By Rachel Miller:
As global opinion increasingly turns against Israel, some supporters of the Jewish State have become apathetic. Daniel Gordis, speaking on “Jews and Israel: Why Should We Care?” seeks to reform Zionist discourse and reaffirm the importance of Israel to the Jewish people. Gordis, a Senior Fellow at Shalem Center in Jerusalem and author of several books, spoke Monday night to a packed audience at the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale.
Gordis began by analyzing the state of Zionist discourse, which he posits is overly concerned with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and lacks profound ideas. Modern Zionism has become a “histrionic battlefield” of political views centered on conflict. This leads to divisions within the community of Israel supporters along political as well as ideological lines. Without serious reform of Zionist discourse, the fighting between Jewish groups will continue to be a counterproductive force in the Zionist movement as a whole.
But why is the Zionist movement necessary at all? After all, a tiny strip of land in an inhospitable desert with even less hospitable neighbors hardly seems worth the years of bloodshed and animosity. Gordis confronted this mentality with two arguments. First, the establishment of the state of Israel and the Six Day War in 1967 changed the Jewish stereotype from the wandering Jew to the independent, autocratic Jew. “June 1967 transformed Jews from a people that tiptoed across the globe waiting to see what history would do to them next to a people who took some role in shaping their destinies,” said Gordis. The preemptive strike against Egypt gave Israel the legitimacy and confidence to redefine its global position from observer to actor. This resulted in an increase in political confidence of Jews worldwide. While many Jews are critical of the state of Israel, Gordis claims that the change in cultural identity stemming from the existence of Israel gives Jews the ability to be critical of it. This confidence ensures that the horrific events of the early twentieth century will not be allowed to repeat themselves, an assurance which was in fact one of the reasons for Israel’s founding.
Second, Zionism is necessary as it seeks to restore the relative merits of particularism over universalism. Gordis rejected the notion that everyone is the same and instead asserted that “differences matter an extraordinary amount,” particularly in culture and identity. Israel, by infusing Jewishness into every aspect of life, owns its unique identity and preserves Judaism’s culture and traditions. Gordis believes that Israel must reject the Right of Return for Palestinians in order to maintain Israel’s democratic and Jewish character and uphold its original purpose as a Jewish state. Zionists “did not create the state to have a democracy in the Middle East, they created a state to have a refuge for Jews.” Although it is crucial that Israel remain a democratic state, it must also remain a Jewish one. This dedication to particularism is contrary to the global march towards universalism, evident in the creation in the EU and effective disintegration of nation states, but nonetheless remains important to maintain Israel’s integrity and status as a refuge for Jews.
While Gordis’ focus was not on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he gave a renewed sense of purpose to supporters of Israel. With his persuasive arguments, Gordis gave Zionists the tools to effectively defend Israel both on campus and on the world stage.
Rachel Miller is a freshman in Davenport College. Contact her at email@example.com