Lawrence Davidson: Zionist Israel is not good for the Jews

But Is It
Good for the Jews?”

Lawrence Davidson


September 02, 2014 “

If you are
over fifty and were raised in a Jewish
household, you either heard this question, “but
is it good for the Jews?” explicitly asked
numerous times or were subtly encouraged to
think the question to yourself. It reflects a
group-centered concern born of the memory of
anti-Semitic hostility and a seemingly unending
vulnerability, and it can apply to almost any
public action: federal or local legislation,
cultural trends, foreign policy decisions, etc.
I do not know how many of the younger generation
of American Jews, known to be very secular and
prone to religious intermarriage, still ask this
question, but there can be no doubt that it is
still there on the tips of almost every Jewish
tongue of that generation for whom World War II
is still well remembered.


World War II most Jews assumed that the Zionist
movement and the Israeli state were good for the
Jews. Indeed, they assumed that they were
necessary goods – necessary for the very
survival of the Jewish people. To that end, it
was alleged, Israel would provide a haven from
the anti-Semitism that so devastated the Jews of
Europe. There were those who took issue with
this perspective, but they were few in number
and without influence. Zionism triumphed and in
1948 the State of Israel was proclaimed. Today
we have 66 years of history to judge Zionism and
Israeli nationalism. So, after these six and a
half decades, it is time we ask the question
once more. Can we still assume that Zionism and
Israel are good for the Jews?


Part II –
Looking for the Answer


Here are
some observations, given by thoughtful and
knowledgable people, both Jews and non-Jews, and
some facts easily accessed, that help us answer
the question:

— Israeli
behavior toward the Palestinians has involved
tactics of ethnic cleansing and mass murder,
often justified as “self-defense.” In terms of
the latest violence in Gaza, the United Nations
estimates that at least 73% of the fatalities
inflicted by Israel were civilians. There is
good evidence that Israel has been purposely
targeting Gaza economic assets so as to
impoverish its people. To this end Israel’s
Deputy Interior Minister Eli Yishai proclaimed
that the “goal of the operation [code-named
Protective Edge by the Israeli military] is to
send Gaza back to the Middle Ages.”


— How do Israeli Jews feel about this situation?
Or perhaps a better way of putting this would
be: how have Israeli Jews been culturally
programmed to judge such behavior on the part of
their government? According to the latest polls
up to 97% of them support the current operation
in Gaza. Do outside opinions matter to them? Not
to most. 63% assume that “the whole world is
against us.”

These numbers suggest that only a
very few Israeli Jews understand what is
happening to them as they live their lives in a
state dedicated to the displacement of another
people and the absorption of their land.


— One of
those who sees the damage to the Jews is Zeev
Sternhell, a well-known scholar and “Israel
prize laureate.” He equates present-day Israel
to Vichy France – a country “falling into the
hands of the right-wing with the support of a
vast majority of the population.” This includes
the intellectuals, whom he defines as the
“professors and the journalists.” Thus, the
attack on Gaza has led to “absolute conformism
on the part of Israel’s intellectuals” and the
“intellectual bankruptcy of the mass media.”
According to Sternhell “democracy crumbles when
the intellectuals, the educated classes, toe the
line of the thugs or look at them with a smile.”


— There is
also a sense of alarm among some Jews outside of
Israel. Henry Siegman is president of the
U.S./Middle East Project and former national
director of the American Jewish Congress.
Referring to the latest Israeli attack on Gaza,
Siegman observes that “the slaughter of
Palestinian civilians and the Dresden-like
reduction to rubble of large parts of Gaza by
Israel’s military forces in the name of its own
citizens’ security has exposed the hypocrisy
that lies at the heart of Israel’s dealings with
the Palestinians. Israel’s claim to the right of
self-defense in order to prevent its victims’
emergence from under its occupation is the
ultimate expression of chutzpa.” In addition he
notes that “Too many Israelis seem to believe –
indeed, to take absolutely for granted – that
they have the God-given right to occupy,
suppress, disenfranchise and displace non-Jews …
in Israel.”


Siegman is
not alone in his condemnation. Recently a number
of Holocaust survivors and children of survivors
placed a notice in the New York Times. In part
it stated: “We are alarmed by the extreme,
racist dehumanization of Palestinians in Israeli
society. … In Israel, politicians and pundits in
The Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post have
called openly for genocide of Palestinians and
right-wing Israelis are adopting Neo-Nazi


— Scott McConnell, the founding editor of the
American Conservative is not Jewish, but he too
has been observing Israeli behavior and its
evolution. Here is how he describes the
country’s present state: “This now is Israel, a
country … where imposing collective punishment
of innocents is the main point, whose elected
officials pine openly for concentration camps
and genocide. … Hyper-nationalistic, loaded with
nuclear weapons, deeply racist, persuaded that
opposition to it is derived from anti-Semitism,
feeling that the Holocaust gives it license to
do whatever it wants and that the normal rules
of international conduct will never apply to

So, we must ask, just how good is
all this for the Jews?


Part III –
Rising Anti-Semitism


recall that Israel’s reason for being was to
give Jews shelter from the ravages of
anti-Semitism. That was certainly Theodor
Herzl’s motivation. By any rational standard,
Zionist Israel has failed in this regard.
Indeed, with but very few exceptions, it is hard
to imagine anywhere less safe for Jews than
present-day Israel. And, there is growing
evidence that Israeli behavior is a major source
of today’s increasing anti-Semitism.


M. J.
Rosenberg, a well-known Jewish American
commentator, has analyzed this latter issue and
noted the difference in levels of publicly
expressed anti-Semitic feelings during the
leadership of Yitzhak Rabin and Benjamin
Netanyahu. His suggestion is that when it
appeared, during Rabin’s prime ministership,
that Israel wanted a just peace with the
Palestinians (whether this appearance was
accurate or not), public expressions of
anti-Semitism went down. However, when Israel
behaves with wanton aggression against
Palestinians, as it has in Gaza, instances of
anti-Semitism go up. Since wanton aggression has
certainly characterized most of the history of
Israeli behavior toward Palestinians, it is fair
to say that such actions constitute an important
source of growing anti-Semitism.


Part IV –
Finding the Answer


Zionists and Israeli Jews are ideologues. That
is, they see the world through the ideology of
Zionism and Israeli nationalism, and this
narrows their ability to see things, especially
their own behavior, in an objective way. For
instance, they insist that their economic
impoverishment, ethnic cleansing and periodic
slaughter of the Palestinians are carried out in
“self-defense.” However, they absolutely refuse
to consider that Palestinian violence against
Israel is a reaction to Israeli policies and
practices, particularly those of occupation,
land confiscation and police state rule. In
other words, Zionism and Israeli nationalism
have blinded Israeli policy makers and their
supporters to the consequences of their actions.
That state of mind is not good for anyone, be
they individuals or groups.


So we are brought back to our original question
– can we assume that Zionism and Israel are good
for the Jews? The answer is no, we cannot.
Zionism failed the Jews by insisting on an
Israel for one group alone. That insistence has
inevitably led to racism, discrimination and
ethnic cleansing. These are not practices that
have characterized modern Jewry and so it is
simply wrong to equate Zionism with Judaism and
insist that Israel stands in for the world’s
Jews – errors now made by both Zionists and real
anti-Semites. The more Jews who understand this,
and begin to publicly distance themselves from
both Zionism and Israel, the better, for they
can safely assume both are bad for the Jews.

Davidson is a retired professor of history from West
Chester University in West Chester PA. His academic
research focused on the history of American foreign
relations with the Middle East. He taught courses in
Middle East history, the history of science and
modern European intellectual history.