Given the tendency for Jewish radicals to carry the day, it is worth describing the most radical Zionist fringe as it exists now. It is common among radical Zionists to project a much larger Israel that reflects God’s covenant with Abraham. Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, maintained that the area of the Jewish state stretches: “From the Brook of Egypt to the Euphrates.”110 This reflects God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15: 18–20 and Joshua 1 3–4: “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” The flexibility of the ultimate aims of Zionism can also be seen by Ben-Gurion’s comment in 1936 that
The acceptance of partition [of the Palestinian Mandate] does not commit us to renounce Transjordan [i.e., the modern state of Jordan]; one does not demand from anybody to give up his vision. We shall accept a state in the boundaries fixed today. But the boundaries of Zionist aspirations are the concern of the Jewish people and no external factor will be able to limit them.111
Ben-Gurion’s vision of “the boundaries of Zionist aspirations” included southern Lebanon, southern Syria, all of Jordan, and the Sinai.112 (After conquering the Sinai in 1956, Ben-Gurion announced to the Knesset that “Our army did not infringe on Egyptian territory… Our operations were restricted to the Sinai Peninsula alone.”113 Or consider Golda Meir’s statement that the borders of Israel “are where Jews live, not where there is a line on the map.”114
These views are common among the more extreme Zionists today— especially the fundamentalists and the settler movement—notably Gush Emunim—who now set the tone in Israel. A prominent rabbi associated with these movements stated: “We must live in this land even at the price of war. Moreover, even if there is peace, we must instigate wars of liberation in order to conquer [the land].”115 Indeed, in the opinion of Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvinsky, “It is not unreasonable to assume that Gush Emunim, if it possessed the power and control, would use nuclear weapons in warfare to attempt to achieve its purpose.”116 This image of a “Greater Israel” is also much on the minds of activists in the Muslim world. For example, in a 1998 interview Osama bin Laden stated,
[W]e know at least one reason behind the symbolic participation of the Western forces [in Saudi Arabia] and that is to support the Jewish and Zionist plans for expansion of what is called the Great Israel…. Their presence has no meaning save one and that is to offer support to the Jews in Palestine who are in need of their Christian brothers to achieve full control over the Arab Peninsula which they intend to make an important part of the so called Greater Israel.117
To recap: A century ago Zionism was a minority movement within Diaspora Judaism, with the dominant assimilationist Jews in the West opposing it at least partly because Zionism raised the old dual loyalty issue, which has been a potent source of anti-Semitism throughout the ages. The vast majority of Jews eventually became Zionists, to the point that now not only are Diaspora Jews Zionists, they are indispensable supporters of the most fanatic elements within Israel. Within Israel, the radicals have also won the day, and the state has evolved to the point where the influence of moderates in the tradition of Moshe Sharett is a distant memory. The fanatics keep pushing the envelope, forcing other Jews to either go along with their agenda or to simply cease being part of the Jewish community. Not long ago it was common to talk to American Jews who would say they support Israel but deplore the settlements. Now such talk among Jews is an anachronism, because support for Israel demands support for the settlements. The only refuge for such talk is the increasingly isolated Jewish critics of Israel, such as Israel Shamir118 and, to a much lesser extent, Michael Lerner’s Tikkun.119 [or sites like Mondoweiss]. The trajectory of Zionism has soared from its being a minority within a minority to its dominating the U.S. Congress, the executive branch, and the entire U.S. foreign policy apparatus.
And because the Israeli occupation and large-scale settlement of the West Bank unleashed a wave of terrorist-style violence against Israel, Jews perceive Israel as under threat. [In Netanyahu’s critique of the UN Security Council resolution, he emphasized Palestinan terrorism as the main reason preventing a two-state solution.] As with any committed group, Jewish commitment increases in times of perceived threat to the community. The typical response of Diaspora Jews to the recent violence has not been to renounce Jewish identity but to strongly support the Sharon government and rationalize its actions. This has been typical of Jewish history in general. For example, during the 1967 and 1973 wars there were huge upsurges of support for Israel and strengthened Jewish identity among American Jews: Arthur Hertzberg, a prominent Zionist, wrote that “the immediate reaction of American Jewry to the crisis was far more intense and widespread than anyone could have foreseen. Many Jews would never have believed that grave danger to Israel could dominate their thoughts and emotions to the exclusion of everything else.”120 The same thing is happening now. The typical response to Israel’s current situation is for Jews to identify even more strongly with Israel and to exclude Jews who criticize Israel or support Palestinian claims in any way.
This “rallying around the flag” in times of crisis fits well with the psychology of ethnocentrism: When under attack, groups become more unified and more conscious of boundaries, and have a greater tendency to form negative stereotypes of the outgroup. This has happened throughout Jewish history.121
Several commentators have noted the void on the Jewish left as the conflict with the Palestinians has escalated under the Sharon government. As noted above, surveys in the 1980s routinely found that half of U.S. Jews opposed settlements on the West Bank and favored a Palestinian state.122 Such sentiments have declined precipitously in the current climate:
At a progressive synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Rabbi Rolando Matalo was torn between his longtime support for Palestinian human rights and his support for an Israel under siege. “There is a definite void on the left,” said Matalo…. Many American Jewish leaders say Israel’s current state of emergency—and growing signs of anti-Semitism around the world—have unified the faithful here in a way not seen since the 1967 and 1973 wars…. These feelings shift back and forth, but right now they’re tilting toward tribalism.123
Note that the author of this article, Josh Getlin, portrays Israel as being “under siege,” even though Israel is the occupying power and has killed far more Palestinians than the Palestinians have killed Israelis.
“I don’t recall a time in modern history when Jews have felt so vulnerable,” said Rabbi Martin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles…. This week, the center will be mailing out 600,000 “call to action” brochures that say “Israel is fighting for her life” and urge American Jews to contact government leaders and media organizations worldwide…. Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, said debate over the West Bank invasion and the attack on the Palestinian Jenin refugee camp is overshadowed by “a strong sense that Israel needs us, that the world Jewry needs us, that this is our wake-up call.” He said he has been overwhelmed in recent weeks by numerous calls from members of synagogues asking what they can do to help or where they can send a check…. “I have American friends who might have been moderate before on the issue of negotiating peace, but now they think: ‘Our whole survival is at stake, so let’s just destroy them all,’” said Victor Nye, a Brooklyn, N.Y., businessman who describes himself as a passionate supporter of Israel.
In this atmosphere, Jews who dissent are seen as traitors, and liberal Jews have a great deal of anxiety that they will be ostracized from the Jewish community for criticizing Israel.124 This phenomenon is not new. During the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Richard Cohen of the Washington Post criticized the Begin government and was inundated with protests from Jews. “Here dissent becomes treason—and treason not to a state or even an ideal (Zionism), but to a people. There is tremendous pressure for conformity, to show a united front and to adopt the view that what is best for Israel is something only the government there can know.”125 During the same period, Nat Hentoff noted in the Village Voice, “I know staff workers for the American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress who agonize about their failure to speak out, even on their own time, against Israeli injustice. They don’t, because they figure they’ll get fired if they do.”126
Reflecting the fact that Jews who advocate peace with the Palestinians are on the defensive, funding has dried up for causes associated with criticism of Israel. The following is a note posted on the website of Tikkun by its editor, Michael Lerner:
TIKKUNMagazine is in trouble—because we have continued to insist on the rights of the Palestinian people to full self-determination. For years we’ve called for an end to the Occupation and dismantling of the Israeli settlements. We’ve called on the Palestinian people to follow the example of Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela and Gandhi—and we’ve critiqued terrorism against Israel, and insisted on Israel’s right to security. But we’ve also critiqued Israel’s house demolitions, torture, and grabbing of land. For years, we had much support. But since Intifada II began this past September, many Jews have stopped supporting us—and we’ve lost subscribers and donors. Would you consider helping us out?”127
Another sign that Jews who are “soft” on Israel are being pushed out of the Jewish community is an article by Philip Weiss.128 The refusal of liberal American Jews to make an independent stand has left the American left helpless. American liberalism has always drawn strength from Jews. They are among the largest contributors to the Democratic Party; they have brought a special perspective to any number of social-justice questions, from the advancement of blacks and women to free speech. They fostered multiculturalism…. The Holocaust continues to be the baseline reference for Jews when thinking about their relationship to the world, and the Palestinians. A couple of months ago, I got an e-mail from a friend of a friend in Israel about the latest bus-bombing. “They’re going to kill us all,” was the headline. (No matter that Israel has one of largest armies in the world, and that many more Palestinians have died than Israelis). Once, when I suggested to a liberal journalist friend that Americans had a right to discuss issues involving Jewish success in the American power structure—just as we examined the WASP culture of the establishment a generation ago—he said, “Well, we know where that conversation ends up: in the ovens of Auschwitz.”
Because of Jewish ethnocentrism and group commitment, stories of Jews being killed are seen as the portending of another Holocaust and the extinction of the Jewish people rather than a response to a savage occupation—a clear instance of moral particularism writ large.
The same thing is happening in Canada….