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A Leftist Gentile’s Path Toward Zionism: Part Two

See part one here

By this point, I was no longer the least bit surprised to learn how robust empirical evidence shows that anti-Israel sentiment is strongly associated with antisemitic beliefs.

I came to recognize that the Jewish people have a historical and spiritual connection to their land much greater than that of many, if not most, nations’ peoples to their own lands [1]. Accordingly, I understood that the frequent playing down or outright denial by anti-Israel activists of Jewish history in the Land of Israel is just yet another rhetorical device to deny Jewish nationhood.

As I studied the matter further, the claim to the Land by “Palestinians” increasingly appeared to be more a matter of denying the Jewish connection to it than asserting their own love for it. Indeed, before the beginning of substantial Zionist immigration, nothing concretely indicated that the Arab Muslims thought of the land of “Palestine” as particularly important, apart from Jerusalem.

I witnessed how nowadays, the “Palestinian” narrative regarding the Land of Israel largely revolves around libelous and antisemitic assertions, such as that “Jews desecrate the al-Aqsa mosque” (by simply visiting the Temple Mount), or that Israel is “Judaizing al-Quds / Jerusalem” (by merely building homes for Jews and restoring Jewish holy sites in Judaism’s holiest city) – which appears to be a clear example of projection.

Another important step in the evolution of my political views was a gradual change in my point of view regarding religion. Philosophically, I consider myself agnostic, but in everyday life I am resolutely secular. Earlier in life, my irreligiousness made me rather hostile to the very notion of Jewishness: the sui generis religious roots of the Jewish people are undeniable – unsurprisingly, they are often the target of criticism by leftists (including some Israelis, of course), as well as a common reason for the denial of Jewish people-hood.

However, a decade of anthropological study of religion, and a number of awe-inspiring mystical experiences triggered by psychedelic drugs, made me immensely more sympathetic to religious feelings and spirituality in general. I became convinced of the centrality and necessity of mythical and mystical aspects of the social imaginary to human existence. Nevertheless, I remained highly critical of religious fundamentalism, including of the Jewish kind that occasionally motivates a small number of radical “settlers” to commit atrocities against Palestinian Arabs [2].

Most importantly, I still wondered: can a country be built upon an inherently (albeit partly) religious concept of nationality, yet also be a genuine liberal democracy? As far as I know, nowhere else than in Israel is it possible to acquire citizenship through religious conversion. Given how the other way to “automatically” be granted Israeli citizenship is through ancestry, is it not accurate to speak of Israel as some form of “ethno-religious state”? To me, those were always the trickiest parts of the question of whether or not Israel can be both “Jewish” and “democratic”.

It was, however, only after I rejected the insidiously hateful narrative I had unconsciously adopted, and started understanding and sympathizing with Israel’s circumstances instead of uni-dimensionally viewing the country as “the oppressor”, that I could develop truly nuanced views on such matters.

The way I now see things, the Jewish “Right of Return” is simply the granting of a potential Jewish nationality to members of a people formerly without a nation of their own. Denying the “Right of Return” effectively means denying the Jewish people a right to nationhood – indeed, I would argue that it might be more accurate to call it a “Right to Jewish Nationality”. The alternative to a Jewish national identity, of course, is assimilation… But this solution has been tried over many generations, and it failed catastrophically. Never again!

The fact that Israel gives preferential treatment to Jews in the key respect of immigration is frequently criticized as “racist” by the left… but I increasingly came to believe that the Israeli criteria to determine who is and is not Jewish for immigration purposes were not a result of racism or ethno-nationalism, but rather of how the rest of the world has consistently either used Jewishness as basis for discrimination and persecution or altogether denied Jewish people-hood.

I have become convinced that Jews are in fact a people as defined in the first part of this essay, not merely a religion nor an ethnicity (nor a race, regardless of what the Nazis claimed). However, because Jews were historically – and still are – persecuted precisely for their religion and/or ancestry, it thus seems only reasonable that these be the primary factors taken into account when determining to whom citizenship should be granted. It would be madness to assume that Jews around the world are no longer in need of a refuge.

Eventually, I acknowledged religious conversion as a sensible way of ascertaining a person’s commitment to be part of the Jewish people, especially since Israel accepts Conservative and Reform conversions, and other paths to immigration are available, including to non-Jews.

That said, in my humble opinion as a foreigner and gentile, Israel being the Jewish nation, any Israeli citizen – whether or not they are part of the Jewish people – should be wholly considered part of the Jewish nation, in the sense that they tie their destiny to that of the Jewish people and its historical and cultural heritage. From that perspective, the greatest challenge – to which I know no satisfactory solution – is evidently to get the non-Jewish citizens of Israel themselves to feel that way.

This seems to have largely succeeded with the Israeli Druze community, for instance, considering their remarkable “blood pact” with the Jewish majority… but it is utterly failing with the country’s Arab Muslim population. (Regardless of whether or not “success” with the latter population is even possible, I find that the controversial “Nation-State Law” passed recently did not help the broader cause. Like most Israelis, I personally believe it should have explicitly acknowledged minorities. I understand why many Druze Israelis felt betrayed by the wording of the Law.)

Like any other country, Israel has a number of serious societal problems, some of which are fairly unique, but what I found most striking were the deep divisions within Israeli society. For instance, “roughly half of Israeli Jews (48%) say Arabs should be transferred or expelled from Israel”. Yet, according to a 2020 poll, 75% of Arabs living in Israel “define themselves as Israelis”… which substantially contradicts a 2017 poll, reflecting the complexity and fluidity of the group’s self-identification. According to another 2017 poll, 66% are satisfied with their country’s situation (as opposed to 43.9% of Jews). However, the 2020 poll also reveals that 59% of Israeli Muslims do not believe a Jewish Temple ever existed in Jerusalem.

The good news in [the 2020] index is Arab Israelis’ desire to integrate and contribute to society in general. The bad news, is that many of them define Jews as extremists.

In the past, I would have blamed Israeli Jewish “imperialism”, “racism”, and “religious extremism” for the attitude of Israeli Jews towards Arabs. I now tend to blame the constant existential threats faced by their country meant as a place of refuge for a historically persecuted people. Symmetrically, I now tend to blame “Palestinian” authorities’ constant rejection of compromises for peace, denial of Jewish history, and nurturing of the fiction of Israel’s imminent destruction for the attitude of Palestinian Arabs, including Israeli citizens who identify as such, towards Israeli Jews.

Another pivotal moment in my political development was reading the Hamas charter. Only then did I properly understand the inherently terrorist and virulently antisemitic nature of the organization, and begin to fully understand the threat of Islamofascism (a concept which I had previously believed was largely an islamophobic fabrication) from Israel’s perspective.

It was around that time – quite recently, around a year ago – that I discovered Israellycool, which soon became one of my primary Israeli sources. I greatly enjoyed its characteristic humor and denunciation of antisemites, but above all, it was the “History” and “Fauxtography” series that had the biggest influence on my views. Links to informative content from external sources provided me with endless food for thought.

As I read many more “Palestinian” sources translated from Arabic, I became increasingly torn between the belief that a two-state solution would be technically ideal for all parties involved and growing cynicism regarding the plausibility of such a solution. A source more to the left than myself has described much of my thoughts on the matter:

Not surprisingly, the radical disintegration of the region encourages Israelis to seek stability, not change.

This does not mean that an end to the occupation is any less necessary. I agree with Israeli liberals, humanists, and leftists who argue that, unless the occupation ends, Israel is committing suicide by destroying its phenomenal achievements, betraying its democratic values, and dooming future generations to perpetual war. The barrier to ending the occupation is the lack of political will, not the number of settlers. At the same time, Israelis who fear that a Palestinian state on the West Bank will become a Hamastan (or worse) are far from alarmist, much less necessarily right-wing. This is Israel’s thorny dilemma, which it has been completely unable to solve.

Although I still agree in principle with most of the above quote, I have moved somewhat to the “right” of it in some respects. While the military rule, or occupation, by Israel of Judea and Samaria is undeniably problematic – and makes it difficult for me to convincingly argue against accusations of “Israeli apartheid” when those refer specifically to the situation in the occupied territories – the essential question is: how could Israel end it without severely compromising its security?

Israel has been accused of treating the conflict “as something to be managed rather than solved”, but I now find that this is tantamount to an expectation that Israel alone should be responsible for working towards peace, while the “Palestinian” authorities are given free rein to foster hatred and violence.

There is no longer any doubt to me that the Palestinian Arabs of Judea and Samaria are an enemy population in every sense of the expression. In their official media broadcasts, the “Palestinian” narrative constantly repeats that the whole of Palestine is theirs and theirs alone, and that Jerusalem in particular belongs only to the Muslims.

Unfortunately, the Palestinian Arabs – or at least their government – seek to make their territory Judenfrei. The extent of the hatred faced by Jews in Judea and Samaria is such that even their basic security could not be guaranteed in a “Palestinian” state [3]. Crucially, I see no reason to believe that a hypothetical Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty would entail the disappearance of that hatred, as the cases of Egypt and Jordan have shown.

The racism of which Israel is accused is, in truth, pervasive in “Palestinian” and Arab society – and the presence of religion in Israel’s political sphere is next to nothing compared to the Palestinian Territories, as in nearly all Arab countries. What already exists in Israel with respect to the rights of its minorities would, with nigh certainty, never be implemented by a future “Palestinian” state (although the Trump peace plan did demand it, I assume – not without sarcasm – that is one of the conditions described by opponents as “impossible” or “fantastic”).

The most recent turning point in my political evolution occurred less than half a year ago, when I belatedly learned about the Palestinian Authority’s policy of paying terrorists and their families – proportionally to the severity of their crimes! Until then, I had been under the impression that the Palestinian Authority was “moderate”, by contrast with the terrorist Hamas. Sadly, I now understand that one is simply a more overt and aggressive (and less hypocritical) terrorist organization than the other; Israel does not have any credible partner for peace with the Palestinian Arabs. This understanding has made me tremendously more outspoken in my support of Israel.

Golda Meir’s famous quote that peace would come when the Arabs learned to love their children more than they hate Israel could hardly be more true.

[1] As a Canadian with 1/4 Native American blood, I was struck by the similarity between the spiritual connection felt with the land of one’s ancestors in both Judaism and some traditional Native American religious beliefs. To my knowledge, this particular aspect is not found as such in any other major world religion (the Islamic concept of waqf bears only a superficial resemblance to it).

[2] While I do find excessive the fetishization of the Land of Israel by some religious Zionist extremists, I equally find that similar excesses are in fact mainstream in “Palestinian” society today. One recent (August 2020) broadcast on the Palestinian Authority’s official television channel goes so far as to assert: “One grain of sand from the soil of pure Palestine and from the soil of the Al-Aqsa Mosque is more precious than our blood and our lives…”

[3] I would hypothesize that most of the Jewish “settlers” feel a greater attachment to the land of Judea and Samaria than to the State of Israel. If a “Palestinian” state were to exist that would genuinely accept a Jewish minority and guarantee them equal rights (in the same way as Israel guarantees such rights to Israeli Arabs), I get the impression that most “settlers” would choose to live there. Symmetrically, many Palestinian Arabs would be happy to sell their land to Jews… if they were allowed to. Am I wrong?

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