Jews can assimilate, and they can disappear, and they can establish forms of religious practice as they wish. What they cannot do is claim that their Judaism is more appropriate and more correct.
By Yisrael Medad, JNS
I have no problem agreeing with what Daniel Gordis recently published:
“American Jews look at Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians as a civil-rights issue. Israelis see it as a survival issue.”
And with what he added,
“ … despite all their similarities, America and Israel are radically different endeavors. One was meant to embrace all of humanity, while the other was intended to save the Jewish people.”
Differences were not unknown in the past. There was the American Council for Judaism, small but with its message magnified by media empathy; the Reform Rabbinate, which previously fought Zionism in 1919 until the 1937 Columbus Conference, when the upbuilding of the Jewish homeland became an obligation; and the extreme ambivalence (if not outright anti-Zionism) of the American Jewish Committee’s president Joseph M. Proskauer as late as 1943.
I have previously railed against a phenomenon whereby Diaspora Jews seek to define their Judaism and sympathy with Zionism in terms of their political and cultural existence in the countries where they live and seek, backwards, to force authentic Jewish and Zionist thought to fit their new reversionary reality. That, however, is not only false, but defeats the entire exercise. Change and adaption is not wrong; completing redefining and redesigning Judaism is.
How to overcome your minority social-stratum position? Attempt to be absorbed into the majority. That has not been an unknown process in Jewish history. But what is different with this generation is that the viciousness, the malignancy and the false portrayal employed by groups such as IfNotNow, Jewish Voice for Peace, Bend the Arc and others, although the actions centuries ago of the apostates as Donin and Alfonso Burgensis I’ll admit were worse, if only because whereas then Jews had no place where they were a self-ruling majority and could defend themselves, today there is Israel.
Having lived in the Diaspora and studied Jewish history, I cannot deny the pressures that Jews who cannot accept the more rigorous observant style face from family friends and foes. Yet to justify their weakness, they are not permitted to weaken Jewish tradition and custom. They can assimilate, and they can disappear, and they can establish forms of religious practice as they wish. What they cannot do is claim that their Judaism is more appropriate and more correct.
Plain, undeniable facts
It is at this nexus that the tendency to basically upside-down ideas conflates with the insistence of the new wokerati, who have been trained to think in a convoluted style, that they have the right to disagree with anything and everything is spreading beyond being an American Jewish trait. I recently had the opportunity to present the view of a resident of Judea and Samaria to a group of young grown-ups—sorry, “millennials.” Now, I don’t mind being disagreed with about issues and interpretations of history, law and social life, but when the audience reacts aghast at plain, undeniable facts, it’s more than frustrating. In fact, it is stupefying.
I am going to borrow the title from Gideon Levy’s (yes) recent Haaretz op-ed, “Longing for a country that never was,” to illustrate what I experienced. I readily pointed out to the group that today’s narrative is (a) that there is a Palestinian people; (b) that they have equal national rights to the Jews; (c) that Israel’s occupation is not only robbing them of those rights, but is wrong Jewishly and also illegal; (d) that the population demographics mitigate against continued retention of Judea and Samaria; and (e) that Israel is becoming morally and ethically indefensible if it continues its occupation. I then sought to factually disprove all that.
Among other things—and I cannot exhaustively repeat all—I noted that the Arabs of the Palestine Mandate area themselves early on declined to be called “Palestinians” and demanded that the territory be rejoined to the Syrian Mandate for the region was Southern Syrian. Moreover, if it wasn’t for the Zionists, there probably would never be a geopolitical entity as “Palestine.”
I reviewed international law, noting that whereas “settlement activity” is not explicitly mentioned in the oft-quoted infamous Geneva Article 49, it is in the League of Nations Mandate decision of 1922, the text of Article 6 reading:
“The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced … shall encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands … .”
Those “lands,” I logically pointed out, included all of present-day Israel, as well as Judea, Samaria and Gaza, since Article 25 of that same decision excluded the territories east of the Jordan River with the remainder, obviously being all what was west of the river. I was even conciliatory, saying that if you campaign for a second Arab state in Palestine (I reminded them that Jordan is located in what Marc Lamont famously called “historic Palestine”), why cannot I reside in Shiloh? They were not impressed.
Semantics and rhetoric
Additionally, I noted the founding of the PLO in 1964—three years prior to the war that bestowed upon Israel the “occupation,” the fedayeen of the early 1950s, and the fact that the 1967 was defensive, and that “Palestine” never existed as a state and therefore could not be a High Contracting Party for who the Geneva Convention is binding. I even pointed out the UNSC 242 doesn’t even mention “Palestinians.” To be truthful, they were a bit taken back when I noted that the Balfour Declaration San Remo Conference decision and the League of Nations mandate decision didn’t even mention the term “Arabs” (and, yes, the Mandate does mention “Arabic”).
I pointed out the strategic value of the topography of Judea and Samaria, the failed results of the Gaza Disengagement of 2005, the previous Arab rejectionism of a two-state compromise and much more. I will admit that I did not adequately mention the false “demographic danger threat.”
I expected them to argue the facts, the numbers, the dates and even the relevance. But they were already in a mindset which no arguing in a rational sense could alter. For them, their semantics and their rhetoric that deny the “things—the beauty, the memory of our own past,” which are “good images”—come from what C.S. Lewis in his The Weight of Glory described as “news from a country we have never yet visited.” They ignored all actuality and preferred to attach themselves, irrationally, to a cross between a wished-for reality on the one hand, and on the other, a disdainful cherem approach to what is the uncomfortable truth of the Arabs’ century-long conflict with Jews, Judaism and Zionism.
Lewis, in his 1941 words, sought to “wake us from [an] evil enchantment.” There is a need for an awakening today out of another enchantment as well.
Yisrael Medad is an American-born Israel journalist and political commentator.