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Zionist three lack accuracy and integrity

A response to Howard Jacobson, Simon Sebag Montefiore and Simon Schama letter to The Times

By Donald Sassoon,
Emeritus professor (modern European history, Queen Mary University of London). He is a JfJfP signatory and the author of:
One Hundred Years of Socialism
Mona Lisa
The Culture of the Europeans
Mussolini and the Rise of Fascism
And forthcoming: The Anxious Triumph of Capitalism (1860-1914) Allen Lane/Penguin Random House

In this centenary year of the Balfour Declaration I am alarmed that three Jewish writers declare themselves to be ‘troubled by the tone and direction of debate about Israel and Zionism within the Labour Party’. I thought they should be troubled by the direction of the Netanyahu government, the Islamophobia which seems to pervade many of its members and the increasingly strident tone of Israeli politics. Can they really not see that the allegations of pervading anti-semitism in the Labour Party are part of a largely inner-party battle against its leadership (quite apart from the irony that some of those accused of anti-semitism such as Moshe Machover, Tony Greenstein and Jackie Walker, are themselves Jewish).


Donald Sassoon, noted historian

What the three writers really object to is anti-Zionism: ‘We believe that anti-Zionism, with its anti-semitic characteristics, has no place in a civil society.’ The pedant in me was wondering what is ‘a civil society’. Presumably it is a civilized society one where one can be Zionist or anti-Zionist just as one can be for or against an independent Scotland or an independent Catalonia. Or do they mean ‘civil society’, a term used by the British liberal tradition, to denote the ‘private’ non-state sphere, one in which religion is a private matter?

One wonders who or what entitles them to the arrogant belief that those who do not agree with their views on Zionism should not be allowed in ‘a civil society’? Only those terribly insecure in their views or holding a totalitarian position could make such claim.

Our three writers from L, Jacobson, Schama, and Sebag-Montefiore. Their letter attacked the Labour Party whose members, they say, conceal their antisemitism under the cloak of anti-Zionism

Our three writers define Zionism as ‘the right of the Jewish people to a homeland, and the very existence of a Jewish state.’ Well, let me be frank: I am an anti-Zionist Jew, one of many. Yet, believe it not, I do not want to throw the Israeli Jews (or anyone else) into the sea. Like most Jews outside Israel (and many inside) I want a non-confessional state. I am hostile to and do not want to live in a ‘Catholic’ state, or an ‘Islamic’ state, and I am even mildly annoyed about the privileged position the Anglican church has in the United Kingdom. This was the view of most Jews when Zionists were in a minority among Jews.

I would like Israel to be a state of all its citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity; a state where religion is a private affair, where Jews living abroad do not have more rights than those whose parents and grandparents had been ethnically cleansed from Palestine. Of course, among anti-Zionists there are anti-semites, just as there are racists among those who lament the corruption prevailing in many African states or among those who decry the involvement of some British Pakistanis in sex abuses. This does not mean that there is no corruption in Africa or that there were no sex abuses.

Our three writers regard Zionism as representing ‘the longing of dispersed people to return home’ ….since AD 70, the year of the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem (the first was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, in 586 BC). But they know that, contrary to popular belief among Jews (and contrary to what I was taught in my Jewish school) there was no sudden expulsion of all Jews from what is now Israel in AD 70. If the Romans had wanted to get rid of the Jews they would have killed all of them rather than embarking on the complicated task of deporting them and scattering them to the four corners of the empire.

In any case this religious ‘longing’ for a return does not seem to be shared by our three writers, who are thriving in an England allegedly crawling with anti-semites, and do not seem to want to return to the ‘home’ they left in 70 AD. Nor has this longing been shared by the millions of Jews who, in previous centuries, have much preferred migrating to the USA or Argentina or Western Europe rather than ending up in Palestine. One could say this ‘homeland’ is a nationalist fantasy buttressed by a cult of victimhood. In fact many of us have thrived in our chosen countries, particularly where the state and ‘civil society’ are based on solid liberal principles.

But even if Zionist nationalism were not a fantasy, is one not allowed to reject it and be a dissident engaging in free and open debate which is the hallmark of a ‘civil ‘ society? In this age of emotion and fake news, it’s all the more important that the tradition of robust and reasoned discussion is allowed to thrive, without recourse to name-calling and fatwas.


NOTES AND LINKS

What follows is a brief survey of those sources which would be expected to record as momentous an event as the wholesale exile of all Jews from the province of Judea. The existence of a country called Palestine was known to the Greeks in the 5th century BCE.

This was compiled by the postings editor, postings@jfjfp.org

AD 70 – no exile of Jews

Josephus is the great chronicler/historian 0f 1st century Roman rule. He wrote two histories of the Jews in neither of which is the forced expulsion of Jews in AD70 mentioned.

from
Josephus Flavius, posted by My Jewish Learning

Josephus Flavius both participated in and wrote the history of the Jewish interaction with Rome.

By Jeffrey Spitzer

Josephus Flavius wrote a history called the Jewish War Against the Romans (JW), the massive Antiquities of the Jews (AJ), which retells Jewish history from its origins up until the war, an autobiography (Life), and a theological defence of Judaism called Against Apion (AA). Josephus played a major role in the first Jewish revolt, and thus, both JW and Life—though on many points contradicting each other or having markedly different perspectives–are fascinating (if self-aggrandizing) resources for retelling his life story. As a historian, his writings are both entertaining and of questionable objectivity–inasmuch as he is also a key player in the story he tells.
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Masada, now a national park. Photo from wikipedia. 

If all Jews had been expelled from Judea in 70AD, who was fighting the Romans from the Masada table mountain, 73-74 CE? 

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from wikipedia, Jewish diaspora

The first exile was the Assyrian exile, the expulsion from the Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) begun by Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria in 733 BCE. This process was completed by Sargon II with the destruction of the kingdom in 722 BCE, concluding a three-year siege of Samaria begun by Shalmaneser V. The next experience of exile was the Babylonian captivity, in which portions of the population of the Kingdom of Judah were deported in 597 BCE and again in 586 BCE by the Neo-Babylonian Empire under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar II.

Before the middle of the first century CE, in addition to Judea, Syria and Babylonia, large Jewish communities existed in the Roman provinces of Egypt, Cyrene and Crete and in Rome itself; after the Siege of Jerusalem in 63 BCE, when the Hasmonean kingdom became a protectorate of Rome, emigration intensified. In 6 CE the region was organized as the Roman province of Judea, but the Judean population revolted against the Roman Empire in 66 CE during the period known as the First Jewish–Roman War which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. During the siege, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple and most of Jerusalem. This event marked the beginning of the Roman exile, also called Edom exile. Jewish leaders and elite were exiled from the land, killed, or taken to Rome as slaves.

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from Jewish Virtual Library

Ancient Jewish History: Roman Rule

In 37 BCE, Herod, a son-in-law of Hyrcanus II, was appointed King of Judea by the Romans. Granted almost unlimited autonomy in the country’s internal affairs, he became one of the most powerful monarchs in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. A great admirer of Greco-Roman culture, Herod launched a massive construction programme, which included the cities of Caesarea and Sebaste and the fortresses at Herodium and Masada. He also remodelled the Temple into one of the most magnificent buildings of its time. But despite his many achievements, Herod failed to win the trust and support of his Jewish subjects.

Ten years after Herod’s death (4 BCE), Judea came under direct Roman administration. Growing anger against increased Roman suppression of Jewish life resulted in sporadic violence which escalated into a full-scale revolt in 66 CE. Superior Roman forces led by Titus were finally victorious, razing Jerusalem to the ground (70 CE) and defeating the last Jewish outpost at Masada (73 CE).


The total destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple was catastrophic for the Jewish people. According to the contemporary historian Josephus Flavius, hundreds of thousands of Jews perished in the siege of Jerusalem and elsewhere in the country, and many thousands more were sold into slavery.

from Christianity Today,

A.D. 70 Titus Destroys Jerusalem

….Eventually the Romans broke through the outer wall, then the second wall, and finally the third wall. Still the Jews fought, scurrying to the temple as their last line of defence.

That was the end for the valiant Jewish defenders and for the temple. Historian Josephus claimed that Titus wanted to preserve the temple, but his soldiers were so angry at their resilient opponents that they burned it. The remaining Jews were slaughtered or sold as slaves.

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from Simply Bible
Was the Jewish ‘World’ Destroyed in AD70?
—No, it was not.

The destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in AD70 was a great setback, yet may have been a great step forward. Why would Judaism not receive an impetus from their persecution, as Christianity did some years earlier? Certain aspects of the Jewish religion depended on the temple in the holy city.

But just as Daniel had remained a true Jew in exile, so could the Jews after AD70 — more so because they had already migrated and settled in many parts of the world. The Jewish “world” was by no means limited to Jerusalem, nor was the Jewish heart.
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from My Jewish Learning
Judaism after the Temple

From a distance of 2,000 years, it appears that this shift in priorities enabled the spiritual wealth of Israel to become migratory, based on Torah study, not on the location of an altar or a King’s palace — Jerusalem to Yavneh, to the North of Israel, to Babylonia, and finally throughout the Diaspora. Were the rabbis willing to remodel the former Jewish kingdom into a wandering people unified only by a shared text? Were they enthusiastic about this shift, which empowered scholar over priest and King? Or was the founding of Yavneh a contingency plan, meant to preserve Jewish identity during the years of Roman rule, always awaiting a return to Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel?

The stories told in the Talmud and Midrash offer a window into the rabbis’ perspectives, many of whom were already living comfortably in the Diaspora at a distance of hundreds of years from the Temple’s destruction.

The Jewish state comes to an end in 70 AD, when the Romans begin to actively drive Jews from the home they had lived in for over a millennium. But the Jewish Diaspora (“diaspora” =”dispersion, scattering”) had begun long before the Romans had even dreamed of Judaea. When the Assyrians conquered Israel in 722, the Hebrew inhabitants were scattered all over the Middle East; these early victims of the dispersion disappeared utterly from the pages of history. However, when Nebuchadnezzar deported the Judaeans in 597 and 586 BC, he allowed them to remain in a unified community in Babylon. Another group of Judaeans fled to Egypt, where they settled in the Nile delta. So from 597 onwards, there were three distinct groups of Hebrews: a group in Babylon and other parts of the Middle East, a group in Judaea, and another group in Egypt. Thus, 597 is considered the beginning date of the Jewish Diaspora.

 

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