A poem from 1999

Two perspectives on Zionism

As I prepare for my own departure tomorrow, I've paused in my packing to read two essays written by respected rabbinic colleagues, both published this week in Al-Jazeera. In one essay, Rabbi Ari Hart writes about why he is a Zionist. In the other, Rabbi Brant Rosen writes about why he is not.

Rabbi Ari Hart writes:

5e4085425f7bc9f0a0ac43ed63f6a9adThe Psalmist says it best: Zionism and the return to Israel is like a dream. It is an ancient dream, thousands of years older than the Holocaust, European anti-semitism and colonialism. It is a three-part dream of returning to the home from which we were exiled, living out our destiny as a people, and bringing righteousness and justice into the world. It is a dream we carried with us from Algeria to Azerbaijan, New York to New Dehli for 2,000 years.

For millennia, the dream lay embedded in Jewish yearning, scripture and prayer, but with only the faintest hope of it being realised. The consistent attempts by Jews to live and flourish in the land of Israel, long before the existence of Zionism as a political ideology, were an expression of that dream. The more recent emergence of political Zionism and the founding of the state of Israel have marked the beginning of that dream coming true.

...The challenge of my Zionism is to recognise two things at the same time: how positive Zionism and the state of Israel have been for the Jewish people and the world, and that a beautiful dream does not always mean a perfect reality.

-- Rabbi Ari Hart, My Zionist dream, my Zionist reality

In response, Rabbi Brant Rosen writes:

9-9-11-Brant-RosenLike Rabbi Hart, I am profoundly inspired by the Jewish dream of return so powerfully evoked in Psalm 126. I do not, however, understand these words to be a "blueprint" for Jewish political nationalism. For most of Jewish history, in fact, the Jewish dream of return to the land was not understood literally but was rather projected onto a far-off messianic future. The rabbinic sages who developed Jewish tradition forcefully prohibited the forcing of God's hand through the establishment of an independent Jewish state...

I believe that as Jews, we must be willing to own [our] dark history and say it out loud: during 1947 to 1948, Zionist military forces either displaced or forcibly expelled over 700,000 Palestinians then forbid their return, creating what is today the largest refugee population in the world. Today more than 4,000,000 Palestinians harbour their own dream of return - not to a mythic Biblical homeland but to a land that they remember only too well.

In short, Israel's founding is inextricably bound up with an inherent injustice to the people who had made a home in this land. More critically, it is an injustice that continues until today through policies of dispossession and displacement designed to maintain a Jewish demographic majority in the state of Israel.

-- Rabbi Brant Rosen, A Jewish dream beyond political nationalism.

Reading these two essays side-by-side is an experience of wrestling with the both/and, for sure.