An old story is told of how Leon Blum, the Socialist French prime minister, met with David Ben-Gurion shortly before the establishment of the Jewish state. Addressing Ben-Gurion, Blum said: “I want you to know that first I am a Frenchman, second I am a socialist, and third I am a Jew.”
To which Ben-Gurion responded, “That’s OK. In Hebrew we read from right to left.”
I love that story, although when I tell it, I feel a bit nostalgic. Ben-Gurion’s response to Blum assumes that every Jew should ultimately feel a strong connection to his or her people and the State of Israel; that there is something within every Jewish soul that pulls them to the Promised Land.
While that may have been the case 20, 30 or 40 years ago, I’m not sure that we can assume it anymore. And that concerns me greatly. Simply put, the emotional, historical and spiritual ties that bound us to Israel in the past are slowly and steadily becoming unraveled in the present.
During the first few decades of Israeli independence, the vast majority of American and World Jewry saw the embattled Jewish State as a symbol of pride, national and spiritual identity. Zionism, and its message of self-sufficiency in a Jewish homeland, was a central component of Jewish identification. This, coupled with the recent memory of the Shoah (Holocaust) and its horrors, caused us to see Israel as an extension of our Jewish selves.
We defended Israel’s right to exist—holding our collective breaths during times of crisis and rejoicing in her miraculous victories. We demonstrated our support with our political clout and our pocketbooks, by making Aliyah, traveling on organized tours, and sending our children to study and experience the “Miracle on the Mediterranean.”
Today, however, the word “Zionist” has become divisive. Israel’s enemies have tried to co-opt the term by linking it with policies of oppression and racism.