Let’s talk about Zionism

When one criticizes the actions of Israel, there are two responses one inevitably hears.  The first is that you are an anti-Semite.  The second is that you are an anti-Zionist.

The first, I won’t dignify with a response.  The second deserves one.  Any discussion of anti-Zionism follows must first grapple with a different question, that of what Zionism is.  It’s an important question that people have died over, and it deserves attention.  There are many strands within Zionism, which often seem to contradict one another.  Jabotinsky was a fascist.  Borokhov was a socialist. Rav Kook was a theocrat.  These don’t easily exist under the same title.  I would answer thus.  I believe that the existence of a Jewish home in the land we call Zion has ensured the future of the Jewish people.  I believe the Jewish people are entitle to a future.  Therefore, I am a Zionist.

Being a Zionist does not mean that I apologize for the state of Israel.  I won’t turn a blind eye to Israel’s wrongs; I certainly won’t glorify them.  I wish the past had happened differently.  I wish the Jews had never been driven from the land.  I wish they’d never been driven back.  I wish our return had been one of coexistence and respect with the local population.  I wish I could undo all the wrongs that have been done.  I wish I could could yell back in time and tell Ben Gurion he was doing it wrong.  But I can’t.

The truth is, I look at the world the Zionists were operating in, and they were right.  A Jewish state had to come into existence.  For the better part of a century Jews had been massacred.  Countries opened their doors to Jewish immigrants, only to shut them once Jews actually started immigrating.  Jews who survived Auschwitz went home and were promptly lynched.  States untouched by the war refused to accept the refugees.  A nation the world refused to make space for made space for itself.  They were right to pursue the creation of a Jewish state by any means necessary.

I look at the world the Palestinians were operating in, and they were right.  The Jewish people were suffering.  The inhabitants of Palestine were not at fault.  They were innocents, minding their own lives when the survivors of others’ persecutions washed up on their shores.  They were told to surrender half their land to other’s victims; they said no.  They were right to say no.  They refused to be the victims’ victims.  Defeated by their enemies and betrayed by their allies, they lost everything.

When I look at the history of the conflict, at Jews and Palestinians, accidental enemies, fighting for their survival, I am unqualified to pass judgement.  I would, metaphorically, describe the conflict as a starving person stealing someone else’s last slice of bread.  Is it right?  Is it wrong?  Can an American in northern California judge?  I’m not saying that judgements can’t be made.  There are specific actions that we have a responsibility to speak out for or against.  But the narratives as a whole are a different matter.

I love Israel.  But loving doesn’t mean unconditional support.  It doesn’t mean being dishonest with oneself.  It means speaking out for a tenable future.  It means fighting for a negotiated peace.  It means recognizing that the Palestinians are human beings entitled to human rights.  It means recognizing that Jews are human beings, imbued with human faults.  It means being willing to speak out, to reach out, for the sake of creating a sustainable future.

We can’t fix the past.  We can fix the future.  It requires both sides to reconsider their own narratives and to recognize that their heroes are often the other’s villains.  It means hard decisions about holy sites and refugee rights.  I won’t presume to dictate how peace will be made.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs to be ended by the Israelis and the Palestinians.  The last thing the region needs is outsiders carrying out their utopian plans.  But as a Zionist Jew and a Human Being who believes in a responsibility to protect human rights, I will insist that peace be made.  I know it’s distasteful to make peace with people you’ve been at war with for decades.  But if we don’t make peace with our enemies, who do we make it with?

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