Struggles With Zionism
Ned Rosch discusses why it was difficult for him growing up to not side with the State of Israel in the realm of politics:
Named after a Holocaust victim, I grew up in a family where commitment to traditional Judaism was only exceeded by our reverence for Zionism, and where Israel was the remarkable manifestation of a 2000-year-old dream come true. Zionism was in the air, and Israel was a significant part of what it meant to be Jewish, for if the Holocaust broke our hearts, the creation of Israel was our redemption.
I thought I was being open-minded when I held to the conviction that there were two legitimate claims to the same land, and that was why it was so unsolvable. What was really unsolvable was the battle that raged in my heart. I had become a progressive on every issue, except one. I marched for civil rights, women’s rights, and an end to war. But when it came to Israel-Palestine, internally I was torn up. [The Government of] Israel had ethnically cleansed the indigenous population, but how could I turn my back on my people after the thousands of years of suffering Jews had endured?
My dual-narrative world began to unravel when a friend challenged me to see not two conflicting narratives, but one history of what actually happened. His challenge took me on one of the great journeys of my life – the struggle to fundamentally reconcile my politics around Israel-Palestine with my values.
I came to understand that my liberation as a Jew is intrinsically bound up with the liberation of Palestinians, and that the Jewish tradition of “justice, justice thou shall pursue” required me to stand with Palestinians in their struggle. In doing so, I was not only not turning my back on my people, I was upholding Judaism’s highest values, and reclaiming them for myself in a deeply meaningful way.
Rosch also discusses the relationship between anti-semitism in criticism of Israel:
It is imperative to understand that being critical of Israel is not tantamount to anti-semitism. If people are engaged in this struggle because they dislike Jews, they likely are anti-semites. If, however, they do this work because they believe in justice, that is hardly anti-semitic. It’s called having a conscience. What part of supporting an oppressed people is against Jewish teachings?
A Progressive Jewish lawyer whom I studied under in law school recently wrote an op-ed that conveyed the same sentiment:
As a Jew, I reject the notion that criticism of the Israeli government constitutes anti-Semitism. Such a view trivializes the history of anti-Semitism. The policies of the Israeli government — including illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and limitations on the academic freedom of Palestinian students and academics — are wrong. The Israeli government does not speak for me. Their polices do not reflect the lessons I’ve learned from my Jewish heritage or from the historical persecution and genocide to which Jews have been subjected. There are strands of Jewish identity that have long stood for peace and justice and that have seen commonalities among different groups faced with oppression. This is represented today by groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, of which I am a member, and by the many Jewish organizations and individuals in Israel who support Palestinian rights.
I think it’s important to highlight these perspectives because it helps shed light on the struggles many people have with Zionism as it relates to Jewish identity. Many people who dislike the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians nonetheless fervently believe in Israel’s right to exist. And since there are people in the world who would like to see Israel wiped off the map, it can be difficult to criticize Israel’s policies without feeling like one is necessarily threatening Israel’s existence.
Nonetheless, there must be room for legitimate criticisms of the Israeli Government, just as there must be room for a legitimate debate about whether those policies reflect Jewish values. Without these vital strains of dialogue, Israel will risk becoming further isolated from the international community, and less likely to embody the democratic values that its government purports to uphold.
h/t Jewish Voice For Peace