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Two Israeli Narratives: One Dark, One Bright

As we were working on an uplifting cover story on “The Israeli Century,” Amnesty International released a scathing report accusing Israel of being an “Apartheid state.” 
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February 9, 2022

You couldn’t ask for a sharper contrast. As we were working on an uplifting cover story on “The Israeli Century,” Amnesty International released a scathing report accusing Israel of being an “Apartheid state.” 

The cover story, by our Israel Political Editor Shmuel Rosner, reviews the book, “The Israeli Century: How the Zionist Revolution Changed History and Reinvented Judaism,” by Professor Yossi Shain. As Rosner writes, it’s an ambitious and provocative book, arguing that “Zionism shifted the Jewish political paradigm and is making for a new ‘Israeli-based polity’ that impacts Jewish existence around the world.” Shain argues that this shouldn’t be surprising: “Whenever the Jews had sovereign existence, this became the main tenant of their culture.”  

It’s a complex argument. The less controversial part is that Israel is thriving, although Shain cautions that “It is not my aim to paint Zionism as an unalloyed success.” He doesn’t need to. On many levels, from innovation and high tech to a vibrant and resilient culture and economy, Zionism is indeed succeeding, despite its multiple challenges. 

His more controversial argument, as Rosner writes, is that “the success of Zionism made Israeliness the main feature of contemporary Jewishness. Not because of some competition for supremacy that Israel ‘won’ and Jews in other places ‘lost,’ but rather because that’s the way it had always been and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

As Shain writes: “You cannot in any way or fashion disengage from Israel even if you disapprove of Israel behavior.” Rosner comments that “those who try are going to fail either in their attempt to disengage, or in their quest to disengage from Israel while still maintaining a strong Jewish identity.”

The jury is still out on the influence of Israeli sovereignty to the Jewish future. I invite you to read the cover story and the book and draw your own conclusions. My own view is that a nation-state is such a real and concrete endeavor it’s bound to have a significant impact on the religion and people it represents.

Despite the many protestations, the Amnesty International report was a stark reminder that much of the global community doesn’t really care what Jews think. They are attached to a dark narrative about the Zionist enterprise, unlike the narrative you’ll read about in our cover story.

But as Israel struggles to define its complex narrative, human rights organizations feel no need whatsoever to struggle to define Israel. In its report titled, “Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity,” Amnesty International followed a long pattern of international discrimination against the world’s only Jewish state.

The organization, founded in 1961, calls itself a “people’s movement” whose vision is “a world in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” If you Google “top human rights violators in the world,” you’ll see countries such as Syria, Yemen, China, Iran, Egypt, North Korea, Central African Republic, Burundi, Congo, Burma, Libya, Venezuela, Eritrea, Russia and Nigeria.

One country you won’t see on these lists is Israel, the only free democracy in the Middle East. And yet, that is the one country Amnesty chose to single out for its scathing attack.

Here’s how I connect the dots: The better we know ourselves, the better we will defend ourselves from a position of strength. That is an Israeli Century that will be good for all Jews.    

The outrage against the report was deep and widespread. Longtime expert Elliott Abrams called it “a shockingly dishonest document whose biases against the Jewish State leap off each of its 280 pages.” The ADL called the report “an effort to demonize Israel and undermine its legitimacy as a Jewish and democratic state. In an environment of rising anti-Jewish hate, this type of report is not only inaccurate but also irresponsible and likely will lead to intensified antisemitism around the world.”

Despite the many protestations, the report was a stark reminder that much of the international community doesn’t really care what Jews think. They are attached to a dark narrative about the Zionist enterprise, unlike the narrative you’ll read about in our cover story.

The narrative in “The Israeli Century” takes a long view and advances some bold ideas. The fact that it doesn’t agonize over how the world perceives us is both a strength and a weakness. It’s a strength because we can’t allow chronic Israel bashers to influence how we see ourselves; it’s a weakness because the anti-Israel streak in international circles is so engrained we don’t have the luxury to downplay it.

Here’s how I connect the dots: The better we know ourselves, the better we will defend ourselves from a position of strength. That is an Israeli Century that will be good for all Jews.

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