Are Zionists Misleading Jews?

First and foremost, in this most auspicious time, I would like to offer my sincere apologies to anyone I may have offended at the past music festival. (not to be confused with Al-Jazeera TV) today ran an op-ed piece entitled “Zionists are Misleading Jews!”. The “Dear Sheikha…” column from Sheikha Sajida begins with the letter from “Peacemaker”, decrying the “Money hungry Clergymen” who “took over the leadership of the religions and distorted them into National Identity instead of a Spiritual Road Map to [G-d].”
The letter concludes:

The Zionists have misled Jewish people and are continuously trying to deceive the world that those who are against Israel are anti Jews and not anti Zionists. I believe that using the term Jewish State instead Of Zionist State would help them deceive the world.

Now, ignoring the Sheikha’s reply with such vignettes as:

Zionism refers originally to a group of people called Khazars from southern Russia who adopted Judaism in the 7th century.

Is such a semantic shift a good thing? Is calling Israel a “Jewish state” in the media something which should be moved towards or away from? Indeed, as the Sheikha says:

I promise to forward your suggestion about using the term Zionist State instead of the Jewish State to Al Jazeera Magazine’s Editor in CHief.(sic)

But the article continues:

But in my view, the word Jewish State is a wise choice specially amidst today’s biased reporting of events by most of the news agencies.
The “Jewish State” refers to the government that unfortunately represents the entire Jews of Israel whether they support Zionism or not. Calling it a Zionist State would be unfair to those Jews who do not believe in and wish not to be linked to Zionism.

Which description of Israel is more accurate? Some charedi Jews feel there is an atmosphere of “open and hidden discrimination” against them, with the Israeli government centered firmly in a secular agenda. Many religious institutions are supported largely from abroad.
On the other hand, many Zionists feel betrayed by a government which is not opposed to pullbacks and realignments and disengagements.
Surely, one could not even suggest that the significance of the Star of David, the Menorah or the Lion of Judah began when people like Ben-Gurion and Herzl had them placed on buildings. And, of course, the significance of Jerusalem, of Israel, long predates any UN declarations or armistices.
So what is Israel, the Jewish State? Or the Zionist state? The two have drastically different connotations — one connects today’s memshalah, at least in name, to the Kingdoms of David and Solomon, the other makes today’s Israel a brainchild of largely European movements for Jewish sovereignty.
What does the Israel of 5767/2007 see itself as? From where does the pride of the Israeli in 2007 derive?
Or perhaps a better question: are these as easily separated in the minds and hearts of Israelis as they are on the papers of Western (and Eastern) pundits?

18 thoughts on “Are Zionists Misleading Jews?

  1. is a sketchy site that has no relation to, the website associated with the al-Jazeera TV network from Qatar.
    incidentally, Khaled Amayreh, the prolific West Bank correspondent for is complaining that the network is becoming more conservative, sympathetic to Israel, and censoring his reporting:

  2. I think Israel is “a Jewish state” not “the Jewish state.” It’s a state in which a population of Jews (i.e. tthe Jews who live in Israel) are able exercise sovereignty (in tandem with their non-Jewish fellow citizens). The distinction between “a” and “the” is a meaningful one, because it means that those of us in the Diaspora don’t owe our allegiances to the State of Israel, and its actions are its own, not ours. It is not a part of our identities. And I say this as someone who is strongly pro-Israel. But I support Israel not because it’s a part of my identity, not because it’s “the Jewish state,” but because I think that, on balance, given the facts, justice is on its side. And I also recognize that as home to the world’s largest Jewish population what happens in Israel is of great import to the Jewish people as a whole. And as a Jew, of course, I have an interest in making sure my fellow Jews in Israel are able to live in safety and being treated fairly in the court of world opinion.

  3. Also, the “Jewish” in “Jewish state” doesn’t mean based upon Judaism. “Jews” are not “people who practice Judaism.” “Judaism” is the “religion/religious traditions of the Jewish people.” And so while Judaism may play a role in the state, secular Israeli Jews have just as much of a stake in determining what a “jewish state” is as do their religious counterparts.

  4. I don’t like the term “the Jewish state,” simply because it implies a racial or religious influence on everything that Israel does or has done. I rarely hear the term “the Jewish state” in the Western press, but I pick up on it in Arabic press. I also thinks that this term opens the door up to anti-Semitism–for example, when Israel does something wrong or offensive to others, the simple fact that it is referred to as “the Jewish state” will make it easier for people, as wrong as it is, to direct their ire at the “Jewish” rather than the “state” part.
    Here is a more important question, I think: is it appropriate for Israel to be referred to as a “Jewish state,” when at least 20% of its population is non-Jewish by religion or ethnicity? Is this not akin to referring to America as “the White state,” thus marginalizing by default a large minority?

  5. Israel- long before the word state existed, was the grounding on which our peoples process grew. Eretz… It’s a land that reflects our actions, our only land we call homeland… When we here once before it was a prophetic kingship, in our current conflicted manifesting, we find a nation-state in the modern sense of the word. For one to lose their human spiritual connection to a homeland, like for a Native American to give up on their inheritance because they don’t like George Bush, is a disconnnect, and perhaps a victory for Brother Other Side…
    Yerushalayim is a project… a dream, and one that is a reality.
    Walking back from the kotel, watching Jewish teens from all over the world have their motzei shabbat kicks, watching the new mall be built by the really expensive apartment buildings just outside the gates of the old city, where once real sacrifices were brought- and nations upon nations sent emissaries of peace. or sometimes war…
    It is often mentioned, the talmuds teaching that The Creator Desires a dwelling in the Tachtonim, the lowest places..
    Well friends, I’d reckon that nationalism is the lowest of places we’ve seen in our little human existence… And thats where we Jews are right now, trying to work, consciously or not at building that human society which will be a vessel for growth and humbleness before the Creator and harmony with the nations…
    I think Israel remains in whatever box we put it. I can have my dreamy religious world peace redemption vision, and someone can have their Zionist entity, and someone can have like Daniel above…
    But when a Jew comes to want to connect with the Creator, and the Creation, in a way that is as deep as deep can be— Paris, will never be Jerusalem, and Four Corners will never be the Negev,,, simply because my ancient ancestors didn’t ever walk there, and my language didn’t flow out of those winds….
    To pick a pomegranite off a tree, or grapes off a vine in the middle of Jerusalem at 1 in the morning, and sing a blessing of thanks to the Creator, with infinite words that my ancestors have shared…
    well it’s special, and it definitely transcends (maybe avoids) the question of Jewish or Zionist… But as the last line of the piece hints…papers of pundits and analyses of the ivory tower experts rarely have a clue as to what the salt of the earth TASTES like…
    I don’t mean at all to belittle the debate.. the questions this summer and these last few years pose for what is our Israel are critical questions… absolutely the ones to be struggling with.
    THey should be questioned from the heart, for ISrael and Jerusalem are not exclusively places of the mind
    Ask the millions of jewish refugees that have poured into this land… Russians, French, Argentinians, Ethiopians, go back a few years and find Iranians, Morrocans…. Did they leave because they’re Zionist? ask the great great grandparents who walked from Poland, or the soles of Yemenites who walked home 100 years ago… TO let your relationship to Israel be dominated by political entities and discourse, is, in the words of Reb shlomo Carlbach… mamash the outside of the outside…
    Israel offers a unique chance for ones Judaism to be an organic process… I’ve yet to hear an example of a rebuttal to that… please invite me for shabbat there— to a place where kashrut doesn’t keep me from my friends or neighbors, where shabbat and holidays are what’s going on Friday night… and it’s not some studgy suburban ghetto but everyday people…
    i guess that goes back to Herzls dream- though now a bit refined.. NOt where every street sweeper, prostitute and banker are a Jew— but where the people saying shabbat shalom to you are those everyday people—
    apologies for offenses.. appreciation to sharers…

  6. ” I rarely hear the term “the Jewish state” in the Western press,”
    I just googled the phrase, it’s in reuters, Ynet, Boston globe, LA Times, New York Sun, London Times, JPost, Haaretz, etc.

  7. the question of haredi discrimination is interesting. Secular Israelis tend to think of Chardeim as way priviledged, just like working class and wealthy americans tend to think of welfare recipients as unfairly priviledged.
    But as long as a group insists on keeping separate from a rest of a population, it’s going to experience either priviledge or discrimination. and both. separate but equal, has it ever existed?

  8. Shaul, your words echo those of nationalists in every culture. And in every culture, when nationalism becomes the dominant force in society, trouble ensues. (well, maybe not ‘every.’)
    I wish I could pop that little dream bubble of yours, that 10 year old ‘I love ponies’ crush you have on Israel. Or rather, on the State of Israel. I think, it would be easier for me to share in the religious aspects of attachment to the land if only actual living Jews hadn’t recovered and kept it with so much violation of human rights, cruelty and suffering.
    Israel becomes ‘Israel’ when Palestine becomes ‘Palestine.’ Not until then. That’s the inner pledge I repeat in my heart whenever the prayer for Israel is said, or the tikva is sung.

  9. Hey Charles…
    Thanks for responding—-I knew it could trigger those sentiment.s.. and i feel that you mis-read a part of it… The Ilove ponies crush (which i may translate as innocent child-like love) is in me, but not for the “state of Israel.”’ but Israel, or “eretz yisrael” if we wanna get semantic, is a crucial piece of Jewish spirituality, that like I was trying to warn about in the piece, we can’t leave the IsraelPalestine conflict deny our own spiritual groundings… One of the deepest connections I made with a Palestinian activist in bethlehem, only was enabled after I had the chutzpa to tell of my own “dreamlike” connection the rocks, waters and fruits of the land in the Judaean hills… This was on the crest of him describing his love of the hill on which he grew up, the pain of the Wall separating him etc… and from that space of two people who have a inner love for this land— from there the dialogue about getting along begins… If we as Jews don’t have a visceral heart connection to our place on earth, then we shouldn’t be pushing anybody out.. But when that connection is something, we have nurtured and prayed and never abandoned, how can I look at my past and deny their story?
    It is indeed a struggle for dreams to survive, and your concern about my “nationalism”, is real, because i know beats inside me a real heart– the game, or the intensity of Jewish life, is to maintain an open listening heart, beating with our own life, and moderating itself to the pinches of reality–more than that, honoring and knowing that the people in front of me, are here from Hashem’s Will in the same way I am, and thus let the learning, talking, and struggling continue……
    shana tova… with heart, love listening and building unity, within and then from without…

  10. Regarding Sheikha’s claim on the Khazars–that “Zionism” originally referred to them and that the “Khazars from southern Russia … adopted Judaism in the 7th century”–I am far from an expert, but I have done a fair bit of reading on them.
    I have never heard the term, Zionist, used in reference to the Khazars. Also, while the date of the Khazar leaders’ conversion to Judaism and the extent to which the rest of the population followed are hotly debated, the 7th century is way too early. Most sources say 9th. And, of course, to say they were a people of “southern Russia” when Russia had not yet come into existence is quite an anachronistic statement.
    Khazaria was “a Jewish state.” Israel today is “the Jewish state,” though I have never liked that term for the State of Israel, for reasons given at #4 and elsewhere up-thread. I read the phrase all the time in the LA Times and elsewhere, but I don’t know why they can’t just repeat the name, Israel, as needed in a news story.

  11. land is a euphemism for will. Living Beings will often love their Land more than boring old peace, alas.
    Peace it actually quite pleasant, but not something Israel will only be able to enjoy after you stop expropriating your neighbors land.

  12. See what I’m having problems with is — if Israel is the Jewish state, why are yeshivos so strapped for money, why do ppl have to beg for Shabbat road closings, why does halacha have to suffer so much?
    Why do rabbis — who some Jews consider to be gedolei Yisra’el — have their names dragged through the media, religious ppl have to privately fund their own publications, and religious communities have to engage in Williamsburg-style real estate wars just for the freedom to practice their religion as they wish?
    Why is there still so much discrimination against Jews from the Arabic-speaking world? Why is there Jim Crow style racism against Ethiopian Jews? Why was the halachic definition of “Who Is A Jew” struck down in a secular supreme court ruling,, but pork was allowed to be sold in Jerusalem? It’s easier to get a prostitute than meat with a reliable hechsher in many parts of Tel Aviv!
    Just saying.

  13. Daniel, and that explains anti-Sephardi racism, anti-Ethiopian racism, and the blatant discrimination against religious Jews? Tragically, far too often when it comes to Israel, things for “all Jews” come along with the unspoken “except dati/charedi Jews” qualifier.
    To fund yeshivos even at an equal level to the secular public school system = theocracy? Please chill. Anti-religious discrimination is very real.

  14. Y-Love, you’re confusing Israel’s role with its policies. OF course that doesn’t explain any of the things you say exist. That’s a discussion of the wisdom of its policies, not its ability to make them.

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