Furthering his ceaseless campaign to leave no Jewish victim of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy unexploited, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently proclaimed at a birthright “mega event” that “Israel is the only place you can proudly proclaim ‘I am a Jew.’” Clearly alluding to (if not outright hoping to exacerbate) the growing sense of insecurity that Jewish communities in France have reported over the past few years, Netanyahu has evidently assumed for himself the messianic role as the savior of world Jewry, enabling him to speak on behalf of those that would prefer no nationalist connection to the state of Israel or its professed monopoly of the Jewish patrimony. As an American Jew, I, likely similar to most non-Israeli Jews, reacted with scorn upon hearing Netanyahu’s exhortation that Jews will always feel ashamed of their identity outside of their “natural homeland.”
Save for a handful of fundamentalist states, Jews throughout the absolute majority of countries feel no of discomfort in proclaiming their identity either at home or abroad or engaging in its associated cultural practices through established institutions such as synagogues or Jewish day schools. On greater introspection, however, taking for granted the assertion that one can only be truly “proud to be a Jew” in the state of Israel ignores the underlying reality that Israel is actually the one place that any Jew with a social consciousness should feel more ashamed of his or her identity than any other country in the world. After all, in no other country besides Israel is Judaism the perennial justification for a decade’s long quest to suppress and uproot the culture and presence of millions of non-Jews. From this vantage point, the Charlie Hebdo massacre does not indicate that Jews can only find solace in the state of Israel, but rather that the land of Israel bears much of the responsibility for whatever antagonism that Jews around the world continue to face.
It goes without say that no Israeli leader or Zionist luminary possess the right to speak on behalf of world Jewry or dictate how individual Jews connect or relate to their country of origin. Conversely, it is equally apparent that few things have done more to jeopardize both the moral essence of Judaism and the loyalty of Jews to their natal states as the politicization of their religious identity and its transformation into a pseudo-ethnic race that prohibits millions of indigenous people from leading a dignified life. Indeed, only because of Israel can a Jew be menaced with the knowledge that his or her identity is the reason that over five million Palestinians continue to languish in refugee camps across the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. Only because of Israel does a Jew have to cope with the fact that over 20 percent of the country’s population is deprived of an equal chance to prosper, integrate into society, or celebrate their cultural attachment to the land because they were not privileged enough to be born to parents hailing from the “chosen people.” And of course, only because of Israel is the Holocaust, one of the greatest human catastrophes in history, cynically manipulated for the purpose of conjuring up fear and instilling the most racist, xenophobic sentiments into the state’s citizens.
As the birthplace of the Jewish religion and the location where its most important modern day features and symbols came into being, the land of Israel should absolutely be an area where Jews from around the world, as both visitors or permanent residents, can bask in their cultural and linguistic heritage in tandem with all other religions and peoples native to the region. Yet as long as Israel represents a form of domination over others in the name of Judaism, no Jew should be comfortable in or proud of his or her identity. Netanyahu’s unique blend of self-righteous chauvinism at once belies the true nature of Judaism in the Holy Land as well as creates a false impression that Jews outside the boundaries of the state of Israel must feel inferior to their Israeli counterparts and insecure among the gentiles that they have lived with for decades, if not longer. Rather than looking for ways to promote dialogue and mutual understanding during tragic episodes such as Charlie Hebdo, Netanyahu would prefer espousing the same type of retrenchment and jingoism that produces individuals bent on purifying their society of all detractors. The Jewish staple of tikun olam, or improving the world, may have been appropriated by the Zionist establishment and its various hasbara mouthpieces long ago, but for those Jews who were raised on the true ideal of bettering the world around us and returning to our roots, there is no pride in being Jewish in the state of Israel.