One can only hope that the Regents, with all their efforts to hear multiple perspectives, take more seriously the First Amendment argument against the inclusion of anti-Zionism when they meet on Wednesday to vote on the Principles. They could also benefit from a much broader and deeper understanding of modern Jewish history, since the working group’s report betrays gaps unworthy of a great public university.
Simply put, the advent of Zionism at the end of the nineteenth century inaugurated an impassioned Jewish argument that continues to this day. Participants in that debate included Jews of very different ideological positions, all of whom believed that they were acting in the best interests of the Jewish people. What should we do with the opponents of Zionism who lent such energy to this debate? Should we regard them as anti-Semites or refuse to teach them in our classes? To do so would be to exclude some of the most important and innovative Jewish thinkers of the modern age.
Many examples could be offered, but I will confine myself to four groups that might well have run afoul of the UC standards regarding anti-Zionism:
1) Jewish nationalists: Zionism was not the only form of Jewish nationalism. On the contrary, its adherents were engaged in a sustained conversation with Diaspora nationalists of various stripes who advocated not for a state in the land of Israel, but rather for cultural autonomy for large concentrations of Jews in the Diaspora. Take, for example, Simon Dubnow, the great historian and advocate of cultural autonomy, who carried on an illuminating, respectful, and sharp correspondence with his friend Ahad Ha-am, the equally great cultural Zionism. Ahad Ha-am himself was an opponent of Theodor Herzl, believing that the primary aim of Zionism should not be the creation of a state but rather of a spiritual and cultural center in the Land of Israel. Dubnow, for his part, believed that the most sensible path to assure the future of the Jewish nation was to seek state guarantees for cultural, educational, and linguistic autonomy where the largest concentrations of Jews were located—in the Diaspora. Numerous other leading Jewish thinkers and activists including Vladimir Medem, Elias Tcherikower, and Chaim Zhitlowsky promoted the ideals of Diaspora nationalism as against Zionism.
2) German-Jewish philosophers: The storied tradition of modern German-Jewish thought included a number of thinkers who might not have met the UC standards. The great philosopher Hermann Cohen published a famous essay in 1915 that celebrated the fusion of Germanness and Jewishness; the younger Martin Buber challenged Cohen’s stance in the name of Zionism, which Cohen failed to support. Notwithstanding Cohen’s position, it would be the height of absurdity to call him anti-Semitic. Martin Buber, for his part, belonged to a group of German-speaking Jews who moved to Palestine and defined themselves as Zionists even though they favored the model of a Jewish-Arab binational state over that of a Jewish state. Should we brand them as anti-Semites when teaching them? Or not teach them at all?
3) Religious Jews: Numerous groups of religious Jews have expressed deep misgivings about Zionism since the movement’s inception. When Theodor Herzl sought to bring the first Zionist Congress to Munich in 1897, leading rabbis of that city, including Reform and Orthodox clergy, protested vociferously, fearing that such an event would call into question their loyalty to Germany. Meanwhile, many traditionally observant Jews known as haredim have expressed unrelenting opposition to Zionism for decades. For example, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe and perhaps the leading Jewish anti-Zionism of the twentieth century, believed that Zionism was a gross violation of the divine injunction that human actors not commence a return to the promised land before the Messianic days. Followers of his teachings, as well as adherents of other Hasidic sects, continue to oppose the Zionist movement to this day.
4) Contemporary Jewish intellectuals: The UC Regents clearly had in mind advocates of BDS, many of whom favor a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, when they formulated their sweeping and imprecise language on anti-Zionism. But if support for a one-state solution qualifies one as an anti-Zionist, then a number of right-wing Israeli politicians such as Deputy Foreign Minister Tsippi Hotovely, former Defense Minister Moshe Arens, and, for much of his career, President Reuven Rivlin would not pass UC muster. Moreover, there is a diverse array of Jewish thinkers and political figures who believe that Israel should aspire to become a state of all its citizens rather than remain a state of and for Jews. Among them are Ariella Azoulay, Meron Benvenisti, Adi Ophir, Yehouda Shenhav, and Oren Yiftachel. One might even exclude from kosher certification New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman who recently cast doubt on the prospects for a two-state solution because of the extent of Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories.
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"This generation's Hillel." (Nathan Cofnas)