From the first moment Zionists discovered another people lived in Palestine, the Zionist movement has faced a fatal dilemma. Because Zionism declares that it is the national movement of self-determination of the Jewish people. There is no provision in Zionism for another people existing in the land of Israel. Thus, from its inception Zionism deprecated anyone who was not Jewish and living in this land. This means that racism was built into the very fabric of the movement and the nascent “Jewish homeland.”
Those of us who fight for a definition of Zionism which embraces two peoples living in a single homeland, are brought up short by the Law of Return. This is a major component of the Zionist ‘dream,’ which says that Jews are doomed in the Diaspora; and that Jewish life can only survive and thrive in Israel. In order to make this dream a reality, the State inscribed a fundamental right for any Jew anywhere in the world to come to Israel at any time and declare their intent to make aliya–that is, become a citizen of Israel. One might even say that for the Zionist movement, aliya is the 11th commandment.
There are of course hundreds of thousands of Jews who want to visit or live in Israel, but who do not wish to make aliya. Until, recently they too were welcomed with open arms. When I was an undergraduate and graduate student there were scores of Israeli academic programs encouraging such exchanges with many American Jewish students enrolling in Israeli academic institutions. We were offered financial assistance and directed to programs established specifically for foreign students.
Lately, much of that has changed. Israel still welcomes Jews. But not just any Jew. You must be the right kind of Jew. You must have the right political views. And those views must be as racist and ultra-nationalist as the government itself. Or, in the alternative, you may have no views; or views which are vaguely liberal Zionist. That won’t get you into too much hot water. It goes without saying that leftist Jewish students who endorse the BDS movement will be suspect. But even liberal Zionists like Peter Beinart, who supports a boycott of Israeli settlements and their products recently faced intense interrogation from Shin Bet agents on leaving Israel.
It may be debatable whether the inherent racism in the early Zionist movement led to the obloquy showered on Diaspora Jews who today hold dissenting political views. After all, a nation which demeans a people with which it shares a home can very easily decree that fellow Jews are the enemy as well. Intolerance may start with hating the Other, but it can very quickly lead to hating one’s own too.
The Netanyahu government and its chief enforcer, Gilad Erdan, have not only gone to war against BDS; they’ve gone to war against their fellow Jews for holding views deemed subversive. In the past, distinguished academics like Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky have been deported due to the ‘threatening’ political views they hold. But recently, the net has been spread far wider. Scores of Diaspora Jewish (and even more non-Jewish) activists have been arrested on arrival at Ben Gurion airport and deported. Ariel Gold, an activist for CodePink and BDS supporter, arrived in Israel to spend a year pursuing Jewish studies. She was detained and interrogated for hours. She was asked questions that were both private, intrusive and insulting. At the end, she was expelled. She was a troublemaker. Doesn’t matter whether she was a Jewish troublemaker or not. Troublemakers are banned. The same happened to Simone Zimmerman, the founder of the anti-apartheid group, If Not Now.
Israel even tried to deport an American Jewish woman who planned to study at the Pardes Institute, a Jerusalem yeshiva, and later make aliya. Such an Israeli act would seemingly violate every principle of Zionism. Here is her response to her treatment:
“It made me really sad,” Weinberg-Connors added later. “I love this land very deeply and it’s very important to me that it is a place that is a safe home for the people who call it home. That we have a government now that’s trying to deny people entry based on their political beliefs is scary.”
I suppose one might argue that the current Israeli government are no longer Zionists. A true Zionist sees all Jews as his brothers and sisters. He makes no distinction based on political views because he holds the survival of the Jewish people as a sacred principle. A shared religion and peoplehood are the bonds that unite and they trump politics.
But the racist ultra-nationalists, who I often call Judeans to distinguish them from Jews or even Israelis, violate this fundamental dictum of ZIonist thought. For them, Zionism is primarily a political movement. Only the right Jews, holding the right beliefs may be part of this movement. It is something like the Nazi ideology, in that if you were of pure Aryan blood, you were a member of the superior race. But even an Aryan could be designated for extermination if they were homosexual, disabled or a Bolshevik. So for the Likud definition of Zionism, dissenting Diaspora Jews are akin to Bolsheviks. The only difference, of course, is that Israel has not started exterminating its Bolsheviks…yet.
The leadership of Diaspora Jewry has refused to recognize this fundamental re-definition of the Zionist movement. They still linger under nostalgic notions of the past in which the Diaspora and Israel were partners in Jewish destiny. They are blind to the fact that the Judeans have hijacked everything including Israel and Zionism itself. For the latter, the Diaspora has become expendable. Bibi Netanyahu himself has publicly declared the Diaspora is dying. He believes that we will all die out, leaving Israel’s only allies Evangelical Christians and Tea Party conservatives (with a sprinkling of white supremacists thrown in for good measure).
Just as Democrats were slow to realize the true potency and danger of Donald Trump, American Jews have refused to put up a fight against Israeli extremism. They have adopted Rodney King’s motto: “Why can’t we all just get along.” While Netanyahu and his cabal have stolen our birthright out from under us.
I’ve struggled here to come up with a definition of the Netanyahu government’s Zionism. Since it rejects so many fundamental principles of classical Zionism, it really requires a new name. What better method of determining what it should be than by retreating back in history and resurrecting the classic term coined by none other than Jabotinsky himself, revisionism. The ideology underpinning Israel today is not Zionism. But rather Revisionism. That is, a radical re-definition of the rationale underpinning the Israeli state. It is no longer a partner of the Diaspora. It is no longer a member of the Jewish people. It is a restrictive, politically homogeneous, intolerant state willing to reject Diaspora Jews and embrace new alliances with anti-Semitic forces like Viktor Orban and Poland’s Law and Justice Party.
This is an Israel few of us here in the Diaspora recognize. It is alien to our upbringing and values as Jews. There is a major divorce on the horizon.
Diaspora Jews and Israel are like a married couple who’ve long since stopped sleeping together. There is no love remaining and precious little mutual respect. They remain together for purely practical reasons. One party is a serial philanderer, chafing to get out of the relationship and the other is oblivious to what is going on right under his/her nose. When s/he will wake up from sleep, no one knows.