(June 19, 2019 / JNS) This is not a book review. The book I’m not reviewing (because there are some books that even I, who read Mein Kampf through to the end, won’t read) is a collection of essays edited by Carolyn L. Karcher called Reclaiming Judaism from Zionism: Stories of Personal Transformation.
Those whose transformations are described in the book include some of the best-known contemporary Jewish “misozionists” (extreme Israel-haters, pronounced mis-OZ-yuh-nists), like Rebecca Vilkomerson and Cecilie Surasky of A Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), Stanford University Professor Joel Beinin, JVP Rabbis Alissa Wise and Brant Rosen (see his Nakba Day prayer here), Ariel Gold of Code Pink, historian Hasia R. Diner, and 33 other Jews who hate the Jewish state.
If I’m not going to even read the book, why mention it? Because it provides a perfect example of how some progressive Jews have combined a new religion—they insist it is Judaism, but I think it is sufficiently different to deserve a new name, “Tikkunism”—with some historical distortions to claim that Judaism and Zionism are incompatible.
Here is how Karcher presents the argument in a recent interview:
“As I see it, ethical precepts lie at the heart of Judaism: pursue justice, love the stranger, love your neighbor and repair the world. Obviously, all of these ethical precepts are violated by Zionist policy toward Palestinians. And so, what happens when Judaism is married to (or hijacked by) Zionism is that the protection of the Jewish people, the physical survival of the Jewish people, takes precedence over the religion’s ethical teachings.”
Karcher admits that she was brought up in a “completely secular [family],” but she is not wrong that Jews are told to “love the stranger [ger] for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:19), and to “pursue justice” (Deut. 16:20). These commandments mean more or less what the Tikkunists say they mean, although probably ger does not include people living outside the land of Israel, or those who have demonstrated violent enmity to the people of Israel. We are not required to love Amalek or the Philistines or Hamas.
“Repairing the world” (tikkun olam), on the other hand, is not found anywhere in the Bible, and in traditional Judaism is associated with an arcane Kabbalistic concept that has nothing to do with social action. Modern liberal Judaism has taken the words and created a new meaning for them: working to create a more just society, where “just” is always defined in liberal or progressive terms.
So, for example, it would be tikkun olam to participate in a demonstration to make it easier for people to vote, but it would not be tikkun olam to try to tighten safeguards against voter fraud.
Tikkunism is a faith that imbues the ethical commandments of the Torah and the admonitions of the prophets with a political slant, adds a wholly invented idea of tikkun olam, ignores the “ritual” commandments like Shabbat and kashrut, and—most important in this context—ignores the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel.
Karcher mentions “the heart of Judaism.” Most traditional Jews would say that is the Torah. The Torah is many things: it is the source of all the commandments, including the ones that the Tikkunists observe and the many that they don’t. But above all it is a narrative about a relationship, a triangular one between Hashem, the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.
This relationship antedates the commandments, because they constitute the conditions for maintaining it. Every traditional Jew understands and feels this*. The Land of Israel is truly at the heart of Judaism, from which Karcher and the Tikkunists would remove it.
Tikkunists don’t feel a special connection to the Jewish people, either. They tend to see all humanity as one people, and to believe that improved communication would solve all political problems. They dislike nationalism, and make no exception for Jewish nationalism (although for some reason they seem to approve of Palestinian nationalism). While I’m not sure that Tikkunism is as much a religion as it is a political movement, calling it “Judaism” is a stretch too far, even though many of those who profess it are Jewish.
Karcher’s version of Tikkunism also seems to include the strange idea that a people should commit national suicide in defense of Tikkunist “ethical precepts.” This idea isn’t found in traditional Judaism, where the preservation of life overrides all other commandments, except in a few very special circumstances. In my opinion, the physical survival of the Jewish people is more important than loving the Palestinians.
In any case, the historical analysis presented by Karcher is wrong. “Zionist policy” according to Karcher is “settler colonialism,” in which European Jewish colonialists, with the assistance of arch-colonialist Britain, dispossessed an “indigenous people” and took their land.
The truth is that the actual aborigines of the land of Israel, the oldest indigenous culture who have been present here since biblical times, are the Jewish people. Rather than facilitating the dispossession of the Arabs, the British helped the Arabs try to dispossess the Jews. All this is supported by archaeological and historical evidence.
The claim of the Palestinian Arabs that their ancestors have lived here for thousands of years is false. Most are relatively recent immigrants to the land (19th and 20th centuries). There was no historic Palestinian polity for Jewish sovereignty to displace—the last indigenous polity in the land was the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty in the second century BCE.
The flight of the Arab refugees from the new state of Israel was a direct result of the attempt of the Arab nations and the Palestinian Arabs to commit another genocide against the Jewish people. Their nakba was of their own doing. Today’s “plight of the Palestinians” is the fault of their leadership and the “friendly” leaders of the Arab states, not the Jews.
The State of Israel is far more than an expedient to ensure the “physical safety of the Jewish people” as Karcher says, although it is that in part. It is the legitimate expression of Jewish self-determination in our historical homeland. It does not violate the ethical principles of Judaism; indeed, it represents the highest aspirations of traditional (not Tikkunist) Judaism, as expressed in the Torah.
Not all Tikkunists are misozionists, but Tikkunism enables Jewish misoziony. It makes it possible for Jews who claim to be motivated by religious considerations to treat Israel as “just another foreign country,” to support anti-Israel boycotts, knowing that their objective is the destruction of the Jewish state, and even to identify with Palestinian groups that are engaged in terrorism against Israel.
One of the goals of the psychological warfare campaign that is being waged against Israel is to flood the media with accusations of vicious mistreatment of Palestinian Arabs, so as to demonize it and reduce external support for it when it is attacked. Without a connection to Israel, Tikkunists are especially susceptible to this and find it natural to criticize Israel for its supposed moral failure, and claim a religious motivation for doing so to boot.
Jewish misoziony is dangerous because the Jewishness of the speakers grants them authority that a non-Jew would not have when speaking about the Israeli-Arab conflict. Organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace, to which Karcher and several of her essayists belong, specialize in exploiting their members’ Jewishness as a weapon against the Jewish state.
JVP supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, the Palestinian “right of return,” has defended convicted terrorists, and in an arguably anti-Semitic campaign, has promoted the idea that Israel is to blame for American police officers shooting unarmed blacks.
Judaism doesn’t need to be “reclaimed” from Zionism, and certainly not by inventing an attenuated pseudo-Judaism. The natural condition of the Jewish people, the condition that Jews aspired to for thousands of years of painful, unnatural diaspora, is to be a free people in in their own land—as is written in the national anthem of the Jewish state, “Hatikvah.”
*Satmar Hasidim and other anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jews don’t deny the relationship, they just think that a legitimate Jewish state in the Land of Israel can only be established by the messiah, or that the secular aspects of the state are sinful, etc.
This column first appeared at AbuYehuda.com.