April 7-8 this year marked Yom HaShoah, the day of remembrance for the six million Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust. (International Holocaust Remembrance Day, when we commemorate the 11-17 million victims of the Holocaust falls annually on 27 January). And while the timing of the commemorative day is all sorts of problematic, we here at Jeremiah’s Laments do join in the commemoration and see the importance of a day to specifically remember the Jewish victims of genocide and insist on the importance of standing up to anti-Semitism and racism wherever they may occur.
As such, I am dedicating today’s post to calling out the particularly worrisome and growing trend of basing modern Zionism on anti-Semitic premises. Allow me to illustrate with three different examples from three very different sorts of Zionists.
The first example comes from this past Yom HaShoah day, where, as has been the trend in recent years, Israeli leaders tied the Holocaust to justifying the existence of Israel as an exclusively Jewish State. Leading the March of Living in Auschwitz this year, Israeli army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz declared that “Israel ensures that a horror such as this will not recur.” While the exact reasoning behind this rather odd declaration is never made explicit, he does go on to argue that “the IDF is the defensive shield of the national home – a safe haven for the Jewish people” (though not, according to a new report, for Holocaust survivors). For Benny Gantz, the Israeli army is there not so much to protect all Israeli citizens, 25% of whom are not Jewish, but rather to protect all Jews, regardless of whether they live in Israel or not.
There are numerous of problems with this sort of abuse of Holocaust memory, and I am certain that as time goes on we will get to pick apart the linking of the Holocaust and Zionism from a wide variety of angles. But, as the main purpose of this blog is to interrogate and critique the Jewish people’s relationship to the modern state of Israel, I want to concentrate on this last part of Lt. Gen. Gantz’s reasoning: namely, that Jews everywhere fall under the aegis of the Israeli army.
Notably, one does not need to abide by the particular secular-miltant Zionist ideology expounded here by Gantz in order to believe in this particular relationship between Israel and non-Israeli Jews. Ultra-right wing religious MP Moshe Feiglin, from the ruling Likud party, for instance, explicitly criticized Gantz’s linking of the Holocaust to a justification of Israel as an exclusively Jewish State, saying: “Israel has wrongly used the Holocaust as a tool to justify our existence and sovereignty here.” Nonetheless, he declares:
“The reason for the state of Israel, for our existence, is not security, but our national goal. But the Holocaust teaches us that we should always be strong, not only physically but also morally.
“Without understanding the deep justification for our existence here in the land of Israel, no army will help us. This is a very important point.”
For Feiglin, as for Gantz, Israel is justified because of some deep sense of nationhood that all Jews share and whose expression is an inherent connection with the land of Israel. The Holocaust teaches Feiglin that Jews must be militant, but the connection between Jews and Israel is, in his mind, innate.
Lest we think that this position is limited to right-wing Zionists, over on The Daily Beast’s Open Zion blog, last week, Gil Troy tacks a remarkably similar line of though as he tries to reconcile Israel’s Jewish character with democratic principles. He fails on any number of accounts, not least of which is his perplexing belief that Israel’s Jewish character is limited to the symbols and public holidays of the state, rather than to a host of discriminatory laws, policies, and social norms. But more relevant to us is his particular linking of the Jewish people tout court with the State of Israel:
My understanding of the Jewish state as a democracy starts with the Zionist understanding—which reaches back to Genesis but is confirmed by history—that the Jews are a people; Judaism is not just a religion. Once we accept the notion of Jewish nationhood, with a story, a sense of shared fate, a common language, a unifying culture, a millennial-old homeland—with religious elements, of course—we can understand how a Jewish state can be a democracy and not a theocracy.
So, whether from a secular military perspective, a religious nationalist standpoint, or a liberal Zionist understanding and whether because of the Holocaust, the religion, or two millenia of history, these three very different strands of Zionism all posit an innate, abiding, and universal connection between Jews and Israel. Notably, the notion that Judaism is inherently connected to Zionism has also the basis of a series of legal efforts by Zionists around the world attempting to oppose BDS campaigns.
Importantly, all three points of view take this as a necessary connection. Whereas an Italian-American may or may not have sympathies, economic interests, or political affiliations with the Old Country depending on their personal and familial particularities, Gantz, Feiglin, and Troy all posit that the connection between Jews and Israel is a necessary function of their Jewish identity (regardless of whether that identity is primarily religious, ethnic, or historical). According to them, every single Jew, whether they know it or not, has a historical/ religious/ cultural/ security / existential connection to the State of Israel.
When these authors propose a necessary connection between Judaism and Zionism, they are not only trying to tell anti-Zionists Jews like me that we are not truly Jewish (The ADL does that just fine here). They are also promoting a particularly anti-Semitic idea of Jews’ relation to questions of national belonging. No longer are Jews rational political actors who can choose whether or not they think supporting or opposing Israel is in the best interests of their communities and the nations in which they reside. Rather, they are necessarily bound to support Israel regardless of whether it is good for them, their communities, and the nations in which they reside.
This proposition is anti-Semitic.
You don’t have to take my word for it, either. In an op-ed, Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham Foxman argued that “Dual loyalty, [is] a charge that has surfaced time and again throughout history to label Jews as “outsiders” more loyal to their own kind than to their country, has largely dissipated on the American scene.” As such, the ADL continues to (rightly, in our opinion) monitor accusations that Jews hold dual-loyalties around the world (such as here, here, or here).
And yet, this anti-Semitic proposition is precisely what Gantz, Feiglin, and Troy propose. If Jews have an inherent connection to Israel, then Jews must ipso facto be loyal to the State of Israel. And if they are ipso facto loyal to the State of Israel, then when the interests of their own countries clash with those of Israel – be it in a soccer match, economic policy, or international politics – then, according to the logic proposed by these authors, Jews’ loyalty is likewise split. That these authors value this dual loyalty thesis positively, rather than negatively in the way anti-Jewish racists do, does not change the fact that both these Zionists and the anti-Semite believe that Jews outside of Israel necessarily maintain dual loyalties.
This Yom HaShoah, let us renew our opposition to anti-Semitism, intentional and not, in all of its forms. As such, and as someone who vigorously opposes anti-Semitism and all other forms of racism, I can see no choice but to strongly oppose this increasingly popular defense of Zionism.