Jarrod Tanny

Israel at 75 and the Persistence of Jew-hatred

Let’s talk about the denial of Israel as the Jewish ethno-national homeland, which is rooted in three interconnected claims.

(1) The Jews lost their state two thousand years ago.
(2) Zionism is the product of ethnic nationalism, and, accordingly, it is a modern ideology and has no connection to ancient Israel.
(3) the Jews had been away from Palestine for two thousand years
The first point is premised on the idea that there is a statute of limitations on reclaiming one’s state.

Poland lost its state in 1795 and regained it in 1919. They got it back. OK that’s admittedly not a long time.
Hungary lost its state in 1526. Is that long enough? OK fine they retained some sort of geopolitical definition within the Habsburg Empire; it never quite ceased to exist.
Not long enough? OK. How about Armenia? They lost their state in 428 AD. That’s a long time ago, and, moreover, the state they were granted in 1991 (as per boundaries drawn by the Bolsheviks) is a mere fraction of the territory they had in antiquity.
And why is Italy even a state? Because Dante wrote about “Italianness?” A bit problematic, no? Or is it about reclaiming the greatness of the (allegedly Italian) Roman Empire? There have certainly been Italian leaders who have thought along these lines.
And Germany? Let’s not even go there.

As to the second claim, every example I cited above (and there are others) are of states that ceased to exist (or never existed) before the age of nationalism. The pre-modern Hungarian state had as much or as little to do with modern Hungarian national identity as Israeli identity has to do with Jewish identity circa 70 AD.

What about the third claim?
First, the majority of Jews did not leave what became Palestine by choice. Of course many did, taking advantage of Roman trade routes and a growing Babylonian diaspora community. But not everyone left, and those who were still present after the Christianization of Rome needed to get out or face severe persecution. So most left.
Second, there was always a Jewish presence in Israel and in some centuries it numbered in the tens of thousands.
Third if a people lose their right to a nation state because they “left” even if it was due to force, then this applies to the Palestinians as well. It’s been 75 years; most of the Palestinian “refugees” were not born in what is today Israel. If their “refugee status” is inheritable then so is the Jewish “refugee status” of antiquity.

Of course one can justifiably argue that all nationalisms are still wrong because it puts the collective above the individual. Fair enough. But why is it that ONLY the Jews are denied the right to be an ethno-national state, despite having had a state in antiquity where the creation of a Jewish identity and Jewish culture transpired, despite the fact that the Jewish people never lost their spiritual connection to their ancestral homeland. Zionism is the quest for national Jewish self-determination, no different from any other ethnic group’s quest for national determination. There are of course many ethno-nations that continue to be denied statehood; the Kurds; the Basques; the Chechens. Yet only Jewish nationalism is universally contested today after the achievement of self-determination, 75 years after Israel became a recognized independent state. Why?

The answer is simple. Israel is held to a double standard, much as the Jews in Christendom have always been held to a double standard. This is, historically speaking, antisemitism. And ever since modern Europe went into the middle east in the 1800s, the Arabs have embraced antisemitic tropes: first from Christianity, then from the Nazis, then from the USSR.

The denial of the right of the Jews to define themselves is baked into Western Civilization because the emergence of normative Christianity was explicitly premised on the necessary disappearance of the Jews, what theologians call supersessionism. That the Jews did not disappear was taken as license by Christendom to “refashion” the Jews into what they expected the remnants of the Jews to be. Both the Muslim world and even the United States to a certain extent inherited this Jew-hatred. Modern political and racial antisemitism is little more than the refashioning of this older Christian anti-Judaism into contemporary discourse. And so it anti-Zionism. Leon Pinsker nailed it in his description of Judeophobia: “Judeophobia is a psychic aberration. As a psychic aberration it is hereditary, and as a disease transmitted for two thousand years it is incurable,” wrote Pinsker. The language of Jew-hatred has changed over time, but the tropes are more similar than different. And more importantly, the target is the same.

What about the Jewish studies scholar-activists (the so-called Un-Jews) who have embraced anti-Zionism despite its obvious connections to antisemitism? These are intellectuals, people with PhDs who remain willfully oblivious to the fact that they are the inheritors of a long tradition of Jews who either wanted out of Judaism or wanted to allow the proverbial goyim the right to to define us, even today, an era in which every group except for the Jews has the right to define itself. Their yichus is Nicholas Donin, Pablo Christiani, Otto Weininger, and finally the Soviet Evsektsiia. They think they are exhibiting backbone is standing up for what they disingenuously call “social justice”, but in reality they are cowards, much like Pablo Christiani and Otto Weininger. Conforming to the ideas propagated by those who hate us is hardly an act of bravery. I feel sorry for them. Why? Because if Jewish history is still taught in the future, they will be included, much like those I have cited above, in the section on anti-Semitism and self-hatred. Whether or not this constitutes self-hatred is immaterial; I am not a psychologist. But it is the closest analytical category we have for now to help us understand their abandonment of the Jews.

We do not give in to the antisemites, external or internal. That is why we are still here.

Happy Birthday to Israel and to the Jews abroad who identify as Zionists.

About the Author
Jarrod Tanny is an Associate Professor and Block Distinguished Scholar in Jewish History in the Department of History, University of North Carolina Wilmington. He is the author of City of Rogues and Schnorrers: Russia's Jews and the Myth of Old Odessa. He is also the founder of the Jewish Studies Zionist Network,
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