Anti-Zionists Thrive in Israel, Why Not in the U.S.?

Source: The New York Times

By Lisa Goldman

A contributing editor and co-founder of +972 Magazine, a Tel Aviv-based digital magazine. 

UPDATED APRIL 4, 2016, 3:20 AM

Zionism is a political ideology. It is not a religion. But for Jewish-Americans, more so than ever for Jews in Israel, Zionism is a crucial element of their identity. The most important element is neither God nor religion but the Holocaust, with its heavy legacy of trans-generational trauma. The lesson of the genocide, many believe, is that Jews need a safe haven. A state of one’s own.

When Jews conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, they are stifling legitimate political expression.

In America, even regular participants in synagogue life can profess atheism or strongly criticize Israel’s policies. But openly identifying as a non-Zionist is anathema to Jewish communal life. It is acceptable to doubt God’s existence; but it is not acceptable to question Israel’s right to exist as a state for the Jews.

And yet in Israel, despite an undeniable shift to the right in mainstream political attitudes over the last decade or so, there are secular, native-born Israeli Jews who do not believe in Zionism as a political ideology, or in the idea of a state that is defined as a home for the Jews rather than as a place that treats all citizens equally. Some of those non-Zionist Jews sit in the Knesset — like Dov Khenin, who is a member of the Arab-Jewish socialist Hadash party.

Even before its establishment as a state, the place now called Israel was home to Jews who did not subscribe to Zionism. During the 1960s and 1970s a group of Israeli Jews broke away from the communist party and formed Matzpen (Compass), an activist political group that defined itself as anti Zionist. In the early 1970s the Black Panthers, comprised of Mizrahi Jews who protested institutionalized discrimination at the hands of the Ashkenazi elite, emphasized their sense of connection with the Arab world. One of their members later sat in the Knesset as a member of the Hadash party.

In the state of Israel, by definition, one can be a Jewish non-Zionist, tax-paying citizen who is active in civic life.

When Jews conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, they are stifling legitimate political expression. If a Jewish native-born Israeli can be an anti-Zionist, then surely it is not up to American Jews to decide whether or not criticism of Israeli policy is legitimate.

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