The Border Has Moved

If in the past, there was a need for separation between Judaism and Zionism in order to fashion a real identity and a content of equal import between two aspects of Jewish identity, today we require altogether different arguments in the real debate that is being held all around us on the issue of modern Jewish identity.

When A. B. Yehoshua wrote his book "In Favor of Normality" a few decades ago, he maintained the Ben-Gurionesque convention of negating the significance of the Diaspora. It was vital for the old-school Zionists to find in themselves a distinctive quality that set them apart, to isolate themselves from everything that had gone before, to build a new world out of the repulsive and dying shtetl. A struggle that began as a bitter ideological battle between the Zionist rejuvenator-rebels and the withered, inflexible, over-protective Judaism in the towns and villages of Eastern Europe, subsequently evolved, following the establishment of Israel's statehood, into a battle against the temptations that lay in wait just beyond the Statue of Liberty in North America. At the time, Yehoshua took the position of the Israeli isolationist, the Zionist fundamentalist, and differentiated between Israeliness and Judaism.

Much time has passed. Judaism is no longer the same Judaism, and the same can be said for Zionism. Only the very particular and very eloquent A.B. Yehoshua remains the same Yehoshua. What was a breakthrough in social and ethical values over a century ago has reached the end of the line. That Zionism no longer exists. And anyone who is still mired in those days of yore will, willingly or not, become out of date and anachronistic. If in the past, there was a need for separation between Judaism and Zionism in order to fashion a real identity and a content of equal import between two aspects of Jewish identity, today we require altogether different arguments in the real debate that is being held all around us on the issue of modern Jewish identity.

The old ultra-Orthodoxy, which seemed so threatening to the founders of Zionism, no longer holds out any genuine alternative to the life of the modern Jew. So what if a few hundred or thousand, or tens of thousands choose to huddle inside their own armor and close themselves into a voluntary ghetto? So what if photos of the dead Lubavitcher Rebbe are still flying gaily wherever you go in Israel? The reality is that he is dead, and that ultra-Orthodoxy is no more significant than any other isolationist, socially indifferent cult in the world.

Good luck to them. The emphasis shifted when hordes of religious-nationalist fanatics declared their de facto and de jure secession from the "State of Israel" and established the "State of Judea." At that point, everyone understood that the struggle for modern Jewish identity had taken on a new form. It is not a physical struggle between a geographical place - Israel - and farflung Diaspora communities. The struggle now raging across the world is a quarrel over the borderlines and the limits of peace, with one side contending that these lines and boundaries derive from values, not physical limits, that these limits pertain to human conception and approach, not to language and national origin. On the contrary - some of the best and most willing partners in the struggle over my sanity and identity are not to be found here. And the truth is that several of the closest members of my family, who may live only a few kilometers from my home, happen to be my most bitter adversaries, even enemies.

A war of words is now raging between democratic civilization and theocratic civilization. Citizens of the democratic expanse believe the individual, the you and the I, is the source of authority in our lives. We decide for ourselves - decide who we are, what life we will lead, what is most important and what is preferable. On the other side is theocratic civilization, with all its intense rage, arguing that the individual will never be subordinate to another because all of us are subordinate to the supreme source of authority: to God in heaven, who is eternal and immutable.

This is not a theoretical argument. It is a struggle that claims human victims everywhere; in pizzerias that blow up in Jerusalem, in Hebron, where Arabs are massacred by a Jewish fanatic, in the lofty skyscrapers of New York and in the sad neighborhoods of Baghdad. It is an argument for life and death. No - it is not a confrontation between Islam and the Judeo-Christian world. Such evidence of the world and its division is superficial and dangerous. It has already led the presidency of the United States to its lowest-ever levels of prestige. There is a gaping chasm in Judaism between nationalist fundamentalists and the ultra-Orthodox, and advocates of democracy. It is happening within Christianity, and particularly in the heart of North America, between religious zealots who wish to hasten the messianic redemption, and the determined patriots of human and civil rights. And it is also happening within Islam.

Therefore, at this stage, the partnership is between me and the Jews of the world, no matter what language they speak, and no matter where they live. Us against all the others: the Christian, Muslim and even Jewish zealots of religion and God. The border has moved, Mr. Yehoshua, to another front, and you haven't even noticed. You are fighting the war of yesterday and inadvertently losing the partners of tomorrow, the strongest elements of Diaspora Judaism, most of whom now represent the universalism and humanitarianism of Judaism much better than does most of Israeli society, including its principal representatives, spokesmen and thinkers.

Furthermore, in the early days of Jewish history and the chronicles of Zionism, we were, as usual, practically the only nation on earth that had no homeland and whose sons and daughters were scattered throughout the entire world. Times have changed, and millions of Chinese, Japanese and Italians, along with Irish immigrants and Argentinean emigres have robbed us of our unique status. We were the first and the only, and now the model of a state that has diaspora communities is quite prevalent. China is not alienated from its emigre children, Korea seeks every possible way to build bonds between the motherland and its far-flung emigrant communities. Only here do the Zionist spiritual navigators try to break the bonds between all the Jewish molecules that make our material so interesting and unique.

Generals are censured if they fight yesterday's wars. Yet we welcome thinkers and authors who think yesterday's thoughts. Firstly, because of the fact that, as opposed to many others among us, they think. Secondly, because their thoughts, be they correct or be they mistaken, make us think. And in a time of a thinning out of the spirit, and a decline in thought, it is simply wonderful.

Therefore, thank you, Mr. Yehoshua, for your provocative contribution. Because of it, it becomes clear that so many of us think differently from you. And that is itself very fortunate.