Israel does not act or speak for every Jew
WRITE as a Jew and as a synagogue member. I write as one whose academic work
continues to move through questions of Jewish identity and the legacy of the
Holocaust. Yet, I write with a growing sense of shame. The source of the feeling
is simple: Israel claims that it continues to act in my name.
Jewish community in Sydney and elsewhere insists on identifying themselves with
Israeli actions. These acts are part of a tradition in which the state of Israel
has set the measure for being Jewish.
proof of this is the perverse logic in which responses to the politics of
Israel—a politics that manifests itself in the bulldozing of houses in Gaza
and the bombing of civilians in Qana—take the form of attacks on synagogues,
Jewish cultural centres and Jewish cemeteries. Each time Israel acts in a
certain way, security measures around synagogues are doubled.
The straightforward answer attests to the victory of those who have linked and
continue to link being a Jew to Israel and thus to those who conflate Judaism
consequence of this is that a critique of Zionism or a disagreement over the
policies of Israel are taken at best as a criticism of Jews and, at worst, as
anti-Semitic. The evidence is clear. Attacks on synagogues in Seattle and
Parramatta underscore the results of this. These attacks are the result of the
politics of a nation state.
Jew, Israel is both the name of a state and the locus of ideals and actions.
as a place in which the endless and complex negotiation with others takes place,
is the Israel that exists within Judaism. This is the Israel evoked in the
liturgy. The state of Israel needs to be judged in relation to the other Israel.
is a Judaic critique of Israel; one which once articulated would allow some Jews
to undo the project that continues to identify the policies of a state with both
a culture and a religion.
that undoing is accomplished Jewish community centres—religious or
secular—will continue to be attacked. Israel, in its present manifestation,
yet, it will be argued the Holocaust has made the state of Israel a necessity: a
state was needed so that such events not happen again.
creation always displaces a people. And the results of that founding
displacement should always be acknowledged, understood and in the end resolved.
what endures for many as an outrage is Israel hijacking the Holocaust for its
political ends: the Holocaust is used to sustain a specific geo-political
The other night in Sydney at the Great Synagogue a
speaker defended the incursion into Lebanon on the grounds that it would prevent
a further Holocaust.
arguments of this nature, questions need to be asked. What right does a national
government have to speak on behalf of those who died? What sanctions the
deploying of that legacy in order to justify the bombing of Lebanon? For a Jew,
and indeed for others, these are profound and important questions.
the Holocaust, tracing its impact upon how we think today, is a project that
endures. Moreover, it is a project that resists easy summation. The idea that it
can figure as an element of state policy is both an intellectual and ethical
scandal. This needs to be said.
Jews are prepared to articulate the need to sever the identification of Judaism
and Israel, anti-Semitism will flourish. Until Jews are prepared to argue that
the Holocaust and its legacy is not the province of a nation state, let alone a
justification for Zionism, our responsibility in relation to the dead will
continue to be betrayed. We should demand better of ourselves.
*** *** ***
Andrew Benjamin is a professor at the University of Technology, Sydney, and
a fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.