UNESCO recently passed legislation that allegedly ignores Jewish heritage in Jerusalem. The argument goes that UNESCO is adulterating the Jewish significance of the highly vexed city. By promoting an ahistrorical narrative on an international stage, they could also be misleading people en masse.
This past year I have come to realize the consequences of obstructing reality, but on a smaller, communal level — not an international one.
A Little Context
For three weeks this past summer, I attended an encounter program called Seeds of Peace. Located in Maine, “Seeds” facilitates intense dialogue between Egyptians, Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Americans and Britons, along with a regular summer-camp recreational experience. The camp experience consisted of both conflict and cohesion: two hours of daily dialogue emulated the conflict, while living among your “opposition” for three weeks fostered a cohesion building mentality. All barriers constructed by allegiance and nationality had to be overcome.
In the end, campers returned home in tears for their new family, who, despite being just a few miles over a wall, live all too distant; they returned home loving their siblings rather than submitting to preexisting bias. A prejudice was dissolved.
I returned home loving my Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian, British and Israeli siblings. I returned with a newly-cultivated perspective that transcended my simplistic outlook. I finally realized the sheltered nature of my community and how it influenced my mindset.
My Modern Orthodox Community
I live in a close-knit, supportive Modern Orthodox Jewish community. It is de rigueur for Modern Orthodox Jews to be Zionist. Zionism is dogmatic, just like Sabbath observance and Bible study.
A “loving of Israel” is mentioned in most mission statements of Jewish day-schools, seminaries and summer camps. Students recite prayers in support of the Israeli military. Israeli flags are the standard decorations at parties, open-houses and bar-mitzvahs. Schools encourage students to spend their gap years studying in Israel. Schools mandate students to march in the Celebrate Israel Parade.
To be fair, parts of the American Modern Orthodox community are flourishing with communal advocacy and diversity. Some institutions have even begun to study the effects of Zionism’s indoctrination.
Nevertheless, Israel’s overbearing presence in Modern-Orthodox culture has consequences: it insinuates an unwavering support of Israel. Zionism’s trendy regard encourages people to deify Israel for its (false) moral perfection; they forget about reality.
The intellectual laziness that stems from “trendy Zionism” instigates soft bigotry: where there is a lack of nuance, there follows prejudice. It gives licence to casual Islamophobia and can incite hatred.
Zionism’s communal value pushes leaders to highlight one Zionist perspective rather than other equalizing perspectives. Communities dilute Israel’s complicated history in order to reinforce Zionism’s viability as a Jewish credo. Togetherness is achieved at the expense of Israel education, which can devolve into quasi-brainwashing.
Additionally, community members label those who do not support Israel as anti-Semites or self-hating Jews, for they doubt a supposedly essential Jewish value, Zionism.
During my summer at Seeds of Peace I encountered perspectives that threatened the Zionist uniformity of my home. My programmed viewpoint was finally challenged.
Returning home I began to question my community’s legitimacy–not just its politics. Can I trust my teachers? Do I pity my friends who have yet to benefit from an experience like Seeds of Peace? I felt that my community lied to me (though this was clearly an overreaction).
Being only fifteen, I am premature in encountering perspectives outside my comfortable Jewish bubble. Most Orthodox Jewish teenagers only encounter opposition about Israel once they reach university, a newly secular environment.
A Plea for Change (at least recognition)
However, the issue stands that Modern Orthodox Jewish communities are not (yet) preparing their youth for reality; rather, through the institutionalization of simplistic Zionism, they are fostering a future of doubt for their youth.
Modern Orthodoxy must not underestimate the implicit messages of a culture so entrenched in Zionism. Instead of allowing Israel advocacy to stifle Israel education, Modern Orthodoxy must explicitly promote reality–offsetting the facile Zionism rooted in Jewish culture.
Otherwise, Jewish day-schools, summer camps and synagogues will continue to breed sheltered children. And when those misguided children face untold perspectives, they will default on their communities.
All institutions have an obligation to uphold truth and present facts with nuance. The lack of intellectual integrity that the institutionalization of Zionism promotes, and that UNESCO’s resolution exemplifies, deserve outrage. That criticism, however, should not further just another biased worldview.
No one is above history. No one is above fact.