The latest violence in Israel-Palestine is forcing an American debate we’ve long pushed for: Is Zionism– belief in the need for a Jewish state, and advocacy for it– an appropriate ideology for our moment in human history? And how widespread is Zionism inside the U.S. establishment?
That debate must involve Zionists coming forward to explain why they are Zionists. And while I approach this discussion as an anti-Zionist, I believe that only by respecting these individuals will they open up; and only when they open up will Americans get to examine the ideology– and will Zionists be able to let go of Zionism.
Over the the last few months I’ve tried to collect statements from American Jews about their Zionist adherences that indicate the nature or intensity of those commitments. Here are a few.
I detest many of [Netanyahu’s] policies because I believe that they are hurting Israel and I do not like to see Israel hurt. Not all of Netanyahu’s policies, I should add: I share his opposition to Obama’s hallucinations about Iran, and I was exhilarated when he told the Jews of France to “come home” because he was expressing Zionism, which moves me to my soul…
All of these judgments are based on my study of Netanyahu’s behavior in power and on my loyalty to the Jewish people, which requires me to state what I believe to be true.
I am sure we will talk tonight about the tension between Zionism and liberalism. There is absolutely such a tension…The kind of Zionism I support would reduce that tension dramatically by stripping away many aspects of Jewish privilege inside Israel proper and of course it would require Israel to end its undemocratic control of the West Bank and Gaza. But it would still allow a preferential immigration policy for Jews and some Jewish public symbols. And even this thin Zionism would privilege Jews.Is my view shaped by the fact that as a Jew I’m attached to the idea that in a post-Holocaust world, there should be one state on earth devoted to Jewish self protection and Jewish self-expression? Yes. I plead guilty. I’m not a pure universalist.
Leftwing journalist Ken Silverstein in the Observer:
I understood well—and supported—Hezbollah’s tactics against Israel when liberating Lebanon from occupation. Obviously, Zionists had used similar tactics when fighting for their own homeland, and in my view Israel is far and away the biggest obstacle to peace with its neighbors, and its treatment of Palestinians is vile.
However, I still support a Jewish state in the Middle East, which I think my hosts—and Hassan Nasrallah—can well understand. I lost roughly half of my family in the Holocaust and that’s something I can never forget, even if I can now forgive Germans for the crimes they committed against Jews, and millions more, during World War II, because in the end most Germans took responsibility for what they did to my people.
Dana Milbank, a columnist who sometimes speaks about foreign policy on MSNBC, wrote earlier this year in The Washington Post about putting his daughter through a religious ceremony:
Making sure [my daughter] is Jewish in the eyes of the Jewish state gives me peace of mind. If the Gestapo ever comes again, she and her descendants will have a place to go. Just in case…
after the Holocaust, and thousands of years of wandering, there was finally a place to which all Jews could go, and defend ourselves, if nowhere else was safe…
Joe Klein wrote in the wake of Netanyahu’s speech to Congress in March:
When I was a little boy, my grandmother would sing me to sleep with the Israeli national anthem. It still brings tears to my eyes. My near annual visits to Israel have always been memorable.
Debra Pell, who moved from San Francisco to Israel and is a liberal Zionist leader, says hopefully that Israel is going to overcome its racial discrimination problems, as the U.S. has historically:
Judaism teaches us that each person was created in God’s image, and that therefore each person deserves respect and must have equal rights before the law. Over two millennia of statelessness, we Jews came to understand that minorities could easily be excluded from mainstream society and that this exclusion has profoundly negative consequences. In Israel, as envisioned by Herzl and the founders, there would be no such thing as a second-class citizen.
I believed then – as I do now – that this was possible because my home country of America had also endured and overcome major injustices. When the U.S. was barely fifty years old, women did not have the right to vote and the abolitionist movement was struggling to confront the reality of slavery. Today, America is still struggling with gender and racial inequality, and acceptance of minorities is still a work in progress.
Israel is a much younger society, facing enormous pressures within and without.
Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt in the New York Review of Books, apropos of an invitation from Iranians to speak in Tehran:
[My host] did not know that, as an eleven-year-old at Camp Tevya, in the New Hampshire woods, I fervently sang “Hatikvah.” But from my writing he had to be aware that I was Jewish, and he could have easily learned from my acknowledgments that I have frequently visited Israel, lecturing at its universities and collaborating with its scholars.
Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, announcing the birth of his son nine years ago:
His full name is Samuel Allon Marshall. … The name means ‘Oak’ in Hebrew. And it was also the name of Yigal Allon, after whom he is also named, who was one of the founders of and later the commander of the Palmach, the elite commando unit of the Haganah, the predecessor of the IDF.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, spoke at J Street earlier this year about her Zionist attachment. Notice how important militarism is in her praise for Jewish nationalism:
Like all of you, I have a deep personal connection to Israel. It is a product of my Jewish identity and life experience—including the fact that I come home to a partner who happens to be a brilliant and compassionate rabbi…
I’ve always found it powerful that our founders here in the United States didn’t seek to establish a perfect union, but rather a “more perfect union”—as if they understood that their
vision would require continual work, continual struggle. We have been doing that work for more than 200 years, so it should surprise nobody that Israel is still evolving just 67 years into its existence. And just as it has in the United States, it will take continual work and struggle to fully realize the dream of an Israeli democracy rooted in “freedom, justice and peace.”…
For our ancestors, if we had said: There will be a Jewish state—for the 6 million who died in the Shoah, there is now a homeland where more than 6 million Jews live—they would have said, “Dayenu.” [That is enough] A state with a powerful military. Dayenu. A vigorous economy. Dayenu. A proud democracy. Dayenu.
And yet none of those things alone—the economy, the military, the democracy—is enough to secure that future. Unless we act.
Jan Schakowsky, Illinois congresswoman:
As a Jew, support for Israel is in my DNA. Throughout my nine terms in the U.S. House, I have advocated that Congress and the Administration stand with Israel in a bi-partisan way to protect Israel’s security and very right to exist. I strongly agree with both the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the United States that Iran can never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon.
The chairman of Americans for Peace Now, James Klutznick, emphasizes the Jewish people angle, in this declaration:
When a family member behaves self-destructively, what do you do? Do you become an apologist, an enabler, or do you call him out? Do you blame everyone else but him, or do you intervene? Do you sit back and just hope things will improve on their own, or do you take urgent action?
Israel is our family member. Most American Jews feel that way. My parents, Ethel and Philip Klutznick, instilled in their children a concern for and support of the young and emerging State of Israel. They first took my brothers and me there in 1959, when I was 16 years old. I remember meeting David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founder and first prime minister. I have always been proud of the Jewish state. But it must be said: Israel’s leaders are giving Israelis — and American Jews — less and less of which to be proud and increasingly more to be concerned about.
New York Times columnist Roger Cohen published a memoir in January that favorably quoted a Zionist credo: “We went from country to country and every place we went…. including the U.S. there was some next door neighbor who was going to call you a dirty Jew.” Cohen made a frank declaration of his Zionist views in The New York Times last year:
I am a Zionist because the story of my forebears convinces me that Jews needed the homeland voted into existence by United Nations Resolution 181 of 1947, calling for the establishment of two states — one Jewish, one Arab — in Mandate Palestine. I am a Zionist who believes in the words of Israel’s founding charter of 1948 declaring that the nascent state would be based “on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.”
Chair of the Democratic National Committee Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz cried on CNN, explaining to Jake Tapper that she supported the Iran deal and has a Jewish mother’s obligation to protect her homeland, Israel.
You know, I’m the first Jewish woman to represent Florida in Congress. I’m a Jewish mother. And I wrote an op-ed today that is in The Miami Herald, my home–one of my hometown papers that talked about my Jewish heart [tearing up] and how important this was to me that, as a Jewish mother, that we have a concept of l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation.
There’s nothing more important to me, as a Jew, to ensure that Israel’s existence is there throughout our generations. And I’m confident that the process I have gone through to reach this decision is one that will ensure that Israel will be there forever. It’s the homeland of my people.
NYT columnist David Brooks, “On my 12th visit to Israel,” 2009.
As an American Jew, I was taught to go all gooey-eyed at the thought of Israel…
My two cents: Zionism is in crisis because for all the idealism that so many Jews obviously felt about it, it has produced a settler colonial security state that is perpetually at odds with “terrorists” and dependent on a superpower. I am an anti-Zionist because the challenge of modern states is to guarantee safety to minorities, because the liberal model of inclusion is far more compelling than segregation or supremacist ideas, because the 20th century United States provided protection and success for Jews, and because you can’t have safety if you build a state on stolen lands.