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American Jewish activists blocking Damascus Gate during protest of March of the Flags

American Jewish activists blocking Damascus Gate during protest of March of the Flags

Pride, Responsibility

As Palestinians prepared to observe Nakba day, the American Zionist Movement (AZM), the American component of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), in early May sent an announcement to its mailing list celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Biltmore Conference, launching the observance of what it calls a “Year of Zionist Anniversaries.”

“From May 2017 until May 2018 AZM will mark a series of important milestones in Zionism and help inform Jewish communities and the general public about the history, relevance and importance of Zionism and its connection to the independence and vibrant democracy of the State of Israel.”

Through this upcoming “Year of Zionist Anniversaries” AZM will conduct programs and events across the country about Zionism in partnership with its 25 constituent agencies and in cooperation with the broad spectrum of Jewish communal agencies. There will be programs related to Zionism held with public officials, schools, synagogues, summer camps and with many community institutions and organizations.

They're very proud. I understand that pride, having absorbed enough of that perspective. It makes a bulwark against feelings of vulnerability and ambiguity -- for most of us, who are cultural mischlingen (what Nazis termed children of Jewish-gentile unions), living lives much as our countrymen rather than distinctively​ ”Jewish.”

In a 1940 essay, social psychologist Kurt Lewin may have hinted at the "royal road" out of uncertainty that Zionism may serve for Jews, and explained the tenacious grip of otherwise indifferent Jews to the concept of having "a country."

For the modern Jew there exists an additional factor to increase his uncertainty. He is frequently uncertain about the way he belongs to the Jewish group, and to what degree. Especially since religion has become a less important social matter, it is rather difficult to describe positively the character of the Jewish group as a whole. A religious group with many atheists? A Jewish race with a great diversity of racial qualities among its members? A nation without a state or a territory of its own containing the majority of its people? A group combined by one culture and tradition but actually having in most respects the different values and ideals of the nations in which it lives? There are, I think, few chores more bewildering than that of determining positively the character of the Jewish group.... No wonder many Jews are uncertain about what it means to belong to the Jewish group...

It was only years later that I discovered that when one lost the Zionist sensibility, much data became visible that was not before -- once Arabs were not the “enemy” of a self-evident right of Jewish sovereignty.

I grew up in a US Jewish milieu where pride in Zionist achievement was not unknown (but not universal). It was only years later that I discovered that when one lost the Zionist sensibility, much data became visible that was not before -- once Arabs were not the “enemy” of a self-evident right of Jewish sovereignty.

Ex-Zionist Baltimore Rabbi Morris S. Lazaron was scathing in his view of the Zionization of Judaism:

Every sacred feeling of the Jew, every instinct of humanity, every deep-rooted anxiety for family, every cherished memory became an instrument to be used for the promotion of the Zionist cause.

I thought of pride I had absorbed, of Zionist achievement, when I read Bel’in village Palestinian rights organizer Iyad Burnat’s bitter comment after a settler shot one youth to death, and injured a Palestinian journalist:

Jews of the world must take responsibility for the crimes of the occupation against the Palestinians. Because the crimes are carried out in the name of the Jews.

It is established in international​ law, that collective punishment shall not be exacted on a population for crimes they have not individually committed. The question, to me, is the different question of responsibility, which is what Burnat presents to Jews -- and which is, writ large, the entire Zionist question.

AZM, “the federation of Zionist organizations in the United States,” tells us,

There will be programs related to Zionism held with public officials, schools, synagogues, summer camps and with many community institutions and organizations

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-- inviting us to share in Jewish achievements in Palestine. Does to take pride mean take responsibility as well?

In Iyad Burnat’s utterance of frustration,

Jews of the world

Addressed, I believe, to diasporic Jews who answer to the identity “Jew.” (Controversialist Gilad Atzmon proposes reacting to Jewish nationalism by dropping the identity.)

must take responsibility

Collectively, as a group? or individual Jews who hear him?

for the crimes of the occupation against the Palestinians.

Explicit acknowledgement of injuries inflicted on Palestinian Arabs, intrinsic to the Zionist program, rather than the fiction of an inexplicable inability of Jews and Arabs to “get along.”

Because the crimes are carried out in the name of the Jews.

The central objection of British cabinet secretary Edwin Samuel Montagu to the Balfour “Jewish Homeland” declaration of 1917 was that it would lead to the idea that he, a citizen of the United Kingdom, was represented by another nation. A corollary of that hazard was the liability of being held responsible for actions of that nation.

Jewish American activists (some who had been part of the Arab-Jewish Sumud Freedom Camp in the occupied West Bank) held a sit in May 24, at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate to block an annual triumphalist Zionist “March of the Flags” through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.

Jews resisting Jewish supremacy can put the lie to the idea that oppressing Palestinians is a Jewish interest; with their bodies, make the statement that Israel's 70-year war on Arabs is not their war.

The nature of their violent removal by police may indicate that Peter Beinart’s 2014 call for American Jews to engage in a Freedom Summer protest in Israel was prescient. To challenge an oppressive system, even symbolically, provokes more than symbolic resistance.

“It’s time for American Jews who support Israel but oppose the occupation to commit to large-scale, direct action of our own,” Beinart wrote, in an article written from the standpoint of a Zionist who sees the two-state solution as the only solution to Israel’s predicament.

To a non-nationalist Jew, the heart of the predicament is the efforts to shape reality in Palestine around the idea of a Jewish nation-state.

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Abba Solomon
Mondoweiss

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