New Jewish Apostates
On August 1, Professor Hasia Diner of NYU and Professor Marjorie Feld of Babson College in Massachusetts took to the pages of Ha’aretz to denounce the world’s only Jewish state for being racist, colonialist, reactionary, aggressive, and – this above all – Jewish. Vilification of Israel has long been de rigueur in that newspaper. “When it comes to defaming Jews,” says a character in Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock, “the Palestinians are pisherkes [small fry] next to Ha’aretz.”
On August 2, the same publication (perhaps as a result of some internal dissent) printed a powerful rebuttal by historian Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis. Jeffrey Goldberg of Atlantic Monthly declared that he was “getting ready to leave Ha’aretz behind.” Later he added: “when neo-Nazis are e-mailing me links to Ha’aretz op-eds declaring Israel to be evil, I’m going to take a break.”
Both Feld and Diner tell what might be called unconversion tales, from Zionism to Israelophobia, raw hatred of Israel, of its people, and, still more, of Diaspora Jews who recognize that securing Israel is the moral duty of this generation. Feld hints that she was awakened from her Zionist “delusions” by the outpourings of Noam Chomsky, a writer who would be rendered virtually speechless on the subject of Israel if he stopped equating the Jewish nation with Nazi Germany. His loathing of American Jewry was expressed as follows in 1988: “The Jewish community here is deeply totalitarian. They do not want democracy, they do not want freedom.” Beautiful and touching words! Are they also music to the ears of disillusioned history professors?
Diner, more than Feld, has ideas all her own, some of which may surpass Chomsky’s ravings. For example, she contends that “the death of vast numbers of Jewish communities as a result of Zionist activity has impoverished the Jewish people.” Was it “Zionist activity” and not the Third Reich and its collaborators that annihilated European Jewry? Was it “Zionist activity” and not Arab dictatorships that expelled one Jewish population after another from countries they had inhabited for over a thousand years? And was it “Zionist activity” and not the devastation left by communism that prompted more than a million Jews to leave Russia?
Diner complains that “the singular insistence on Israel as a Jewish and Zionist state” forced her to renounce her Zionist views. “Does Jewish constitute a race or ethnicity?,” she asks. “Does a Jewish state mean a racial state?” This from a teacher of Jewish history? Doesn’t she know that Jewish people are found in all races, and that anyone can become Jewish? Did none of Diner’s colleagues at NYU tell her that the “racial state” of Israel is the only country in history to have sought out and brought to its shores tens of thousands of Africans as free and equal citizens?
“The Law of Return,” Diner avers, “can no longer look to me as anything other than racism.” Yet other free countries have their own Laws of Return, occasioning no protest from the principled professor. The Armenian constitution, for instance, permits individuals “of Armenian origin” to acquire citizenship through “a simplified procedure.” The Lithuanian constitution proclaims: “Everyone who is ethnically Lithuanian has the right to settle in Lithuania.” The Polish and Ukrainian constitutions have identical provisions.
Since the fury of Feld and Diner is aroused by Israel’s being a Jewish state, why do they not direct it also against Britain, a Christian state, with an official Protestant church, a Protestant monarch, a Protestant state education system? Other self-declared Christian states with numerous non-Christian citizens include such progressive bastions as Denmark, Finland, Greece, and Norway. And let us not speak of all the states whose names begin with “Islamic Republic of…” or “United Arab…,” and who are among the most zealous supporters of such hatefests as “Israel Apartheid Week.”
Since Israel’s people have been under military as well as ideological siege throughout its existence, our professorial duo could hardly avoid the subject of atrocities. They deal with it, alas, just as one might have expected. Diner writes: “I abhor violence, bombings, stabbings, or whatever hurtful means oppressed individuals resort to out of anger and frustration. And yet, I am not surprised when they do so, after so many decades of occupation, with no evidence of progress.” Can these historians really be unaware that terrorism against Jews in the Jewish homeland began decades before the “occupation”? As Paul Berman observed about apologists of their ilk, “Each new act of murder and suicide testified to how oppressive were the Israelis. Palestinian terror, in this view, was the measure of Israeli guilt. The more grotesque the terror, the deeper the guilt…”
Feld and Diner are nothing if not frank. They do not even bother to hide the logical end-point of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. Diner not only boycotts everything Israeli, but also many of her co-religionists in the Diaspora. “I feel a sense of repulsion,” she explains, “when I enter a synagogue in front of which the congregation has planted a sign reading, ‘We Stand With Israel.’ I just do not go and avoid many Jewish settings where I know Israel will loom large as an icon of identity.”
As genocidal fanatics build nuclear bombs in Iran; as Hezbollah arms itself with over a hundred thousand missiles in Lebanon; as men, women, and children are butchered with knives in Israel; as small children in a Jewish school and shoppers in a kosher deli are massacred in Europe; as synagogues and community institutions are fortified against the never-ending nightmare of Islamist violence throughout the world, the Israel-haters take pride in their own perfidy by shunning their fellow Jews.
“One who separates himself from the [Jewish] community” – by showing indifference when it is in distress – “has no share in the world to come.” So declared Maimonides, the greatest of all Jewish sages, in the twelfth century (Laws of Repentance, iii). But if this verdict seems too remote and old-fashioned for Diner and Feld, let them ponder the following, delivered at the height of the Holocaust: “The history of our times will one day make bitter reading, when it records that some Jews were so morally uncertain that they denied they were obligated to risk their own safety in order to save other Jews who were being done to death abroad” (Ben Halpern, Jewish Frontier, August 1943).
Edward Alexander is the author of Jews Against Themselves (Transaction Publishers, 2015). Paul Bogdanor is the author of Kasztner’s Crime (Transaction Publishers, 2016).