The Conspiracy

The Jewish State

Jews have no homeland; they spread out among the nations and seek to control them through a vast underground conspiracy.

This was the central claim of Western ethnically-centered anti-Semitism; the point of Zionism, in the writings of Herzl and practical plans of Ben-Gurion and Begin, was to invalidate that claim by providing a nation-state for Jews everywhere, protecting them wherever they are and placing them on a level playing field with every other people the world over.

So it was: Israel acted as a haven in the late forties and early fifties for Jewish refugees from Scandanavia to Yemen and immigrants kept coming in the following decades; in 1976 the Jewish army of the Jewish state rescued Jewish hostages from a hijacked plane in Entebbe, Uganda. In the eighties and early nineties Operations Moses and Solomon brought thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel and a mass exodus of Jews from the former Soviet Union now makes up a significant percentage of Israeli society.

And the narrative continues: what makes Israel more than just one country among many is that it isn’t just a home for its citizens: Israel is my home because I am a Jew. A central tenet of the pro-Israel movement is that Jews should care about Israel not just because it’s a state that happens to have a lot of Jews but rather because all Jews can and should take some ownership of it. In other words, the movement posits that we must support Israel because it is our state.

I’m confused, then, when Jewish leaders or columnists admonish their American brethren for criticizing the policies of the Jewish state. These admonishers posit that American Jews have no place criticizing Israeli policy because they are American and not Israeli, and therefore cannot participate in Israeli discourse except when supporting the decisions of the Israeli government. Mitchell Bard wrote as much in a guest column five days ago in the Jerusalem Post, saying that “someone who is pro-Israel:”

Rejects the idea that it is okay to publicly criticize Israel just because Jews in Israel censure their government. America is not Israel; Israelis have a common narrative and shared experiences. Americans, even American Jews, do not have the same level of knowledge or experience with regard to Israel, so criticism is interpreted differently.

So because we are American, even though we are Jewish, we do not have the right to voice our opinions on the Jewish state if those opinions do not line up with Israeli government policy; Israeli citizens have that right but we don’t.

Bard is far from the first to make this claim, and if we as American Jews are to accept it then we’re in a tight spot: on the one hand, we must show allegiance to the Jewish state. On the other hand, though, we can’t take full part in the discourse of that state because we’re not technically citizens. It’s our state as long as we support it, but as soon as we criticize, we’re outsiders.

The pro-Israel establishment can’t have it both ways. If they’re going to demand the loyalty and support of worldwide Jewry, if they’re going to call themselves not just an Israeli state but a Jewish one, they need to accept Jewish criticism no matter where it originates. And if the critical Jew feels that he should voice his criticism publicly, so be it: it’s his state too.

I have no interest in returning to the Jewish homelessness of pre-Zionist times. I don’t want to live in a world where I am an eternal outsider. I have a home in Israel. It’s mine, and I’ll say what I want.

One Older Response to “The Jewish State”

  1. Joshua Einstein
    November 16, 2009 at 8:59 pm #

    The discourse in the American Jewish community is as this article was – infantile. As someone who is against the occupation/settlements, is not Israeli (baruch hashem), and was an Israel “activist” during the height of the 2nd intifada at a university in America that had the only chapter of the National Palestine Solidarity Movement to be kicked out because it was too radical I completely reject the fundamental premise of this article as well as other “left” wing attacks on the “pro-Israel establishement”. The establishment is not left or right, it represents a middle ground consensus view that has been very effective because of its inherent compromise and pluralist nature. As a campus activist during the 2nd intifada my leadership team and I ran an independent Israel group which included persons such as myself and people who in my opinion had wild dreams about holding on to greater Israel till the messiah. That did not stop me from founding the Israel group or anyone from joining. We understood that while we are all Jews and all have a homeland in Israel we weren’t in Israel and that it would be irresponsible to bring internal Jewish politics to a political sphere other than a Jewish one. The activists I knew from my own school and from around the country, left wingers and right wingers, all agree, kvetchy victimhood pieces such as these as well as J-street are wrong. It is wrong to bring our communities domestic politics to halls of congress and it is wrong to argue about the gag of the “pro-Israel establishment” boogeyman when in these fine web pages an article could have been written about an actual left wing cause like settlement expansion, some other aspect of the occupation, or any actual left wing cause. But I guess its just easier to write anarticle claiming vicitimhood than to actually write an article criticizing Israel for something.

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