Culture, Identity, Israel, Justice

Agree or disagree: the Jewish state gives my values headaches

Jewschool is co-sponsoring Love, Hate and the Jewish State 3: What’s Jewish about a Jewish state? on Thursday, June 24 at 7 pm at the JCC in Manhattan, along with 14 other Jewish social justice, spiritual and online communities.
The premise behind the Love/Hate series is that social justice and Israel feel awkward together. They just mix poorly. And the Jewish establishment is breathing down our necks trying to get young people to check their liberalism at the door instead of their loyalties to Israel. So this event represents a coalition of emerging Jewish communities who want an open space to discuss the most difficult issues.
As a taste of what NIF and Makom have been cooking up, here’s a question from the interactive part of the evening. Agree or disagree with each of these statements:

  • Anybody should be able to become an American citizen.
  • Anybody should be able to become an Israeli citizen.

Whoa, the guilt-and-fear-o-meter just spiked. Yeah, I feel anybody should be able to be an American. Even illegal immigrants should have a chance to legally join our multi-cultural melting pot. The more diversity the better! But in Israel — ooh, er, um, not so fast. I know what the “correct” answer to that statement is. And I know what my answer to that statement is. If they’re not the same, then I’m begging for the Jewish establishment to disown me. 
But let’s ignore the ugly establishment voices for a sec and have an open conversation. I value a multiplicity of ethnic peoples and desire success for minorities in every country. I come to this value because my people are wanderers. I want Israel to be for other refugees what pithy few other countries did for my people: offered them asylum in their time of need. Israel should accept Darfurian refugees. But how many? Israel is already 20% non-Jewish…what if it becomes 30%, 40%…51% non-Jewish? How do I feel about that?
Let’s try another.

  • It is more important to donate to non-Jewish communities locally than non-Jewish communities in Israel.

Hoo boy. To wit: I view Jews as a pretty wealthy bunch. Sure, there’s some Jewish poor, but I absolutely don’t see why I should give money to specifically Jewish poor and restrict my monies from helping the poor of all races and creeds. This is why I don’t donate to the Federation (among many reasons).
But when it comes to Israel…I am torn. Israel is not my country. America is. Israel is not my community. It’s their own community. In fact, I care that Israel is not the charity state it has been for its first 60 years. Yet I care that Israel specifically, a country ruled by Jews, is just and equal. I felt personally shamed when its income inequality reached the highest in the Western world. But giving money there feels like caring only about Jews, even if I’m giving to help non-Jews. How do I reconcile my care for my community here and my expectations for what it’s like over there?
Not easy questions. Incredibly thorny, difficult, scary questions that ultimately highlight my own blind spots and little hypocricies. But I need to talk about it — and the mainstream certainly isn’t the place for it. This is why emergent communities like Jewschool, Pursue, and others are co-sponsoring this interactive exploration and dialogue. Come for dialogue, stay for the drinks.
Full list of co-sponsors and registration here:

6 thoughts on “Agree or disagree: the Jewish state gives my values headaches

  1. You’re creating difficult moral dilemmas where there are none. Everyone should have citizenship to everywhere in a global society (ideally), nationalism is at best an outdated concept. But Zionism does not require a Jewish majority state anyway, so the demographics are a moot point as long as Jews have a homeland in which they have full rights and guaranteed citizenship (which does not necessitate that Jews be a majority. Read Jabotinsky. No, read it again, without the Kachnik filter.)
    And you should give charity to the needy whenever you find the opportunity and have the means to do so, and give no thought to their religion or ethinicity. If you give to legit Jewish charities, chances are they will also end up benefiting non-Jews (if not directly). And vice versa.

  2. Zionism does not require a Jewish majority state anyway
    I wonder how many people (Israelis or non-Israeli Jews) would agree with this statement.

  3. Shmuel, that’s very interesting and I don’t necessarily disagree with that rosy worldview. But you can see why saying that in a room full of Holocaust survivors isn’t going to win you any points. I think it’s interesting that you’ve figured out answers that would ostracize you from the majority of the Jewish community.
    The next questions to me are obvious: How do you feel about that? How do you feel when the mainstream says that those who can’t support a Jewish majority state are bad Jews? How do you stay connected to an Israel that doesn’t share you values? Ultimately, why bother?
    I don’t invent any moral conundrums, they exist for us.

  4. I’d love to know that as well, miri. Perhaps some Jewschool reader who does that kind of polling will out on a future survey. A lot of Jews aren’t very well versed in Zionist philosophy, however. I would venture to guess that a lot may know a few Herzl quotes, and some Israeli political history, but not much of the different philosophies that shaped the Zionist movement and later the State of Israel.

  5. “But you can see why saying that in a room full of Holocaust survivors isn’t going to win you any points.” Depends who the particular survivors are.
    “How do you feel when the mainstream says that those who can’t support a Jewish majority state are bad Jews?” It worries me, because I think such a narrow framing of Zionist thought ends up undermining the Zionist goal. I also think it could end up distancing a lot of Jews from the mainstream institutions, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except that right now there aren’t many alternatives, save for a few exceptions.
    “How do you stay connected to an Israel that doesn’t share you values?” Well, the connection to Israel, as a Jew, I think you’ll find, if you talk to enough people from across the world, is involuntary and unavoidable. A lot of non-Jews I meet will see a kippah and assume I’m from Israel. Others a little more savvy will assume I support the Occupation. I have to be vocal in order for them to believe otherwise. There are some Israelis who share the values of global citizenship and egalitarianism. Certainly, there are. Most may not, sure, but Jews should never care too much about what the majority opinion is. But my involuntary connection with Israel, and yours too, stems from the fact that Israel claims to represent the Jewish people.
    “Ultimately, why bother?” Because I am responsible for this world by virtue of having been born in it.

  6. Shmuel, are you sure it’s everyone else who has a misguided understanding of Zionism? What do you think the Zionist movement was meant to achieve? Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionism denied Jews self-determination?! Talk about revisionist Revisionist Zionism!
    Jabotinsky was rebuffed by the “practical Zionists” like Ben Gurion for demanding the creation of a Jewish state. The Zionist Executive in 1935 rejected his program of stating that the end goal of Zionism is a Jewish state.
    I don’t know what filters you removed or added, but your understanding of Zionism appears to be radically different from that of Jabotinsky. The Irgun and Lehi are the political heirs of Jabotinsky. You’re off in the clouds on this.
    It follows that self-determination, expressed in a democratic system, translates into a Jewish-majority nation. Outside a democratic system, self-determination for a Jewish minority translates into a Jewish kingdom, for example.

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