I’m not sure exactly when or how I began to doubt. But I remember what happened the first time I expressed that doubt. It was a few months after the ’67 war. A special visitor came to our Sunday school class. He was in his early 20s, with thick fair hair falling over his forehead, a snappy sports jacket and polished loafers. Some of the girls whispered that he was cute. He had an accent but it was nothing like our grandparents’ accents. He looked and dressed like us but he had been a soldier in a war and that made him an alien being. Smiling, he perched himself casually on the front of the teacher’s desk and told us about the remarkable achievements of the Israeli army. He told us that the Arabs had planned a sneak attack but had met with more than they bargained for. They were bad fighters, undisciplined soldiers. And they were better off now, under Israeli rule. “You have to understand these are ignorant people. They go to the toilet in the street.”
Now something akin to this I had heard before. I had heard it from the white southerners I’d been taught to look down upon. I had heard it from people my parents and my teachers described as prejudiced and bigoted. So I raised my hand and when called upon I expressed my opinion, as I’d been taught to do. It seemed to me that what our visitor had said was, well, racist.
I felt the eyes of the teacher and the other kids turn on me. They were used to me spouting radical opinions but this time I had gone too far. Angrily, the teacher told me I didn’t have any idea what I was saying and that there would be no discourtesy to guests in his classroom. The young Israeli ranted bitterly about Arab propaganda and how the Israelis treated the Arabs better than any of the Arab rulers did.
Today, as cracks show in the presumed monolith of Jewish backing for Israel, increasing numbers of Jews are interrogating and rejecting Zionism. Nonetheless, the existence of anti-Zionist Jews strikes many people – Jews and non-Jews – as an anomaly, a perversity, a violation of the first clause in the ethical aphorism of Hillel, the first-century rabbi and doyenne of Jewish teachings: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”
Zionism is an ideology and a political movement. As such it is open to rational dispute. Jews, like others, might view the Jewish claim to Palestine as irrational, anachronistic, and intrinsically unjust. They might consider the Jewish state to be discriminatory or racist or might object – on political, philosophical, or even specifically Jewish grounds – to any state based on the supremacy of a particular religious or ethnic group. As Jews, they might reject the idea that Jewish people constitute a “nation”, or at least a “nation” of the type that can or should become a territorial nation-state. Or they might have concluded on the basis of an examination of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians that the underlying cause of the conflict was the ideology of the Israeli state.
Any or all of the above should be sufficient to explain why some Jews would become anti-Zionists. But that doesn’t stop critics from placing us firmly in the realm of the irredeemably neurotic. Whenever Jews speak out against Israel, their motives, their representativeness, their authenticity as Jews are questioned. We are pathologised. For only a psychological aberration, a neurotic malaise, could account for our defection from Israel’s cause, which is presumed to be our own cause.
Anti-Zionist Jews are not and do not claim to be any more authentic or representative than any other Jews, nor is their protest against Israel any more valid than a non-Jew’s. But “If I am not for myself”, then the Zionists will claim to be for me, will usurp my voice and my Jewishness. Since each Israeli atrocity is justified by the exigencies of Jewish survival, each calls forth a particular witness from anti-Zionist Jews, whose very existence contradicts the Zionist claim to speak for all Jews everywhere.
A brief insight into the ontogeny of a Jew who happens to be anti-Zionist. Please read in full.