Is Israel Bad for the Jews?

Israel’s new plan for appropriating nearly 1,000 acres of West Bank land for more Jewish housing underscores the trend toward accelerated ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, a strategy that is stirring revulsion in much of the world and tarnishing the noble principles of Judaism, as Lawrence Davidson observes.

By Lawrence Davidson

If you are over 50 and were raised in a Jewish household, you either heard the question — “but is it good for the Jews?” — explicitly asked numerous times or were subtly encouraged to think the question to yourself.

It reflects a group-centered concern born of the memory of anti-Semitic hostility and a seemingly unending vulnerability, and it can apply to almost any public action: federal or local legislation, cultural trends, foreign policy decisions, etc.

A scene from inside Berlin's Holocaust memorial.

A scene from inside Berlin’s Holocaust memorial. (Photograph by Robert Parry)

I do not know how many of the younger generation of American Jews, known to be very secular and prone to religious intermarriage, still ask this question, but there can be no doubt that it is still there on the tips of almost every Jewish tongue of that generation for whom World War II is still well remembered.

After World War II, most Jews assumed that the Zionist movement and the Israeli state were good for the Jews. Indeed, they assumed that they were necessary goods — necessary for the very survival of the Jewish people. To that end, it was alleged, Israel would provide a haven from the anti-Semitism that so devastated the Jews of Europe.

There were those who took issue with this perspective, but they were few in number and without influence. Zionism triumphed and in 1948 the State of Israel was proclaimed.

Today we have 66 years of history to judge Zionism and Israeli nationalism. So, after these six-and-a=half decades, it is time we ask the question once more. Can we still assume that Zionism and Israel are good for the Jews?

Looking for the Answer

Here are some observations, given by thoughtful and knowledgeable people, both Jews and non-Jews, and some facts easily accessed, that help us answer the question:

–Israeli behavior toward the Palestinians has involved tactics of ethnic cleansing and mass murder, often justified as “self-defense.” In terms of the latest violence in Gaza, the United Nations estimates that at least 73% of the fatalities inflicted by Israel were civilians.

There is good evidence that Israel has been purposely targeting Gaza economic assets so as to impoverish its people. To this end Israel’s Deputy Interior Minister Eli Yishai proclaimed that the “goal of the operation [code-named Protective Edge by the Israeli military] is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages.”

–How do Israeli Jews feel about this situation? Or perhaps a better way of putting this would be: how have Israeli Jews been culturally programmed to judge such behavior on the part of their government? According to the latest polls up to 97 percent of them support the current operation in Gaza. Do outside opinions matter to them? Not to most. Sixty-three percent assume that “the whole world is against us.”

These numbers suggest that only a very few Israeli Jews understand what is happening to them as they live their lives in a state dedicated to the displacement of another people and the absorption of their land.

–One of those who sees the damage to the Jews is Zeev Sternhell, a well-known scholar and “Israel prize laureate.” He equates present-day Israel to Vichy France — a country “falling into the hands of the right-wing with the support of a vast majority of the population.” This includes the intellectuals, whom he defines as the “professors and the journalists.”

Thus, the attack on Gaza has led to “absolute conformism on the part of Israel’s intellectuals” and the “intellectual bankruptcy of the mass media.” According to Sternhell, “democracy crumbles when the intellectuals, the educated classes, toe the line of the thugs or look at them with a smile.”

–There is also a sense of alarm among some Jews outside of Israel. Henry Siegman is president of the U.S./Middle East Project and former national director of the American Jewish Congress. Referring to the latest Israeli attack on Gaza, Siegman observes that “the slaughter of Palestinian civilians and the Dresden-like reduction to rubble of large parts of Gaza by Israel’s military forces in the name of its own citizens’ security has exposed the hypocrisy that lies at the heart of Israel’s dealings with the Palestinians. Israel’s claim to the right of self-defense in order to prevent its victims’ emergence from under its occupation is the ultimate expression of chutzpa.”

In addition, Siegman notes that “too many Israelis seem to believe – indeed, to take absolutely for granted – that they have the God-given right to occupy, suppress, disenfranchise and displace non-Jews in Israel.”

Siegman is not alone in his condemnation. Recently a number of Holocaust survivors and children of survivors placed a notice in the New York Times. In part it stated: “We are alarmed by the extreme, racist dehumanization of Palestinians in Israeli society. In Israel, politicians and pundits in The Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post have called openly for genocide of Palestinians and right-wing Israelis are adopting Neo-Nazi insignia.”

–Scott McConnell, the founding editor of the American Conservative is not Jewish, but he too has been observing Israeli behavior and its evolution. Here is how he describes the country’s present state:

“This now is Israel, a country where imposing collective punishment of innocents is the main point, whose elected officials pine openly for concentration camps and genocide. Hyper-nationalistic, loaded with nuclear weapons, deeply racist, persuaded that opposition to it is derived from anti-Semitism, feeling that the Holocaust gives it license to do whatever it wants and that the normal rules of international conduct will never apply to it.”

So, we must ask, just how good is all this for the Jews?

Rising Anti-Semitism

Let’s recall that Israel’s reason for being was to give Jews shelter from the ravages of anti-Semitism. That was certainly Theodor Herzl’s motivation. By any rational standard, Zionist Israel has failed in this regard.

Indeed, with but very few exceptions, it is hard to imagine anywhere less safe for Jews than present-day Israel. And, there is growing evidence that Israeli behavior is a major source of today’s increasing anti-Semitism.

M. J. Rosenberg, a well-known Jewish American commentator, has analyzed this latter issue and noted the difference in levels of publicly expressed anti-Semitic feelings during the leadership of Yitzhak Rabin and Benjamin Netanyahu. His suggestion is that when it appeared, during Rabin’s prime ministership, that Israel wanted a just peace with the Palestinians (whether this appearance was accurate or not), public expressions of anti-Semitism went down. However, when Israel behaves with wanton aggression against Palestinians, as it has in Gaza, instances of anti-Semitism go up.

Since wanton aggression has certainly characterized most of the history of Israeli behavior toward Palestinians, it is fair to say that such actions constitute an important source of growing anti-Semitism.

Most Zionists and Israeli Jews are ideologues. That is, they see the world through the ideology of Zionism and Israeli nationalism, and this narrows their ability to see things, especially their own behavior, in an objective way.

For instance, they insist that their economic impoverishment, ethnic cleansing and periodic slaughter of the Palestinians are carried out in “self-defense.” However, they absolutely refuse to consider that Palestinian violence against Israel is a reaction to Israeli policies and practices, particularly those of occupation, land confiscation and police state rule.

In other words, Zionism and Israeli nationalism have blinded Israeli policymakers and their supporters to the consequences of their actions. That state of mind is not good for anyone, be they individuals or groups.

So we are brought back to our original question — can we assume that Zionism and Israel are good for the Jews? The answer is no, we cannot. Zionism failed the Jews by insisting on an Israel for one group alone. That insistence has inevitably led to racism, discrimination and ethnic cleansing.

These are not practices that have characterized modern Jewry and so it is simply wrong to equate Zionism with Judaism and insist that Israel stands in for the world’s Jews — errors now made by both Zionists and real anti-Semites. The more Jews who understand this, and begin to publicly distance themselves from both Zionism and Israel, the better, for they can safely assume both are bad for the Jews.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

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16 comments for “Is Israel Bad for the Jews?

  1. dahoit
    September 1, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    Are the real anti semites those who besmirch Israels name through its actions,or those who point it out?
    Mr.Davidson;I believe those who are actual haters of Jews want Israel to exist as a place for the objects of the haters to go to,so talk of ending the state as a project of those haters is problematic.
    And why are the those with the biggest guns the biggest scaredicats?

  2. C Cohen
    September 1, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    It is important to clarify to the nations of the world that it is not the Jews who are at war – it is the state of Israel. It is the Zionists who have usurped the Jewish identity and represent themselves as ‘the Jews’.

    Religious Jews are peaceful people who are prohibited, according to their religion, to wage wars.

    The misidentification of all Jews as Zionists was – and continues to be – deliberately propagated by Zionists in order to create the illusion that Israel is not a modern political invention, but a contemporary chapter in the narrative of an ancient people.

    The Zionists’ impersonation of the Jewish people has succeeded in causing them to
    identify the entirety of the Jewish people as Zionists.

    The Zionists do not represent the Jewish people. The state of Israel is NOT the nation-state of the Jewish people; the Jewish people have no part in the acts of the state of Israel.

  3. Abe
    September 1, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Let me name those who send these tanks and fighter jets to bomb the concrete hovels in Gaza with families crouching, helpless, terrorized inside.

    Let me name those who deny children the right to a childhood and the sick a right to care, those who torture, those who carry out targeted assassinations and murder children playing on beaches in Gaza, those who deny the hungry food and the oppressed justice, those who foul the truth with official propaganda and state lies.

    Let me call them, not by their honorific titles and positions of power, but by the name they have earned for themselves by draining the blood of the innocent into the sands of Gaza.

    Let me name these powerful state actors for who they are: Terrorists.

    Chris Hedges – “It Is We Who Stand in the Light”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aizn-QC3Nss

  4. Abe
    September 1, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    These creatures in helmets and khakis,
    I say to myself, aren’t Jews,
    In the truest sense of the word. A Jew
    Doesn’t dress himself up with weapons like jewelry,
    Doesn’t believe in the barrel of a gun aimed at a target,
    But in the thumb of the child who was shot at—
    In the house through which he comes and goes,
    Not in the charge that blows it apart.
    The coarse soul and iron first
    He scorns by nature.
    He lifts his eyes not to the officer, or the soldier
    With his finger on the trigger—but to justice,
    And he cries out for compassion.
    Therefore, he won’t steal land from its people
    And will not starve them in camps.
    The voice calling for expulsion
    Is heard from the hoarse throat of the oppressor—
    A sure sign that the Jew has entered a foreign country
    And, like Umberto Saba, gone into hiding within his own city.
    Because of voices like these, father
    At age sixteen, with your family, you fled Rypin;
    Now here Rypin is your son.

    – Aharon Shabtai, “Rypin” from War & Love, Love & War (2010)

  5. Morton Kurzweil
    September 1, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    The world has devolved into ethnic nation states. The recent ideals of equality in a heterogeneous democracy have been lost in the United States by a Catholic Supreme Court, a majority who believe that the U.S> is a christian nation, God’s gift to the white man. The European nations remain fixated on historic values of language, race, religion, and cultural differences. Russia insists upon a Russian culture in a vast nation of diverse cultures, races, and beliefs.
    The Islamic states are divided by family and tribal wars within the same religion.
    Yes, Israel should be an example for all as a democracy considering the millennia of persecution and intolerance it has survived.
    The one lesson learned is that a sense of humor is not sufficient to defend a nation against enemies who have no sense of humor.

    • Nico
      September 3, 2014 at 5:28 pm

      Yes, an example of what not to do. Of how not to behave. Of how easy it is to destroy all empathy with a people through bearing witness of it’s actions. That’s Israel’s example. The lesson learned is only one. And it is such an obvious one that it is even more painful considering the ordeal the Jew people (not Israel) went through. Democracy is wasted on Israel. Or the illusion of it. Israel has become a pit-bull. One who was trained to obey only the master’s voice – and it could be the case that the master in question was God, but it is not – and bite away at all that dares question the master’s orders. It is too sad to bear. I’m fortunate to have been born a Jew, and relieved for not being Israeli. I could have succumbed to the tirant’s voice. I might have started to believe it’s words. I might have taken my superiority for granted. I could have become a violent racist biggot, and I could have come to believe that all that was alright. Fortunately not…

  6. Hilary
    September 1, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    “Every time I hear that Israel is America’s only friend in the Middle East, I seem to remember that before it “created” Israel, the U.S. had no enemies in the Middle East”.

  7. Abe
    September 1, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    These creatures in helmets and khakis,
    I say to myself, aren’t Jews,
    In the truest sense of the word. A Jew
    Doesn’t dress himself up with weapons like jewelry,
    Doesn’t believe in the barrel of a gun aimed at a target,
    But in the thumb of the child who was shot at—
    In the house through which he comes and goes,
    Not in the charge that blows it apart.
    The coarse soul and iron first
    He scorns by nature.
    He lifts his eyes not to the officer, or the soldier
    With his finger on the trigger—but to justice,
    And he cries out for compassion.
    Therefore, he won’t steal land from its people
    And will not starve them in camps.
    The voice calling for expulsion
    Is heard from the hoarse throat of the oppressor—
    A sure sign that the Jew has entered a foreign country
    And, like Umberto Saba, gone into hiding within his own city.
    Because of voices like these, father
    At age sixteen, with your family, you fled Rypin;
    Now here Rypin is your son.

    – Aharon Shabtai, “Rypin” from War & Love, Love & War (2010)

  8. Abe
    September 1, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    Let me name those who send these tanks and fighter jets to bomb the concrete hovels in Gaza with families crouching, helpless, inside.

    Let me name those who deny children the right to a childhood and the sick a right to care, those who torture, those who carry out targeted assassinations and murder children playing on beaches in Gaza, those who deny the hungry food and the oppressed justice, those who foul the truth with official propaganda and state lies.

    Let me call them, not by their honorific titles and positions of power, but by the name they have earned for themselves by draining the blood of the innocent into the sands of Gaza.

    Let me name them for who they are: terrorists.

    – Chris Hedges

    Chris Hedges spoke on 17 August 2014 at “A Peaceful March and Rally for the People of Gaza.” The rally was located at the ‘Fountain of Freedom’ in front of Woodrow Wilson Library, Princeton University, NJ. Video from this event is available at the LeighaCohen channel on YouTube

  9. Where-Wolf
    September 1, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    Is Israel Bad for the Jews?

    No.

    Zionists are.

  10. jacobo
    September 1, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    Not only do Zionists deny that Israel’s brutal treatment of Palestinians has anything to do with antisemitism, worse yet, they don’t hesitate to look upon antisemitic incidents as opportunities for them to appeal to Jews outside Israel to take advantage of the Law of Return and move to Israel, since only there can a Jew be safe and free, and never mind the 68 “safe” Jews who were wiped out last month in “Operation Protective Edge”. Furthermore move to Israel right away, because there’s a demographic “problem” in Israel, so the more Jews (Ashkenazis preferred) who go there, the longer the inevitable can be postponed.

  11. Sudhama Ranganathan
    September 1, 2014 at 11:07 pm

    This reminds me of something from 2006. When, in the midst of its campaign against Hizbollah and Hamas ‘terrorists’, Israel has been accused by Britain of feting Jewish ‘terrorists’ whose bomb attack killed 28 Britons 60 years ago today.
    The accusation, which reopens the debate about the use of politically-inspired violence in the region, follows the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the attack on the King David hotel in Jerusalem on July 22, 1946, by the Irgun Jewish ‘resistance’ to British mandate rule in Palestine. The 28 Britons were among 91 people killed.
    This week, former Irgun fighters and current Right-wing politicians unveiled the plaque at the hotel, which read: ‘The hotel housed the Mandate Secretariat as well as the Army Headquarters. On July 22, 1946, Irgun fighters at the order of the Hebrew Resistance Movement planted explosives in the basement. Warning phone calls had been made urging the hotel’s occupants to leave immediately. For reasons known only to the British, the hotel was not evacuated and after 25 minutes the bombs exploded, and to the Irgun’s regret and dismay 91 persons were killed.’
    But Israel’s celebration of its ‘freedom fighters’ remains highly controversial at a time when it continues to pound Palestinian ‘terrorists’. You’re not a racist, anti-Semite or self-hating Jew to disagree with Israeli policy, just a person of conscience, morals and compassion.

  12. Brendan
    September 2, 2014 at 7:47 am

    Although there is no justification for the automatic accusations of anti-Semitism that are made against Israel’s critics, those accusations can sometimes become a self-fulfilling prophecy. That can happen because the Israeli state uses the Jewish people as a human shield against any criticism directed at itself. By hijacking the Jewish identity, Israel is in effect making a connection between Jews and its own crimes against the Palestinians.

    It should be of no relevance whether it’s a Jewish state or any other type of state that is constantly breaking international law in the West Bank or Gaza. A crime is a crime. Israel just uses its Holocaust card to deflect criticism that would result in sanctions against almost any other country. What they’re also doing, as a result, is helping anti-Semites who exploit Israel’s aggression in order to portray all Jews as monsters.

    • Joe Tedesky
      September 2, 2014 at 10:03 am

      Brendan, you got it so right. Human Shields! Just like the American people being used I think you are correct about the Jewish people being used. Great comment. J.T.

  13. Abe
    September 2, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    Norman G. Finkelstein discussing his most recent book, Old Wine, Broken Bottle (2014)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dq7leqRpPkY

    Norman G. Finkelstein is an American political scientist, activist, professor, and author. His primary fields of research are the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and the politics of the Holocaust, an interest motivated by the experiences of his parents who were Jewish Holocaust survivors. He received his Ph.D in Political Science from Princeton University.

    From a review of Finkelstein’s book by Adam Waterhouse:

    Old Wine, Broken Bottle is a critique of a book by Israeli reporter Ari Shavit entitled My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel that has been widely praised by supporters of Israel in America. Shavit’s book acknowledges uncomfortable truths about Israel, whilst also heaping lavish praise upon it for it’s accomplishments, and appealing to the reader to understand the unique plight of Israel as justification for its actions. In so far as Ari Shavit’s message represents Zionism’s latest defence, which Finkelstein believes it does, his efforts to debunk it serve the broader goal of trying to separate fact from fiction and to offer an account of Israel, its history, and its possibilities for the future that is entirely possible and far more desirable.

    (Finkelstein’s) book includes a very adept analysis of the core Zionist justification for Israel – that it was born of the need to provide a safe haven for Jewish people and has succeeded in doing so. The legitimacy afforded to the idea (in theory) of the creation of a state that could act as a refuge for Jewish people by the centuries of anti-semitic persecution, culminating in the Holocaust, is contrasted with the reality of what has actually happened subsequently. The tremendous fear and paranoia of Israelis about the surrounding Arab and Muslim world, which Shavit both expresses and reflects, is also contrasted and compared with the life of relative ease and security that has been enjoyed by Jews and people of Jewish descent outside of Israel subsequent to the Second World War. Shavit’s paranoia reaches its apex in his depiction of the horrors of a nuclear Iran which he describes as a threat to humanity. But, unlike Iran, Israel already possesses a massive nuclear arsenal, for which Shavit expresses unrestrained enthusiasm, devoting a whole chapter to the glories of Israel’s nuclear reactor at Dimona. And, unlike Iran, Israel has already launched numerous unprovoked wars against its neighbours, and repeatedly threatened to initiate armed conflict with Iran in violation Article 2 of the UN charter. Outside of the myopic moral universe of Shavit the balance sheet of right and wrong, and threat and counter-threat, looks rather different.

  14. kntlt@yahoo.com
    September 2, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    As an American of Arab origin, I grew up with Jews in the school yard, they came to play in our homes and we went and played in theirs. Our class soccer striker was my best friend a Jew. During religion education, the Jews, Christians and Muslims each went to their respective religion classroom and that was the only time we felt a difference between us. Once my best friend and I got into a fight with older bullies and we both ate dirt that day, but he nor I ever knew or wondered about the religion of the other boys. Then by the end of the 1967 summer when I was back in school, I learned my friend was deported with his family. I hated the Israelis for attacking my country, but most of all for causing the loss of my friend. During that time, I remember that all our teachers talked about the “setback”, they always used the term Zionists never Jew.
    Can the West, the one with the anti semitism problem, understand that the Arabs have no hatred for the Jews, they lived among us the Muslims. Yes, throughout history, the Muslims protected them from the Crusaders as they protected the Christians from Crusaders of the West.
    It is understood in the Middle East that the problem is not a Jewish problem as the West calls it but it is known as a Zionist World Problem. When America has been picked clean by the Zionists, then the American people will know what the Arabs knew all along, ” Rothchild’s Israel is no friend to anyone, for it is lonely at the top.”
    I hope that Americans will remember to make a distinction between a Jew and a Zionist. Jews fear God and have contributed to this Earth as part of mankind’s stewardship. On the other hand, Zionists are racists as the devil is. His race was from fire not mud. Zionist are racists who believe they are better than the rest of mankind, They are chosen, they are despots of the Earth, and since they are despots they will give themselves license to exploit the rest of us goyim. And to exploit the rest of us, they must deceive us. Those are the three faces of Zionism. It was the Palestinian who helped the Jews hiding from the Crusaders and it was the Palestinians who welcomed the European Jews fleeing Hitler’s Germany. And what do the Zionists do to the Palestinians who helped the Jews?
    This is the Zionist, fancies himself a despot, an exploiter a deceiver.
    The Zionist financed Hitler’s gas chambers that genocided the Jews. The Zionist is genociding the Muslim and Christian Arabs in Gaza. The Zionist is genociding the Africans in Congo. The Zionest is genociding the Iraqis and is looking to genocide Syria, Iran and Russia.
    Hopefully, your turn will never come America. However, the militarization of the police is underway and posse comitatus has been set aside.
    God bless America.

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