Hasia Diner and Marjorie N. Feld, two academics, intellectuals and Jews, recently published a manifesto of sorts, entitled “We’re American Jewish historians. This is why we’ve left Zionism behind.”
The existence of yet another two Jewish intellectuals who despise the Jewish state is not news. Their justifications for it and for the “repulsion” (Diner’s word) they feel for Israel are thoroughly eviscerated here by Richard Landes, who points out that instead of actual arguments, all they have are “Palestinian myths – which they have allowed to colonize their minds, and which they regurgitate without any critical thinking at all.” And see Elder of Ziyon’s comments here.
But what makes good scholars, which I am assured that Diner and Feld are, incapable of critical thinking in their own discipline?
For Feld and others like her (but not Diner), the answer is simple: their cowardice in the face of pressure from their friends and colleagues has paralyzed them, causing them to put aside their analytical abilities in favor of joining the herd. When faced with the need for a fight-or-flight response, they choose to fly.
Feld’s own words explicitly describe her terror at being perceived as a political outlier:
From non-Jews I met in liberal and left organizations in college, I first heard strong critiques of Zionism as Western colonialism, as a militarist project, as racism. Very smart friends of mine were articulating these critiques, and they made me terrifically uncomfortable.
A feminist scholar I met at a conference asked me directly if I considered myself a Zionist, and I gave an indirect answer. Her anger became palpable. She nearly shouted: “You’ve read Chomsky, haven’t you?” I had not yet read Noam Chomsky’s writings on Israel, I confessed. As I recall she turned away and didn’t speak to me again that evening. That might be hyperbole, or more likely my own sense of shame. [my emphasis]
She responded by volunteering for re-education, like a good Stalinist:
I reeducated myself, stopping to look at all of the facts that I had bumped up against for years. The 1947 radio broadcast of the votes at the UN that declared the Jewish people had a home and would never face genocide again: I had listened to this recording and this interpretation dozens of times in the sites of my Jewish education. Now I interpreted it anew. The founding of Israel was the Nakba, the great catastrophe, for Palestinians, with ethnic cleansing, destruction, and no right of return.
The utter irrationality of her conversion is shown by the way this historian ignores the fact that the 1947 partition resolution called for a Jewish and an Arab state, which the Arabs rejected, and that the nakba followed the invasion of Palestine by Arab armies.
Diner’s motivations are something else entirely. Her remarks in this short manifesto tell us only that she had “read too much about colonialism and racism to maintain what I now see as a naïve view…” Her romantic vision from summer camp in 1958 of Israel as a socialist paradise was dispelled not only by the acquisition of territory in 1967, but by her belief that Israel has been a colonialist and racist enterprise from its founding. There is no doubt that Diner read Chomsky, early and often. Unlike Feld, she has not been terrorized: she is more likely to be the one who terrorizes.
While she opposes an academic boycott of Israel (at least she did in 2015), she calls Israel “a place that I abhor visiting, and to which I will contribute no money, whose products I will not buy, nor will I expend my limited but still to me, meaningful, political clout to support it.” She does not see BDS as essentially antisemitic, and she is a member of the Academic Council of Open Hillel, an organization calling for university Hillel groups to partner with groups promoting BDS.
In case you haven’t read the BDS movement’s manifesto, it calls for the dismantling of the Jewish state’s defenses, its transformation into a binational state, and the entry of millions of descendents of Arab refugees into Israel. Supporting BDS simply means supporting the end of Israel, probably a quite bloody end. There are no “moderate BDSers.”
Diner does not believe that Israel has a responsibility to help or defend Jewish communities in need, nor does she feel any responsibility as a Diaspora Jew to defend Israel. She sees Diaspora Jewry as a vital entity that does not need Israel to survive, and resents Israeli expectations of support from it. She feels shame as a Jew and as an American citizen for Israel’s behavior (I presume that she means both Israel’s “racist and colonialist” character and her attempts to defend herself).
She wants “daylight” between Israel and the Diaspora, but at the same time feels responsible for Israel’s actions.
I think there is a process underway here analogous to a young adult breaking away from her parents and making her own way in the world – sometimes in a direction different from what the parent had in mind.
Israel was born of the Diaspora-based Zionist movement. The Jews that built the yishuv, then established the state and then defended it, began as indistinguishable from Diaspora Jews and totally dependent on them. They spoke Yiddish, Russian and Polish at first, and transplanted the ideology of the youth movements of Europe to the new land.
Little by little, a new Hebrew-speaking culture developed, along with a Hebrew politics. Immigration of Jews from all over the world – which Diner sees as destructive to their home Diaspora communities – enriched the Israeli culture, and created a whole which was more than the sum of the Diaspora parts. Diner prefers a multicultural Diaspora to a “homogenized” Israel, but her multicultural paradise lacks two essential ingredients for Jewish survival: the ability to protect itself and a birthrate above the replacement level.
Like any parent-child relationship, the end of dependency puts pressure on the relationship. Diner is uncomfortable with what she perceives as our value system and she doesn’t understand at all (despite her studies in Chomskyism) our security situation and relationship to the Arabs. It bothers her that we didn’t keep the collectivist economy that she prefers, and she doesn’t grasp the way Israelis relate to Judaism. Many other Diaspora Jews have similar feelings. The tension makes them do destructive things, like Diner’s flirtation with BDS.
But the child has grown up, moved out and started her own family. Israel has her own priorities, her own values and traditions, her own bank account and her own politics.
It’s time for the Diaspora to realize that, to worry about the considerable problems in its own communities and to let go of its feeling of ownership and its need to control the state that it gave birth to.
You say that you’ve left Zionism behind, and that’s fine – as long as you don’t adopt anti-Zionism in its place, and don’t assist those who want to wipe us out.
Much as it irritates the hell out of you, Israel will be here if you need her.