One of the major fallacies propagated by anti-Israel activists is that Zionism as an ideology stands in opposition to Judaism and Jewish values. Anti-Israel activists often deny the connection between Judaism and the State of Israel, thereby claiming that being anti-Zionist does not make one anti-Semitic. These activists claim that their actions are directed not towards Jews, but simply towards Zionists, as if these two groups are mutually exclusive. They tokenize radical Jewish groups such as the Neturei Karta and Jewish Voice for Peace to represent what ‘good Jews’ believe in and how ‘good Jews’ should behave.
What anti-Israel activists refuse to acknowledge is that arguably no other cause unifies Diaspora Jewry more than support for the state of Israel. This past month alone, we have seen Jewish communities from every corner of the globe hold protests, rallies, candlelight vigils, and fundraisers for Israel and its people. The Israeli flag flies in nearly every Jewish Day School, summer camp, federation building, community centre, and religious space in every country with a remaining Jewish population. Tzedakah boxes for the Jewish National Fund sit in the homes of Jews of all denominations and from countries around the world, demonstrating that donating to Israel as a form of charity has become entrenched in Jewish philanthropy. From a demographic standpoint, out of the 14 million Jews in the world, 6 million of them live in Israel, and the majority of the other 8 million have family and friends who live there.
Nevertheless, Israel is not only central to Jewish identity today; it has always been.
Though Zionism as an explicit political movement saw its inception in the 19th century, the Jewish yearning to return to the Land of Israel dates as far back as Jews have been living in the Diaspora. The State of Israel today embodies the many biblical texts and prophecies that Jews have been subscribing to since the Babylonian Exile.
Centuries before Modern Zionism, the Land of Israel was integral to Judaism and Jewish identity. The Jewish longing for a return to Israel and Jerusalem was professed through daily prayers and holiday observances, such as completing the Passover Seder with the words, “L’shanah habaah b’yerushalayim (Next year in Jerusalem).” Hundreds of years before Herzl was even born, Jews across the globe stood in tandem as they faced Jerusalem while praying, hoping for the day when they would, “Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore he would give to your fathers — to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — and to their descendants after them.” (Deuteronomy 1:8)
Long before the Peel Commission or the Balfour Declaration, the Jews of Ethiopia, Yemen, Iraq and France alike longed for the day that they could escape persecution and return to the land in which their ancestors were exiled. Since 250 AD alone, Jews have been expelled from upwards of 100 different regions, making them among the only people who can laud themselves for being kicked out of almost every location in the world. With every pogrom, crusade, exile, subjugation, and massacre, the Jewish longing to return only grew stronger.
In the age of nation states, support for the Modern State of Israel has become central to Jewish identity. Anti-Zionists need to understand that while their activism may not be targeted at Judaism or Jewish values, it is undoubtedly targeted at the majority of Jews.
When Israel is held to a higher moral standard than any other country in the world, Jews have every right to become defensive. When Nazi metaphors are purposely used to strike a nerve with a community that is still being rebuilt in wake of the Holocaust, Jews have every right to be wary of people who demonize Israel. When the Jewish self-determination movement is unjustly criticized on the grounds of ‘racism,’ Jews have every right to question why, out of 193 UN Member States, Israel is the sole country being targeted.
Although not all Zionists are Jews, nearly all Jews are Zionists; it’s about time that the undeniable connection between Judaism and Zionism is acknowledged.