Interesting Essay on Jews who Oppose Israel

Shlomo Fischer in the Times of Israel:

I suggest that in fact, they [ultra-Orthodox and leftists who are hostile to the existence of Israel] do share a common Jewish theme. This theme was articulated by the great Israeli scholar of the Jewish religion, Gershom Scholem, who argued that the price that the Jewish people paid for their development of the Messianic idea was their own “exit from history.” During the long history of the Exile the Jewish people imagined a Messianic, redeemed world of perfect justice, perfect national restoration, perfect relationship to God and religious observance. They could develop this idea precisely because they were removed from “history” – they could not participate as a national collective in world politics, in world culture and in the endeavors of building a state, developing a national economy etc. Thus, on the national level they did not have to deal with the inevitable, mistakes, compromises and wickedness which is necessarily part of any concrete action in the world. Instead they could develop one of the most important Jewish contributions to the human spirit – The Messianic Idea. But, as Scholem points out, there was something profoundly unreal about Jewish life in the Exile.

Zionism was one of the most profound revolutions in Jewish life. It constitutes, as Scholem defined it, a departure from the Messianic Idea to the realm of history. Once Jews enter the realm of history by building a Jewish state they necessarily become implicated in a life that is less than ideal – they become implicated – simply by the fact of action in the real world – in injustice, in moral compromises, corruption and other ills and wrongs. They can no longer cling to the perfect justice and perfect religion of the Messianic Idea. But here is the rub: Only the Zionist were willing to make the leap into history. The two other Jewish streams – the (ultra) Orthodox and the Left-integrationists continued to maintain that the Jewish vocation is to remain, collectively, outside of history, and to hold up, as a measuring standard for humanity, the perfect messianic society. The ultra-Orthodox continue to affirm the religiously perfect society while, the Left continues to affirm the Messianism of perfect social justice, especially for the downtrodden and the oppressed. Both groups will only affirm and support a Jewish state if it is Messianic – that is perfect, either religiously or terms of social justice. Any Jewish state that is less than perfect is not merely an object of criticism and improvement. It is in an essential sense illegitimate and a betrayal of the Jewish vocation.

This is perhaps a more sophisticated version of what I wrote in 2007, referring only to the leftist bloc:

Other Jewish Israel-haters have what I consider a more innocent, but still seriously misguided, perspective: they actually associate their Jewish identity with victimhood, and would much rather Jews continue to be the victims than ever be perpetrators. At least in modern times in the Western world, perpetual victimhood has its advantages and thus attractions–it allows one to claim the moral high ground, and to claim special insight into the woes of the world. (I still remember a bizarre scene at Yale Law School during a “student strike for diversity” in which Yale Law students–overall a rather privileged lot–one by one strode to a speaker’s podium to explain their personal victim status, including such gripping tales as being a first generation professional who wasn’t sure how to dress for an interview at an elite New York firm. The horror of being on the cusp of a six figure job, but needing to ask the sales clerk at Brooks Brothers for advice!)

The problem such Jews have with Zionism is that having a nation-state for the Jews necessarily implies that the nation-state will sometimes misbehave (as all nation-states do). This in turn implies that to maintain Jewish victimhood, the sense that Jews are to play their assigned role as the Jiminy Cricket speaking to the world’s conscience, that Jews, uniquely, may never have a nation-state. Unlike more generic leftist universalistic anti-Western nationalism, this is a specifically Jewish reason to be hostile to Zionism, and one that’s quite foreign to my own thinking; given the choice, I’d rather not be a perpetual victim thank you, and I believe that’s why the vast majority of other Jews also support Israel. But it’s not at all uncommon to hear this particular version of anti-Zionism espoused by Jews.