I’m fed up with criticism of Israel being shouted down as anti-Semitic. Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic. Here’s one simple reason why: a majority of the Jewish people lives in the Diaspora.
Just because this place, this strip of land, claims to represent us all doesn’t mean it does. And just because Israel claims to be the embodiment of the Jewish people’s longing for self-determination doesn’t mean it is.
Is brainwashing school-children self-determination? Is stuffing those same kids into uniforms and plunking them down, illegally, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories self-determination? Is keeping the nation chained to a conflict opposed by a majority of Jews self-determination?
Is this the dream of the Jewish people? Is this what it means to live freely, to be masters of our own fate? Are we not self-determinate as individuals in the United States and elsewhere? Do we not live freely and securely in America and in other democratic nations?
Let me play devil’s advocate for a minute and say that criticism of Israel is indeed an attempt to delegitimize the state of Israel. But why is that anti-Semitic when most of us live in the Diaspora?
I’m not going to deny the religious link to the land. However, it’s worth pointing out that that link isn’t ours alone. This place is also sacred to Christians and Muslims (and Haifa is holy for the Baha’i, I might add).
Further, the early Zionists didn’t emphasize the religious connection. And they didn’t necessarily have their hearts set on Palestine. Other ideas were floated: Argentina, Uganda.
And not to defend Zionism because Zionism—as it has manifested itself in expulsions, massacres, and occupation, as it has manifested itself in the denial of the most basic human rights—has become indefensible. However, for argument’s sake, let’s turn to the source of it all, Theodor Herzl’s “The Jewish State”, we see: “But we shall give a home to our people.”
Nowhere is it written that this home will be only for our people. Some, including Shulamit Aloni, argue that Herzl did not seek to found a “Jewish state.” And Herzl didn’t discuss maintaining a Jewish majority here.
(That is not to say, of course, that the six million of us who live in Israel should just get up and leave. The only just solution, in my opinion, is a bi-national, democratic state).
Back to the religious connection: when the state of Israel was established in 1948, my ultra-Orthodox great-grandmother—a woman who had herself survived pogroms and who lost family in the Holocaust—opposed the move. And while their numbers are not great, there are members of the religious community who remain opposed to the state. There are some who are also indifferent to the state—for them, their connection is to the land, regardless of the government. This accounts, of course, for the continued presence of Jews in Palestine long before Zionism existed.
Just because Israel claims to be a symbol of the Jewish people doesn’t mean we all recognize it as one. As an American-Israeli who lives in Israel, I have to say that I don’t see this country as a “Jewish state.” I see Israel as a place that is Jewish in numbers but utterly lacking a Jewish soul.
I see a place that, by claiming to be the sole representative of the Jewish people, denies the majority’s deep connection to Judaism. I see a place—which is home to a minority and governed by a leader who caters to an even smaller minority, the settlers and American right-wingers—that has co-opted our identity and reduced it to a piece of land and a demographic struggle.
I see a place that, by claiming that the Jewish people cannot exist without this state, denies hundreds of years of Diaspora history, culture, and languages. And if that’s not anti-Semitism, I don’t know what is.