Opinion

The New Jews

13-year-old Rohan Perez, who was deported along with his mother, Rosemarie, to the Philippines, August 11, 2019.
Meged Gozani

Upon reading the columns by Prof. David Chinitz (“Israel should keep its Filipinos and drop Birthright,” Haaretz, August 21) and Dr. Yossi Beilin (“Maybe instead of the settlements?” Haaretz in Hebrew, August 25) – both humanists who love humankind – I understood a bit bitterly why more and more writers and journalists in Israel and worldwide are placing themselves beyond good and evil and recognizing that amorality is the preferred intellectual bon ton of the 21st century.

Chinitz railed against the policy of deporting migrant workers and their children who have been living here for years. His heart was especially anguished by Rohan, a boy who grew up in Israel, speaks Hebrew, recognizes Israel as the state of the Jewish people and would probably serve in the army. It should be possible to consider him a Jew, Chinitz argued. “Even without formal conversion, a process distorted by the Orthodox Rabbinate, Rohan, not to mention his children, would become Jewish Israelis, to my mind much more Jewish than an ultra-Orthodox Jew living in Brooklyn.”

>> Israel should keep its Filipinos and drop Birthright | David Chinitz 

Chinitz is an American who made aliyah to Israel (a non-Jew, of course, cannot make aliyah, he can only immigrate), not because of his faithfulness to the God of Israel, but because of his ethnic origins – that is, because of his “blood.” He apparently doesn’t know how non-Jews converted 200 years or 1,000 years ago.

Unlike that ultra-Orthodox Jew from New York, who knows the Talmud better than he does, he also doesn’t know why Jews were afraid to return to Zion on their own, rather than wait for the Messiah to come, and therefore didn’t migrate to Palestine for 2,000 years. He only knows that Rohan, the son of Filipino migrants, is “much more Jewish than an ultra-Orthodox Jew living in Brooklyn.”

And perhaps Rohan, who is Israeli in his everyday language and culture, would want to honor his parents’ religious traditions and identify himself as Christian? If so, would Chinitz still consider him a Jew? Would he still be able to live in the country where he was born – that is, what Chinitz calls the state of the Jewish people? Does Chinitz hope that Palestinian-Israeli students, who sometimes speak better Hebrew than Jewish Israelis, will also become more kosher Jews than the ultra-Orthodox in Brooklyn – not through God’s help, but solely through volunteering for army service?

Because Chinitz’s article assailed the Birthright Israel program, which was meant to encourage young Diaspora Jews to forge a connection with “Zion,” Beilin, the father of this Zionist vacation project, was outraged. The former deputy minister believes this project isn’t in the least unnecessary; rather, it’s “the most important Jewish project of this century.”

Its goal is to create the feeling of an extended family among the 50,000 young people who visit their ancient homeland every year. Moreover, and this may be no less important for Beilin, “the rate of intermarriage among Birthright graduates is significantly lower than among those who didn’t participate in the program.”

To be clear, Beilin’s view isn’t similar to that of former Prime Minister Golda Meir or Education Minister Rafi Peretz, who view marrying a non-Jew as joining the six million who perished in the Holocaust. Beilin is far more judicious and cautious.

Nevertheless, he too knows that “the Jewish people” is the only one in the world liable to disappear due to acts of love. Consequently, he once said he supports secular conversion (which would apparently also grant the convert a “birthright”).

Despite their disagreements, these two Israeli “leftists” aren’t very far apart in their conclusions. Nor does either them understand why they their pseudo-enlightened identity politics are defeated time and again. Ultimately, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was right when he said that people like them “have forgotten what it means to be Jewish.”

Even if it’s true that Zionism was originally meant to be a collective assimilation into modernity, after personal assimilation had failed in so many places, it was forced to rely on semi-religious myths. These myths were and still are the justifications for the national enterprise, both with regard to shaping the boundaries of identity and with regard to taking over land.

Even if the people who vote for Netanyahu, Arye Dery and Bezalel Smotrich have a warped understanding of historic Judaism, Chinitz and Beilin, despite their efforts, are creating an equally distorted view, even if they’re ostensibly doing so out of good intentions.

Prof. Shlomo Sand is a historian and author of the Hebrew-language novel “To Live and Die in Tel Aviv”