The New York Times today (April 5, 2019) reviews the spread of anti-Semitic hate around the world. How ought we Jews to respond? That’s the perennial question we ask ourselves.
One response is to re-frame the word “Zionism” not as the right-wing extremist ideological movement that gives rise to the settlement enterprise in the West Bank and oppresses Palestinians, but as the progressive spirit articulate in Israel’s foundational document, the Declaration of Independence. There, the founders of the state articulated a vision of a nation based on the principles of justice as articulated by the Biblical prophets, on pluralism and the democratic spirit in which all Israel’s citizens (Jewish and Arab), regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and national origins, have equal rights and privileges by virtue of being created in the divine image (b’Tzelem Elohim – Genesis 1:27).
There are between 14 and 17 million Jews in a world populated by 7 billion souls, but antisemitic, anti-Zionist and anti-Israel hate continues to find fertile ground to metastasize like cancer in the world’s body politic. Why?
The answer is complex and volumes have been written about it. Part of the answer is that in the last several years many nations have experienced a rise of ethnic-nationalism, a massive immigration wave, and economic stress.
We Jews have had little to do with these trends, except that an extremist ideology has been embraced by the right-wing in Israel and the American Jewish community and that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains unresolved.
Benjamin Netanyahu has not helped alleviate the stresses born by Israelis and Palestinians alike. Rather, Netanyahu has settled with the status quo and tied himself to many of the world’s most tyrannical leaders. He allies himself with America’s evangelical right and Republican party thereby make of Israel a partisan wedge issue. He has alienated between seventy and eighty percent of American Jewry that affiliates with the Democratic party, even as he has alienated middle-right and middle-left Israeli citizens with his alliance with the racist Kahanist party and his assault on Israel’s democratic traditions.
That being said, Jew-hatred is and always has been irrational. We are history’s original scapegoats, but rather than play the victim and act based on fear of the “other,” our people ought to be out front advocating for human rights everywhere and for policies that lift the poor. This brand of Zionism coupled with liberal American and Israeli Jewish values will not solve ultimately the problem of antisemitism, anti-Zionism and anti-Israel hatred, but it will help the vast majority of decent people throughout the world to understand that the Jewish people today are the inheritors of the values articulated millennia ago by our Biblical prophets.
Israel faces a crucial choice on April 9. Though I am not an Israeli citizen, do not pay taxes nor send my children to the army, what Israel becomes has direct bearing on my Jewish identity, Jewish pride and security as a Jewish minority.
I hope that Israelis will turn the page of history and turn Netanyahu out of the Prime Minister’s chair with the election of a new Prime Minister and a new middle-right or middle-left government coalition that addresses the existential challenges facing the state of Israel – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran and Islamic extremism, the ultra-Orthodox hegemony over Israeli life, and the widening economic gap within Israeli society. The status quo on all theses matters is unsustainable.
We American progressive Zionists will be watching, and we wish our Israeli partners success next week.