Recently I read an Honest Reporting article bemoaning the seemingly huge loss of support for Israel among Jewish college students. Clearly if true, and I assume that the reported result of a completed survey is true, it would be a great loss to the Jewish cause and support for the Jewish homeland, especially in the future.
The idea of having a homeland to which we can return is to have a country serve as a refuge whenever and for whatever reason other countries make the lives of Jews difficult if not impossible. Think of the thousands of Jews who were killed when other countries denied them refuge.
History is full of examples of Jews who were forced out of European countries during our two millennia in the Diaspora. And when we were begrudgingly permitted to settle in a country, we did so with the humiliation of life in ghettos. Unfortunately, history has a tendency to repeat itself; for that reason alone, Israel needs our support.
After thousands of years of seeing the wandering Jews, some countries finally understood the Jewish tragedy offered various solutions to our urgent need to have a country of our own.
The Soviet Union proposed to make Birobidzhan in the far eastern provinces of Asia, bordered by China and Korea, an autonomous Jewish oblast. In its capital, street markers were erected in Russian and Yiddish.
The stipulation was that the semiautonomous state would be a Yiddish state with Yiddish as its official language, with Jews subject to Soviet policies. Moreover, because the Soviet Union claimed to be an atheist country, Judaism as a religion would not exist.
How could we trust the Soviets, with their history of hostility to Jews during tsarist and post-tsarist times? This plan was, of course, rejected not only by Zionists, but by most Jews.
Britain made a similar offer in 1903, proposing to make the Mau Plateau (today part of Uganda and Kenya) a Jewish state. Like the Russian plan, this idea was rejected.
A homeland is not merely a piece of land, especially a foreign land; it must be a place where the habitants have a historical and moral attachment. For Jews, only the country that was our ancestral home, the land we believe was promised to us by G-d, the land of Israel, was and is a country from which we were expelled but never gave up our claim to return to it.
Only Israel can be justified by its history to be called a Jewish homeland.
Israel is not merely a piece of land; it is a country for which Jews have shed their blood and fought many wars against conquerors. The blood we shed for it gives us a moral right to it, and we were and are justified to reclaim our heritage.
Let me now turn to my generation and our revolutionary Zionist perspective.
Let me first propose the following: Zionism consisted of a group of young and revolutionary Jews who wished to create a revolutionary Jewish state.
There were other Jews who wished to return to Israel. But unlike the Zionists, they were wealthy and older Jews who simply wanted to die and be buried in the sacred land. They also wished to be buried in Israel to be spared the indignity of rolling underground to Israel when G-d institutes the techiyat hametim (the revival of the dead) after the coming of the messiah.
Zionists did not wish to die in Israel. To the contrary, they sought to break with the submissive Jewish attitude that marked the Galut (Diaspora) mentality. Zionism was a morally induced Jewish rebellion, and like most, if not all, rebellions, it sought to legitimate its goal — to create a Jewish state — based on a moral claim of the right to return to historic heritage.
I was a young Zionist, a member of the Betar movement, committed to the moral stance of our claim.
Being young seems to be a common feature of revolutionaries. The young, often college students, are the committed members of most revolutionary movements.
Young intellectuals became the 18th century philosophs, who created the moral underpinnings of the French Revolution and the European revolutions of 1848.
The various American revolts in the 1960s — the black revolution, the sexual revolution and even the fledgling economic revolt associated with Bernie Sanders — were mostly supported by college students and their peers.
Israel’s ideological battles, as well its real battles, were fought by young zealots like my friend Yaakov Weisz, my classmate, who was caught by the British during the raid on Akko prison and was hanged there and whose image now is displayed in the Akko prison hanging room.
Young people are the rebels, the seekers of change, the fighters for causes. In my time, young Jews were committed to Israel as a moral cause. Young Zionists were committed to the idea of a homeland as dreamed by Theodore Herzl and published as his moral vision under the title “The Old New Land.”
He envisioned a land in which justice and accommodation with the native Arabs were central to the constitution. Indeed, Israel’s founders declared that “the State of Israel (will) preserve peace (and requests the Arabs) to participate in the up building of the state on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.”
That was a moral statement that resonated with all young Jewish people.
To rebuild Jewish students’ trust in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must recognize that young people are moralists, and most interpret the world from a moral perspective. Jews in Israel must rebuild their former moral perspective to reinforce the idealism that was displayed in the kibbutzim and reflected a central vision of a just state, as it is elaborated in the Torah.
Of course Israel must deal with the political reality, but it must not display the cynical perspective that developed as a reaction to the Arab worldview and its reluctance to achieve a just accommodation.
If I am not for myself, who is for me? But being for myself alone is selfishness and is not a moral stance. Israel, if it wishes to have the future support of American Jews, must reflect our moral stand, for only in this way can we keep the young Jewish students attached to our heritage — Israel.