Making non-Zionist judaism mainstream
By Ilan Pappe, Electronic Intifada
October 18, 2013
When the Zionist movement appeared in Eastern Europe in the 1880s, it found it very difficult to persuade the leading rabbis and secular Jewish thinkers of the day to support it.
The leading rabbis saw the political history in the Bible and the idea of Jewish sovereignty on the land of Israel as very marginal topics and were much more concerned, as indeed Judaism as a religion was, with the holy tracts that focused on the relationship between the believers themselves and in particular their relations with God.
Secular liberal or socialist Jews also found the idea of Jewish nationalism unattractive. Liberal Jews hoped that a far more liberal world would solve the problems of persecution and anti-Semitism while avowed socialists and communists wished peoples of all religions, not just the Jews, to be liberated from oppression.
Even the idea of a particular Jewish socialist movement, such as the Bund, was a bizarre one in their eyes. “Zionists who were afraid of seasickness” is what the Russian Marxist Georgi Plekhanov called the Bundists when they wanted to join the international communist movement.
The secular Jews who founded the Zionist movement wanted paradoxically both to secularize Jewish life and to use the Bible as a justification for colonizing Palestine; in other words, they did not believe in God but He nonetheless promised them Palestine.
This precarious logic was recognized even by the founder of the Zionist movement himself, Theodore Herzl, who therefore opted for Uganda, rather than Palestine, as the promised land of Zion. It was the pressure of Protestant scholars and politicians of the Bible, especially in Britain, who kept the gravitation of the Zionist movement towards Palestine.
Map of colonization
For them it was a double bill: you get rid of the Jews in Europe, and at the same time you fulfill the divine scheme in which the second coming of the Messiah will be precipitated by the return of the Jews — and their subsequent conversion to Christianity or their roasting in hell should they refuse.
From that moment onwards the Bible became both the justification for, and the map of, the Zionist colonization of Palestine. Hardcore Zionists knew it would not be enough: colonizing the inhabited Palestine would require a systematic policy of ethnic cleansing. But portraying the dispossession of Palestine as the fulfillment of a divine Christian scheme was priceless for galvanizing global Christian support behind Zionism.
The Bible was never taught as a singular text that carried any political or even national connotation in the various Jewish educational systems in either Europe or in the Arab world. What Zionism derogatorily called “Exile” — the fact that the vast majority of Jews lived not in Palestine but communities around the world — was considered by most religious Jews as an imperative existence and the basis for Jewish identity in modern time.
Jews were not asked to do all they could to end the “Exile” — this particular condition could have only been transformed by the will of God and could not be hastened or tampered with by acts such as the one perpetrated by the Zionist movement.
One of the greatest successes of the secular Zionist movement was creating a religious Zionist component that found rabbis willing to legitimize this act of tampering by claiming that the very act itself was proof that God’s will has been done.
These rabbis accepted the secular Zionist idea to turn the Bible into a book that stands by itself and conceded that a superficial knowledge of it became a core of one’s Jewishness even if all the other crucial religious imperatives were ignored.
These were the same rabbis who after the 1967 War used the Bible as both the justification and roadmap for the judaization and de-Arabization of the occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem.[continued below this insert]
We are Jews who say “Not in Our Name” to the Israeli Government.
We call for:
-an immediate end to the massacre of the Palestinian people
-an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of Israeli troops
-an immediate end to the blockade of Gaza
-immediate steps taken to end the Israeli occupation
We stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, with protesters in Israel who are bravely opposing the brutality of their government, and with all those around the world calling for justice and peace in the Middle East.
In the 1990s the two movements — the one that does not believe in God and the one that impatiently decides to do His work — have fused into a lethal mixture of religious fanaticism with extreme nationalism. This alliance formed in the Israeli crucible is mirrored among Israel’s Jewish supporters around the world.
And yet this development has not completely eclipsed the very same Jewish groups that rejected Zionism when it first appeared in the late nineteenth century: those who are called in Israel the Ultra-Orthodox Jews — abhorred and detested in particular by liberal Zionists — and purely secular Jews who feel alien in the kind of “Jewish State” Israel became.
A small number of the former — for example Neturei Karta — even profess allegiance to the Palestine Liberation Organization, while the vast majority of the Ultra-Orthodox express their anti-Zionism without necessarily offering support for Palestinian rights.
Meanwhile, some of the secular Jews try to relive the dreams of their European and Arab grandparents in the pre-Zionist era: that group of people made their way as individuals, and not as a collective, in the various societies they found themselves in; more often than not injecting cosmopolitan, pluralist and multicultural ideas if they were gifted enough to write or teach about them.
This new, and I should say inevitable, religious-nationalist mixture that now informs the Jewish society in Israel has also caused a large and significant number of young American Jews, and Jews elsewhere in the world, to distance themselves from Israel. This trend has become so significant that it seems that Israeli policy today relies more on Christian Zionists than on loyal Jews.
It is possible, and indeed necessary, to reaffirm the pluralist non-Zionist ways of professing one’s relationship with Judaism; in fact this is the only road open to us if we wish to seek an equitable and just solution in Palestine. Whether Jews want to live there as Orthodox Jews — something that was always tolerated and respected in the Arab and Muslim worlds — or build together with like-minded Palestinians, locals and refugees, a more secular society, their presence in today’s Palestine is not by itself an obstacle to justice or peace.
Whatever your ethnicity is, you can contribute to the making of a society based on continued dialogue between religion and secularism as well as between the third generation of settlers and the native population in a decolonizing state.
Like all the other societies of the Arab world this one too would strive to find the bridge between past heritage and future visions. Its dilemmas will be the same as those which are now informing everyone who lives in the Arab world, in the heart of which lies the land of Palestine.
The society in Palestine and present-day Israel cannot deal with these issues in isolation from the rest of the Arab world, and neither can any other Arab nation-state created by the colonialist agreements forged in the wake of the First World War.
For the Jews in today’s Israel to be part of a new, just and peaceful Palestine, there is an imperative to reconnect to the Jewish heritage before it was corrupted and distorted by Zionism. The fact that this distorted version is presented in some circles in the west as the face of Judaism itself is yet another rotten fruit of the wish of some of the victims of nationalist criminality — as the Jews were in central and Eastern Europe — to become such criminals themselves.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam are what believers choose them to be. In pre-Zionist Palestine, the choice was for living together in the same towns and villages in one complete existence. In the turn of the twentieth century, it was even moving faster towards a more relaxed way of living. But alas, that was the path not taken.
We should not lose hope that this is still possible in the future. We need to reclaim Judaism and extract it from the hands of the “Jewish State” as a first step towards building a joint place for those who lived and want to live there in the future.
The author of numerous books, Ilan Pappe is professor of history and director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter, UK.
Jews United for Justice
A Growing Jewish Justice Movement
The Jewish community has a critical role to play in helping to solve America’s problems because American Jews care deeply about this country and its future. Twenty-first Century polls continue to confirm what our families have known for generations: the vast majority of American Jews across the spectrum from atheist to secular to every kind of observant consider pursuing justice and caring for others the key to their Jewish identity.
One of the biggest-ever demonstrations in Israel: over 200,000 gather in Tel Aviv at social justice protest, summer 2011. Opinion was divided over whether this was a vital boost to Israel’s flagging movement for justice, or whether it entirely missed the point by not openly protesting against the occupation and for Palestinian rights. Photo by Keren Manor/activestills
Sara Benninga’s rousing speech at the Sheikh Jarrah rally: There is a new Left in town!
Sheikh Jarrah, March 6, 2010
There is a new Left in town!
There is a new Left and it is a Left that is not satisfied with peace talks. It is a Left that fights!
There is a new Left that knows there are things you must fight against even when they are identified with the State and even when they enjoy the protection of the law!
There is a new Left that knows that this fight will not be won on paper but on the ground, in the hills, in the vineyards and in the olive groves.
There is a new Left that is not afraid of the settlers, even when they descend on it from the hilltops, blindfolded and armed.
This Left does not surrender to the police’s political repression, and does not care what they write about it in Maariv. There is a new Left in town!
This Left does not want to be loved, does not fantasize about town squares and does not bask in the memory of the 400,000. This Left is a partnership between Palestinians, who understand the occupation will not be defeated by missiles and bombs, and Israelis, who understand that the Palestinian struggle is their struggle.
The new Left joins hands with Palestinians in a cloud of tear gas at Bil’in and gets beaten up together with them by settlers at the South Hebron Mountain.
This Left stands by refugees and labor migrants in Tel Aviv and fights against the Wisconsin Plan.
The new Left is us — all of us!
Everyone who came here tonight. Everyone who dared cross the imaginary line between West and East Jerusalem, despite the threats and intimidation.
We are all the new Left that is emerging in Israel and Palestine.
We are not fighting for a peace agreement. We are fighting for justice. But we believe that injustice is the main obstacle to peace.
There will be no peace until the Ghawi and Hanoun and al-Kurd families return to their homes. Because peace does not grow on a soil of discrimination, oppression and theft.
There is a new Left in town and that Left stands with the people of Sheikh Jarrah tonight and will continue standing with them until justice defeats fanaticism.
But there is also a new Right in town.
A Right awash with fanaticism and racism that seduces the masses with nationalist rhetoric.
The new Right does not care about the welfare and well-being of human beings. The new Right only cares about ethnic, tribal, Liebermanistic loyalty.
For the new Right charity begins at home only for Jews. And what makes a person a Jew is the fact that they are not an Arab.
The new Right has nothing to offer except for endless war.
The new Right is the empty wagon that went off the rails: religious and secular Jews who have nothing but hatred of the other: the Arabs the refugee, the leftist.
That new Right manufactures the deluded settlers, because of whom we are demonstrating tonight.
Those settlers hate Jerusalem. They do not love the Jewish people and they do not love mankind. They love only themselves.
Among the settlers there are many with whom we should speak. But the settlers of Sheikh Jarrah, who sing canticles to Baruch Goldstein — they must be defeated.
The new Right created Nir Barkat. A technocrat who does not understand Jerusalem and does not care about Jerusalem. A mayor who uses administrative terror against the residents of East Jerusalem and neglects the residents of West Jerusalem, while reciting endless clichés.
If Jerusalem is a powder keg, the match that might light it is called Nir Barkat.
But we are not afraid of Barkat, nor are we afraid of the settlers, nor are we afraid of Lieberman.
We will keep coming to Sheikh Jarrah and to every place where justice is trampled by the forces of occupation and oppression.
Look around you. We are not as few as we thought! And we will win!