By Rabbi Michael Holzman
I gave a sermon recently that many congregants asked me to post. I will not summarize the entire thing here except to post one of the essential issues it raised. The sermon was a response to what I call an Anti Zionism that I find dominates left wing intellectual discussion of Israel.
In this post I just want to define terms. Zionism is the movement seeking freedom and autonomy for the Jewish people in our ancestral homeland, Israel. History has shown us (especially, but not only) through the Holocaust, that Jewish freedom will only come behind Jewish military power and protection. So Zionism supports Jewish control of the Israeli land, law and defense. In my opinion, as a liberal Jew, Zionism also seeks the creation of a state based on the ethics and justice described in the Torah. I want to judge Israel by a higher standard, because it is my people it represents. But I don’t think it fair for anyone else to judge Israel by a higher standard. Just a fair standard.
Anti Zionism is a movement or ideology that believes that Jews have no claim for autonomy or freedom in the land of Israel (or call it Palestine or whatever you want). The Anti Zionists mostly argue that Jews of course are living there and should continue their lives there (even though that might be inconvenient), but that Israel should be a purely democratic state ruled by a majority of the people living between the Jordan and Mediterranean (including the Palestinian diaspora who will return and immediately make that land majority Arab). Thus Anti Zionists believe that if Jews remain in the land of Israel they ought to be ruled by the Arab majority.
My sermon a few weeks ago argued against the Anti Zionist position. I think this position is based on a naive idealism that believes universal principles of human rights should be the only standard against which a state is judged. According to that standard, there should be one-man, one-vote in the land of Israel/Palestine and the majority should rule. Also according to that standard, any use of force or power (See Gaza, 2009 War, or West Bank, Occupation) is unjust and should be abolished and punished. These are nice ideas. I do not like the subjugation of peoples. I do not like war. War is disgusting. On that I agree with Anti-Zionists. But–and here’s where the Anti Zionists are conspicuously silent–what are the implications of universal ethics on the State of Israel and the Jewish people?
The implications would be the disappearance of Jewish power. Arab rule would certainly mean persecution (or worse) of the Jews. I would love to know what Anti Zionists think about that. My question for them would be, What happens to the Jews the day after one-man, one-vote includes 6 million Palestinians and only 5.3 million Jews? To this question, I hear a deafening silence.
On the question of Occupation and War, my response is that these things are awful. I think the IDF went overboard in January 2009 with things like white phosphorus, but given the complexities of any war, and especially an urban war with an enemy who follows no rules of war, it’s pretty hard to criticize Israel. I think the settlements are a ridiculous land grab and/or a messianic fanatical project. They should be abandoned.
I think Israel’s power is corrupting the state. Not entirely yet, but we are not going in a good direction. Remember Zionism argues for freedom and an ethical state. We are slowly becoming a people who only argues for freedom at any cost. This leaves me deeply troubled. I am a Zionist, and as long as I care about the safety of my children and my people, I will be a Zionist. But these are not at all clear issues.