Gil Troy and Zionism

Gil Troy argued in the Jerusalem Post that American Jewish communal organisations should embrace ‘Zionism’ more explicitly than they do.

David Hirsh replied with the following letter (the version printed was slightly edited):

Anti-Zionism denies that Israel is a nation state like others, insisting instead that Zionism is a political movement which one is at liberty to support or to oppose.  In this way it seeks to open the question of whether Israel has the right to exist in a way which would be unthinkable in relation to other states.  Gil Troy’s argument (US Jews’ retreat from ‘Zionism’, June 27) that US Jews should position themselves as supporters of Zionism would tend, therefore, to help the anti-Zionists in their relentless efforts to treat the legitimacy of Israel as a question for endless, open debate.  It would be better to embrace the straightforward liberal principle that states which exist have the right not to be conquored.

Jewish identity is complex, plural and diverse and we should defend our rights to continue to be Jewish in our own ways.  Identity does not need to be organised into a single Twentieth Century ‘-ism‘, a worldview, complete with accusations of cowardice against of those who fail to embrace it correctly.

David Hirsh

Goldsmiths, University of London

11 Responses to “Gil Troy and Zionism”

  1. David Olesker Says:

    Although, temperamentally, I’m inclined to agree with you on this one David, I would still maintain that the unremitting questioning of Israel’s right to exist cannot be ignored. Menachem Begin (a classic European liberal nationalist) also felt that Israel should not justify itself because it shouldn’t have to justify itself. I think he was wrong and the success (in some quarters) of the anti-Israel viewpoint is partially a result of it being a view expressed without refutation.

    But I do agree that we needn’t get hung up on the word Zionism. Recently Rav YY Rubinstein pointed out, (http://thejerusalemreport.wordpress.com/2012/07/03/the-age-of-zionism/) that, although he isn’t a Zionist, he has often been a vocal defender of Israel. (I once quipped to him that Zionism was too important to be left to the Zionists; he liked that!).

    I think the key issue to focus on, to left right and center, is Jewish rights. Zionism was/is, after all, no more than a political program to obtain Jewish rights. The state of Israel’s legitimacy lies solely in its actualization of Jewish rights (as long as it actualizes Jewish rights it is legitimate, even if it can be shown to be doing illegitimate things.).

    I’m not sure that even Gil Troy would disagree. His main problem was not that organized Jewish institutions in the US should return to Zionism — assumes they have never left it — but that they should not be intimidated into denying what they actually belief in.

    • Gil Troy Says:

      I have great respect for David Hirsch and all that he has done to stand for truth and fight anti-Semitism. But this time, he has read me wrong. I was not trying to impose Zionism or any one-size-fits-all ideology on American Jewry. I was arguing against a kind of “false consciousness,” wherein American Jews are running away from a label that describes most of their beliefs because, unlike David Hirsch, they have been intimidated. This complaint comes from many meetings with leading American Jewish activists, especially on campus, who happily call themselves “pro-Israel” and deeply believe in Jewish peoplehood along with Jewish statehood but shudder at the “Z-word” — given the delegitimizers a victory they do not deserve.

  2. Gideon Swort Says:

    Zionism does not have a right to exist. Zionism was a vehicle to recreate the Jewish state. Israel was created. Zionism was dead as soon as the independent state of Israel re-formed. Whether Jews support Israel or not is a personal opinion – irrelevant to Israel’s existence. Israel’s existence is not subject to opinion or discourse, it exists subject to it’s citizen’s will to maintain it. It is however subject to eradication by force.

    I therefore question the right of Anti-Zionists existence. I welcome an Anti-Israel movement, which can chatter away pointlessly unless it has a vehicle of force that can eradicate Israel. If this movement/entity/pathology does not posses this force, than all we are dealing with is a movement that is addicted to cerebral masturbation, or “grinding water”. If it has the required force, then ‘me and me mates’ are here to defend.

    Away from this logic, I accept that everyone has a right to day dream and pointlessly argue.

    @Gil Troy:
    It’s Hirsh, David Hirsh.

    As far as American Jews are concerned, I think my above argument negates all of your twisting and meandering. Learn to leave Zionism as an anachronistic term, that’s now adopted by a variety of pathologies ranging from fashionable adoption of Kafiah wearers to old school Jew haters.

    • David Olesker Says:

      Again, I agree with a lot of what you said, but (not to be nit picky, but) Zionism was not exclusively aimed at the realization of Jewish national rights in Eretz Yisrael, it also campaigned for aliya. At its most extreme that meant the negation of the diaspora. Theoretically, that aspect of Zionism would outlive the creation of a Jewish state in our homeland.

      As a matter of fact, Natan Sharansky, as head of the WZO, has shifted “official” Zionism’s emphasis to building Jewish identity.

  3. Noga Says:

    In Israel to be a Zionist is to be patriotic, no more no less. Only upon moving outside Israel did I realize that the debate around Zionism seems to be going on. I was amused by it at first. To me it was analogous to a couple debating whether the foetus should be aborted, when the foetus is already 60+ years old. The continuing debate over “Zionism” should take this question into consideration: How can a 60+ year old foetus to be aborted? So are we talking mere abortion (as the proponents of Ahmadinejad are claiming) or about simple straightforward execution/murder?

    I agree with both David Hirsh and Gideon Swort that Jews agonizing over Zionism are de facto conceding a point to the anti-Zionists. That is not to say that the historical aspects of Zionism cannot be discussed or researched to anybody’s heart’s content. But the issue should not be debated as if it were relevant today to Israel’s policies.

    The big question is, of course, how do you establish this premise as a given in any discussion with the anti Zionists?

    • Gideon Swort Says:

      Noga, to me debating Zionism is akin to attaching wheels to goal posts.

      As to the legitimacy question, I question the legitimacy of anyone who questions mine, all the while I will not surrender to anyone the power of authority (nor do I recognize an existing entity) to question my Being. I am secure enough in my existence, without needing external verification.

  4. snoopythegoon Says:

    Not only is Mr Swort right, the whole debate about Zionism makes it easier for the usual anti-Israeli crowd to raise the “legitimacy” question. As if there is a country that ever received this mythical “legitimacy” stamp from some higher authority.

  5. Harry Goldstein Says:

    In my experience, the key debate with anti-zionists isn’t about the relevance or otherwise of Zionism to today’s Jews, but the claim that historical Zionism was an inherently racist and exclusionary endeavour – and hence that present-day Israel is a colonial settler state lacking legitimacy.

    It is this false narrative that has to be tackled and demolished. Whether or not people call themselves ‘Zionists’ today isn’t really that important.

    I agree with David Olesker, both that we can’t ignore the legitimacy arguments and that we shouldn’t get hung up on the word Zionist.

  6. Shmoo-El Says:

    “supporters of Zionism would tend, therefore, to help the anti-Zionists”

    Not sure the evidence backs up this theory. Anti-Zionist movements seem to thrive in places without strong, explicitly Zionist communities.

    I get David Hirsch’s semantic/philosophical point…and I more or less agree with it…but pragmatically the world stage is not ready for such a breezy, effortless strategy for preserving the Jewish state when it is so genuinely threatened. The best way to delegitimize anti-Zionists is call oneself a Zionist as if it were the easiest thing in the world to do….not strain to define differences between a non-Zionist or anti-Zionist as David Hirsch has done in the past. I think Hirsch’s philosophy might do the opposite of what is intended.

  7. The Ozi Zion Blog » Blog Archive » Zionism - ongoing discussion on how the term is used Says:

    [...] An argument that is frequently made is that Zionism’s major goal was to create the state of Israel… and that now it is esatablished and indeed over 64 years old, Zionisms purpose is well and truly accomplished..   Moreover an extension to the argument is that harping on Zionism provides fuel for antizionism, as opposed to people who are simply against the state of Israel.  A recent discussion on the Engage website is quite instructive [...]

  8. Karl Pfeifer Says:

    Terrible is the advice not to take theats of annihlation seriously. Such advice was given already once to the Jews.
    The Jewish people in the Diaspora, whose pride was bolstered by the establishment of the Jewish and democratic state should not stand idly by when Israel is threatened with extinction.


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