Israel is the criterion according to which all Jews will tend to be judged. Israel as a Jewish state is an example of the Jewish character, which finds free and concentrated expression within it. Anti-Semitism has deep and historical roots. Nevertheless, any flaw in Israeli conduct, which initially is cited as anti-Israelism, is likely to be transformed into empirical proof of the validity of anti-Semitism. It would be a tragic irony if the Jewish state, which was intended to solve the problem of anti-Semitism, was to become a factor in the rise of anti-Semitism. Israelis must be aware that the price of their misconduct is paid not only by them but also Jews throughout the world.
There should be discussion of the dangers that religious extremism pose to the state, to the status of the Jewish people in the world and to Judaism. The dangers of Messianism must be presented candidly, with full exposure of the catastrophes produced by false messiahs in the past.
All these lessons can be summed up as the pressing need for self-criticism. Certainly Israel is not guilty of everything that has gone wrong in the occupied lands. But self-criticism is imperative in order to counter balance the tendencies to self-righteousness and self-pity that stem from basic Jewish attitudes, from the historical experience of persecution and from the ethos fostered by Menachem Begin. No factor endangers Israel’s future more than self-righteousness, which blinds us to reality, prevents a complex understanding of the situation and legitimizes extreme behaviour.
If the notion that there is a real danger of another great turning against the Jews provoked by Zionism in action was only my gentile view, I probably would not have written this article. But I have a number of very dear Jewish friends who fear that it could happen. One of them is Nazi holocaust survivor Dr. Hajo Meyer, the author of An Ethical Tradition Betrayed: The End of Judaism.
If Israel continues its attitude of defiance of international legal norms and of the wishes of the international community as regards settlements, then this is almost inviting a real resurgence of a form of historical anti-Semitism.
“The Jewish people have never insisted that whichever country they inhabit becomes kosher, Jewish people have never insisted that their fellow non-Jewish citizens keep the laws of the Jewish Sabbath, Jewish people have never insisted that their Synagogues dominate the skyline of towns across the diaspora. We mean no harm, we come in peace, please stop threatening to kill us… Sometimes, world, I wonder if your plan is to make Jewish people feel so uncomfortable in the countries they inhabit that they all move to Israel, all the Jews in one place would certainly make it easier for a fanatical group to wipe us all out in one fell swoop. Are you really working towards this mass International ghettoization?… World, I’m still desperately trying to decipher what we could have done differently, in order to avoid this deep-seated hatred that is seemingly coming to the fore this year… Can we EVER do enough to be accepted by you? World, I ask you in the hope that one day I’ll understand… What do you want from us?”
What we need in Israel is not a united front behind a wrong policy, but searching self-criticism and a careful examination of our goals and means, so that we can differentiate between realistic vision and adventurist fantasy.
Jews in the West, particularly in the United States, should participate in this debate. They should not be squeamish and discouraged by the fear that the arguments they air may help their enemies and those of Israel. The choice facing them, as well as Israel, is not between good and bad but between bad and worse. Criticising Israeli policies may be harmfully divisive, but refraining from criticism and allowing Israel to maintain its wrong policy is incomparably worse. If the state of Israel comes to grief (God forbid), it will not be because of a lack of weaponry or money, but because of skewed political thinking and because the Jews who understood the situation did not exert themselves to convince the Israelis to change that thinking.
What is at stake is the survival of Israel and the status of Judaism. Israel will soon face its moment of truth. The crisis that faces the nation will be all-consuming. It will be bitter because many will have to acknowledge that they have lived in a world of fantasy; they will have to shed conceptions and beliefs they have held dear.