The responsibility of non-Zionist Jews during the ‘year of Zionist anniversaries’

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As Palestinians prepared to observe Nakba day, the American Zionist Movement(AZM), the American component of the World Zionist Organization(WZO), in early May sent an announcement to its mailing list celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Biltmore Conference, launching the observance of what it calls a “Year of Zionist Anniversaries.”

“From May 2017 until May 2018 AZM will mark a series of important milestones in Zionism and help inform Jewish communities and the general public about the history, relevance and importance of Zionism and its connection to the independence and vibrant democracy of the State of Israel.”

AZM’s “Year of Zionist Anniversaries” includes the conquest/”reunification” of Jerusalem (50 years), First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland (120 years), Balfour Declaration (100 years), UN General Assembly Partition Resolution (70 years), and declaration/founding of the state of Israel (70 years).

Through this upcoming “Year of Zionist Anniversaries” AZM will conduct programs and events across the country about Zionism in partnership with its 25 constituent agencies and in cooperation with the broad spectrum of Jewish communal agencies.  There will be programs related to Zionism held with public officials, schools, synagogues, summer camps and with many community institutions and organizations.

They’re very proud. I understand that pride, having absorbed enough of that perspective. It makes a bulwark against feelings of vulnerability and ambiguity — for most of us, who are cultural mischlingen (what Nazis termed children of Jewish-gentile unions), living lives much as our countrymen rather than distinctively ”Jewish.”

In a 1940 essay, social psychologist Kurt Lewin may have hinted at the “royal road” out of uncertainty that Zionism may serve for Jews, and explained the tenacious grip of otherwise indifferent Jews to the concept of having “a country.”

For the modern Jew there exists an additional factor to increase his uncertainty. He is frequently uncertain about the way he belongs to the Jewish group, and to what degree. Especially since religion has become a less important social matter, it is rather difficult to describe positively the character of the Jewish group as a whole. A religious group with many atheists? A Jewish race with a great diversity of racial qualities among its members? A nation without a state or a territory of its own containing the majority of its people? A group combined by one culture and tradition but actually having in most respects the different values and ideals of the nations in which it lives? There are, I think, few chores more bewildering than that of determining positively the character of the Jewish group…. No wonder many Jews are uncertain about what it means to belong to the Jewish group…

I grew up in a US Jewish milieu where pride in Zionist achievement was not unknown (but not universal). It was only years later that I discovered that when one lost the Zionist sensibility, much data became visible that was not before — once Arabs were not the “enemy” of a self-evident right of Jewish sovereignty.

Ex-Zionist Baltimore Rabbi Morris S. Lazaron was scathing in his view of the Zionization of Judaism:

Every sacred feeling of the Jew, every instinct of humanity, every deep-rooted anxiety for family, every cherished memory became an instrument to be used for the promotion of the Zionist cause.

I thought of pride I had absorbed, of Zionist achievement, when I read Bil’in village Palestinian rights organizer Iyad Burnat’s bitter comment after a settler shot one youth to death, and injured a Palestinian journalist:

Jews of the world must take responsibility for the crimes of the occupation against the Palestinians. Because the crimes are carried out in the name of the Jews.

It is established in international law, that collective punishment shall not be exacted on a population for crimes they have not individually committed. The question, to me, is the different question of responsibility, which is what Burnat presents to Jews — and which is, writ large, the entire Zionist question.

AZM, “the federation of Zionist organizations in the United States,” tells us,

There will be programs related to Zionism held with public officials, schools, synagogues, summer camps and with many community institutions and organizations

— inviting us to share in Jewish achievements in Palestine. Does to take pride mean take responsibility as well?

In Iyad Burnat’s utterance of frustration,

Jews of the world

Addressed, I believe, to diasporic Jews who answer to the identity “Jew.” (Controversialist Gilad Atzmon proposes reacting to Jewish nationalism by dropping the identity.)

must take responsibility

Collectively, as a group? or individual Jews who hear him?

for the crimes of the occupation against the Palestinians.

Explicit acknowledgment of injuries inflicted on Palestinian Arabs, intrinsic to the Zionist program, rather than the fiction of an inexplicable inability of Jews and Arabs to “get along.”

Because the crimes are carried out in the name of the Jews.

The central objection of British cabinet secretary Edwin Samuel Montagu to the Balfour “Jewish Homeland” declaration of 1917 was that it would lead to the idea that he, a citizen of the United Kingdom, was represented by another nation. A corollary of that hazard was the liability of being held responsible for actions of that nation.

Jewish American activists (some who had been part of the Arab-Jewish Sumud Freedom Camp in the occupied West Bank) held a sit-in May 24, at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate to block an annual triumphalist Zionist “March of the Flags” through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.

Jews resisting Jewish supremacy can put the lie to the idea that oppressing Palestinians is a Jewish interest; with their bodies, make the statement that Israel’s 70-year war on Arabs is not their war.

The nature of their violent removal by police may indicate that Peter Beinart’s 2014 call for American Jews to engage in a Freedom Summer protest in Israel was prescient. To challenge an oppressive system, even symbolically, provokes more than symbolic resistance.

“It’s time for American Jews who support Israel but oppose the occupation to commit to large-scale, direct action of our own,” Beinart wrote, in an article written from the standpoint of a Zionist who sees the two-state solution as the only solution to Israel’s predicament.

To a non-nationalist Jew, the heart of the predicament is the efforts to shape reality in Palestine around the idea of a Jewish nation-state.

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To a non-nationalist Jew, the heart of the predicament is the efforts to shape reality in Palestine around the idea of a Jewish nation-state.

regardless if one is a zionist, a non zionist, a jew, a non jew, a nationalist, a non nationalist etc etc — anyway you look at it — the heart of the predicament is the efforts to shape reality in Palestine around the idea of a Jewish nation-state.

Nothing would satisfy Israeli leaders more than an outbreak of lethal antisemitism in the West, particularly in the U.S. with its 5.3 million mostly Ashkenazi Jews. Should such happen expect Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to say something like “Jews of the diaspora come home to Israel, the only nation where your safety is guaranteed.” More or less what he said after that January 2015 terrorist attack on a kosher restaurant in Paris. And he could… Read more »

I think Zionism (let’s define it here as “the idea or belief that European Jews, long persecuted by European Christians, should have a homeland of their own”) makes sense in the context of the holocaust, or in the context of suffering European Jewry throughout the ages. As such, after the Holocaust Jews should have been given a slice of some European country as their own. This business of mixing religion and the state is deadly… Read more »

I agree that non-/anti-Zionist Jews should take some responsibility for Zionist crimes. However, this statement is liable to be misunderstood, so we should take care to clarify what we mean and what we do not mean by it. It does not mean acceptance of collective guilt as Jews for Zionist crimes or the sort of collective responsibility that arises from collective guilt. Guilt is to be judged on an individual not on a collective basis.… Read more »

Nice one! How about they pay compensation from 1948 ( Billion $ per year) go back to 1948 lands but let them build a New Temple on the mount and then all of Jerusalem be under UN control for 20 years.. Worth a thought