Israel’s Claim on Jewish People

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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We are not Overly Shaken by Children Burning

Thanks to television and the internet we see so much more human suffering, yet this suffering of the other seldom truly shocks us. It never motivates the nations to change the world. Business as usual – no matter how ugly the horror we see.

Daniel Berrigan’s 1973 reflection on the imperialist and colonialist Zionism of the State of Israel as the “tomb of the Jewish soul” is at once one of the most prophetic and discomforting pieces written on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a Jesuit priest who was imprisoned for his anti-war activism during the Vietnam War Berrigan, on account of his sickness at war, rejects all partisanship. He approaches both the Jewish Zionist and the Arab Palestinian as a witness who declares his love for the symbols of both Judaism and Islam as they were before their “reversal.” It was Judaism, he says, that taught the world to believe Thou shalt not kill, and now – from the trauma of the Holocaust – in becoming a nation like the nations that oppressed it, it has become like its oppressors; like “Babylon and Egypt and Assyria.”

Berrigan regrets the contradiction that Israel has become; not that it is any more wicked than other nations, but that in becoming just like the other nations the Jewishness of statist Zionism has lost its vocation as a judge and guide to the world. It is no longer the exception to the way of the world. It has become the world, and this is where his insight becomes truly painful. Against the backdrop of the “Vietnam holocaust” – in which “some six million Southeast Asians had been maimed, bombed, displaced, tortured, imprisoned or killed” – he laments that Israel of the prophets has become as indifferent to the suffering of humanity as the rest of the world:

Most scholars, most priests, most Jews, most Arabs, while they would prefer some less horrendous sight than the burning flesh of children, are not seriously shaken in their style of mind, their taxpaying, their consumerism, their spiritual, economic, or political complicity, by such “incidents.”
– Daniel Berrigan, Responses to Settler Regimes.

There is something rather mystical in what he is touching on here. He is evoking a religious idea, not a Christian idea, but a Talmudic Jewish idea of the Gentile reminding the Jew of his or her obligation to perform the mitzvot – the laws of the Torah (tractate Bavli Megillah 3b). Israel’s “Jewishness” – that is state Judaism – has, in becoming the world, acquiesced to the law of this world and in so doing has become complicit in its injustice and suffering. By putting aside the Torah in favour of the secular priorities of security, economy, material consumerism, and power Israel has failed to become the homeland for the wandering Jews. Instead it has become the tomb and final resting place of the Jewish soul. This is what causes Berrigan the most pain.

Daniel Berrigan, a man who preached peace and practiced civil disobedience.

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Christian Zionism: A Contradiction in Terms?

Support for ‘the Jews’ and the State of Israel by Christian Zionists is established on the premise that God’s promise to Abraham still holds. Whether one accepts biblical truth claims or not this ‘reading’ of the Abrahamic promise is not shared by all.

Christian Zionism depends upon a particular literalist and fundamentalist reading of biblical texts which require the Jewish people to return to Palestine in order for the prophesised ‘End Times’ to begin. At the heart of this reading is an understanding that the Jewish people are the collective beneficiaries of a divine promise made to Abraham, and that this promise remains a binding component in God’s plan for the world and its end. Christianity, however, whilst ultimately being a product of first century Palestinian Judaism is a distinct religious tradition with a unique historical and theological reading of these same biblical narratives.

Stephen Sizer, an academic and priest in the Church of England, offers an insightful critique of the Christian Zionist hermeneutic in the light of the role and function of the person of Jesus of Nazareth in the Christian tradition. As an Evangelical Christian his exposition avoids both Patristic theology and the major trends of Christian thinking on Israel through the Middle Ages, opting to critique Christian Zionism solely on the basis of commonly accepted sacred scripture. This approach has its strengths and weaknesses. In sidestepping the post-Apostolic developments in theology he runs the risk ignoring the reality of theology qua truth as it is continually revealed in the life of the Church. The strength, of course, is that his approach is that accepted by the fundamentalists – by scripture alone.

Since 1948 the State of Israel has existed as a homeland for the Jewish people. On the basis of Zionism, as an ethno-nationalist ideology, this stake in a geographical territory, according to the colonialist conventions of the time, is arguably legitimate. Yet in terms of Jewish religious thinking the state is controversial. God did not send the messiah, and only the messiah – in certain Orthodox understandings – can bring the Jews back into the land of Israel. A similar position is articulated, as Sizer artfully demonstrates, in the texts of the earliest Christians. Jesus himself, as he is presented in the Gospels, is uninterested in the question of land, and later the Apostle Saint Paul elucidates the universalisation of the promise; from a land to the whole world.

More important here to the Christian are the questions of faith and repentance. Rabbinic Judaism since Yavneh has accepted exile as a consequence of disobedience, and return contingent on repentance and messiah. Christianity’s particular truth claim is that the messiah has indeed come, and that the acceptance of him as Saviour and Lord is integral to repentance – repent and believe the Gospel. Thus, without delving too deep into the Bible or theology, and without presuming any specific religious position, neither Jewish nor Christian classical theology warrant the existence of the State of Israel as a fulfilment of biblical promise. Israel exists, like other nations, as a secular state, but the claims of Christian Zionism find no comfort in Christianity or Judaism.

Christian Fundamentalists Plan To Teach Genocide To Kids

Stephen R Sizer, “An Alternative Theology of the Holy Land: A Critique of Christian Zionism,” The Churchman 133, no. 2 (1999): 125–46.

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America’s Manifest Destiny and Christian Zionism

The self-becoming of the United States’ national identity has been formed from a religious worldview that imagined itself as a new Israel taking a land given by heaven. It is interesting how this religio-political thinking has informed American opinions on the State of Israel.

Zionism is by no means a recent nationalism. Writing before the Nazi genocide of the 1930s and 40s Josef Roth discusses the forming nationalistic ideas within the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, and connects this golden age as one of the formative periods of Zionism in Europe. It was of course within this imperial milieu that Theodor Herzl lived and worked. Judaism has always entertained a cultural memory of a homeland, but the religious Jewish resistance to secular Zionism during the end of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century points to this being an imaginative homesickness rather than the politicisation of the right of return.

True, modern political Zionism, rather than being a Jewish nationalist aspiration, was first the product of English and American Protestantism. English Puritans, from the earliest colonisation of North America, conceptualised their new home as a new Israel, a ‘City on a hill;’ a New Jerusalem. Around their settlements lived their Canaanites, godless barbarians to be cleansed from their holy land. This sacralisation of colonialism gave rise to the American mythos of the nation’s Manifest Destiny, the divine blessing on their subjugation of that new world God had given them. It is not difficult to see how from this religious and colonial expansionism, taken with their literal reading of the Bible, these pioneers identified themselves with the Israelites of yore.

Western imperialism, of which the nascent United States was a product, constructed its own identities against the background of its Orientalisation of the Middle East. It was this Arab, Islamic other that gave geopolitical meaning to their Judeo-Christianity. As America grew to see itself as the fruit of the God’s will, the spread of American, Western religious and political values became an extension of their God’s will for the ordering of the world. Thus imperialism and colonisation were rationalised as good and as indeed the work and will of God made real through the work of white men. Long before the birth of a particularly Jewish political Zionism Evangelical Christians were postulating the return of the Jews – as a Western (good and godly) people – to the home this God had promised them.

It is a fascinating history in that from the beginning this Christian Zionism was always a confluence of religious fundamentalist fanaticism, political power, and imperial ambition. William Eugene Blackstone (1841-1935), as noted by Lawrence Davidson, “drew up a petition addressed to President Benjamin Harrison and Secretary of State James G. Blaine” advocating the return of Jews to Palestine; a document supported by over four hundred influential and powerful Americans “including the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, J. P. Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller.” This relationship of Christian fundamentalism and US politics has continued in US foreign policy towards Israel and Palestine to the present.

Lawrence Davidson, “Christian Zionism as a Representation of American Manifest Destiny,” Critique: Critical Middle Eastern Studies 14, no. 2 (2005): 157–69.

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Freedland on Israel: Making it all about Race

Once again the ever whimsical Guardian trots out Jonathan Freedland to offer the final sensible word on the Naz Shah débâcle, and once again it’s all about race. His article opens with a parable about a hypothetical nation created by “black people” because this was the one place on earth they would be free from “periodic persecution and slaughter.” He’s really talking about Jews, and the problem with this is that Naz Shah’s social media posts were about the abominable behaviour of the State of Israel. This is because this is the new normal when it comes to the cultural defence of Israel; it has to be an attack of the political left, and it has to be twisted so as to become something about race.

He attempts to paint a picture of a world filled with anti-Semitic commies who have it in for Israel, challenging its very existence, and this must, by extension, apply to all Jews who have an “affinity” with the country. Jews are more than entitled to have an affinity with Israel, but that is not the problem. The problem is, and has always been, the racist and vindictive behaviour of the Israeli state towards the people of Palestine; the unwarranted arrests of children, the public execution of prisoners, the illegal bulldozing of people’s homes, the destruction of an occupied nation’s economy, and the illegal and barbaric occupation of its land. It’s not really about race – or Jews for that matter.

Yes, if this were a nation of “black people” carrying on like this we’d be annoyed, but that would have nothing whatsoever to do with their skin colour or their race. All of this stems from Israel’s fanatical preoccupation with race. As a state it has long legislated for racial segregation, it has a truly horrific record of treating African refugees, and has an even worse record of discrimination when it comes to the treatment of non-white Jews. It might also be useful to point out that Israel is the only country in the world that bans racially mixed marriages. Freedland really is on thin ice when it comes to lecturing the world on its racism when it comes to the most racist nation on earth.


Any ‘map’ of Israel that assumes the ownership of Palestine ought to be chiselled.

Considering that the posts that were shared by Shah on her social media page were about the State of Israel and its occupation and annexation of Palestine, as opposed to any comment on Jews or Jewishness, the image headlining Freedland’s whining response is interesting. In her artwork Eva Bee has depicted a rocky landmass being chiselled away at by a group of people in red overalls – no doubt the Reds from under Freedland’s bed. The landmass is of course meant to be the State of Israel, and it is fully covered with the Israeli flag to make this clear. Yet when one takes a closer look at this map it is Israel together with the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights; all counted as Israel. It looks to us that maybe Jonathan Freedland really doesn’t get it.

Freedland, Jonathan, “My plea to the left: treat Jews the same way you’d treat any other minority.” The Guardian, April 29, 2016, Opinion Section.

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