My Zionism is Personal and ComplicatedRoundup
tags: Jewish history, Israel
Ralph Seliger specializes in writing about Israel and Jewish cultural and political issues.
Having grown up in New York during the 1950s and ‘60s, in the refugee/immigrant home of Polish Jews who narrowly eluded the Nazis but lost their parents and numerous close kin, I often felt uneasy about being Jewish. As a young person, I twice endured physical threats from antisemites: once outrunning a bunch of kids yelling “get the Jew” after forgetting to remove my yarmulke upon leaving Hebrew School, and another time escaping assault from a muscular coworker by denying my Jewishness (we were both working nights at a facility of the US Postal Service).
I came to understand that Jews were and remain a small vulnerable international minority, often scapegoated for social ills and inspiring a host of haters. At the same time, we usually prosper in countries where we are made welcome, until we are no longer welcome. Antisemites envision their Jewish targets as inherently more clever and powerful than others, and make a populist appeal to average working people and even some oppressed groups in a phenomenon known as “the socialism of fools.”
Coded nowadays as “Globalists” and personified by the multi-billionaire philanthropist George Soros—who is demonized for funding liberal causes around the world—Jews are central to the contemporary fascist/Alt-Right hit list. The White Supremacist marchers in Charlottesville in the summer of 2017 chanting “Jews will not replace us” were expressing the notion that a Jewish-led leftist conspiracy was bringing in massive waves of non-white immigrants to “replace” the white American majority. Eric Ward, an eloquent African-American human rights activist, is especially insightful in documenting the hateful ways in which both the antisemitic right and the anti-Zionist left focus on “Jewish power” (check out his 2017 essay, “Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism“).
Zionism was an effort to “normalize” Jewish existence by remaking the Jews into a sovereign people, as in ancient times. It succeeded in creating a remarkable little country that “punches above its weight” scientifically and culturally, and as a regional military power, but not in truly normalizing the Jewish condition. Even the Jewish state’s success against great odds has worked to reinforce the mythic image of “the Jew” as a sinister “Other.” Still, half of my extended family, spanning four generations now, has survived and prospered in Israel. Back in May and June of 1967, my parents and I sweated out the nearly three weeks that Israel was under siege and then the early hours of the Six Day War, until suddenly astounded by Israel’s massive triumph. By the early 1970s, however, I noticed the unmistakable signs of a country overly taken with its military prowess and oblivious to its need to make every effort to exchange the great bulk of its war gains for peace.
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