Over the past few weeks, the increasing bipolarity of Jewish attitudes towards Israel has become very clear. Be it through the controversy about who can march in the Israel Day Parade or other headlines, it is obvious that a great shift has taken place. No longer is there one voice of the Jewish position on Israel.
One the one hand, we see growing groups of liberal Jews and Satmar Hassidic Jews taking a tough stance against Israel in ways that have not been taken before; on the other hand we’ve seen a growing number of Jews supporting Israel in ways they have not done before. Simple examples of this support are the 35,000 odd numbers of Jews at the Israel Day Parade and the attendance of a record 14,000 people at the AIPAC annual Washington D.C. conference- both unprecedented.The reason for this disparity is the emergence of existential Zionism.
As the State of Israel faces ongoing attacks in the global scene with its legitimacy and right to exist being increasingly questioned, being a Zionist is not a move that wins its holder much popularity. This is partly because those who attack the State of Israel brand their attacks as anti-Zionist rather than anti-Semitic – a move that helps gain legitimacy and mitigate criticism. Another accomplishment of this branding is that it persuades some Jews to dissociate from their own Zionism. After all, if critics are just out to criticize Israel and not Jews, why get in their way? Why identify as a Zionist when one can easily avoid criticism by identifying as Jewish rather than as Zionist?
Some who identified as Zionists when Zionism was in style and politically correct, are now dropping that affiliation as it has lost its charm in many liberal circles. This seems like a simple choice one should be easily entitled to. After all, Zionism is merely a political aspiration and at most a nationalistic movement, so any Jew should be easily entitled to opt out of this option. After all, how can one expect a unanimous opinion on a political matter. This has been the approach and selling point of J Street, which has questioned the Jewish community’s homogeneous approach to the State of Israel. But this is a wrong, dangerous, and historically mistaken approach.
While Jews have always supported freedom of conscious and diversity of opinions, and while we can debate the topic of Zionism all we want, our adversaries have already defined it for us.
Hard data, scholarly work, and political analysis have clearly shown that anti-Semitism and hatred of Jews are being rebranded and marketed as anti-Zionism. Those who try to harm and intimidate Jews do so usually in the form of anti-Zionism not anti-Semitism. Furthermore, for whatever reason, political or not, those who wish ill upon the Jews living in Israel wish to harm those Jews whether they are Zionists or not. A brief look at the history of the past two decades show that suicide bombers, rockets, and other acts of murderous terror do not distinguish between the population of Meah Shearim, Yitzhar, or North Tel Aviv.
The enemies of Israel seek to kill any Jew living between the Jordan and the Mediterranean and beyond.
This is the de facto basis for Existential Zionism – a commitment to the mutual well being of the Jewish people, not a political entity nor a religious value system. It is the moral and historical call to support the existential continuity of our brothers and sisters. This is why those who “get it” have come to support Israel so strongly from such and vast and broad backgrounds in such an unconditional way, and this is why those who don’t get it cannot understand why undermining this support hits such a raw nerve in the Jewish community.
Rabbi Moses Sherer, illustrious Chairman of the Agudath Israel of America, was once asked the following question by an American Congressman. “I know that the religious-Zionists believe that the state of Israel is a fulfillment of messianic prophecies and I also know that the Satmar Chassidim believe the state of Israel is a violation of Jewish doctrine. Where does the Agudath Israel of America stand on this question?” Rabbi Sherer went on to answer “the truth is, we do not know, but if we have to choose between standing with our people or with the enemies of our people, we will surely stand with our people.” This is the essence and raison d’être of existential Zionism and this is why it enjoys such great support from such vast, broad, and diverse groups of Jews and non-Jews as well.
Understanding why many Jews and non-Jews feel so strongly about Israel is essential to understanding why the usual rules that apply to a pluralistic debate should not apply to this one. Pluralism and broad discussions are powerful and essential tools that serve and enhance democracy; but pluralism at the cost of others’ lives and pluralism that serves primitive and baseless hatred is naive and wrong. It is our responsibility to empower and protect Israel – one of the greatest champions of democracy – so that genuine pluralism and true democracy can safely endure.
Published in the Algemeiner June 12, 2014