By Jason Michael

Being Jewish is not the same as being Israeli or even pro-Israel, but this is a line the State of Israel has always worked hard to blur. Israel’s nationalist ambitions and aspirations depend on solidifying the idea of Eretz Israel as a “Jewish State.”

Since the 1896 publication the Herzl’s Der Judenstaat the idea of Israel as a homeland for the Jews has exerted a growing claim on the loyalty of Jewish people living all around the world. As a nationalist political movement that emerged within the salad bowl of ethnicities and nationalisms that was the Austro-Hungarian Empire it was natural that Zionism would appeal to Jews internationally who perceived themselves as a people without a land. In this regard Jewish nationalism qua Zionism was already fully developed, albeit appealing to a minority of Jews at the turn of the twentieth century, before the Nazi genocide and the 1948 establishment of the State of Israel.

What this means is that the death camps did not create the desire for a Jewish homeland, and even in the aftermath of the Holocaust most Jewish survivors who emigrated from Europe opted for the United States over Israel. The reasons for this are many. By 1948 the new state of Israel and Zionism in general were not seen as essential components of Jewish faith and cultural identity. Rather, it was seen as a pioneer movement – even before the National Socialists came to power in Berlin – for secular Jewish nationalists; it was to this point viewed as a break from the longstanding traditional European Jewish historical, cultural, and religious identities. In order for Israel to become a more acceptable vision of a Jewish homeland the state Zionists were forced to construct a narrative in which primarily European Jewish identities, historic injustices, and ultimately the Holocaust were woven into the story of Palestine as “the Land of Israel.”

Almost seventy years on from the foundation of the State of Israel in Palestine this nation-building myth has gained traction, and most Jews now accept that to a greater or lesser extent their religio-ethnic identity is in some way connected with the physical landmass of cis-Jordanian Palestine. This latent, emerging, and fully fledged politico-cultural association has given rise to the idea of national identity and the ideology of occupation over and against the Palestinian people; a movement that has brought Israel closer to the point of annexing what remains of Gaza and the West Bank. While this analysis is highly contested by many Israelis it was spelt out in great detail by Theodor Herzl 120 years ago. It has always, at least for some state Zionists, been part of the plan.

In terms of current peace dialogue this forged union of state ideology with Jewish religious, ethnic, and cultural identities makes valid criticism of the State of Israel difficult without it being identified as a criticism of Jewish people or outright antisemitism. Again this is more of a design feature of the nation-building myth than an unfortunate by-product of historical developments. In order to maintain this hedge around the nation right-wing Israeli governments and various rightist elements within the state have worked tirelessly over decades to assert Israel’s claim over Jewish people outside the State of Israel, effectively maintaining a fifth column. Yet, by no means has this claim gone unchallenged by many Jewish people and communities around the world and inside Israel.

Jewish but not quite Israeli: Bearing an International Jewish Identity

Author: Jason Michael (@Jeggit)

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