A few weeks ago, a friend of mine, an Israeli who came to the US in search of a better education, better lifestyle, and better opportunities for the family he hoped to build, sent me an article. Many of you have probably seen it. It’s called “This Place Called Hope”, by Daniel Gordis.
I had put off reading it for some time. It was long, it starts with a story about a doctor’s office – it just wasn’t appealing and I didn’t want to have to get into the whole Israel issue again. It’s so frustrating, and it’s a topic which regularly divides my closest friendships. But I was going through my email box, doing a bit of virtual Pesach cleaning, when I came across the article, and I read it. Like other writers, Gordis talks passionately about the shortcomings of Zionism. I found the following to be his most insightful thoughts:
A century ago (approximately), the early political Zionists believed that having a country would normalize the condition of the Jew in the world. The Jews were singled out, people like Herzl and Nordau (and many others) believed, because there was something un-natural about a people not having a home. Poles had Poland, the Italians had Italy. If the Jews had a country, then finally, the condition of the Jew (being everywhere but being at home no where) would change. And the world would eventually cease its relentless attention on this tiny fraction of the world’s population.
But that, of course, has not happened either. Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Darfur – all conflicts that have taken infinitely more lives than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – receive nowhere near the attention that Israel does. Thousands are raped and butchered in Darfur, and days go by with scarcely a mention in the world’s papers. There are 200,000 child soldiers in Sierra Leone alone, but who even knows about that? Yet one protester ignores IDF warnings to stay out of the way and accidentally gets crushed by a bulldozer, and the world goes ape.
Anyway, I responded to my friend who sent me the article, and at his urging I’m am publishing my response to him in full:
That was a good article, but I disagree with it about one major point.
Zionism is dying because it never had a purpose beyond surviving. After the Holocaust, what Jews wanted was the ability to fight back – to have a place they could run to, and a place they could fight back from. It didn’t matter what kind of Jew you were, every Jew was in Hitler’s cross-hairs, and every Jew needed a state where Jews could go.
That simple idea started to die in 1967, and by 1990, when Israel’s warplanes remained grounded as Iraqi Scud missiles struck the heartland, it was dead. Israel was not just a place where people who had nothing to lose could give up everything to fight for survival. It was a nation with people who wanted something better for their children than fear and a gun.
We don’t need to bring back Zionism. It’s a flawed ideology, in my opinion. For 2000 years, Jews were defined by Nation and God, but they were without land. Zionism sought to redefine Jews as Nation and Land, without God. But the conflicts we face today are all about God. If we are not a Chosen People, if we do not have some kind of religious claim to our land that is more important even than historical claims, then we have no good argument for settling in Israel and displacing the Arabs that lived there before we returned. We need to incorporate the traditional tripod of Jewish identity – Am, Eretz, V’Elohim: Nation, Land, and God.
We need an ideology that says: Israel is important because we are the bridge between East and West religiously, geographically, politically, and morally. We can be a path for communication, understanding, and reconciliation, or we can be the battlefield on which the two sides clash. So far, we’ve only managed the latter – isn’t time we try the former?