The Jewish Federations are the leading communal body in Jewish life in the US. Last month it released this report, “Israel: Jewish and democratic,” which aims to counter “the concerted assault on Israel’s legitimacy” and on the “moral and legal right of the Jewish people to national self-determination in its historic homeland” from anti-Zionists.
The report is by two people who don’t choose to live in Israel: Gil Troy, professor of History at McGill in Canada, and Martin Raffel, an executive at the Jewish Center for Public Affairs.
The report begins by explaining that Jews are a “people,” both a religious and a national group. Then here’s an excerpt from pp. 3-4, explaining Zionist ideals for that people:
Zionism, quite simply, is Jewish nationalism, or, more elaborately, the Jewish movement of national liberation,
first to build and now perfect a Jewish democratic state in the Jewish people’s ancestral homeland….
[I]n his visionary 1896 book “The Jewish State,” [Theodor] Herzl dreamed of the Jewish state as a liberal model for the world. “We shall live at last as free people on our own soil, and in our own homes peacefully die,” Herzl wrote. “The world will be liberated by our freedom, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all humanity.”
In this passage, Herzl articulated the essential Zionist message that still holds true, and that echoes in the liberal nationalism of most Western nation states — that only through self-determination can utopian ideals be achieved, that a community first must unite and protect itself before it can become a force for good.
Nationalism posits that the community is the best structure through which to implement high ideals — sometimes out of broad conviction, sometimes out of sad necessity. There is, of course, a rich, ongoing debate about how to balance universalism and particularism. But it is very odd that often the same anti-Zionist forces that go out of their way to celebrate Palestinian nationalism insist on negating Zionism. Mutual respect for each people’s collective sense of self is a better approach.
This is obviously a strongly-nationalist tract. But is it true that a “community first must unite and protect itself before it can become a force for good”? The ADL was formed 100 years ago after the Leo Frank case in Georgia, to combat anti-Semitism. It didn’t need a Jewish state to do that. Was American Jewish participation in the civil rights movement or the antiwar movement predicated on our community “having” a state in our name 5000 miles away? Kurds don’t have a state. Does that mean they can’t do good?
Update: This piece originally stated that the report came out in August. It was evidently turned in then, published in September.