The story of the Jewish people (yes, there is a Jewish people) from its expulsion from Judea by the Romans until 1948 can be characterized as one of contingency. What I mean by that is that the quality of life (or indeed life itself) for Jews was almost entirely dependent on good will of the majority cultures among which they lived.
Jews were allowed to exist, sometimes to thrive and sometimes to merely subsist, insofar as they were useful to whatever regime controlled their place of residence. Jews were always seen as a separate people with special restrictions placed on them, and if a pro-Jewish prince were to lose power, they could be expelled or massacred as a group. There were always anti-Jewish forces (in the Christian world, usually the Church) waiting for an opportunity to punish the Jews for imagined crimes, from killing Christ to poisoning wells.
In the Muslim world, Jewish life was no less contingent. Although there were well-publicized ‘golden ages’, there were also vicious pogroms. Of course Jews were always dhimmis, second class citizens with few rights. And one mustn’t forget the mass expulsions after 1948.
The Holocaust, often seen as a one-of-a-kind event of unparalleled horror was primarily notable because of its extent and the technology that made it possible. Murderous expressions of Jew-hatred have occurred regularly throughout history. One of the lessons of the Holocaust, however, was that the Jewish people can’t depend on others to help them, even when help could be provided at little cost.
Even in 20th century America, probably the most permissive Diaspora environment in which Jews have ever lived, informal restrictions — where they could live, the professions they could enter, the colleges in which they could study — were commonly placed on Jews until at least the 1950’s.
Today, although antisemitism is frowned on in the West (in the Muslim world it is embraced), antisemitic forces lurk in the shadows, waiting for an opportunity. Some of it has mutated into extreme anti-Zionism, such as that which is common in the UK and on college campuses in the US. There are even elements in the Catholic Church which, in rejection of Vatican II’s nostre aetate, want to go back to the bad old days of hating and persecuting Jews.
Antisemitism has always waxed powerful in difficult times, such as the period of the Black Death, the Great Depression, etc. Here in the US, I expect conditions to get much worse before they get better, a result of internal and external forces and incompetent political leadership. While there is deep-seated tradition of tolerance in our culture, there are troubling signs.
The fact that the Jewish people has survived at all in the diaspora is remarkable. Some consider it miraculous. But it is not prudent to plan for future miracles.
One way of looking at Zionism is that it is intended to put an end to the contingent existence of the Jewish people. That is not to say that the Jewish state guarantees that its people will continue to exist, but rather that it places the responsibility for the existence and quality of life of the Jewish people squarely in their own hands, for the first time in 2000 years.
In view of this I propose the following Zionist principles:
- The responsibility for the continued well-being of the Jewish people must be borne by them. It is not rational to depend on others.
- The Jewish people has a right to defend itself.
- The concrete realization of the above principles is the Jewish state, the only place where the Jewish people does not live on the sufferance of others.
- The Jewish state is not only a physical place of refuge for Jews, but a symbol of Jewish self-defense and permanence. Therefore it strengthens the position of Diaspora Jews.