Can You Be a Zionist and Oppose the Law of Return?

I had a little back-and-forth with the erudite Yaacov Lozowick on the question of the Law of Return, prompted by my little argument with Bernard Avishai. I asked Ya'acov, author of the book, "Right to Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel's Wars,"  if a person who wants to see the Law of Return repealed still qualifies as pro-Zionist. He had this to say about Avishai's position:

Avishai really does love Israel, I'm sure, and he cares deeply enough to write books on how to make it better as he defines "better". Emotionally, he is a Zionist.

This, of course, isn't enough. Ilan Pape had stronger ties to Israel, far stronger, until he severed most of them; he was proudly non-Zionist years before he left. So being conversant in Hebrew and living here don't necessarily prove you're a Zionist, even though it usually does.

My impression of the Hebrew Republic thesis is that he's talking about medinat kol exrachai'ah, the country of its citizens. This idea was formulated and mostly promoted by folks who were not only non-Zionist, they were anti-Zionist; it was a ploy to weaken the Jewish aspect of Israel until eventually the Jewish state would be submerged into its Arab environment. Yet Avishai isn't Azmi Bishara. I get the impression he's a caring Jew who is attracted to the medinat kol exrachai'ah idea because it fits so nicely into his broader Weltanschauung, the one that praises the European Union as the way of the future, the goal of human history and so on. On that level, he's non-Zionist because he's joining forces with a particular group of enemies of Zionism, even though he and they are using the same concepts for very different goals.

So eventually you have no choice but to look also at his broader Weltanschauung, and here, indeed, there is at least at this moment in time, a sharp difference between Zionism and the ideal of the EU. The ideal of a broad political organization which supersedes nationality - and Zionism is a form of nationality which doesn't want to be superseded. That's the reason the Law of Return is so centrally important, as you note, and it's where Avishai really isn't Zionist. He loves the Israel some Jews have created; he correctly recognizes that many American Jews aren't really part of that project; and he advocates that the Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs settle down with their Israeli creation, and stop pretending the American Jews are part of the story.

The Zionist way is to regard all of the Jews who choose to be part of the Jewish nation as its constituents, and as its responsibility. The Israeli Arabs are also part of the constituency and responsibility, but in a different way. On this level, Avishai is fundamentally not Zionist.

Finally, there's the matter of his politics. I think they're largely wrong when it comes to Israel - but that alone would never suffice to mark him as a non-Zionist. Some of my best friends, as the saying goes, are equally deluded, poor dears.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.


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