My Zionist Journey

This first person essay about my decision to make Aliyah may seem, to some, inconsistent with the mission of CiF Watch. However, in addition to the anti-Semitism which we arduously combat, one of the challenges of monitoring the Guardian (and the comments of their readers) involves their complete lack of comprehension regarding what truly motivates modern Zionists. They possess, often, an appalling lack of empathy for the thousands year old Jewish dream to “be a free people in a free land”.  While championing other peoples’ inherent right to self-determination, they seem to oddly lack even the most rudimentary empathy towards Jewish nationalist aspirations.  Israel, and Israelis, have become the proverbial “other”.  Jews, who represent 2/10 of 1% of the world’s population, have but one nation to call their own and we have no intention of entertaining the notion that our very existence as a sovereign state is somehow negotiable.  As Abba Eban said:

“Nobody does Israel any service by proclaiming its ‘right to exist.’..Israel’s right to exist, like that of the United States, Saudi Arabia and [191] other states, is axiomatic and unreserved. Israel’s legitimacy is not suspended in midair awaiting acknowledgement.”

It was March 2006, my first time in Israel. Shabbat had just arrived and, with a gentle breeze at my back, I tentatively approached the Western Wall. I had recently taken the first steps toward observance, and though I was anticipating a journey filled with joy and meaning, my life till then hadn’t prepared me for the emotion that took hold of me then.

I attempted to pray on that mild March evening not to open my heart to the arrival of Shabbat, but to avoid having to take that final step toward the wall, which would require me to wed myself with the struggles and aspirations of the Jewish people.

My mind was racing. The wall was much larger than I had imagined. I looked away, and saw intense davening (prayer) everywhere. I wanted to join in, but the words wouldn’t come.

My decision to make Aliyah was forged that day — one which only came into fruition three years later when I when I boarded an El Al plane for Tel Aviv with a one-way ticket — but the seeds of that epiphany and, indeed, my initial identification with Zionist activism, was a reaction to a “progressive” world increasingly hostile to the Jewish right to self-determination.

The bright-eyed, idealistic and progressive man I was in college and early adulthood was confronted with a stunning cognitive dissonance — that many of my political allies, those committed to freedom, equality and individual rights, were turning away from their traditional identification with Israel – the nation which most clearly embodied these values.

That these Western values — enlightenment values — were, in fact, part of the Zionist vision since the days of Herzl, and were embodied and upheld in the modern Jewish state, mattered less, in many circles, than the new narrative being forged on college campuses, and among the intellectual elite, which saw Israel through the distorted lens of colonialism and imperialism.

That the boundaries of Israel were not drawn, as they have been with most nation states, by the edge of a sword, but by an act of the United Nations, didn’t matter. That Israel was a democracy with progressive policies towards women, gays and religious minorities strangely didn’t seem relevant.

What seemed to matter most was advancing a narrative of Israeli oppression, a caricature of a grotesque and manipulative Goliath that delights in inflicted pain and suffering — a defamation hauntingly similar to the historical caricature of the dirty, hook-nosed, money hungry, plotting villain we know all too well — Israel as the Jew writ large. The 19th-century German social democrat, August Bebel, accurately called anti-Semitism the “socialism of fools,” and this clumsy anti-Zionism was and is nothing less than the anti-imperialism of fools.

My decision to wage war against these calumnies evolved slowly, but during my long rumination a clearer sense of purpose took shape. As my late father enlisted in the U.S. Army at the start of World War II, possessing no doubt that that war  (against fascism) was his war, I, too, knew that this war — against Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, the totalitarianism of our age, their political fellow travelers and intellectual enablers — was my war.

I set out to defend Israel, but also to join the 4,000-year journey of the Jewish people, to be an actor in Jewish history and not merely a spectator.

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I took the final step and gradually lifted my arm. I moved my hand forward and touched the wall.

With a gentle breeze at my back, I opened my eyes. And I prayed.

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