Saturday, December 10, 2011

Netanyahu's Army (on Zionism)

OK, so, let's say you think Jews are more than just pawns in a Christian fantasy of the end times--what do you do about Israel?

Well, first, let's separate out Jews from Israel--which is not easy: A lot of pro-Zion forces like being able to call anti-Zionists anti-Semites; and some anti-Zion speech treads close to traditional anti-Semite rhetoric. This is a hard issue, in part because the founding story of Israel relies on a lot of philo- and anti-Semitic ideas: Let's remember, when Herzl proposed Israel, he wanted a place for Jews to get back to the land and away from the European traditions of money-lending, urbane Jews.

But what if those traditions have come to be at the heart of your Jewish identity? This reminds me of Ralph Ellison, in his review of An American Dilemma:
But can a people (its faith in an idealized American Creed not-withstanding) live and develop for over three hundred years simply by reacting? Are American Negroes simply the creation of white men, or have they at least helped to create themselves out of what they found around them? Men have made a way of life in caves and upon cliffs; why cannot Negroes have made a life upon the horns of the white man’s dilemma?
Herzl didn't ask himself this question; and though Herzl eventually settled on jettisoning this life that Jews created for themselves upon the horns of the European Christian's dilemma, one of his previous plans was for Jews to jettison their Judaism by converting to Catholicism. So, Herzl: a little too quick to throw things out.

Which is one main problem I have with pro-Zionist forces who argue that you can only really be a Jew in Israel. (Did you see Netanyahu's government's recent ads (now canceled) on how Israelis shouldn't marry American Jews because they're not real Jews?) We could call these "hipster Jews" since they're obsessed with a notion of authenticity; but what they really are is eminently ahistorical, as if Jews/Judaism were a fixed notion throughout time--as if we got the tablets from Moses and immediately made matzah ball soup and told our children to become doctors.

So, when I was in Israel, I enjoyed the fact that everything shut down for Shabbat; and then everything seemed like a party after Shabbat, when all the restaurants opened up and we went out for dinner at a time that's probably past my bedtime now. But that particular observance of Shabbat is merely one type--not the only available expression of Jewishness.

Oh, boy, this is going to be a three-part argument about Zionism. And every part will have an Elvis Costello song (modified) as a title!

Part 1: Conservative Christian support is a poisoned pill that supports Zion but denies agency and worth to Jews.
Part 2: The pro-Zion argument that Jews need Israel to be authentically Jewish is ahistorical.
Part 3: ?

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