I immigrated to New Zealand in late 1973. I had a fairly normal Jewish upbringing for the 1950s and 60s in the Conservative movement, including ‘Sunday school’ up to the age of 18 and ‘Hebrew school’ for the two years before my Bar Mitzvah as training for that event. However, I have always found Zionism in its current ‘state-ism’ form to be incongruent with the rest of the Judaism I grew up with so it never became part of my Jewish outlook.
After about 20 years in New Zealand not connected to Jewish life, I finally joined the progressive synagogue in Wellington and have been there ever since as an active member, particularly on the ritual side. I have not been impressed with how many of our Jewish communal organisations assume that all Jews are strongly Zionist and automatically support whatever Israel does. I joined Jewish Voice for Peace, an organisation based in the US, several years ago as a way of supporting the BDS movement from a Jewish point of view. Part of my motivation in helping to form Sh’ma Koleinu/Alternative Jewish Voices is to try and counter the one-dimensional view of the Jewish community that is presented by many Jewish organisations to the ‘outside’ world.
I don’t see Zionism as an ideology that has much in common with Jewish values and therefore don’t look to the Israeli state as being relevant to my outlook as a Jew. I would consider myself to be an anti-Zionist.
I am interested particularly in the interface between Zionism and Judaism and how that plays out in day-to-day Jewish life here in New Zealand and in other parts of the world.
I have also been reading and thinking about racism and how in many ways Jews have been successful in strongly race oriented places like the US because many Jews ‘pass as white’ and have been able to take up the white privilege on offer in those societies. A version of this is certainly in play in the development of Zionism and the colonisation of Palestine in the 19th and 20th centuries.
I recommend the following books that have been important to me in my understanding of the Zionist/Judaism nexus:
The Question of Zion / Jacqueline Rose
An amazing psychological view of the development of Zionism, starting with Shabtai Lev in 1665.
A Threat from Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism / Yakov M. Rabkin
A close look at both why some ultra-Orthodox groups are strongly non-Zionist and how Zionism has influenced, among other things, the revival of modern Hebrew.
Judaism Does Not Equal Israel: The Rebirth of the Jewish Prophetic / Marc H. Ellis
A passionate look at how Zionist values actually undermine the prophetic values that Judaism has held in the past.
White Fragility / Robin DiAngelo
Although not about Jews specifically, DiAngelo provides an interesting analysis on why conversations about race are so difficult in the US context. Her new book Nice Racism is a timely reminder that doing nothing serves to support systematic racism. And while she writes in the US context, there can be no doubt in my mind that New Zealand institutions and legal framework best serve white New Zealanders.