Cody Boutilier: The myth of “Jewish solidarity”

I recently finished Menachem Begin’s White Nights: The Story of a Prisoner in Russia. It’s one of the most remarkable and unforgettable books I’ve read. Early in the memoirs, Begin recounts a conversation with sympathetic Polish officers in an NKVD holding cell in Vilnius. They complain of Jewish solidarity, that tenacious and pernicious anti-Semitic canard. Begin’s response is timeless: “If only!”

One of the principal arguments of Israel’s leftist detractors is that Israel cannot be considered a Jewish state, simply because it doesn’t enjoy universal support among the world’s Jews. I may be wrong, but this notion presupposes that Jewish solidarity is both possible and necessary, when in fact unanimity in any group is illusory and transient at best. It’s also essentialist, to use academic jargon: it suggests that the default state of world Jewry is “rootless cosmopolitanism,” to use Stalin’s phrase.

I am not accusing those who hold this position of anti-Semitism or “Jewish self-hatred” (Karl Marx syndrome). But it does correspond with classic anti-Semitic logic, and it’s simply wrong, to boot. Predominantly Jewish in population, Israel has the world’s largest Jewish community. Unbeknownst to most of Israel’s critics, the first Jewish settlements in littoral Palestine were founded by Sephardi Jews in the nineteenth century, before the word “Zionism” existed. Hebrew is an everyday spoken language, rather than merely administrative. If Israel has no legitimate claim to being a Jewish state, then Armenia and Ireland, which each contain less than half of the global population of their titular ethnic groups, cannot be called Armenian and Irish states.

Israel doesn’t profess to represent the world’s Jews in any substantial sense. When the Knesset passes a law, it applies only to the citizens and territory of Israel. Such is the custom of nation-states.

Jakub Berman was a fanatical Stalinist who played a key role in the establishment of communism in Poland. Beset by anti-Semitism in Poland and in the Kremlin, he vehemently denounced Zionism and even denied that the Holocaust was separate from the greater total war against the Soviet Union. Considering so much anti-Semitic sentiment is directed towards the State of Israel, it seems rather disingenuous to deny its status as the Jewish state. It effectively allows anti-Semites to set the parameters of the debate, and suggests that the existence of Israel is the sole source of global anti-Semitism.

Jewish solidarity is a myth. But we should all stand in solidarity with Israel, the Jewish state.

The Hustings