By Dan Lieberman
Close identification of the Jewish people with Israel was never a given. Repetitive urgings by those who had an interest in promoting a close relationship of world Jewry with Israel, and the innocence of those who readily accepted the notification permitted a vocal part of world Jewry into supporting Israel. By accepting the unwarranted association and making it seem that the Jewish people have the power to change Israel’s policies, activists misdirect the path to a peaceful solution of the Middle East crisis, exacerbate the crisis and, by linking Israel’s oppressive policies with the Jews, harm the security of Jewish persons throughout the world. One of many reports tells the story:
“British Jews are facing a wave of anti-Semitic attacks prompted by Israel’s conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Synagogues have been daubed with graffiti, Jewish leaders have had hate-mail and ordinary people have been subjected to insults and vandalism.” (The Times of London; September 2, 2006)
History contradicts the portrayal of Zionism as a mass movement by the Jewish people. The Zionist message prompted nations to question the loyalty of their Jewish citizens, served to impede their advances, and reinforced a race-baiting theory that Jews engaged in international conspiracies. Anti-Zionist Rabbis insisted: “Zion exists everywhere but in Zion.”
The British Mandate for Palestine revived the Zionist mission. Horrific oppression of Jews during World War II moved world Jewry to support the establishment of an Israeli nation. However, it wasn’t until Israel’s 1967 battleground victory that a new generation of Jews eagerly identified themselves with Israel – chauvinism and false pride steered their actions, intensive propaganda and clever networks reinforced their attachment.
The term ‘Jewish nation’ has never been adequately defined nor has the debate of “Who is a Jew?” been resolved. According to The Economist (Jan.11, 2007), “Only 17% of American Jews regard themselves as pro-Zionist and only 57% say that ‘caring about Israel is a very important part of being Jewish.’” Regard the totality of Israel and the nation doesn’t add up to be a nation of specifically recognized definitions of Jewish morality, culture or atmosphere. Just the opposite – the bundle of contradictions demonstrate there are no specific definitions. Many foods, architectural styles, music, dances and landscapes in Israel relate to the Arab Mediterranean. Twenty percent of Israel’s population are Arabs and a portion of the citizenry, such as the Ethiopian Falasha and many of the Russian immigrants, have dubious relation to world Jewry. Many of the oriental (Mizrahiyim) immigrants to Israel, who constitute a great part of Israel’s population, can be considered Arab – having previously spoken Arab, adopted Arab customs and culture and lived for generations in Arab lands.
"I am an Arab Jew. Or, more specifically, an Iraqi Israeli woman living, writing and teaching in the U.S. When my grandmother first encountered Israeli society in the ’50s, she was convinced that the people who looked, spoke and ate so differently–the European Jews–were actually European Christians. Jewishness for her generation was inextricably associated with Middle Easterness.” (Reflections by an Arab Jew, Ella Habiba Shohat)
Israel wants to convince the world that it represents world Jewry, but has actually molded its Jews into a new type of Jew, an Israeli Jew. The artificiality lessens the relation of Israel’s Jews to world Jewry and decreases their attachments to specific forms of Judaism. Maimonides, the great Jewish philosopher of the 12th century, cringes in his grave as the Jews from North Africa and the Middle East halt their path in history and permit their heritage to fade from memory. With Yiddish and Ladino becoming lost dialects, the Jews are now divided between the western, or Ashkenazi Jews, and the Eastern, or Israeli Jews. Two Jewish worlds exist that have little relation to one another from the immediate past, no close objectives in the present and no foreseeable common identification in the future.
Israel cleverly tries to use worldwide Jewry to promote its policies. Critics err by publicly pressuring Jewish communities to rally against Israel’s oppressive policies. Pressuring in private has benefits, but public demonstrations promote the concept that world Jewry is indirectly responsible for the oppression. The approach is counter-productive because it reinforces the belief of a close attachment of all Jews with Israel, arouses anti-Jewish sentiments and forces Jews to seek assistance from Israel. It is also cowardly because it transfers the responsibility to directly attack the institutions and persons supporting Israel’s policies from the critics to Jewish persons. It’s almost as if these detractors fear a backlash from Jewish institutions, tread softly when criticizing Israel and solicit others to perform their tasks. Making others seem powerful reinforces their power.
AIPAC represents Israel and not Jewish interests. Why isn’t there a strong movement of concerned American citizens to register AIPAC as an Israeli agent? Why turn to citizens of Jewish religion to perform the task? Although several Jewish organizations depend upon an association with Israel for their existence and many Jews in universities, businesses and daily life profit from support and attachment to Israel, these organizations and persons act independently. They have no charter to represent world Jewry. Israel’s detractors should focus their challenges on these organizations and persons, on the U.S government, the U.S, voters and a Religious Right for whom few Jews have sympathy.
It is inconceivable to believe that Jewish people will support a state that lacks a Constitution, contains laws comparable to Nazi Germany’s Nuremberg Laws, discriminates severely against its non-Jewish citizens, separates citizenship from nationality, behaves as a money launderer for irregular financial transactions, and has brought the Palestinian people to desperation. It is obvious that Israel’s constant killing, wounding, arresting and creating mayhem among the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are intended to provoke the Palestinians into reprisals, which are then followed by more intensive attacks against the Palestinians. Who wants to be identified with the horrific Israeli attack during Christmas on Gaza? Who wants to be associated with a nation that destroys before compromise and is willing to compromise the Jewish people in pursuit of its own interests?
Can Israel represent the Jewish people? Even if that was possible or desirable, it’s doubtful this Israel will ever perform that function.
“Israel was not a people because it dwelt in a particular country, but because it lived in the presence of its God.” (Karen Armstrong: The Bible – A Biography)
– Dan Lieberman is editor of Alternative Insight, a monthly web based newsletter.
Dan’s many articles on the Middle East conflicts have circulated on websites and media throughout the world. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.