Archive for August, 2009

Israel, Zionism & Palestine

Posted: August 13, 2009 in Anti-zionism

What is the story American Jews have been told about Israel and Zionism, and how does it differ from the reality of what happened in Palestine? Like many American Jews, I was told by my teachers at Hebrew School and in the Jewish Day School I attended that the creation of Israel meant that Jews would never again have to live through another Holocaust. That slogan, “Never Again,” popularized by the notorious Jewish Defense League, reverberated throughout the Jewish community. As part of the story, I learned that Arabs, like the Germans, hated Jews and wanted to destroy us. They were our enemies. The refrain, “they want to throw us into the sea,” was etched into my consciousness. I was told that they — the amorphous they — didn’t value human life and were not like us. The process of dehumanization wasn’t subtle.
I learned about the Zionist dream, of deserts blooming, of our people, a third of whom had been murdered, able, at long last, to live freely and fully in our own homeland. I learned a variation of “a land without a people for a people without a land.” And when I studied Zionism more seriously in college and afterwards, I learned a new variation of that refrain — that, in fact, people were living there, but they were peasants, wanderers, who did not have a cultural or national identity. In other words, they weren’t really a people so could easily integrate as a minority into the new Jewish state.

At home, I learned about Zionism and Israel without the hateful rhetoric. I grew up in a home imbued with Jewish culture and rooted in Jewish experience — “Yiddishkeit” — with parents who were civil and human rights activists and were extraordinarily ethical people. I learned Jewish history and to be proud of who I was without adhering to the concept of the “chosen people.” Because my father served as an assistant to Jewish leader Rabbi Stephen Wise, who had trusted President Roosevelt to take action to save the Jews, I grew up hearing stories about the ways the U.S. government failed to rescue Jews and how Israel would be the safe haven that Jews desperately needed. I learned about struggles for self-determination and about Israel as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people.