Israel, Zionism and Who is a Jew

What is the meaning of “Zionism”? In my two-year-long discussion of the Jewish Problem in my blog, Antisemitism and Jewish Survival, I am sometimes challenged by Israelis over my criticism of those who would modify or eliminate Israel’s Law of Return. Who is a Jew legislation is one such, but others also surface periodically, from both Orthodox and secular circles. Chris, his on-line “handle,” has been my most persistent and insistent critic:

Chris, you and I have argued back and forth regarding the Law of Return and the efforts by anti-Zionist Orthodox political parties (or just “history-ignorant” among the secular) to “modify” or eliminate both the Law and its 1970 Amendment. The “Who is a Jew” legislative effort in the Knesset by participating Orthodox parties is the most visible such example. But there was also the recent delegitimization of tens-of-thousands of Jews converted according to Orthodox procedure by the Rabbinical Court, an act condemned by the organization representing American Orthodoxy.

All the above and far more referred to in my writings appeared in on-line Israeli press from JPost to Y-Net to more academic journals such as Institute for Global Jewish Affairs and JerusalemCenter for Public Affairs.

You represent me as somehow anti-Israel or anti-Orthodox, Chris. In fact I am not even anti-Neturei Karta! I view Israel as the homeland and refuge for our people and not, as those cases I provide, uninterested beyond their personal political or religious agendas.

To be “Zionist,” Chris, begins with 1. an understanding of the historical persecution we Jews (Diaspora AND Israel) face, and its likelihood of resurfacing in another and more successful Final Solution to the West’s inherited Jewish Problem. 2. That our Diaspora recognized, begining in the 19th century, both historically and by immediate experience following our “emancipation” (see Pinsker, Autoemancipation) that the risk must be anticipated, and that a Jewish state was our only refuge.

Ben-Gurion and the First Knesset well understood this and provided the Basic Law: Law of Return, one of its very first pieces of legislation. The Law provides refuge to any Jew in need. And in 1970 when some among the Orthodox sought to apply a strict “halachic” definition to “Jew” Golda Meir and the Seventh Knesset passed an amendment to the Law of Return to clarify in clear and legal language the Zionist intent of the Law. The Amendment was, of course, the Grandparent Clause defining as Jew any person persecuted as Jew with even a single Jewish grandparent.

In a nutshell, Chris, this is the basis of what Zionism means, and Israel’s place as Zionist refuge to ALL Jews. Any effort by any Israelis at any time in the past, present or future, for religious, social or political reasons, who would attempt to pass legislation restricting the definition of “Jew” as described in the Law and the Amendment is, by definition, ANTI-ZIONIST.

And let us hope no such future effort to modify or eliminate the Law, to accord it with “Halacha,” for example, never passes into law. For that would mean the State of Israel has reverted to just one more Diaspora community of “Israeli Jews,” has lost both identity and purpose as Zionist.

About the Author
David made aliya in 1960 and has been active in Jewish issues since. He was a regional director for JNF in New York, created JUDAC, Jews United to Defend the Auschwitz Cemetery during that controversy; at the request of Jonathan Pollard created and led Justice for the Pollards in 1989.