Our metropolitan area has about half a million residents; about 2500 of them are Jews and maybe twice this number are Muslims. The great majority of the rest (the ones that identify as religious) are evangelical Protestants and Catholics.
Recently I had a discussion with a Jewish friend about making alliances. She felt that the Jewish community had much in common with the Muslims, in particular to oppose the aggressive Christian proselytizing that sometimes happens in local schools. I, on the other hand, felt that we had more to gain from an alliance with the evangelical Christians, who strongly support Israel.
Unsurprisingly, this argument hasn’t been resolved and it probably won’t be unless one of us changes some of our much more basic beliefs. She thinks that freedom from religious coercion is important for Jewish survival in the Diaspora. I think that the health of the Jewish state is essential for Jewish survival anywhere. She thinks Israel is just another country, albeit one where a lot of Jews live. I think that our connection to the Land of Israel is the reason for being Jewish at all, even in the Diaspora (and even when the land wasn’t in our hands).
The other day I had another discussion, this time with a person who would call himself a left-wing Zionist, and he said something very illuminating. I said that I thought the problem with Jewish leftists was that they forgot the fundamental principle of the conflict (simply stated, the Arabs want to kill us) and worried too much about the moral issues surrounding the occupation. He explained it differently:
If you ask the question, “How can we strengthen the Jewish state?” then you never get to anti-Zionism. But you immediately understand that the occupation is weakening Israel. If you ask “Is the occupation right?” then you conclude that it is wrong and from there you get quickly to “Zionism is Racism.”
I don’t think I totally agree with him either, but we share a basic belief that the first friend does not, that of the essential nature of Israel to Jews. Possibly this is what’s meant by ‘Zionism’ today.