Most lines from Hayim Nahman Bialik’s poem “In the City of Slaughter” are hauntingly reminiscent of the Simchat Torah nightmare forever seared into our memory. One line in particular stands out, not for its depiction of the carnage in Kishinev, but for the timeless wisdom it communicates about the nature of the Jewish people: “For you are now as you have been of yore.”
The triumph of Zionism wasn’t the defeat of antisemitism, it’s the sword and shield by which Jews most effectively resist antisemitism – the same hatred wielded by Christian pogromists in 1903, the same hatred wielded by Muslim terrorists in 2023. Our present disposition isn’t so different in that sense; this war revealed that much of the world still wants us dead. We are as we were, but in times of conflict and uncertainty, it’s reassuring to remember who exactly we are. What is our nature?
Golda Meir, then Foreign Minister of Israel, recalls in her autobiography looking around the United Nations General Assembly and thinking, “We have no family here…we really belong nowhere and to no one, except to ourselves.” What she’s describing here is pariahdom, the eternal Jewish condition.
Nobody wants to be a pariah. It’s certainly a flea Jews have long struggled to shake off. Even with its remarkable foresight, Zionism still believed it could relieve this burden, transforming us into Jewish gentiles, a people like other peoples. But do we really want that?
Consider how the international community reacted to the Oct. 7 attack. The UN Security Council has yet to pass one resolution condemning Hamas (which it never designated a terrorist organization in the first place) but already adopted eight singling out Israel. America swears by its “special relationship” with Israel, yet kneecaps its security by empowering its enemies in pursuit of a misconceived peace. Combine that with the West flagellating itself into being conquered by third-world antisemites, the answer should be obvious, but not for everyone.
Just look at our leaders. Many Jewish organizations shamelessly extend our hand to left-wing antisemites (the acceptable kind) knowing we’ll pull back a stump. They allocate precious resources bolstering candidates who hate us and policies that endanger us. Evocative of the “useful Jews” who’d propagate for the Soviet Union in our name, the Jewish establishment leverages its power advocating for social change that compromises our safety, and now tens of thousands of our supposed natural allies are marching for our destruction in every major city.
Our “friends” are foot soldiers for intellectual and moral institutions that are simply incompatible with Jewish interests. At best, they yearn for Jews to do as Gandhi prescribed during the Nazi era and sacrificially “offer themselves to the butcher’s knife” by yielding to international pressure for a ceasefire. At worst, annihilationist antisemitism constitutes a central tenet of an already corrupt and absolute ideology. We shouldn’t want to be woven into this social fabric.
We’re pretending to be something we’re not, addressing Jewish problems in a gentile manner. Hannah Arendt stressed “From the disgrace of being a Jew there is but one escape – to fight for the honor of the Jewish people as a whole.” We’ll win this fight the moment we overcome our fear of pariahdom and wear it as a badge of honor.
How do we do this? By putting our needs before other peoples, without qualifying them in relation to other peoples. We don’t need to justify fighting antisemitism based on its potential impact on other minorities. Protecting our children is a perfectly legitimate reason in its own right.
Similarly, we must assume we are fighting this battle alone. Counting on non-Jews to fight for us based on superficial notions of intersectionality is both naive and impractical. Self-reliance and self-defense are essential pillars of Zionism. Begging for acceptance through progressive engagement will not stop the next pogrom, but the barrel of a gun will.
Finally, the Diaspora must confront its reluctance to accept Israel as the embodiment of the Jewish people. Israel is our homeland, and the unity of its people and land are inseparable. Elie Wiesel said he could “live outside of Israel, but not without Israel.” This sentiment should not just come from a place of desperation but a source of strength and pride.
For all of this, they’ll make us pariahs. And so we must brace the storm of ostracism by holding fast to the wisdom of the sages: ‘Remember that they come to war championed by flesh and blood, and you are coming championed by the Omnipresent.’ The nations will always make us pariahs, but Israel will never stand alone.