We must become October 8 Jews

In the aftermath of October 7, Jewish progressives were shocked to learn that “death to Jews” means all Jews, on and off campus.
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The Jewish town of Karnei Shomron in Judea and Samaria, on June 4, 2020. Photo by Sraya Diamant/Flash90.

The Hamas massacre of October 7 shattered many myths and conceptions. One of them is the liberal progressive dream of Zionism being rooted in a shared sense of social justice.

However, instead of waking up to the falsehoods they have been telling themselves, that their liberal allies would stand with them because of a common devotion to liberalism, these Jewish progressives were shocked to learn that “death to Jews” means all Jews, on and off campus.

October 7 also cast aside the outdated notion of Israel’s so-called “occupation” as the essence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas had explicit plans to destroy as many Jews as possible, to destroy the State of Israel, and to build its version of “Palestine” from the river to the sea. Additionally, Hamas remains supported by some 75% of Palestinians.

But this reality has not yet sunk in. Rabbi Deborah Waxman, president and CEO of Reconstructing Judaism, recently argued that the kind of rabbis the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College produces must “care deeply about the Jewish people across geography and we stand in solidarity with Israelis. We also hold a longstanding opposition to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and support for Palestinian self-determination.”

Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan’s view of Zionism

We should contrast Waxman with the founder of Reconstructionism, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, who in his 1955 book, A New Zionism, noted, “Zionism can emerge from its present crisis strengthened by the experience of challenge and danger. It can become the custodian of the Jewish future. It can lead to the fulfillment of the prophecy that ‘From Zion shall go forth Torah.’ But before the Torah can go forth from Zion, it will have to enter into Zionism.”

The Zionism Kaplan envisioned was an integral part of Jewish identity. The marginalization of Zionism or even overt anti-Zionism that has taken place within Reconstructionism – described in recent accounts as “social justice” – illustrates an opposition to the Zionist enterprise founded on generational guilt and the idolization of Jewish powerlessness.

While Kaplan had many disagreements with David Ben-Gurion, especially concerning Diaspora Jewry, like many of his generation he embraced the transition from statelessness to statehood and regarded the return to Zion and the establishment of the modern state of Israel with pride. Such historical anchors, even within their own stream of Judaism, appear lost on the younger generation of American Jews who cannot remember or even conceive of a time when Israel did not exist or was regarded as anything but an “occupier.”

Moreover, an increasingly wide swath of American Judaism views Israel and the Middle East through the distorted lens of American “racial” experience, including the notion of “white supremacy.” This is then filtered through a de-racinated Jewish framework; explicitly pacifist, anti-national, suffused with “social justice” in the form of tikkun olam, (repairing the world) and focused on salving personal guilt through saviorism.

CONSEQUENTLY, INSTITUTIONS such as the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College have transformed themselves into anti-Zionist mills. This provides sad insight into younger Americans Jews and non-Jews who furthermore do not appreciate the US-Israel alliance. These trends also coincide with today’s quasi-religious practice of being seen performing acts of “justice” rather than participating in traditional worship or prayer.

The lexicon of “occupation” has become the religion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within progressive-liberal circles. The orientation of this religiosity is the Palestinian claim that their alleged territories were “occupied” by Israel, whether in 1967 or 1948, regardless of where they are located on the map, much less in any legal sense under international law.

The mantra of “occupation” and the demand that Israel be shunned until the “occupation” is ended – meaning the time when Israel is dissolved by the implementation of the Palestinian “right of return” – is the key demand of the Palestinians and the BDS movement. In this worldview, Israel will always be the “oppressor.”

The Palestinian concept demands that the “occupation” – the existence of Israel – remain the root cause of all that society’s problems, self-imposed and otherwise, from social and economic woes to terrorism. All of this is detached from reality, doubly so for the Jews.

Trying to fuse Judaism with the ever-shifting notions perceived to be liberal values, while further rooting out Zionism in the wake of October 7 is perverse, but soothes those who cannot address the cognitive dissonance. The reality is that all Jews, even the so-called enlightened ones, are targets for being Jewish. This was true on October 7 and it is true today as Jews are harassed by pro-Hamas thugs demanding to know if they are “Zionists,” meaning Jews – and chased and beaten in the streets of New York, Toronto, and Paris.

Allegiance to progressive values is little defense.

In 1915, Louis D. Brandeis in a speech to the Conference of Eastern Council of Reform Rabbis stated, “Let no American imagine that Zionism is inconsistent with patriotism. Multiple loyalties are objectionable only if they are inconsistent. A man is a better citizen of the United States for also being a loyal citizen of his state… every American Jew who aids in advancing the Jewish settlement in Palestine… will likewise be a better man and a better American for doing so. There is no inconsistency between loyalty to America and loyalty to Jewry.”

Brandeis went on to say, “Zionism finds in it, for the Jews, a reason to raise their heads, and, taking their stand upon the past, to gaze straightforwardly into the future.”

In the aftermath of October 7, it would behoove us to become October 8 Jews. Left, Right, or Center, religious or secular, the founders of Zionism were all motivated by the imperative of Jewish statehood as both a manifestation of the Jewish people’s right to national self-determination and a means of lessening Jewish vulnerability and increasing the likelihood of Jewish survival. Those rights and imperatives remain.

The writer is the executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) and the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA).

We must become October 8 Jews

In the aftermath of October 7, Jewish progressives were shocked to learn that “death to Jews” means all Jews, on and off campus.
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Asaf Romirowsky

Asaf Romirowsky PhD, is the Executive Director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME). Romirowsky is also a fellow at the Middle East Forum and a Professor ​[Affiliate] at the University​ of Haifa. Trained as a Middle East historian he holds a PhD in Middle East and Mediterranean Studies from King's College London, UK and has published widely on various aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict and American foreign policy in the Middle East, as well as on Israeli and Zionist history.

Romirowsky is co-author of Religion, Politics, and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief and a contributor to The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel.

Romirowsky’s publicly-engaged scholarship has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The National Interest, The American Interest , The New Republic, The Times of Israel, Jerusalem Post, Ynet and Tablet among other online and print media outlets

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