Jewish anti-Zionism is an ongoing movement. It used to be the predominant voice, while today it is very much in the minority, largely because of the Holocaust. The book’s subtitle, “A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism,” is, however, rather misleading. More descriptive is the original French title, which translates “In the Name of the Torah,” as it deals almost exclusively with religious opposition to Zionism. The author, Yakov Rabkin, teaches history in the French-language University of Montreal.
The religious arguments against Zionism which the book examines are largely arguments from Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox rabbis. Opposition posed by some Reform Jews is touched on briefly, though Reform is the largest segment of North American Jewry. Virtually ignored is opposition from secular Jews.
Secular Jews are described by the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox as non-Jews. After all, they don’t believe in Torah. Some Reform critics share that view. For example, Rabbi Elmer Berger, in his book “The Jewish Dilemma,” said that a cultural interest in things Jewish no more makes a person a Jew than a fondness for Chinese food makes one Chinese.
Yet, secular Jewish opposition to Zionism has played a significant role. In pre-World War II Poland, the Jewish Bund was the political party with the largest support among Jews. While nationalist, it was anti-Zionist as well as socialist. Its nationalism was not territorial. In Poland, Poles at that time were only one nationality. Shifting borders and displaced populations have changed that, but at the time other nationalities in Poland included Ukrainians, Germans, and Byelo-Russians. Jews were seen as another national group, not just a religion. The Bund was also an important force in Russia, supporting the Mensheviks in the conflict with the Bolsheviks at the founding of the Russian Social Democratic Party, which became the Communist Party.
So we have here in reality a more modest tome—the Talmudic opposition to Zionism. While many of the arguments put forth by these devout anti-Zionists reflect those of secular and Palestinian critics, such as colonial mistreatment of the Palestinians, racism, and the like, the basic argument they make is religious. It goes something like this: the return of the Jews from the diaspora will come when the Messiah is sent down by God, not before. Any effort to bring a Jewish state into existence and to gather all Jews in before that time is blasphemous. The Holocaust, far from being a reason for Jews to “return” and find safety, was a punishment inflicted by God on Jews because Jews had strayed from the obligations imposed by the Torah. Zionism is a modern, nationalistic movement. The anti-Zionist theology of the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox opponents has a strong medieval flavor about it. As a result, Jews generally, especially in the Western world, are not likely to buy into this massive guilt trip.
Historically, Zionism has been anti-religious. Only more recently has it become the “official” ideology of both religious and non-religious Jews. The early Zionist settlers in Palestine met with opposition from the Jews who were already there. Not only were they atheists, but they also stirred up conflict with their Arab neighbors.
The author who clearly identifies with the anti-Zionist position, points to the mutuality between Zionism and anti-Semitism. The anti-Semites want to be rid of the Jews and the Zionists are quite prepared to receive them in Israel. He cites efforts by Zionists to thwart moves to allow Jewish refugees to go to other countries, even to escape from the Holocaust. He also charges Zionists with stirring up anti-Jewish sentiment in Morocco and elsewhere in order to get the Jews to leave for Israel.
Ironically, Israel was to be a safe haven for Jews, but it is far more dangerous for them than the countries in which most of those in the diaspora live.
A book looking at anti-Zionism among Jews more broadly would have been more valuable, especially in a North American context where the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox tendencies in Judaism are in the minority.