Columns / Discourse / March 4, 2015

Community: Zionism and Israel

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is.” This rings true for almost any political situation, but it especially rings true when the situation involves Israel.

The three major Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) all claim some textual and spiritual connection to the the land comprised of Israel and/or Palestine. This makes it difficult for the countries which have been so influenced by Abrahamic religion, which includes most of the Westernized world. To fully understand the creation of present day Israel, one must realize the complexity of Zionism, Israel’s guiding philosophy.

Zionism argues two things, the first being a resistance toward Jewish assimilation in other cultures. This is the diagnosis: Jewish culture is in need of a revival. After a centuries long diaspora, the Jewish people are too spread out to have any unified culture. The second part is the prognosis: the Jewish population needs to be unified and centralized by the creation of a state governed by the Jewish people in Palestine, the land mass that was governed by the Jewish people in Biblical times when it was then called Israel. This prognosis is what generally is considered the controversial aspect of Zionism.

As somebody who identifies as culturally (yet not religiously) Jewish, I am told by many, especially in the extremely Jewish community I grew up in, how necessary it is for the Jewish people to rally behind Zionism and Israel after centuries of being a fractured people.

Being in such a Jewish community, it is hard to find the other side of the story of Israel’s history. In such a community it is even harder to express those views for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is hard to find people who share in common with me the views I have about Zionism in such a homogenous community. Secondly, there is an excessive amount of shaming and guilting by some who are discomforted by my views on Israel and Zionism.

This shaming could be summed up by the label of the “self-hating Jew.” I was originally discomforted by these types of retorts, most of which are more complex than how I am summarizing them. Yet as I learn more about my Jewish heritage, something that expands way more beyond Zionism or Israel, I realize two things.

Firstly, that I will not become a rank-and-file Zionist. On the other hand, I understand that there is no more moral certainty with those who oppose Zionism, than those who support it. If the vast majority of the Jewish people unwaveringly support Zionism in its current state, leaving little room for criticism, the Jewish people will be blind to that criticism.

One of the things I appreciate most about being Jewish is that most Jews are more than willing to change their outlook if need be, something that cannot be truly displayed without the intellectual diversity that Judaism brings to the table.  The oversensitivity to criticism of Zionism and Israel by an overly large number of the Jewish population show that it is wrong for the Jewish people to stack all of their chips towards Zionism and Israel.

That is not to say that the Zionist experiment that is Israel will or should fail, but rather that Zionism is not the solution to all of the Jewish community’s problems and thus we should focus our energies on more than just Israel.

My views on the current state of Israel (and to a degree Zionism) compared to my views on many other subjects are extremely complex, muted and volatile.  In short, as somebody who is culturally Jewish, I find solace in parts of an ideology that is predominantly rooted in cultural, and not religious, Judaism. Zionism is mainly rooted much more in Jewish history than in the Jewish faith itself. On, the other hand what Zionism has become is harmful to both those with or without a connection of some sort to Israel.

There is clearly much still left to be said about Zionism and Israel, and thus I will have to articulate those views in my first column next term. Until then I wish you good luck on finals and a great spring break. I am appreciative of the reception I have gotten in response to my columns over my first term writing for TKS. I will be back writing for TKS next term.


Sam Klingher

Tags:  faith Gandhi Israel Judaism Palestine Philosophy Zionism

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