that I attended not long ago, the conversation turned to everyone’s least/most favorite topic and I pushed the woman I was sitting next to utter the above statement, certainly a bold one for any Jew to proclaim. The conversation had gone from friendly conversation to fierce debate to silence in under three minutes. I literally did not know how to respond.
It was not long ago that such anti-Israel sentiment was unheard of amongst even the most secular of American Jewry. To utter such a statement, at a Charedi rabbi’s house of all places, would have elicited the strong disapproval of those in attendance, and rightly so. Now, I’m all for freedom of expression, but the roots of such ‘anti-Zionism’ I find quite troubling. This stance, which I believe is growing in popularity amongst the uber-assimilated (in America at least), is derived from a brash form of public anti-Zionism which is gaining a foothold in everything from academia to politics to popular culture and finance in Western democratic states. It is not connected to a form of anti-Zionism common among some sects of ultra-Orthodox Jewry, which finds its basis in a body of classical Jewish texts. The Jewish anti-Zionists say that their own tradition forbids them from supporting a modern political state of Israel until the coming of the Moshiach (the Messiah). But a secular Jew who denies Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state has been influenced some of the very anti-Semitism that we tell ourselves is gone from the world, or at least from the sheltered corner of it that we secular American Jews inhabit in such safety and security. And I’m beginning to think that this stance poses some danger to Israel’s very existence. Why?
The fact is, the world has not been kind to the Jews and there exist diverse forms of radical anti-Zionism which seek to erase Israel from the world map, either by diplomacy or by awful bloodshed. Any Jew who is so assimilated as to no longer see the necessity for a Jewish state, as a safe haven for world Jewry and a place for all of us (Jews at least) to live in relative peace together, is missing something pretty crucial about collective identity. Like it or not, seven million Jews live in Israel today. This is their home, and their place of residence has become the symbol of Judaism to the world (see http://tiny.cc/q5MTx). Certainly Israel is not all their is to the Jewish people, but it sure has a huge influence of world Jewry. And there must be something that has gone terribly wrong with Israeli governmental politics and policy if a part of Am Yisrael (no matter how disaffected and distanced this echat ha’am has become) no longer supports the ancient and desperate hope of Jews the world over to return to the ancestral*** land. So I’ve had a few months to mull it over, and I still don’t have much of a response to the “Israel shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state” bombshell. If given the opportunity, I might be forced to now say, “Um…yikes!?”
More on this later.
Samuel Green is a student at Swarthmore College. When he grows up he wants to be a guy with a lot of dogs.