Marking this Brexit-Trump moment, racism and xenophobia threaten anti-Semitism writ large. Fear evokes reactions that exceed thoughtful strategic analysis. Unsurprisingly in the mix, Zionism is conflated with Judaism. That criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism follows.
It is as if the world were again believed to be flat. It’s not, but extraordinary navigation tools are recommended to swim against this political undertow. One such resource is Zionism Unsettled: A Congregational Study Guide, (ZU) published in 2014 by IPMN, the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church. The Zionism Unsettled study guide stands alone as a resource for study groups, congregations and individuals. It is based on a longer book, Zionism and the Quest for Justice in the Holy Land, edited by Donald E. Wagner and Walter T. Davis, published in 2014 by Wipf & Stock.
Now seven decades into the Israel-Palestine conflict, a new lens is imperative. ZU focuses on political and religious Zionism. In so doing, it provides a framework that challenges dominant tropes in religion and politics, and thereby opens a space for a fresh accounting of history and theology. An unprecedented opportunity unfolds: To understand the logic of Zionism, both as the movement originally founded to combat anti-Semitism, and today, as the political ideology that undergirds nationalistic claims, policies of expansion, and exceptionalism.
Absent animus or vitriol, Zionism Unsettled exposes the toxic alchemy of theology and politics. By examining how the Bible can be used to liberate or oppress, ZU pushes beyond the comfort zone. It illuminates the power of emotions and dogma to shape beliefs, as it underscores the crucial role of information in deconstructing preconceived views.
As such, ZU is fundamentally a criticism of exceptionalism found in all three Abrahamic religions. Rabbi Brant Rosen makes the point, “[E]xceptionalism is not unique to Zionism; rather it is present wherever exceptionalist religious ideology is fused with political power.”
Zionism Unsettled may be unsettling. Yet still, its reading and study hold promise for simple, yet radical conversations across the political divide. Consider gifting Zionism Unsettled this holiday season to family, friends, and to members of your community with whom you want to have transformative conversations. Each chapter has corresponding short video episodes that groups can watch together and discuss.
This pivotal moment in history demands broad coalitions that advance the project of human emancipation – ones that offer fresh ground on which to stand together. The time is ripe for a new approach. The antidote to free fall is to step back, gather new information, and welcome the cognitive dissonance that comes with engaging realities and lived experiences that cross lines of race, class, religion, and politics. The result may well be a seismic shift in understanding – one that sparks intersectional organizing, and sows seeds for collective actions that champion universal values and human rights.
(Purchase Zionism Unsettled: A Congregational Study Guide through Amazon.com. A Kindle version is also available with volume discount through IPMN here. Sample pages are posted here: http://new.israelpalestinemissionnetwork.org/70-study-resources-/publications/256-zionism-unsettled)