For the Anti-Zionist, Jewish Peoplehood Is Itself an Offense

December 20, 2019 | William Kolbrener
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Since biblical times, Jews have conceived of themselves as a people or nation as much as a religion—a fact about Judaism, writes William Kolbrener, that supporters of the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel (BDS) stubbornly refuse to accept. He argues that this deliberate misinterpretation of Judaism as a religion only in the Christian sense of the term is inextricably linked to a form of anti-Semitism:

For [these anti-Zionists], religion revolves around faith, as it does for Christians, but not the distinctly Jewish conception of nationhood—so that they see the state of Israel not as a genuine expression of Judaism but as a cynical colonialist grab for power.

The refusal of Jewish exceptionalism has a long history. BDS-supporting progressives, wearing the multicultured garment of intersectionality, are not unlike [many] Christians before the founding of state of Israel: both seek to deny Jewish difference. The idea that “there is neither Jew nor Greek,” asserted by the apostle Paul, informs contemporary progressive versions of community. Such progressives may bristle at hearing [their beliefs] described as akin to Christian universalism, but in their urge to deny Jewish difference they show many affinities to older forms of anti-Semitism. Just as they did in relationship to Christianity, today Jews give the lie to universalist claims. Then, as now, the Jew is made the excluded outsider, the one difference excluded from the universalism of difference.

Today, the most obvious expression of Jewish exceptionalism is the state of Israel, and thus the target of antiSemitic attack. For those progressives who reject Judaism as defined through peoplehood and practices, mere Judaism as faith does not justify Jewish nationhood; in fact it’s an affront to their sensibility, a betrayal of what real faith should be. But Judaism . . . imagines itself—in its ideal form—as a way of life and aspires to found that encompassing life in relationship to Jewish community in the Land of Israel.

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