Haviv Rettig Gur
Featured Post

When ‘Israel’ matters — but Israelis don’t

The Jewish historian who said she's done with Israel managed to gloss over a century of genocide and expulsion

It isn’t every day one reads open bigotry against a vast community of millions of Jews from a self-described “American Jewish historian” in the pages of an Israeli newspaper.

But there it is.

Historian Hasia Diner took to Haaretz to reveal her moment of near-religious epiphany when she finally shed her Zionism and, apparently, began to blame Jews for the destruction of the millennia-old Jewish communities that were wiped out in the 20th century.

“The death of vast numbers of Jewish communities as a result of Zionist activity has impoverished the Jewish people, robbing us of these many cultures that have fallen into the maw of Israeli homogenization,” writes this eminent scholar.

You read that right. Zionists, not Arabs or Europeans in the 20th century, are the ones responsible for the decimation of Jewish life and history across three continents. If Israel wasn’t there, the ancient Jewish communities of Baghdad and Warsaw would presumably now be flourishing and happy.

The New York University professor of American Jewish history continues: “The ideal of a religiously neutral state worked amazingly well for the millions of Jews who came to America.”

Indeed. So it is unspeakably tragic that when millions of Jews needed refuge from annihilation, the doors to that ideal America were sealed shut.

(By the way, if you’re lamenting the “maw of Israeli homogenization” that marked the death-knell of Jewish diversity, it seems odd to then celebrate American Jewry in the very next sentence. I happen to love American Jewry with a passion, but I don’t think you can accuse it of a high degree of cultural “diversity.” It is in Israel, not in America, where you will find divergent and distinctive — and yes, usually feuding — Jewish cultures. You know, diversity.)

Israel was built by de facto refugees and their descendants. It’s entirely legitimate to complain about Israeli culture or Israeli policy. It is simple, inane prejudice to complain about the existence of a community of Jews that literally had nowhere else to go. The early Zionists weren’t proven right in intellectual debates, but by the destruction of the remaining options. The Nazis, not the Zionists, ended the German Jewish Enlightenment. The Iraqis, not the Zionists, caused very nearly every Jewish man, woman and child to flee Baghdad.

The notion that Zionism can now be re-litigated, that these millions who had nowhere else to go in that century of genocide and expulsion should have gone, well, somewhere else, is not a view that any serious historian can sustain.

Even Mahmoud Abbas, not famous for his Zionist leanings, possesses the intellectual integrity to have complained that Arab states mistreated their Jews to the point that the Jews had to flee into the arms of the Zionists.

Haaretz prides itself on courageous criticism of Israeli society. In this case at least, it may have lost sight of the distinction between criticism and bigotry. It now seems willing to print ahistorical screeds by an ignorant, privileged class that cannot see beyond the haze of its own moral emotions to the human experience of millions of people it insists on treating as cartoon figures in some imagined morality play.

Nations do not lose their right to exist when they err. The argument that Israeli crimes or injustices disqualify us millions of Hebrew-speaking Jews from our right to be, or to be ourselves, would be counted a genocidal idea if it was made against another people.

This is prejudice, an almost perfect example of the blindness and dehumanization that can flow from unacknowledged privilege.

I’m not sure if Zionism can survive the loss of such eminent and profound thinkers as these. I can only hope we will somehow find the strength to recover from this blow and continue to — not to put too fine a point on the crux of their complaint — exist.

About the Author
Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.
Related Topics
Related Posts