I was born and raised a Jew in Montevideo, Uruguay, in South-America. I’m the son to Zionist parents who made Alyiah in the second half of the 1950s and came back to Uruguay by 1960; I went to a Hebrew-Zionist-non-religious school and to the Tnuat Noar; I graduated in Tel-Aviv University and came back to Montevideo, where I married and raised two children who in their turn lived in Israel: a son graduating in Fine Arts at Bezalel Academy, a daughter working in the Raanana Municipality as a psychologist. My only sister, who holds a Ph.D at Bar-Ilan University, and her family. have lived in Israel for over forty years, while my mother moved back to Israel in her eighties. We all speak fluent Hebrew. All this is to say that we’re not only and merely deeply Jewish, we’re deeply convinced modern Zionists for whom living in Israel is not the only way to define our Zionism. A concept, I dare suggest, that prevails in most American Zionists.
Even in this context, and as well aware as I am of American Jews’ concerns and aspirations to be both American and Jewish, I must admit I cannot grasp, let alone understand, the upheaval provoked by Peter Binart’s piece in “Jewish Currents” last July 7th, titled “Yavne: A Jewish Case for Equality in Israel-Palestine”, a shorter version of which was published in “The New York Times” a day after that. As I’ve stated above, I’m not unfamiliar with Jewish-American issues, mainly from the following sources: Haaretz, The Times of Israel, CNN, Fox News, now Twitter, and especially my interaction over the years with fellow students and community leaders at the Shalom Hartman Institute (SHI) in Jerusalem during their summer programs. In fact, I first learned about Mr. Beinart at SHI when discussing J-Street and its criticism of Israel during coffee-breaks; later I’ve seen him as a political commentator in CNN.
Having said all this as way of introduction, my surprise arises from two points: one, that Zionist Americans feel so threatened by Mr. Beinart’s proposal of a bi-national State from the Jordan to the Sea, as if his suggestion would have any holding in reality; and the other, that there’s such a need to stress and defend the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish State alone, whatever is the path to some kind of normality in the area. Having read Mr. Beinart’s op-ed, and three reactions to it, namely Kurtzer’s, Kerstein’s, and Gordis’, I can only assume that much more is at stake than the subject in question: it’s not about the nature of Israel (or Israel-Palestine as Beinart calls it), but about the nature of American Jewry. Going one step further, it is about Diaspora Jews and our relationship with this unpleasant Israel we’ve had to cope with in the last twenty years.
Very often, what American Jews face comes a few years later to our area, although we have also our own idiosyncratic Jewish issues in our small community or in our larger neighbourhood: Argentina, Chile, Brazil. The issue of mixed marriages is not as large as it is in the U.S.A., but it grows steadily. However, and although there’s no lack of harsh criticism towards Israel’s policies regarding not only the Palestinians but also regarding inner affairs such as Religion & State, I dare affirm that no Jew here would ever go as far as Mr. Beinart has gone.
The moral implications of the Occupation are not a taboo subject, but we have enough anti-Semitic political and ideological groups that take care of this issue. Only recently, in light of the “Annexation” that never happened (which triggered Mr. Beinart’s article too), we had to cope with two local publications by the opposition party Frente Amplio regarding the so-called abuses of Israel towards the Palestinians, while Chilean celebrities recorded a video which went viral. So, no Jew would dare come forward and defend the plight of the Palestinian people nor propose such a dangerous and threatening plan for the Jews in Israel.
This leads me to think that so far the sense of security and equal citizenship in the U.S.A. is still very strong, even considering the anti-Semitic events of recent years and the rise of Democratic anti-Semitic politicians who make it to Congress. The ingenuity of Mr. Beinart can only be explained by his belief that the American political system can be replicated anywhere, which has already proved wrong, or his lack of concern for his own original people, the Jews. It’s not about criticism of Israel, is about giving Israel up.
So, as Judas would sing, “what’s the fuzz?” Kurtzer, Kerstein, Gordis, and myself are all very critical of the situation and standards of Israeli politics these days, its turn to the Right, its allowances to the fundamentalist religious parties, its corruption. But we all seem to agree, to a major or minor degree, that Zionism and Israel have come to stay, not as a “home” but as a “State” for the Jewish People. Someone please explain to me what serious harm can be done by Mr. Beinart and his proposals, by his biased reading of History, other than being disruptive and outrageous.
Since the 19th Century on, and after 1945, Jewish destiny cannot be understood without the existence of Zionism and a Jewish State. Its dynamics, as well as those of Jews elsewhere, may change dramatically and face us with new challenges in every generation. But to even think of putting our faith in the hand of others, mainly others who’ve sworn to extinguish us from the face of Earth, is absurd. As the late Amos Oz Z’L said in his last lecture, “I don’t want to be a minority; especially not in this neighbourhood”. He also said: “there’s no such creature as a bi-national State between the Jordan and the sea”.
So, again, what is it really that is under discussion here, under the pretext of a bi-national State? I dare suggest it has more to do with Jewish identity than with Jewish physical survival. And of course, it has nothing to do with the plight of the Palestinians; let them worry about their plight. We have our own, and it’s here to stay.