I have always considered myself a Zionist. That is to say, I believe in Jewish self-determination in our natural homeland, the land of Israel. "Zionism" itself is a political word, but what Zionism stands for is as old as our father Abraham.
While Zionism is ancient, the modern manifestation of Zionism, the State of Israel, is a very recent answer to the Jewish Question posed by cultures and societies for thousands of years. Just at the point when it seemed that Jewish identity was dependent on the pervasive presence of Jew-hatred, the builders of the State of Israel came along and said, "we have gathered from the four corners of the earth to be a free people in our own land."
But there are still too many Jews who justify their sense of Jewishness by who their enemies are, real or imagined. Our defense organizations lift up data to prove the pervasiveness of anti-Semitism. Our far left-wing suspects every Evangelical of planning for our spiritual destruction. Our far right-wing paints every Muslim as a terrorist-in-waiting. Scratch a non-Jew and... you know the rest.
The notion that our identity depends on the antagonism of our enemies is the mentality of the Jew in galut (exile). It is so ingrained in our culture that you will find it in our sacred heritage (take a look at the liturgical poem Avinu Malkeinu) and in our humor ("They tried to kill us, we won, let's eat.")
The one place we shouldn't find it is in Israeli society. Every leader of the country has rightly refused to rely on the presumed precarious nature of Jewish life to justify the State. That's why it is so perplexing to discover this affliction of "galut mentality" among some of Israel's most outspoken citizen defenders.
A recent manifestation of this sad phenomenon comes from the usually exceptional David Horovitz, founding editor of the Times of Israel. His recent column, enumerating 12 ways he imagines President Obama's administration has "failed" Israel, comes complete with pictures of a Palestinian toddler and an Iranian in a hairnet. But before he tells us all the ways he thinks the United States has endangered the future of the State, he includes these words:
This administration has worked closely with Israel in ensuring the Jewish state maintains its vital military advantage in this treacherous neighborhood, partnering Israel in offensive and defensive initiatives, notably including missile defense. It has stood by Israel at diplomatic moments of truth. It has demonstrated its friendship, as would be expected given America's interest in promoting the well-being of the region's sole, stable, dependable democracy.
That reality doesn't stop him from creating a litany of complaints about the way the president and his administration have placed Israel in mortal danger through interviews, speeches and turns of a phrase, by acknowledging the shifting realities of that "treacherous neighborhood," and in remaining consistent with policies in place since the Nixon administration.
And in the end, Horovitz so much as accuses the president of supporting Israel militarily and diplomatically only to set it up for eventual destruction. Reading his article, you could be forgiven for thinking that Horovitz, the consummate Israeli, lived not in Israel, but in a European shtetl, where Jewish lives depended on the words and whims of their gentile neighbors or others. That is, not the Israel that is a regional superpower with a booming economy.
The United States has disagreements with other allies, but if a journalist in the UK or Japan published such an article in The Times or Asahi Simbun, it would be laughed off the page.
Horovitz throws in some criticisms of the current Prime Minister and mentions the corrosive nature of ruling another people. But it risks merely agitating Obama-haters with yet another list of why that man can't be trusted. Military support, diplomatic solidarity and consistent friendship are all just a ruse. What is more important is his Secretary of State's use of the word "poof."
That's not to say that I dismiss the power of words. NJDC objected mightily when Secretary Kerry used the word "apartheid" to describe where Israel might be headed without a change in the status quo. When he reiterated his support for a strong US-Israel relationship and expressed regret for using a charged and inappropriate term, we accepted his clarification. That is what friends do for each other, and that is what has been done for the variety of Israeli officials who have spoken and acted intemperately toward the United States.
What friends don't do is manufacture nonsensical checklists to rouse the rabble and prepare them for the sound of the second shoe hitting the floor.
And that's because Israel is perfectly capable of taking care of itself, of representing its interests, and of dealing with the inevitable differences among friends. Israel is not Sholom Aleichem's Anatevka. The Jews are a free people in their own land, and anyone who insists that's still some poetic flourish of a distant dream instead of today's reality has left some part of his or her soul in exile.
Writings like Horovitz's column appeal to American Jews who cling to a notion of Jewish powerlessness and who need enemies to define their identity. They resist celebrating a US-Israel bond that is stronger than it has ever been.
I admire David Horovitz for his decades of important journalism, his generally astute political analysis and his commentary. I admire him especially for his life in Israel. It entitles him to decide what risks he will or will not take for peace. It does not entitle him to exploit galut fears by projecting them back to America.
My home is in the United States, and perhaps that makes me less of a Zionist than those who live in Israel. But I would hope that our friends who physically reside in Israel would do better than to reinforce a galut mentality that rightly should have disappeared with the founding of the State of Israel.