Flabby Zionism

US Politics
on 55 Comments

As we all know, the Daily Beast has a new blog called Open Zion (lately changed from Zion Square) that is fostering a (circumscribed) discussion about Zionism.

Well I just came across this piece at the site that shows how limited the conversation is in American Jewish life. It is by Jay Michaelson, who is an expert on religion and morality– he studies religion, and he wrote a book about squaring gay rights with biblical teachings. And Michaelson wants to reclaim the term Zionism despite facts he acknowledges, that Israel has become a rightwing regime that continues to expand on to Palestinian lands. Here is his crescendo:

[I]s my fidelity to that term more important than building a bridge with those who have been wounded by it?

I believe in the notion of a Jewish and democratic state, for all the complexity such a juxtaposition entails.  I believe that such a state can exist without the oppression of another nation of people, and indeed that it must do so if it is to survive.  I support Israel, even when and precisely when I do not support its government’s policies.  To me, that makes me a Zionist, even if many people don’t think it does.

This is shallow, especially as he is taking up matters of belief. The issue is, Why do you as an American Jew with full minority rights believe in the necessity of preserving a Jewish state halfway across the world whose Palestinian citizens and subjects find that regime objectionable? These claims are defensible; Peter Beinart makes the defense, I don’t think persuasively. But Michaelson (who lives in a town that neighbors mine and surely enjoys similar privilege to my own) doesn’t try, he merely asserts and feels that such assertions are convincing. They’re not. They require some real introspection. This is the crisis inside American Jewry, that so many of us feel a need to sustain a project most of us haven’t even visited and whose political values utterly contradict the values on which our own democratic citizenship is based. And if you are religious, if you care about Jewish life in Israel, why does that life require statehood? (C.f. Jerry Haber. “If Israel exists as a physical refuge to ensure the survival of the Jewish people, then it has failed miserably in that respect.”) These are important issues. I’m waiting.

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