Bearing Witness 

An anti-Semitic tendency, emanating from the bloodied rubble of Gaza, is floating about these days. Not only is it telling Jews who reject the agenda of the State of Israel (of whom there are very many) that they are self-hating Jews. Some (like my mother, a Jewish woman born in Nazi-occupied Europe) have been told that their criticism of the State of Israel makes them less Jewish, less Jewish even than certain Gentiles. Why is this?

Why are some Gentiles thought to be more Jewish than so many Jews? What special quality do they possess? It is this: they support the mass murder of innocent Palestinians, and the ethnic cleansing (that euphemism for genocide) of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and elsewhere.

In other words, Zionism (a nationalism, a religion of the State) is not merely equated with Judaism. Among Zionists, Jewish and Gentile alike, it supersedes it.

These Zionists, of course, are often unaware of this. Just as they are often unaware of, or simply don’t care about, the fact that Israel’s capture of territory and occupation of Palestine is illegal. A violation of international law, Israel’s occupation of Palestine has been acknowledged as illegitimate the world over since at least the Six Day War in 1967. Armed with its enormous, high-tech military, the State of Israel has been a brazen criminal on the world stage — a criminal regularly murdering an imprisoned, impoverished people without comparable arms at all — for over 56 years. For Zionists, who worship the State, for which the seizure of territory is fundamental, this is all justifiable. Their fidelity is to the State.

Indeed, though so many of these Zionists are Jewish, they are often ignorant of and/or faithless to the most basic tenets of Judaism. Their Judaism becomes merely an adjunct, a series of rituals that functions as a decorative element to and justification of their actual religion, a religion of the state, and the worship of power and violence.

Should they conflict with the demands of the State, the Zionist simply shrugs off the serious moral commitments to justice that are central to Judaism. That is, it is not the Judaism that denounces the State of Israel but the Judaism of the Zionist that is illusory.

Think about it, who is more faithful to the basic principles of Judaism: the person who follows the teachings of Hillel the Elder, the 1st century BCE sage, who distilled the Torah down to the saying “what is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor”? Or those promoting Hitler-esque policies of mass murder and ethnic cleansing of their neighbors?

Who is more faithful to the fundamental tenets of Judaism, the one who agrees with Hillel the Elder that “Whosoever destroys one soul, it is as though they had destroyed the entire world”? Or the one who, conquering territory, seizing land, committing crimes against humanity, destroys countless worlds?

Who has the greater fidelity to the values of Judaism, the one who is faithful to the exhortation of the Book of Leviticus to care for their fellow being as for themselves? Or the one who murders their neighbors, announcing their intention to wipe them from the face of the Earth?

The one who stands with the prophet Isaiah, who exhorts us to beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks? Or the one who beats the resources of the planet into weapons of mass destruction (and, in the process, beats the world into a state of disease and death)?

The one who honors the Halakhic principle of Pikuach Nefesh, according to which the preservation of life is prioritized over all other laws? Or the one who interprets the law opportunistically, instrumentally, in order to extend and aggrandize the profane state?

Perhaps most people are situated somewhere along the spectrum between these poles. But which ought to take priority, the Jewish commitment to peace and justice, or the Zionist commitment to land capture and war?

Though the Zionist will argue otherwise, this is not a question of self-defense, not when the State of Israel, undermining efforts to achieve peace for decades, if not generations, is the main aggressor, with the largest military force. It is only a defense of war. And what is peace? Rather than the security of the state, of violence, peace is equivalent to the security that grows from a community, from care, and ultimately from the dissolution of the state.

Morally blind, nationalists (like war-worshipping nationalists everywhere) won’t see this spectrum of war and peace, Zionism and Judaism, but they should. They should see as well that it was in Gaza that Samson, their hero, weakened and blinded, was imprisoned. And they should recall that the only thing that he was able to do once he regained his strength, along with many Philistines, was to destroy himself.

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and adjunct professor. He lives in New York City and can be reached at and on twitter @elliot_sperber