JNS.org – The clash between devotion to the Diaspora and the yearning for the Land of Israel is not a new phenomenon. In the period between the end of the 18th century to the beginning of World War II and the Holocaust, there were four classic categories of Jews (besides the outright assimilationists) seeking to reject the centrality of the historic Jewish homeland and all that that entailed in a practical and theoretical sense while justifying remaining in the lands of exile.
With the onset of the Enlightenment, the Haskalah, in the mid-to-late 18th century, a break with the Jew’s religious component led, perhaps unintentionally, to a preference for Diaspora community life even while the Land of Israel was treated with respect, if tinged with romanticism as in Avraham Mapu’s novels. It eventually led to a promotion of cultural assimilation.
With the rise of the Hibbat Tzion movement, coupled with the political activity of Theodor Herzl and the Zionist movement, came two Diaspora-centered reactions. One was that of the Marxist Bund, which adopted the concept of Doiykait (Hereness in Yiddish) laced with a strong anti-nationalist position. The second was the extreme ultra-Orthodox rejection of this new “false messianism” as voiced by the Teitlebaum dynasty, first of Sighet and later of Satmar, as well as the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Sholom Dovber Schneersohn (“the Rashab”). Rejecting Zionism, they held back their followers and those they influenced from leaving Europe before it was too late.
A third trend was pushed by Shimon Dubnow. Realizing, as a result of the Russian pogroms during the last quarter of the 19th century, that his dream of a universalist, scientifically detached reality was damned, he moved to adopt a truncated nationalist conception of Jewish identity based on community autonomy. As the YIVO Encyclopedia describes his thinking, Jewish social institutions would serve as substitutes for a state being quasi-political forms that were a manifestation of Judaism’s ability to transcend the usual physical requirements of nationhood. Dubnow’s life ended when he was shot in the Riga ghetto.
The fourth was that of the Reform Movement until 1937. Zion was erased from the prayer books. As Jonathan Sarna notes, Reform Rabbis protested efforts aimed at Jewish colonization of Palestine at the 1869 Philadelphia Conference of Reform Rabbis voting for a resolution that “the Messianic goal of Israel is not the restoration of the old Jewish state… but the union of all men as the children of God.” Later, hundreds of Reform Rabbis lobbied U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in 1919 to refrain from backing the League of Nations’ decision to reconstitute the historic Jewish national home in Palestine. It was only in 1937, when the Columbus Platform was adopted, that they recognized the “promise [of] … the rehabilitation of Palestine” and “the obligation of all Jewry to aid in its upbuilding as a Jewish homeland … a center of Jewish culture and spiritual life.”
All had felt that Zionism promoted a negative view of Jewish existence in the lands of the exile (or that there even was an exile) and the purpose for a Jewish existence and could not agree that the Diaspora was doomed to failure. The Holocaust provided its own horrific solution to their ideological fantasizing, although the Satanic portrayal of Zionism and Israel as formulated in the tome VaYoel Moshe continues.
And yet, Diasporism has begun again.
From IfNotNow, which is “commit[ed] to grappling together with apartheid, Zionism and the State of Israel,” to Jewish Voice for Peace to Na’amod, there is a significant groundswell among Jewish youth. A Diasporic revival was noted in 2018, and we are told it is being embraced. The new buzzword is “portable.” Pro-Diasporic views are the subject of a 2021 academic thesis. Daniel Boyarin has a No-State Solution, as does Peter Beinart who, as of 2020, no longer believes in a Jewish state.
Now, there is Shaul Magid’s new book with the accompanying New York Times effusive treatment, which asked: “Is Israel Part of What It Means to Be Jewish?” It points out that “some progressive Jews are … reimagining their faith as one that blesses their lives in America and elsewhere.”
Magid’s volume, to quote his publisher, now “challenges us to consider the price of diminishing or even erasing the exilic character of Jewish life.” The book, The Necessity of Exile, views exile “as a positive stance for constructive Jewish engagement with Israel/Palestine, antisemitism, diaspora and a broken world in need of repair.”
In a January podcast, Magid related to Zionism as “another alternative, which basically functioned under the assumption that emancipation wouldn’t work.” That is quite unfair and historically incorrect. Herzl’s Zionism initiative did react to the failure of the non-Jewish world to accept Jews but Jews—since the walk from Egypt through the desert on to the Babylon exile and to the continuum of immigration to Eretz-Yisrael after the Roman conquests—were always Zionists.
It was Leonard Cohen who, participating in a public panel held at the Jewish Public Library of Montreal in June 1964, spoke of Jews who “create this insane Talmud of identity that must end in psychiatry—or Zionism” (here at 10:56) and yet asserted that the Jewish people have a unique mission. Here we are, 60 years later, and we observe too many Jews requiring mind-healing treatment.
A Judaism bereft of the Land of Israel—of Jerusalem Rebuilt, of the Ingathering, of the commandments bound up with the soil and agriculture of the Land, and more—is one that is shallow, mechanical, if at all observed, and most importantly, negates the vaunted messaging of what they hail as the ethical and moral Judaism of the Prophets, whose writings are hardcore Zionist.
Pining for a return to Egypt, the Children of Israel pestered Moses and complained about the culinary dearth they were subject to in the desert. Where, they demanded, were the cucumbers and melons, the leeks, onions, garlic and the fish? A Midrashic commentary suggests that their taste buds found that the manna they picked in the field for their daily sustenance, while quite tasty, nevertheless lacked those very food flavors they were used to in Egypt. That they were slaves in Egypt seemed to elude their consciousness.
The contemporary Diaspora preference-seekers, making themselves slaves to a neo-Bundist progressive agenda, are not saving even themselves from the hate directed at Zionism and Israel. They feed that hate, providing the haters with a cover and, in the end, will suffer a fate that they are attempting to avoid. It will be a repeat for them of a paradigm from a certain Central European country.
To borrow a classic Jewish analogy, they are repeating the act of “loathing the land” (Numbers 14:31), of denigrating the Jewish people’s identity and essence.
An Eye for an Eye?
JNS.org – I once heard a story about two Jews back in Russia who got into a terrible argument. Their blood pressure was rising fast. One fellow got so incensed that he shouted, “I am so angry at what you’ve done to me that I… uh… I uh… I know: I won’t go to your funeral!”
Whereupon the other guy very calmly replied: “I don’t take revenge. I will go to your funeral.”
While other cultures sanction and may even encourage revenge, in Judaism revenge is explicitly forbidden (Leviticus 19:18).
Some Muslim countries still practice amputation as a punishment for stealing. It seems anathema to the modern mind. Yet in this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, we find that famous line: “An eye for an eye … a hand for a hand … a wound for a wound.”
The Talmud in Bava Kama explains that never in Jewish history was “an eye for an eye” understood literally. It was understood as the value of an eye for an eye; a monetary compensation, rather than an act of pure vengeance with no positive purpose. The Talmud offers several logical proofs as to why this is so.
Besides, taking out the culprit’s eye will not bring back the victim’s eye. It does nothing for him. But financial compensation can help. It brings some relief to the victim and an element of atonement for the perpetrator.
In Judaism, there is no such thing as punishment that is purely punitive. A generation of teachers punished their ill-behaved students by making them stand in the corner, wear a dunce cap or write 500 times, “I will not throw spitballs at the teacher.” What rehabilitative effect did that have? Probably, it only made the students angrier and they behaved worse than they had before.
The concept of imprisonment does not exist in Judaism. We find it only in a handful of circumstances in which the penalty for the crime was not yet known and the guilty party was temporarily put in a holding cell.
In the Torah, besides monetary compensation, there are mainly two types of punishment: Lashes, which would no doubt serve as a very serious deterrent to repeating the crime, and capital punishment for extreme crimes like murder. Though rarely enforced, the death penalty was on the statute books. There are times when a person’s sin is so grave that their only atonement can be giving up their own life. But prison as a punishment didn’t feature at all.
How successful is our prison system today? In the U.S., they have been calling prisons “correctional centers” for many years now. But the number of rehabilitated prisoners whose way of life has been “corrected” is, sadly, very low. Most of those released become repeat offenders and end up right back where they came from.
The very same verse in Leviticus that forbids revenge also prohibits even bearing a grudge. But while Jews are not meant to practice revenge, Jewish law would hand down penalties that required the offender to atone for his offense. This was not punitive, but spiritually rehabilitative. Someone guilty of manslaughter, for example, would be exiled to a city of refuge. He did it accidentally, it wasn’t premeditated murder, but by going into exile the wrongdoer would atone for taking another’s life, albeit inadvertently.
“Sweet revenge” is sanctioned all too often in society today. On radio talk shows people are invited to share their stories of how they retaliated against someone who wronged them. We are even subjected to the shocking and shameful phenomenon of “revenge porn” and many people consider it appropriate or, worse still, funny.
I remember that while I was growing up in my parents’ home in Brooklyn, I once overheard them discussing how to react to someone who had wronged them quite badly. In the end, they decided not to respond in kind, as they were not prepared to stoop to the level of the person who hurt them.
Indeed, it is the mark of a true mensch to do the right thing, even when others around you are not. As the legendary Hillel taught in Pirkei Avot, “Where there are no men, strive to be a man.” A “real man,” a true mensch, always does the right thing, whether it is popular or not.
Or, as a witty gentleman once put it, “Be nice to your enemies. It’ll drive them crazy!”
I think of Israel today. The IDF is not on any revenge mission in Gaza. It is conducting a campaign to prevent future massacres by unrepentant terrorists who promise to do it again and again unless they are stopped. This is not revenge. This is saving innocent lives. God bless them.
Our Own Worst Enemies
JNS.org – It’s bad enough that we have real enemies who are attacking Israel; the last thing we need is “friends” who, perhaps with the best of intentions, are undermining Israel’s case in the United States. One example is an organization I have never heard of, the A-Mark Foundation, which erroneously believes “clear, concise and unbiased information on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is difficult to find.” Maybe, if you don’t bother to look. My publication, Myths and Facts, has only been around for 60-odd years (originally published by the founder of AIPAC), and the legacy Jewish organizations have produced plenty of material. My first impulse was to think, “Let a thousand flowers bloom,” but then I saw that the material is based on the work of UCLA professor Dov Waxman, a frequent critic of mainstream American Jewry and one of the signers of an anti-Israel screed published before Oct. 7 (another was Harvard University professor Derek Penslar, who Harvard naturally put on its antisemitism task force).
If the material A-Mark published, based on Waxman’s book, The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: What Everyone Needs to Know, is any indication of his scholarship, students at UCLA are in trouble, as are any readers of the A-Mark answers to the “10 Common Questions About the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” Waxman exemplifies the worst of woke academia, where facts don’t matter as much as narratives, and their truthfulness or speciousness is irrelevant because everyone’s narrative is their truth. He says both sides dismiss the others’ narratives as myths. He doesn’t acknowledge that facts can be distinguished from myths. It’s a flypaper version of history where there are two sides, and it doesn’t matter which side the fly lands on.
The first paragraph in the “unbiased” answer to question one on what the conflict is about is misleading and inaccurate, reducing it to the two peoples fighting over one piece of land cliché. The religious dimension of the conflict is ignored completely; that is, the Islamic rejection of a Jewish presence on “Muslim land” from the days of the Mufti to Hamas today.
He dates Palestinian nationalism to the mid-19th century, which is untrue. People at that time identified themselves by clans and religion. In the 1920s, the Palestinians began to talk about wanting to be part of Greater Syria, not an independent state. The Jews wanted to return to their homeland and were willing to share it. Unhappily, they accepted the reduction of the size of the Jewish homeland.
Starting in 1937—and as recently as 2008—the Palestinians were offered opportunities for statehood nine times and rejected every one. The Palestinians’ disinterest in independence during the 19-year Jordanian/Egyptian occupation is not mentioned.
It is simply taken for granted that the Palestinians should get a state just because they want one. The Kurds and Basques have a greater claim to independence. Why are only Palestinians entitled to one?
Waxman gives equal weight to the Jewish and Palestinian claims to indigeneity. He acknowledges evidence of Jewish roots in the land dating to antiquity while Palestinians didn’t arrive until after the Muslim conquest, but then contradicts this inconvenient fact by claiming that “it is impossible to definitively know who was here first.” He then asserts a blatant falsehood, suggesting that Jews believe they descend from the Canaanites, and further insinuates that there is validity to the baseless Palestinian claim to be related to them.
The explanation of Zionism is facile and misleading, calling it “a diverse set of beliefs.” No, Zionism is the belief that the Jewish people are a nation entitled to self-determination in their homeland, which is Israel. There are different “flavors” of Zionism debating how this should be achieved and what the state should look like, but not the objective.
The Arabs believe the Zionists are colonialists, but Waxman shows they are the antithesis. He acknowledges that the Arabs are wrong but says their view “is completely understandable in the context of that time.” We are no longer in that time, however, so when Israel’s detractors say it now, it is simply a lie.
His version of how the Palestinians became refugees in the first place is mostly wrong, starting with the exaggerated number of 700,000.
Ephraim Karsh’s research has shown the number was no more than 609,000, and United Nations and CIA estimates were roughly half that. Waxman repeats the Arab canards about the Palestinians being expelled as part of a campaign of “ethnic cleansing,” but acknowledges most Palestinians “probably” were not expelled. The facts are well-documented that Palestinians were forced to leave in a handful of instances, and not for “ethnic cleansing” but to protect Israeli soldiers from being attacked from the rear. The Arab narrative further dissolves if you know thousands of Palestinians left before the war began, that Israel encouraged Arabs to stay, and 250,000 remained to become full citizens.
Most Palestinians left because they didn’t want to be caught in the crossfire of the war. He cites historian Benny Morris to discredit the idea that many Palestinians fled because their leaders encouraged them to make way for the invading armies and promised they’d be allowed to return to their homes—and those of the Jews. Morris, however, said that “Arab officers ordered the complete evacuation of specific villages” and that “there can be no exaggerating the importance of these early Arab-initiated evacuations in the demoralization, and eventual exodus, of the remaining rural and urban populations.”
There is plenty of documentation about the leaders’ role if Waxman bothered to look.
The discussion about the fate of the refugees is also inaccurate. Refusing to allow enemies who left their homes to return is not a violation of international law. Other refugee populations were resettled, but it was the Arab states that prevented the Palestinians from becoming citizens in their countries. Israel offered to allow some refugees to return in exchange for a peace agreement; the Arabs rejected the idea.
Waxman cites U.N. Resolution 194 as granting Palestinians a “right to return”; however, that is a selective reading of the resolution, which conditioned their return on a willingness to live at peace with their neighbors and called for their resettlement. Also omitted is the fact that the Arab states voted against the resolution because it was adopted when they still believed that they would drive the Jews into the sea. Like all General Assembly resolutions, 194 is not legally binding.
He also incorrectly states that Israeli leaders have not accepted any compromises regarding the Old City; former Israeli Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert offered them. Omitted is the Palestinians’ rejection of those proposals.
On the borders of a future state, Waxman has accepted Palestinian propaganda that Palestinians have abandoned their claim to the majority of the land they believe should be theirs and are being asked to take only 22% of Palestine. It is Israel that is only 22% of historic Palestine, and if Israel withdrew from the disputed territories, it would possess only about 18%. Today, some 73% of Palestinians live in “Palestine.”
The evidence that the Palestinians have not abandoned their goal of destroying Israel and claiming the land from the river to the sea is clear from Palestinian Authority maps. Furthermore, Israel has already withdrawn from more than 90% of the territories it captured in 1967, including all of Gaza and 40% of the West Bank. It is not obligated to return any more land. Waxman also accepts that the territories are “occupied” when they are disputed. Israel cannot occupy land that was part of Israel but never a sovereign Palestinian state. Moreover, an occupier is a nation that attacks another and then retains the territory it conquers. One that gains territory while defending itself, like Israel, is not in the same category.
In another distortion of historical fact, Waxman says Netanyahu doesn’t want to negotiate. That is true during the war, but he was willing and did in the past. It is true that Netanyahu opposed Oslo, but he didn’t repudiate it and agreed to further withdrawals in negotiations with PLO head Yasser Arafat.
Waxman refers to current P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas as “a staunch advocate of the peace process” even though he has refused to negotiate since 2008, to recognize Israel as a Jewish state or to stop incentivizing terrorism. He falsely equates religious Zionists and Islamists. Extremist Jews are a minority, with no say in policy towards the Palestinians and no charter calling for the murder of their neighbors. The Palestinian public elected Islamists, who took over the Gaza Strip, and immediately started acting on their desire to destroy Israel and kill Jews.
If you wonder why there is so much hostility towards Jews and Israel on campus, look no further than the professors who teach already ignorant students that facts don’t matter, only narratives. By disseminating misinformation about history, they hinder genuine understanding of the conflict. Worse still, they push a false equivalence between the positions of Israelis and Palestinians, distorting reality and perpetuating animosity.
World-Renowned German Research Institute Fires Top Academic Over Antisemitic Social Media Posts
One of the world’s leading institutes for research into the natural and social sciences has fired a prominent academic over posts he wrote on social media that glorified the Oct. 7 Hamas pogrom in Israel.
Prof. Ghassan Hage, a Lebanese-Australian scholar of anthropology, was dismissed from the Max Planck Society in Germany on Wednesday for posts that were deemed “incompatible” with the institution’s “core values.”
Hage, who has been based at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in the city of Halle since Apr. 2023, previously taught at universities including Harvard in the US, the American University of Beirut in Lebanon and the University of Nanterre — Paris X in France.
In several posts on Twitter/X following the Oct. 7 assault — in which more than 1,200 people were killed and over 200 seized as hostages amid widespread atrocities including mutilation and mass rape — Hage accused Israel of “genocide” and compared the State of Israel with the former Nazi regime in Germany.
“The Palestinians, like all colonized peoples, continue to demonstrate that their capacity for resistance is endless. They don’t just dig tunnels. They can fly over walls,” Hage wrote in one post that lauded Hamas.
In an official statement, the Max Planck Society — which employs more than 5,000 scientists and researchers with an annual budget of $2 billion — said that “researchers abuse their civil liberties when they undermine the credibility of science with publicly disseminated statements, thereby damaging the reputation and trust in the institutions that uphold it.”
“The fundamental right to freedom of opinion is constrained by the mutual duties of consideration and loyalty in the employment relationship,” the statement continued.
Hage’s dismissal was welcomed by Josef Schuster, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, in comments quoted by the Welt news outlet.. At the same time, he called on the institute to take “precautions to ensure that these cases no longer occur in the future.”
In a lengthy thread on X/Twitter posted after he learned of his dismissal, Hage insisted that he had “never called for even disliking, let alone hating, Jews.”
He went on: “Like Muslims, Christians, Greek, Lebanese or Chinese, in this regard there are some nice Jewish people and some who are pains in the ass. Nice Jewish people are particularly likable.”
In a swipe at his German hosts, he added: “And here I am living in the very cultures that elevated Jew-hating, the burning of Jewish books and stores, and the putting of Jews in concentration camps and mass murdering them, into a macabre fine art, and I am being moralized on how not to be antisemitic and what I should do to love ethno-religious states.”
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