Posts Tagged ‘Legitimizing Zionism’


There is a country much criticized in the news today, whose history is checkered with less than savory incidents. Its founding is the result of European colonial activity. Initially, land was purchased from the native population of the country. There were also some great examples of cooperation between the early settlers and local population. But as history unfolded and became more violent, land was appropriated by other means. Unfortunately this included expulsions from native villages, consignment to restricted territories, and even, sadly, tragically – some massacres. Nevertheless, this country has overcome these incidents and is regarded as a center of democracy that tries to achieve the best it can for its citizens.

The country I am describing is the United States of America.

The Dutch bought Manhattan for 60 Guilders (680 in today’s dollars). Much of America, however, was purchased by spilling the blood of native Americans. The documentation of broken treaties and even massacres of Indian villages is an indictment of the 19th century doctrine of “Manifest Destiny.” Native Americans were consigned to reservations, stripping them of their ancient culture by denying free access to the land. The United States has this abuse in its history, in addition to others (such as the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II). The United States certainly comes under much criticism on the world scene.

Much in the history of Israel parallels the above synopsis of the history of the United States. There is one great exception, however. Israel was settled, built, and birthed while surrounded by other nations that not only opposed the formation of the state, but clearly wanted its Jewish population dead. Despite being surrounded by enemies and sometimes engaging in terrible actions, frequently Israel has risen above the conflict and engaged in humanitarian acts. Israeli hospitals treat Palestinians as well as Israelis. The IDF has often, in the midst of conflicts, tried to warn civilian populations of incoming fire. In short, Israel’s history is made up of the same mix of laudatory and lamentable acts as that of the United States – or any country for that matter. No one questions the legitimacy of the United States (or any other country with a far darker history) yet Israel’s very legitimacy is under attack – even from elements right here in America – from those we deemed to be our friends.

I refer in particular to the recent general assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA, in which a motion to divest from 3 companies who invest in Israel was barely passed. The final resolution, frankly, is not the real problem. It includes language that recognizes Israel’s right to exist. No, the real problem was the circulation and prominence of a document entitled “Zionism Unsettled,” published by a very pro-Palestinian group within the church that was the driving force behind the divestment movement. While it was not officially endorsed by the PCUSA, it was widely read, used as an “educational resource,” and was posted on the PCUSA website as such.

What makes “Zionism Unsettled” so awful? It does a great job of criticizing Israeli abuses of Palestinians. Most of those abuses are real. BUT, and this is important, there is no historical context given which frames the equally, and in many cases more atrocious acts committed by Arabs against Jews. In particular it ignores most of the history of Zionism in the years leading up to the declaration of Israeli statehood in 1948. Even worse, it changes or ignores facts to conveniently serve its narrative. For example, in relating the Six Day War and the consequences of its aftermath, “Zionism Unsettled” only states that Israel was the first aggressor. There is no mention of the blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba, effectively cutting off Israel from the rest of the world. There is no mention of the failed attempt by the Johnson administration to create an international merchant fleet to break the blockade. And there is no mention of the president of Egypt’s blatant calls to push the Jews into the sea – a call for outright slaughter of the civilian population. In discussing the aftermath of the war (1967 through 1973) there is no mention of the Israeli offers to exchange all of the captured territory (including the West Bank) for peace with its neighbors, and the rejection of that offer by the Arab nations.

Most perfidious of all, however, is there is no indication anywhere in “Zionism Unsettled” that Israel has any legitimate right to exist. Zionism, indeed all national aspirations of the Jewish people are depicted as a twisted belief, and a corruption of Judaism. The role of messianism in the formation of Zionism is greatly exaggerated. There is more than a touch of Christian superiority in the discussion of a Jewish theology that leads to the creation of Israel. A false choice is implied, Christians who support Israel are fundamental, evangelical dispensationalists. Those embracing true Christian values do not support the idea of a Jewish state. Jews are praised for their contributions to the many diaspora societies in which they live. Yet this is a kind of “Pyrrhic” praise. We Jews should be happy living in and contributing to Christian dominated societies (or Muslim), yet any national aspirations based on the traditional Jewish tie to the homeland is a perversion of Judaism. We do not need such friends.

All of this is important as we watch events unfolding in Gaza. There is indeed much about Israeli policy that can be criticized. One only has to read the Israel paper Ha’aretz, for example, to read how Israelis engage in serious self-criticism. We can question if the current government has any real interest in a two state solution. We can criticize and lament the heavy civilian losses of the Palestinians, especially the children. However, we cannot accept a conclusion that denies Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself. That is my line in the sand.

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