26 June 2008

Zionism: third installment

(This post is the third in a series that starts here.)

There are lots of Zionisms out there. (Wikipedia lists Labor Zionism, General Zionism, Revisionist Zionism and Religious Zionism; I can think of a few more flavors besides.) I think all Zionists consider themselves ideological supporters of Israel in a respect that they identify as important; besides that, they have surprisingly little in common.

For example, some Zionists believe that diaspora Jews should immigrate to Israel; others believe that Zionism has nothing to do with non-Israelis. Some Zionists focus on agriculture; some connect Zionism to big industry and investment; some understand it as confined to the political realm. Some Zionist ideologies (like mine) demand withdrawal from the territories and dismantlement of the settlements... but those settlers live according to a Zionism that says different.

Why do I consider myself a Zionist? Two reasons:
  1. Ethnic Jews are still not safe in much of the world. I think it is important that the global community protect freedom of movement for people born within oppressive regimes. One solution is a state which offers special rights to persecuted people (particularly, rights to quick citizenship and benefits for new immigrants). A state which offers these sorts of rights to ethnic Jews is a Jewish state.

    Israeli law facilitates freedom of movement for diaspora Jews by offering all Jews a unique cluster of rights, largely designed to ease their absorption into Israel's national community. Because I think this is a good (though of course a non-optimal) solution to the problem of global antisemitism, I support the existence of a Jewish state. This is a Zionist claim.

  2. Alongside my abstractly pro-Jewish-state committments, I also have a more concretely pro-Israel committments. I identify with Israel in a way that engages me personally in the shared project of improving Israel. Let me explain what I mean by that.

    I have a non-optional commitment to improving the United States, by virtue of my being a member of this national community — particularly, one with lots of undeserved political & social power. Although I am a citizen of Israel, I think that my personal involvement in the improvement of Israel is (more) optional, because I am not quite a member of the Israeli national community. The fact that my identification with Israel overextends my membership in the Israeli national community makes me a Zionist. (It also fuels my commitment to justice in Israel, and thereby, to a political stance that many people would label anti-Zionist.)
Both of these thoughts are in need of reconsideration and refinement. I'm really hoping that the coming year will offer me lots of chances to discuss & clarify my thinking. The blog can also be an avenue for that sort of discussion — so, please comment!


  1. I think your #1 is compelling on the one hand and falls a little short at the same time. On the one hand, there is absolutely no doubt that Jews in much of the world face persistent and strong prejudice and outright danger. However, it is (at least from my perspective) strange to have a single state that will offer a haven to this people / these peoples, an Israel for all Jews. While I only know 1 iota more than nothing about refugee law, my impression is that most Western countries will grant refugee status to one facing exactly the kind of difficulties Israel might save foreign Jews from. Of course, I'm familiar with the religious connection to the land of Israel, but I'll leave that angle out for the moment. In all sincerity, there are a few cases I'm familiar with where the same kind of logic that justifies a Jewish state would apply: the Roma stand out as one very put-upon people.

    As you know, though critical, I'm a looong way from 'wiping Israel off the map', but the problem above does stand out: as far as I know, there is only one state, Israel, in the world that serves as a surrogate state for a defined set of people on Earth, and I've not yet encountered convincing reasons why. For other cases where people encounter problems, even huge ones, with their states, Westerners often seek to allow more refugees in. This is, in fact, exactly what led to the (compared with other countries) large Roma and Jewish populations of America, and America, though imperfect, has certainly been a safe home overall.

  2. I needed to post since "1 commentim" was just wrong to me :).

    Also because there is a lot in this post (and the two preceding) with which I strongly agree. I believe strongly in a "two state solution" mainly because I think that it is the best avenue for peace. I'd love to see an ethnically Jewish state instead of such a reloigiously Jewish state too, but until there is lasting peace, that really isn't on the table.

    To the above poster, I am a Jew and I am an Israeli citizen and I am an American citizen. I *do not* feel that America is a "safe home overall" - I feel safe only in some places and have been hasseled, harrassed, and threatened for appearing Jewish on many occassions even in my home town (a large midwestern city with one of the highest concentrations of Jews in the country). When I married my non-Jewish husband, he and I discussed the real possibility that being married to a Jew could put him in danger. My boss, a prominent Jewish surgeon, has told me that many of his wealthy Jewish friends have bought land in rural Canada "just in case" they need to run away (this was right after the 2004 election for reference).

    The best arguement I have to why there should be a Jewish state now is that there is one. Why should the U.S. be a country? Because it is one and the couple of wars hat have attempted to destroy it have failed. Same thing for Israel. Countries exist when they can exert the force necessary to maintain existence - Israel has done this.

  3. @ Maia: That argument would seem to imply the straightforward version of might-makes-right, unless we're going to include invalidation conditions that involve greater imperatives than mere sustaining of security. (For example, the USSR was fully able to defend itself for a while, but the actions of the KGB and the economic turmoil caused might be perceived to undermine the normativity of "should exist". If exists => should exist, then it gets hard to say bad things about the USSR, in my mind.) In face of whatever potential invalidating criteria, my strategy tends to lie in appealing to serious, serious imperatives: can the world (and all people in it, Israeli or otherwise) afford not to have Israel where it is doing roughly what it is doing? Even if it could, wouldn't the transition be so painful and destabilizing that the harms are just too big? Even if they weren't, lots of arguments about culture, religion, Jewish security and such can be made. But the construction of the even-ifs seems to make the bar for "Israel should exist" easy to hop over, barring some radical conceptions of "good" and "should."

  4. Thanks for these thoughtful comments, yo! Let me just jump in to clarify some things and ask a couple of questions.

    @ OhPlaces: The Roma are a great example of an ethnic group that I think has just as much of a claim to a state as the Jews do. The only difference between their situation and ours is the one that Maia pointed out — the fact that a Jewish state is already established constitutes a reason for the continued existence of that state, so a Jewish state has that extra thing going for it. (I also agree with B that we should be careful not to overstate the justifying power of that argument; more on this in a moment.)

    I hear you, though. I'm worried that my argument 1 doesn't do the justifying work it's designed for. It certainly doesn't strike me as a very good "in principle" argument; on the other hand, it's not designed to do that kind of work. It's supposed to be pragmatic, and globalistic/pragmatic/political thinking is the kind of thinking I'm worst at. So, I hope you and I get to talk about this a lot when I see you!

    @ Maia: Sorry to hear about your experiences with antisemitism in the US! I've been lucky and haven't seen much of it, but I think I'm also a bit less of an adventurer than you are (and I might also be less identifiably Jewish than you are — until I open my mouth). I remember some talk in my family about moving to Israel "just in case" after the 2000 elections, but it didn't strike me as serious. Has P. experienced a lot of anti-Jewish stuff from the folks from his more-rural hometown? (Incidentally, OhPlaces comes from that same midwestern city!)

    Oh also — I'm not sure I understood what you meant about an ethnically (vs. religiously) Jewish state not being "on the table" until there is peace. Did you mean that the secular Jews in Israel aren't in a position to fight with the religious Jews, because the issue isn't a high enough priority compared to the P/I conflict? If so — that's an interesting angle, and one I hadn't thought of. Come to think of it, there's a lot of stuff about the politics of religious divisions in Israel that I want to think-out-loud about. So I'll try to post about that soon!

    @ B: I think you and Maia actually agree more than you might seem to. I don't think she was saying that the existence of Israel justifies its continued existence, period. I understood her to be arguing merely that Israel's existence provides an important reason for Israel's continued existence. Much like my currently living in city X is a good (but defeasible) reason for my continuing to live in city X. (Hmm, totally arbitrary example, right?)

    I think what B and Maia do disagree about is the "height of the bar" set by this reason. Another practical political question that leaves me wringing my hands! I'd love to hear the thoughts of you more-politically-savvy folks.

  5. @ OhPlaces:
    "most Western countries will grant refugee status to one facing exactly the kind of difficulties Israel might save foreign Jews from"

    Not really. That was the main reason Israel was established in the first place - as a safe heaven for Jews who had nowhere else to go.