Zionism’s Failure is Today’s Global Jewish Partnership

This is a guest post by Avi Goldblatt, an old school Hebrew stuck in a relatively young man’s body. He is a classical liberal (ie Conservative Republican) which makes him about as popular as transfats in a NYC restaurant and as rare in the Jewish community as women’s suffrage in Dar al-Islam. He can be reached here.

In a piece published on ejewishphilanthropy, Joshua Einstein claims that Zionism is “multifaceted, multilayered and multi-streamed” regarding Israel and Jewish peoplehood. Many subscribe to this notion of Zionism as big tent coalition. They are wrong.

While the Zionist movement had many internal trends and streams they were all united by the central notions of aliyah and ending anti-Semitism. Whether it was the top down bourgeois methodology of the Herzlian’s (the Political Zionists), the utopian-socialist world vision of AD Gordan, Ben Gurion, or the utopian-messianism of both Rav Kook’s – all believed anti-Semitism would abate after the creation of the Jewish State.

Mr. Einstein is also wrong in asserting that “the miracle of the Zionist endeavor” was “a living and breathing Jewish State after over two thousand years without one…” A Jewish state was never the goal of the Zionist movement. Rather the Jewish national home was a means to an end – it would serve to assimilate the Jew on a national level where the Haskalah (enlightenment) had failed to on an individual level. 

The Jewish world the Zionists predicted and desired was one in which all the Jews lived in Israel, the failure of their postulations and proclamations should be celebrated by every contemporary Jewish nationalist.  This total national ghettoization of Jewish identity would have created a single target to destroy all the Jews, erased the last 2,000 years of Jewish history in the quest for the ahistorical Israeli “New Jew”, and done away with the rich intra-Jewish diversity created and nurtured in exile. Moreover as we have seen from the coercive nature of the Rabbinate the rich tapestry of theological differences that exists in the Diaspora would most likely have been stamped out by the fundamentalist boot of Israeli Orthodoxy.

As the Jewish world stands today, we enjoy the benefits of the Zionist movement’s modus operandi – the Jewish state AND, despite that same movement, a strong and diverse global Jewish community. It is this community that has created a partnership with the State of Israel, despite constant alarmist claims of impending assimilation and anti-Semitism from Israeli “leaders”. (That these two bogeymen are juxtaposed – a society that would persecute the Jew would hardly accept them as full members and vice versa, is lost on most of Israel’s often 3rd rate spokes people.)

In fact Mr. Einstein points out the new investment the Jewish Agency is making in Diaspora Jewish education but conveniently ignores that two thirds of the funding is coming from Jewish organizations and individuals around the world. He and many in the Israel-centric “Zionist” community would have us ignore the fact that over 70% of the funding for Birthright Israel, 50% of the funding for Masa, and the main funding for the Jewish Agency (which is a quasi-governmental agency of the State of Israel) comes from the Diaspora. Not only is this partnership antithetical to the Zionist idea but upon inspections is clearly rather lopsided.

While Mr. Einstein and others (like Samantha Vinokor at her blog) engage in an post-modern bait and switch over definitions all the while talking about how wonderful Auto-Emancipation has been, the truth remains that when it comes to Jewish identity the Jewish state has not been emancipated. For years Israel has continued to be dependent on the good will of the Diaspora community both in donations to buttress those sectors of Israeli society which it did not have the resources for and for political support from overseas. Today, while Israel is a post-industrial developed nation the Diaspora still supports it by sending money to help those communities its own government ignores.  In effect the Diaspora has been subsidizing Israeli government ineptitude and preventing development of the critical mass needed to effect change. Moreover instead of begging the Diaspora for money, Israeli leaders have convinced the Diaspora to use it to build Jewish identity by sending its children on a trip the Diaspora pays for and on which participants have directly injected an additional 2 billion shekels plus into the Israeli economy.

It remains blindingly obvious that the Jewish world is better off with Der Judenstaat. Israel is a wonderful tool for incubating Jewish identity and it is indeed a miracle nation that has stood against the odds but it is important to remember that Israel would not exist if not for its partnership with the Diaspora. This is not to argue that Diaspora Jewry should dictate to Israel political policy – for the internal issues of a sovereign state should principally be realm of those most affected by it and every Jew, right or left, can have say if they make aliyah. It is to say that not only is the Zionist phase of Jewish history over but that we have entered into a phase of global Jewish partnership with innovative Jewish ideas and initiatives coming out of both Israel and the Diaspora.

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