It is not only an outlook that sees the Diaspora as so much better than a renewed clannish ghetto. It is the concept of Israel itself, as much as it is their misrepresentation of what Israel is and does.
By Yisrael Medad, JNS.org
The template of Babylon vs. Zion has taken many forms since the majority of Jews, in exile after the destruction of the First Temple and the loss of Jewish political independence, declined to return to the Land of Israel. It exists among Orthodox Jews and the less-to-non-observant Jews. Jews of the right and the left. Jews of strong identity and those who seek to be assimilated. But there is a new category today.
If, in the past, Jewish nationalism was disfavored or even rejected more because of how the Jews preferring a Diaspora existence viewed themselves, we now see an increasing willingness, if not a perverse delight, in dissing Israel not as a particularly internal Jewish matter, from the Bundists, the early Reform, the American Council for Judaism to the Neturei Karta and British Jewish opponents of the Balfour Declaration, but as a matter which is to be judged as how the Jews are affected in their Diaspora locations.
Mairav Zonszein’s tweet is one that sets the tone for this second most dangerous threat to Jews today after anti-Semitic non-Jews, the resurgence of Diaspora “supremacism.” She wrote:
“The Pittsburg shooting exposed in the most crass and heinous way just how much israel and pro israel leaders manipulate antisemitism and abuse Jewish identity to serve political interests.” (sic)
Her accusation highlights what Dennis Prager wrote a fortnight later:
“The security of the world’s only Jewish state is by far the greatest security issue for world Jewry. Yet many left-wing Jews attack Israel, support many of those who wish to destroy Israel, or, at the very least, do nothing to strengthen Israel’s security.”
And he added a specific concern: “The ADL, which at one time was preoccupied with fighting anti-Semitism, is now preoccupied with fighting Donald Trump and fighting on behalf of the American left.”
I look to the late professor Tony Judt, who recalibrated this new supremacist think of “we in the Diaspora are better than the Jewish homeland.” Back in 2003, he infamously published:
“The very idea of a ‘Jewish state’—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded—is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism.”
And he provided the new twist in his justification for turning away from Zion:
“Israel continues to mock its American patron, building illegal settlements in cynical disregard of the ‘road map.’ The President of the United States of America has been reduced to a ventriloquist’s dummy, pitifully reciting the Israeli cabinet line …”
In his last interview in 2001, Judt expressed a feeling of “a declining sense of identification with the place: its behavior, its culture, its politics, its insularity, its prejudices have nothing to do with being Jewish,” and added, pointedly and presciently, “I know that is especially true of younger Jews.”
Most relevant to my thesis are these words of his, which also contain a thought on the danger his wishful thinking presents for a Jewish future altogether in the Diaspora:
“As to the future of Jews in the diaspora, they (we) will once again be the predominant community (once again as in classical times). I think Israel will grow increasingly marginal for most Jews, though I don’t quite know what their Jewish life will look like either in a secularized world.”
Israel has not become marginal. Its successes in science and technology affect more non-Jews than Jews now. Even countries which have not been historically favorable to Jews, whether in Europe or, surprisingly, the Muslim Arab world, are realigning their relations.
What has developed, though, is the increased choice of the younger generation to redefine their Jewishness as having little to do with actual Judaism either as a religion, a culture or an ethnic identity. Their Jewishness is a Diaspora one, and their moorings are fixed not in relation to something Jewish; they seek to apply any sort of Jewishness vestige they have and link that with the general surroundings in which they live.
One example of this is the reciting of the Kaddish by IfNotNowers (whose site includes this blurb: “DO YOU WANT TO STOP TRUMP AND HIS ALLIANCE WITH NETANYAHU?”) as well as a group of British Jews outside Parliament to mark the deaths of Gazan Arabs. If one believed that their deaths were unjustified, why not join in a Muslim ceremony? Why take something quite Jewish, not to mention its Holocaust connection, and exploit it for the purpose of expressing support for non-Jewish persons seeking to invade Israel to kill Jews? Even Leonard Bernstein, in mourning John F. Kennedy, felt a need to backtrack on his Third Symphony based on the Kaddish even though there is little similarity in the victims commemorated.
As that blurb quoted above indicates, the battle to reject Israel in preference for the Diaspora is here linked to an ideological political position that is basically Diasporian in character. And it seeks to blame Israel not only for what Israel “does,” as it were, to Arabs trying to eradicate it, but to shift that blame on Israel for what an American president does.
In the New York Post, Jonathan Neuman noted, “Before the bodies of the dead had gone cold, let alone been buried and mourned, the Jewish left sacrificed an opportunity to cry in unity and chose instead to call for division.” The coalition of the Torah Trumps Hate, Hitoreri and Uri L’Tzedek groups, no matter how miniscule they may be, issued a demand that the National Council of Young Israel
“retract its message of praise for a president who fans the flames of anti-Semitism and whose policies are anathema to Jewish values. It is time for the Orthodox Jewish community to reassert its place as the leaders and promoters of Abrahamic ethics.”
While we Jews may know the real numbers of these making media splashes, that doesn’t help when 11 members of another extremist group, Bend the Arc, succeeded in having themselves described as “Jewish leaders,” in The Washington Post and The Hill, when demanding President Trump not come to Pittsburgh. Even Bari Weiss entangled herself in this supremacist attitude when she wrote, seemingly innocently, in The New York Times:
“But to those who have spent their lives in places like Karachi or Aleppo, the things Pittsburgh Jews take for granted—our freedom from violence and fear—are nothing more than pipe dreams.”
But as my friend commented there:
“Apparently Ms. Weis’ (and The New York Times’) sympathies and empathies are not broad enough to include Sderot and Ashkelon and Jerusalem. For today’s intersectionalized liberals, Jewish ones especially, Israel does not seem to exist on the radar of their sensitivities. Only dead Jews in their own backyard can merit the mourning they grant to the dead of Allepo and Karachi.”
And whereas, as Yair Rosenberg has highlighted, there is a trend to universalize the Holocaust, these Diaspora supremacists employ an offshoot of this and push a new paradigm of universalizing Israel because for them, and their politics and identities, it is Israel’s Jewishness that seems to get in their way.
For the Diaspora supremacists, it’s not only a matter of diluting Judaism to create what they want Judaism to be in line with their external-from-Judaism essence. It is not only how Jewish they themselves want to be, if at all. It is not only an outlook that sees the Diaspora as so much better than a renewed clannish ghetto. It is the concept of Israel itself as much as it is their misrepresentation of what Israel is and does.
For the Diaspora supremacists, they are not only the better Jews (a new form of Ostjudenfahr or of Jews blaming Jews), but they are the genuine Jews and these illegitimate Jews, in Israel, are threatening them.
In seeking to be supreme and then to dominate, these Jews are channeling a greater hatred they claim to be combating.
Yisrael Medad is an American-born Israeli journalist and commentator.