On the Diaspora
by Joel Finkel

This commentary was written as a motivation for the letter I wrote to the White House (see the Right of Return letter in the "Letters We've Written" section of the Take Action part of this web site.

I am, perhaps, in the minority of worldwide Jewish opinion in my strong belief that the Jewish Diaspora has been—and remains—ultimately more important than a Jewish homeland.  I say "perhaps" because it is quite clear that only a tiny minority of Jews around the world have any interest whatsoever in moving to a "homeland" in Israel.  While they may hold a certain personal affection for Israel, and may, at times, articulate support for it, their connections with their own communities outside of Israel remain stronger.  In this respect, they are showing, by their actions, that, to them, the Diaspora in which they live is more important.

It is this very Diaspora that has made the Jewish people what we are.  In it we have become many cultures, we have learned many languages, we have adopted many local practices.  In short, we have enriched the body of Jewish life and experience.

In fact, the Jewish people are the Diaspora, from Italian physicists, to German poets, to Polish revolutionaries, to Spanish philosophers, to Russian cabinet makers, to Argentinean Gauchos, to Iraqi doctors, to Mexican painters, to American comedians, and countless more: the Jews have come to populate much of the Western and Middle Eastern world.  This is where we have been formed; this is where we live; this is where we want to live; this is where we belong: everywhere.

Not only has this Diaspora made the Jewish people, it has saved the Jewish people, time and time again.  Without it, the entire Jewish population may have perished at the hands of the European fascists.  And without it, even the State of Israel could not exist.  Yes, Zionism, itself both a negation of and a child of the Diaspora, could not have become the dominant ideology of modern Jewry.

This ideological offspring of the Diaspora, however, is based on two things that I find personally repugnant.  They are the ugly twins of ethnic cleansing and the myths that justify it.  No honest observer can deny that Israel's policies, from the very onset, have been to rid the land of its non-Jewish population and to build its own Jewish communities.  The myths that support it are both biblical (the Jews are god's chosen people and were blessed in their brutal and bloody conquest of the ancient land) and recent (Golda Mier's myth of "A land with no people for a people with no land"—supported by Joan Peter's thoroughly discredited non-history, From Time Immemorial).

The former myth is used to grant all Jews, based purely on their religious affiliation, the right to a home in Palestine.  The latter is remarkable not only in its utter falsehood (there were hundreds of thousands of people in Palestine), but in its similarity with the South African myth that no one lived there before European settlers arrived and imported Africans from the north!  [See Edward Roux; Time Longer Dan Rope; University of Wisconsin Press; 1964]

The similarities with South Africa extend to Israel's now obvious intent to create an apartheid regime in which the indigenous Palestinian population is concentrated in Bantustans: the worst land with no resources and self-control limited mainly to the existence of a local police force.

Just as I fought to end apartheid 20 years ago—through my involvement in the student movement to force universities to divest themselves of their South Afican holdings—I find myself now fighting to end Israeli apartheid.  The obstacles, it seems, are greater.  But my own road is made easier by my renunciation of any personal claim to a homeland in Israel, and by my denial of the myths that claim it in my name.

What is needed is a new ideology to replace Zionism.  What is needed is not only acceptance of the Diaspora, but exultation if its creative influence on Jewish life.  When we Jews of the Diaspora achieve this, we can then shed the myths that cloud our vision and see more clearly the actual affects of the ethnic cleansing that is being done in our name.

Then we can struggle, as Jews in solidarity with the oppressed Palestinians, to bring this atrocity to an end and to create a truly just, secular, and democratic society.

As a post-script, I will add that as I wrote this commentary, I was sent Sabbath greetings, via an internet-based messaging service, by a Brazilian Jew of Austrian origin.  This actually happend—I am not clever enough to have made this up.  The Diaspora is alive and flourishing.