The Zionist Dream
by Braha Bender
The world accepts the Jewish People as a unique phenomenon in human history. Wherever Jews have travelled we acted both as locals and as strangers. We have been among the proudest citizens of the world yet foreign to it at the same time. The winds of time have buffeted the Jewish People through the full amalgam of national potentialities; nonetheless, whether in suffering or in abundance, as victims or leaders, the Jewish People’s unusual stance was maintained. The Torah observant Jew has shaped history yet not been shaped by it.
No other people have transcended change like the Jews. Enough time has gone by for our generation to look back and see the discourse of history eventually leveling all opinions to equal. Might made right for the rich and powerful, including ruling religious bodies such as the Catholic church, but ultimately anyone was welcome to take his or her stab at the shaping of eras so long as he or she was able to garner the financial, social, and political resources to do so. Individuals bred the substance of revolution in their hearts and translated their wishes into philosophies, movements or wars. Governments came and governments fell. Nations and cultures rose, shone, and faded away. Great leaders had their say until the next great leaders won the fealty of the public.
Meanwhile, the Torah observant Jew marched to a different Drummer. We neither rose nor fell. We sought neither wealth nor power. Our position did not enter into the global debate. The unspoken Jewish message seemed to be that they could believe whatever they wished to believe; our marching orders had been received long ago. This message defined and characterized us. We weren’t playing the game. Everyone knew that the Jews were different.
In the late 19th century, classical Zionism, the foundation of all political Zionism, tried to offer an alternative. We were to become “a nation like all nations”. Zionist philosophy claimed that the nations of the world hated us for being different. As such, wouldn’t they embrace us for being the same? We would build a country, with a government and a bus system and a national ballet, that would put us in league with all other peoples.
We would enter the intellectual marketplace as a contender like all contenders, ready to get our hands dirty risking the mysteries of an exciting modern world. Torah would no longer guide us. Indeed, Torah would not be considered a worthy guide at all. Torah would be a “cultural heritage”, the Jewish equivalent of the feathered Indian headdress or the British fetish for crumpets and tea. We would be “a normal people” with nothing but our own tenuous human efforts to claim as our own.
Cut off from Torah as our guide and focus, a state was raised not just for the noble purpose of providing a homeland to a broken, buffeted people. We allow ourselves to be fooled, to be lulled to sleep by propaganda machines that would paint America and Israel as the heroes of the Jews in WWII. In fact, America only joined the war several years in after being forced by a threat to their own physical safety at Pearl Harbor. Similarly, it is now a substantiated fact that Zionist leaders exchanged Jewish lives for land. Where was the succor of those hundreds of thousands? Not in medinat yisrael:
"The hopes of Europe's [...] Jews are centered on emigration. I was asked, 'Can you bring six million Jews to Palestine?'I replied, 'No'....From the depths of the tragedy I want to save two million young people...The old ones will pass. They will bear their fate or they will not. They were dust, economic and moral dust in a cruel world...Only the branch of the young shall survive...They have to accept it."
(Chaim Weizmann reporting to the Zionist Congress in 1937 on his July testimony before the Peel Commission in London)
These sentiments were acted upon vigorously:
On December 17th, 1942, both houses of the British Parliament declared their readiness to find temporary refuge for endangered persons. The British Parliament proposed to evacuate 500,000 Jews from Europe, and resettle them in British colonies, as a part of diplomatic negotiations with Germany. Within two weeks this motion received a total of 277 Parliamentary signatures. On January 27th, when the next steps were being pursued by over 100 M.P.s and Lords, a spokesman for the Zionists announced that the Jews would oppose the motion because Palestine was omitted.
On Feb. 16, 1943, Romania offered 70,000 Jewish refugees of the Trans-Dniestria region to leave at the cost of $50 each. This was publicized in the New York papers. Yitzchak Greenbaum, Chairman of the Rescue Committee of the Jewish Agency addressed the Zionist Executive Council on February 18th, 1943 in Tel Aviv saying, "When they asked me, ‘Couldn't you give money out of the United Jewish Appeal funds for the rescue of Jews in Europe?,’ I said NO!, and I say again, NO! ...One should resist this wave which pushes the Zionist activities to secondary importance." On February 24th, 1943, Stephen Wise, President of the American Jewish Congress and leader of the American Zionists issued a public refusal to this offer and declared no collection of funds would seem justified. In 1944, the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People called upon the American government to establish a War Refugee Board. Stephen Wise, testifying before a special committee of Congress, successfully objected to this proposal.
In 1947, Congressman William Stration sponsored a bill to immediately grant entry to the United States of 400,000 displaced persons. After being publicly denounced by the Zionist leadership the bill was not passed.
(Wall Street Journal, December 2nd, 1976)
These incidences presented just a small sampling of a repetitive phenomenon. The real purpose of the so-called Jewish state was to provide an alternative to Torah as the grounding of Jewish identity. Of course, this was ridiculous. Without Torah, Jews have no claim to the land. However, a drive through any secular Jewish neighborhood in the United States will make it patently obvious that the Zionist objective was achieved. The secular Jewish identity debate revolves around an 8,000-square-mile slice of earth in the Middle East. The discussion mentions G-d and His Torah not at all.
But, without their even meaning to, the nations of the world mention them. Why is Israel held to a higher standard than the surrounding Middle Eastern fiefdoms? Why is it that Israel, no larger and certainly less war-torn than, say, a small African country, makes the front-page news across the globe on an everyday basis? Why is Israel condemned, debated, vilified, idolized, and made into a major pawn in the political machinations of peoples living millions of miles away?
Because the Jews are not “a nation like other nations”. Whether we like it or not, we do possess the Torah. We are held to higher standards. They expect us to be different and they’re right – our moral failures are greater failures because we have all the solutions, tips and tricks in that Book of ours. If we don’t use them, we are much more culpable than other peoples. They may not know why, but the rest of humanity senses this and acts upon it.
The morass of history shuts us out. The workaday acceptance that people are people does not apply to the Jews and rightly so. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we are marching to a different Drummer. Zionism, the very tool that was created to pull us away from our true identity, is now being wielded by the nations of the world to force us back to it.
Israel the state makes mistakes and the world shouts at us. We, the Jews watching this take place, are faced with several choices. Do we argue the world’s accusations and work to justify the actions of the state? “It wasn’t a mistake, it was a misrepresentation! Israel doesn’t make mistakes like that!” If so, we silently acknowledge that Jews are bound to higher standards than the rest of the world. The obvious question is why. The answer is that we are bound to higher standards because we are the bearers of the Torah.
The alternate choice is to accept the accusations and claim that our Judaism has nothing to do with a corrupt pseudo-democracy in the Middle East. If so, what does it have to do with? The answer there is, of course, Torah as well.
The third option is to reject affiliation with Israel, reject affiliation with Judaism, and to assimilate into oblivion. Visit a university campus today anywhere in the western world and you’ll find even more Jews than Arabs fighting for a Palestinian State. For the vast majority, it isn’t just a political statement. It is a statement of identity. They are assimilating. The third option is chosen by thousands every day.
For the rest of the world, nations come and nations go. Herzl dreamed it and now it is no dream. “A nation like all other nations” means, over the course of time, no nation at all.