There is an important Zionist argument that Israel has made Jews around the world safer, by giving Jews a national identity, and esteem as agents not victims, which we did not have before. So that makes Israel vital to Jewish existence, and admirable too. Here are three recent statements of this argument.
The latest Jewish Insider reports American neoconservative godfather (and Trump backer) Paul Singer’s comments to the Jewish Funders Network in Jerusalem last night on why he gives money to pro-Israel causes. Israel is a hedge on Jewish existence everywhere.
My starting point is that Israel and the Diaspora need to strengthen one another. While we all hope that Jews will continue to thrive across the globe, this prayer does not guarantee the Jewish future. Israel is the only country in the world where Jews are the majority, and… the only context in which Jews experience political sovereignty. It’s the birthplace of our memories and the home of our destiny… I feel strongly that diaspora Jews need an economically and militarily strong Israel. The challenge for all Jews is to stay connected and committed. If we break our links with Israel and/or our Jewish traditions, diaspora Jews are at risk of walking down the path of complete assimilation, or worse. History has reminded us that Israel may be the only insurance policy all Jews, everywhere, can rely upon for the safety and continuity of Judaism…In the face of a global situation with risk at every level, Israel is both our once-in-a-millennium opportunity, and our great hedge. It is a beautiful and tiny country, composed of the human capital of not quite nine million people — but upon this beautiful and tiny place so many hopes for our people and our children depend.
Israeli author Daniel Gordis made a similar argument at AIPAC last week. He reflected on the transformation of Jews from the Holocaust to the 1967 war, and said that anti-Zionist Jews just don’t get that.
You go from this precipice of extinction, of utter passivity and victimhood, to 1967 and it shows the world, it shows the Kurds, it show others, and it shows the Palestinians as well– a people can be reconstituted by virtue of sovereignty. A people can actually be changed, it can think about itself differently… It doesn’t matter where you are on the political spectrum, it doesn’t matter where you are on the religious spectrum. It doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish or not Jewish… When you think of yourself as a Jew or you think of the Jewish people, you think of them differently because they are part of a sovereign nation, whether they visit there or not, whether they live there or not. Sovereignty has changed the existential condition of the Jewish people the world over. And part of the great irony of the Jews who are actually very suspect about whether Israel is a good idea or are so critical of Israel that Israel can do no right and so on and so forth is that they are very often too young and certainly not sufficiently sophisticated to understand how different was the way in which Jews thought of themselves and felt about themselves really not very long ago…. 1967 was the transformational period. This is a very, very new thing…
A young generation of American Jews and a young generation of progressives in many cases… think now you could nip the sovereignty in the bud and put a stop to it and the Jewish people would still be the Jewish people. But that of course is ridiculous. That’s just not going to happen. If God forbid for whatever reason, the Jewish state would not exist, the sense of forward thinking, the sense of ambition, the sense of pride, the sense of having been restored to the stage of the world as actors– all of that would disappear. The Jews would lose that, but so would other peoples around the world who look to us actually as a model of how quickly sovereignty can actually transform the faith of a nation.
A liberal Zionist says the same thing. A few weeks ago Roger Cohen said that if you put a gun to his head, he’d say Israel was worth the price the Palestinians had to pay for its establishment because it has made Jews around the world safer:
The Jews needed a homeland. History proves that. Assimilation never worked; the Holocaust was no more than a culmination. The United Nations, in 1947, backed such a homeland. And if I, as a Jew, have lived a privileged life in the diaspora, it is in part because of the pride and strength that the new Jew of Israel forged. “Never Again” became more than mere words through Israel’s might.
I like this debate. First, let it be noted that both Cohen and Gordis are addressing non- and anti-Zionist Jews. They see the writing on the wall.
But let’s say all these guys are right (and I was born yesterday). Well then: that historical period is over. The Jew is transformed; and the new Jew must now survey the landscape and take action. And the issue is: Can Jews sustain this fabulous self-esteem and reputation by practicing apartheid in the name of Advancing humanity? Absolutely not. The next stage is, imho, Democracy, and humility, and a renunciation of Jewish exceptionalism.
Put another way, Tony Klug said last year that Israel is placing all Jews in the world at risk and making Jewish life “precarious,” because the “infamy” of the neverending occupation is attaching itself to our reputation globally. Especially because one of the most objectively-privileged groups in the world today (never mind our outsider, persecuted history) must strive blindly to preserve Israel’s immunity from criticism by working the halls of Congress and the White House, thru the lobby.
Put another way, if you read the astonishing new autobiography of Reja-e Busailah, a victim of the Nakba who became a professor of English literature at Indiana State University, you are forced to confront the fact that Busailah and many other elite students at Jaffa high school (who had Gordis’s pride and ambition) all had to be ethnically cleansed in order for the Jewish state to be established. In Busailah’s heartending account, a brilliant young nerd who can quote Shakespeare and the great Arab poet al-Ma’arri equally is shot dead in the road by a Jewish soldier for not understanding the order to leave his town, and Busailah mourns that friend and that erased civilization to this day…. This book is out now, and demands our attention: Is this really what being Jewish means?
As for assimilation, what is being Jewish worth? Being a persecutor? (Among 18-34-year-olds, the intermarriage rate in California is 66 percent. Hmm.)