The subjects of Zionism and anti-semitism are incredibly delicate and difficult to discuss, and the latter has recently become a political football. Consequently, I don’t know where this is going to go.
First of all, it needs to be pointed out that not all Jews, even religious Jews, are Zionists. There are at least two groups at opposite ends of the religious scale who are opposed to it. Some Orthodox Jews are anti-Zionist because they see the state of Israel as a secular rather than a divine institution, not ruled over by the Messiah. On the other side there are of course liberal Jews who are both religious and opposed to Zionism.
I’m Christian, and libertarian socialist with anarchist leanings. All of these are relevant to Zionism. Taking the last first, I believe that political obligation is only achieved by coercion, which is immoral. That is, although there is a large overlap between the law and what one should do, there is no specific ethical reason to obey the law because there is no realistic way to opt out of obeying it. I’m not going to go into details about this because this post is not about anarchism, although just in passing I note that this view may seem at odds with being socialist, which surely believes in a strong state, but there are answers to that. Enough waffle.
One statement among those opposed to Zionism which sounds rather aggressive is that Israel has no right to exist. If I put this in context, from an anarchist perspective no state at all has the right to exist and Israel would be no exception to that. It would also apply to Palestine, for example. Hence it seems unlikely that I could maintain an anarchist position and also support Zionism.
Now for Christianity. There are three views among mainstream Christians regarding Judaism, referred to as supersessionism, dispensationalism and the idea that the two are entirely separate things. These are supremely relevant positions in political terms, whether or not you’re religious, because of the dominance of Christian influence on international politics, particularly via the US. Dispensationalism has an especially strong influence. Therefore, whereas I recognise that you may not share my religious views, I ask you to recognise that these particular positions are influential.
Dispensationalism is not my position. I’m amillenialist, if anyone cares. It’s an interpretation of human history which began to be articulated clearly by Nelson Darby in the nineteenth century. Since the main Bible I used as an adolescent was the Scofield Reference Bible, before I became Christian, it’s also the view I was at first most familiar with. C. I. Scofield was himself a dispensationalist and his references in that Bible are an exposition of that view. According to Scofield and others, human history has seven phases, beginning with the time before the Fall. This was followed by the Conscience phase, which continued until the Flood, then human government, which lasted from the Flood until Abraham was called. Then came Promise, stretching from then until the time of Moses, then the Law. This phase was the Jewish bit, and concluded with the death of Christ. After that comes the Church Age, terminated by the Rapture, and finally the Millenium.
All of this is easiest to fit into fundamentalist evangelical Protestantism with a historical-grammatical approach to Scripture, and is therefore associated with Young Earth Creationism. Clearly this has various political consequences, but chief among them for the purposes of this post is the interpretation given to the term “Israel”. This is seen as referring always literally to the earthly Jewish people and by extension the state of Israel. The Church and Israel have different fates. Israel are an earthly people whose destiny involves an earthly kingdom and the Church refers to a heavenly people whose destiny lies in Heaven. This has all sorts of consequences. For instance, it means that you are likely to believe in the idea of the Rapture – the saved being physically lifted up into another realm to save them from the Tribulation which will happen afterwards. Lots of capital letters here help you Believe. It also means that you are probably committed to the idea that the world is going to Hell in a handcart and there isn’t much point in trying to improve the lot of one’s fellow humans because everyone is utterly depraved, to use the Calvinist term. Most relevantly though, it means most dispensationalists believe that the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 is a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, and therefore, apparently, that it should be defended and protected by other nations.
I’ve characterised this view as incompatible with liberalism and socialism. It also seems to be particularly incompatible with trusting the findings of science, which to me is close to being the same thing as both are based on rationality. However, I personally think this arises from the political background of this view, although I’m not going to argue for that because it’s not my view. Even so, as a Christian I recognise that my own specific beliefs may be unpopular with other Christians and that I should accept that these people are also Christian. It’s not for me to judge, even if I wish they didn’t believe this and think they’re mistaken, and also that they
Supersessionism is the idea that the Church replaced Israel, and is close to the Islamic view of tahrif, which holds that other people of the Book have corrupted the Word of God and therefore are not following God’s will as closely as Muslims are able to due to imperfect information. Hence from this Islamic viewpoint, which as far as I can tell is universal among Muslims, Israel seems not have a right to exist because it reflects a self-serving view of God’s will and has been superceded by Islam. Christian supersession carries with it the idea that the covenant between God and the Jewish people was either fulfilled by the coming of the Messiah or replaced by a new covenant that meant that if the Jews didn’t accept that Jesus was the Messiah and commit in the same way as non-Jews needed to, they wouldn’t be saved. The problem with this idea, of course, is that it seems to be along the lines of the thinking that led to the Holocaust. It was a very popular view in the early Church, although the very earliest Church was a sect of Judaism and didn’t attempt to proselytise to Gentiles.
A third idea is that the Church is added to Israel, i.e. that the Church and Israel together constitute the saved, but in that context the word “Israel” just means the Jewish people. On this subject, at some point a decision seems to have been made among dispensationalists that “Israel” must refer to the nation-state without that necessarily being warranted, possibly because it’s accepted as a divine revelation that that’s the case.
Then there’s socialism. Socialism seems to imply the idea that government can be legitimate, which makes things complicated because it means that it’s not legitimate per se to deny that Israel has a right to exist although there may be conditional reasons why this is so. Michael Moore once suggested, jokingly, that the Jews should’ve been given Bavaria because the fertility and climate were better. There’s also the irony of the kibbutz – socialistically organised agricultural communes which are, however, on land traditionally occupied by other, non-Jewish people.
Emmanuel Levinas, the Jewish French-Lithuanian philosopher who prioritised ethics rather than ontology as the foundation of philosophy, which appeals strongly to me, is chiefly problematic because of his views on the Christian Phalangist massacre of Palestinians in 1982. On being asked about this, Levinas only spoke about generalities of his ethics and did not comment on the issue directly, making people wonder whether he saw Palestinians as faceless and anonymous, whom he owed nothing.
Another Jewish philosopher, the nineteenth century Hermann Cohen, believed that if Judaism became involved in establishing its own state it would become entangled in politics and therefore compromise, and hence lose its ethical edge. For this reason he was opposed to Zionism. He also believed that the existence of one God meant that all of humanity was subject to the same ethics, and he was a firmly non-Marxist socialist. For Levinas, though, the reason for pursuing Zionism is that it provided the opportunity for a state to set itself up as an example to others, where ethical behaviour could be exemplary. I really don’t think this is the state of Israel. Having said that, it could also be argued that the Holocaust means there’s nothing the Jews could do which would be as bad as that, so if justice is considered to apply to groups of people rather than individuals and to be based on retribution, as is the principle of the Hebrew Bible, the Jews would be absolved of any responsibility. But Christian justice is based on turning the other cheek and Israel does not represent the Jewish people. It doesn’t, for instance, represent all Orthodox Judaism or Reform Judaism.
It seems to me that if Hermann Cohen’s vision is accurate, there might be some mileage in examining the culture of the Jewish diaspora, and the question of language arises here. The Ladino and Yiddish languages were the everyday speech of the ghetto, as opposed to the Hebrew of the synagogue or Israel, and as such are about communicating the Jewish attempt to live righteous lives as oppressed, although of course they should not remain so and they shouldn’t be forced to remain humanity’s whipping boy. Another language which could be said to be Jewish and expresses this idea is Lazarus Zamenhoff’s Esperanto, which oddly brings me back to the Galactic Association.
Nigel Calder once expressed the idea that lunar activities had the advantage of there not being an environment to pollute. Anywhere you build and operate a factory on Earth, or dump waste, there’s a problem because there is life everywhere on this planet. Likewise, wherever people go on the land surface of this planet other than Antarctica, there’s a territorial claim and there are likely to be people. Hence Israel displaces the non-Jewish people who had already lived there for generations. Genesis is not like this. There is no complex life on this fictional planet, and as a result it can be settled without displacing anyone or any land life. And of course Genesis is a centrally planned socialist society based on the kibbutz model, and they speak Esperanto there, hence my map. It’s not ideal to my mind because there is in fact life there, but if such places were available, maybe I wouldn’t feel I had to be anarchist because there would be other options than living in a state. So we’ve come full circle, and I also hope this demonstrates that science fiction is a worthwhile endeavour, and needn’t be flippant mind games.
But of course Israel is a really difficult issue.