Roger Cohen says Jewish identity must be founded on opposition to Israeli treatment of Palestinians

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Roger Cohen has an important Jewish identity piece in the Times. Any sincere piece about Jewish identity is valuable these days, as Jewish identity is so critical. Cohen is clearly uncomfortable with anti-Zionism and tries to chart… the middle course…. toward the two-state solution, implicitly, and the preservation of Israel. And chiefly he argues: Diaspora Jewish identity must be founded on opposing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

Now a ferocious anti-Zionism of the left — the kind that has called for academic boycotts of Israel — has joined the mix, as has some Muslim anti-Semitism. Meanwhile Islamophobia has been fanned by the rightist fabrication of the “Eurabia” specter — …

Where then should a Jew in Britain who wants to speak up stand? …

Perhaps a good starting point is a parallel pointed out to me by Maleiha Malik, a professor of law at King’s College London. A century ago, during the Sidney Street siege of 1911, it was the Jews of London’s East End who, cast as Bolsheviks, were said to be “alien extremists.” Winston Churchill, no less, argued in 1920 that Jews were part of a “worldwide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilization and the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development.”

The lesson is clear: Jews, with their history, cannot become the systematic oppressors of another people. They must be vociferous in their insistence that continued colonization of Palestinians in the West Bank will increase Israel’s isolation and ultimately its vulnerability.

The difficulty in this argument is that I don’t see how that doesn’t end up in anti-Zionism. Political Zionism is a messianic belief system that has devoured Jewish life, spat out the cultural Zionists, and resulted in endless colonialism and ethnic cleansing.  That’s how it has worked out. The only way to take on the treatment of the Palestinians is to dissociate oneself from that ideology and not make the goal the preservation of a Jewish state. And so while I am not opposed to a Jewish state somewhere else– because many states are ethnically discriminatory–that state has depended on steadfast Diaspora support, as Cohen observes, and the moderate dissent he prescribes has repeatedly proved ineffectual inside America against the Zionists.

The ultimate questions here involve the Diaspora: Do you need a Jewish state? Why? Wouldn’t you prefer that people live in a state like the one you dig, a liberal democracy that protects ethnic minorities? Getting honest answers to these questions from American Jews would be revolutionary.

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