The New York Sun‘s Alex Kirsch describes a conference in Manhattan held by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (Camera). The conference, “Israel’s Jewish Defamers,” included Cynthia Ozick on Michael Lerner, Kenneth Levin critiquing post-Zionism and Alex Safian discussing recent articles in the New York Review of Books and London Review of Books.
Here is a long excerpt:
Since September 11, 2001, the British Left, and those American intellectuals who look to it for validation, have developed a worldview in which the existence of Israel is the major obstacle preventing the return of the golden age. Without Israel, the reasoning goes, there would be no Al Qaeda terrorists in London and Madrid, no war in Iraq, no nuclear crisis in Iran. Clare Short, a former member of the British cabinet, recently suggested that because the Israel–Palestine conflict “undermines the international community’s reaction to global warming,” Israel may well be ultimately responsible for “the end of the human race.”
The irrationality of such thinking, and its clandestine debt to old tropes of Christian anti-Semitism, are obvious. Why, then, should Jewish anti-Zionists feel drawn to it? The answer, I think, is that the world of Mr. Judt’s imagination — a world “where cultural and national impediments to communication have all but collapsed” — is a dream, not just in the sense that it does not exist, but in the sense that it is something for which we rightfully yearn. A world where nations are not enemies, and where national states are no longer necessary to protect us from one another, is a genuinely liberal aspiration. It is, indeed, originally a Jewish aspiration, voiced by the prophet Isaiah: “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Where Jewish anti-Zionists go wrong is not in desiring such a world, but in believing that it exists — or that it could come into being if Israel ceased to be a Jewish state. In fact, Zionism, like other national liberation movements that emerged in the 19th century, represents the adaptation of that humanitarian dream to the reality of history as we know it. Only in a Jewish nation, the Zionists believed, could Jews be assured of enjoying the human rights to which they were entitled. As Leo Pinsker wrote in 1882, in the pioneering Zionist work “Auto-Emancipation”: “The human race, and we as well, have scarcely traversed the first stage of the practice of perfect humanitarianism — if that goal is ever to be reached. Therefore we must abandon the delusive idea that we are fulfilling by our dispersion a Providential mission….”
The idea that Pinsker already recognized as delusive, however, still has the power to seduce. The notion that the Jews do not need a state because they have a universal mission — that it is possible to be a light unto the nations without being a nation — is at the heart of much contemporary Jewish anti-Zionism.
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