For the first time in Jewish history, there is both a strong Jewish Homeland and a strong Jewish Diaspora. And it raises fundamental questions about our Jewish future. What will the relationship between these two thriving centers of Jewish life look like? What are the intersections between the two? Will there even be an intersection, or will two separate and distinct Jewish populations and cultures develop over the next several generations?
The new paradigm for that relationship is what I am calling Zionism 3.0.
I see it like this: Zionism 1.0 was the pre-state of Israel Zionism. It was the aspirational Zionism of Theodore Herzl and the World Zionist Congress. It was the gold-tinged dream of self-determination. It was the Zionism of Jews suffering from anti-Semitism, yearning for a return to our homeland, a place where Jews could govern themselves.
Zionism 2.0 was the Zionism of 1948 to the turn of the 21st century. It was the Zionism of reality not theory. It was the Zionism of working through the difficulty of actually building a state. One of the defining factors of Zionism 2.0 was that some Jews made aliyah and others didn’t. And the ones who didn’t, supported those who did – financially, diplomatically and politically. And they did it without weighing in on Israeli decisions.
In Zionism 2.0, Diaspora Jewry had a stake, but not a say. Zionism 3.0 asks whether that model should change.
Zionism 3.0 asks whether Diaspora Jews should have a say in what happens in Israel, and if so, what that would look like. And conversely, what can Israelis contribute to American Judaism in a meaningful way?
I believe the Second Intifada sparked the need for this conversation and this potential paradigm shift. Some might mark the date earlier – to 1981 and the First Lebanon War. Still others might date it to the late 80s with the First Intifada. But I think the real cleavage in our community started in 2000 with the Second Intifada because some began to question Israel’s acts of self-defense against terrorism. Now, f1or the last 17 years, more and more members of the Jewish community have struggled with the question of how to support Israel when they don’t agree with certain Israeli policies. They want a stake and a say.
I remember in September of 2000 being in my AIPAC office in downtown San Francisco, looking out over Market Street. We heard shouting and we looked out to see protestors holding Palestinian flags, marching down Market Street shouting, “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea.”
We went down to get a closer look and what I saw was the largest anti-Israel rally I had ever seen (up until that time), complete with burning Israeli flags. I remember wanting to jump in and rescue a flag, but my colleagues held me back for my own safety. After the protestors marched onward, I grabbed the remnants of that flag, which I hung up on my wall as a reminder of what I was fighting for – and against.
Within months, there was a huge anti-Israel protest at UC Berkeley on Yom HaShoah. The protestors disrupted the Jewish students who were saying Kaddish to honor those lost in Holocaust, and the protesters ultimately “occupied” Wheeler Hall, where many students were taking exams. I remember the Jewish students being in tears that day.
I also witnessed the debacle at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival when they showed a documentary movie about the death of Rachel Corrie, an anti-Israel activist who put herself in the path of an Israeli bulldozer and was killed. The festival organizers brought Rachel Corrie’s mother to speak after the movie, and it became a virulent anti-Israel fest.
These incidents – and others – led to major divisions within the Bay Area Jewish community. And while you may be thinking, “Well, yeah, but that’s just loony liberal San Francisco,” I want to remind you that Northern California has been a fountainhead for much of what happens elsewhere. Trends often start here and move east. And that’s exactly what happened 17 years ago.
Today, Jews all over the U.S. are asking themselves the questions: Do we get to have a say in Israeli affairs? How do I support Israel if I disagree with her? And what is the right vehicle for supporting Israel and showing my personal views?
We must help them answer these questions. If we don’t, then we risk driving them into the arms of groups who have a more sinister agenda viz. Israel – or having them walk away from Israel altogether. Those are the stakes of Zionism 3.0.
Some believe that Diaspora Jews don’t have the right to tell Israel what to do: Diaspora Jews don’t live in Israel, haven’t fought in the IDF, haven’t lost friends or family in wars. Some feel it is the height of arrogance for those to judge Israel from thousands of miles away, yet not have to live with the consequences themselves: you wouldn’t want the Jews of Mea She’arim telling you how to live your lives in the US, so why should US Jews tell Israel how to live their lives?
But others insist that if Israel is going to be the homeland for all Jews everywhere, then all Jews need to help make Israel into that place they’re proud of. They believe that if you love a place, you must work to make it better. And since Israel’s actions impact all Jews everywhere anyway, then Diaspora Jews deserve a say. Besides, why should Israel be the only topic about which Jews aren’t allowed to speak out?
I am not suggesting we simply create a safe space for those who just want to be critical of Israel. And I’m not suggesting we open this discussion to those who have ulterior motives, like undermining Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State. I am suggesting that we convene a conversation to determine if Diaspora Jews should have a say in what happens in Israel, and if so, what the appropriate vehicle is.
One more thing: I am also not suggesting this just be a conversation. It starts with talking, but then it needs to lead to real tachlis. It needs to lead to continued convergence between our two centers of Jewish life. And it needs to include American and Israeli Jews.
The future of Zionism just may be the most important Jewish issue of our generation. For if we do not come up with a paradigm that is acceptable to the mainstream – of course we will never please everyone – but for most of our community, then we risk alienating a huge portion of our population who just doesn’t get it. And there is a very rapidly growing segment of our community – mainly the young people – who just don’t get it.
At its heart, Zionism 3.0 asks: what is going to help ensure our kids and grandkids love Israel, despite sometimes disagreeing with Israel, like they do with members of their own families?
The stakes are nothing short of the future of Jewish peoplehood.
This is an excerpt from a speech delivered at the 2017 AIPAC Policy Conference. To be a part of the discussion on Zionism 3.0, come to the Zionism 3.0 Conference at the OFJCC in Palo Alto, California this Fall. Or join the conversation by hosting a Z3 Conference in your own hometown. Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how.