Israel’s education minister Rafi Peretz provoked a storm of outrage last month when, during an interview, he backed “gay conversion therapy”, a discredited pseudo-medical technique that seeks to turn gays into heterosexuals. His remarks provoked condemnations by public figures from across the Israeli political spectrum, including from Amir Ohana, the openly gay Likud justice minister, who said of comments by the far-right MK: “Sexual orientation does not require therapy nor conversion. Preconceived notions and ignorance require therapy and conversion.”
Tye Gregory, executive director of A Wider Bridge, an organisation which aims to build support for Israel and LGBTQ Israelis, called for Peretz to resign, and, in a press release noting that he was in gay marriage, said they won’t allow bigots to dictate who they love, not define “how to be Jewish”.
Though it may seem on the surface like an entirely different issue, the tsunami of antisemitism within the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn has similarly often centered around the insistence by British Jews that non-Jews shouldn’t have the right to define how Jews should be Jews. Those Labour activists who advocate for anti-Zionism (the campaign effort to forcibly dispossess over six million Jews of a right they currently have) are doing just that by demanding that, for acceptance into their ‘progressive’ community, Jews renounce and abandon a key component of their Jewish identity.
Though, of course, many British Jews are critical of the current Israeli government, a 2015 poll of the community by Yachad, for instance, revealed that 93% view “Israel”, as a nation, as playing a part in their Jewish identity”, with 73% seeing it as an “important” or “central” part .
Throughout history, Zionism has been a necessary component of the identity of Jews, who, for thousands of year in exile, yearned for a return to Israel, and continued to face Jerusalem whilst praying. At the Passover Seder, and at the end of the Ne’ila service on Yom Kippur, Jews proclaim “Next Year in Jerusalem.” The traditional Jewish wedding ceremony concludes with the chanting of the biblical phrase, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning,” and the breaking of a glass by the groom to commemorate the destruction of the Temples. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks observed, at least half of the 613 commandments in the Hebrew Bible are only applicable to the land of Israel.
Moreover, even for strictly secular Jews, Israel’s indispensable role as a safe-haven for Jews around the world is intuitively understood as a moral necessity, as the country represents the only place where they are a majority and enjoy self-determination – where Jews can express their ethnic and cultural identity without the fear of persecution, or the suspicion that they’ll always represent ‘the other’.
As the blog Harry’s Place aptly put it in a recent twitter thread, “Zionism is nothing more than Jews being Jews”.
Just as the historic religious effort to convert Jews to Christianity represented the message that Jews could only be fully accepted as individuals by the majority if they renounced and abandoned their collective faith, the modern political effort at ‘converting’ Jews to anti-Zionism similarly requires that Jews renounce an element of their identity that’s fundamental to who they are.
For both the LGBT and Jewish communities, the inclination of those outside our community to demand we change our very essence is perceived as a politically regressive impulse, one that is bigoted to the core.