Diaspora under siege

The reenergized collective bond between Israel and the Diaspora means Zionism is alive and well.

Anti-Israel demonstrators stage a rally outside New York City Hall (photo credit: LUCAS JACKSON / REUTERS)
Anti-Israel demonstrators stage a rally outside New York City Hall
(photo credit: LUCAS JACKSON / REUTERS)
THE WAR with Hamas in Gaza has brought the dynamics of Israel-Diaspora relations, and indeed Zionism, into sharp relief.
Across the Diaspora, Jews have been rocked by an eruption of a new more sinister anti-Semitism. Protesters in the streets march to the beat of a drum that accuses Israel of a fictitious genocide, when the protesters themselves, with their cries of “Gas the Jews” are, ironically, the ones calling for genocide. As Jews fended off an almost certain pogrom at the Don Isaac Abravanel synagogue in Paris, which was besieged by angry anti-Israel protesters, fear and uncertainty returned as a feature of the Jewish condition in the Diaspora.
The invective against Israel openly calling for and leading to attacks on Jews has inevitably affected the way Jews see the world.
As one French Jew trapped inside that Paris synagogue later wrote, “Yesterday a part of my love for France left me…” Another indicative sentiment was expressed by American Rabbi Menachem Creditor in the online Huffington Post who, after making clear his progressive social reform credentials on interfaith, LGBT and refugee issues, summed up, “I am done trying to apologetically explain Jewish morality. I am done apologizing for my own Jewish existence.”
Across the Atlantic, British Jewish writer Howard Jacobson similarly opined, “Deviate a fraction of a moral millimeter from the prevailing orthodoxy and you are either not listened to or you are jeered at and abused, your reading of history trashed, your humanity itself called into question.” Jacobson notes that rhetoric about Israel has “made life fraught for most English Jews.”
As Israeli forces entered Gaza something changed for world Jewry.
What does it mean for Jewish identity and belonging in the West when my teenage son looks up from his cellphone and says, “Hey Dad, the BBC have just put out a fair email headline about Israel,” because it is such an exception to the rule? Can my son ever expect Israel to be treated fairly? What does it mean about his acceptance in society when a friend of mine calls me about his dilemma about de-friending from Facebook a work colleague who puts up a post about Israel committing genocide in Gaza akin to the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto? Do Jews have to choose between standing up for their rights and fighting this anti-Semitism, or being considered moral and keeping their friends? These questions are reinforced by Diaspora perceptions of a fundamental bias against Israel in the West. On the days the protesters shouted “genocide” on the world’s streets after Israel’s ground operation began, in Syria there was the worst fighting yet with 700 killed in two days, yet there were no protests on the streets, no screaming media headlines, no anger, no bewailing, although right in front of blinkered eyes this was a continuation of actual genocide.
On that very same day too, the ISIS Islamic fundamentalists presented Christians in Iraq with three choices: pay more taxes, convert or leave, while those who refused to comply were literally crucified. The fact that no protesters went onto the streets against this highlighted the selective and distorted nature of the cacophony of human rights cries.
The double standard applied to Israel became clearer than ever before for Diaspora Jews who will no doubt draw their own conclusions.
The implications for the use of language and the nature of public debate are also worrisome. When we consider the state of the Jews, it is relevant to come back to the battle cry of “genocide” that Israel is supposedly inflicting on the Palestinians. This is, of course, an insidious form of Holocaust denial, for if Gaza is Warsaw then Warsaw was Gaza. It seems that in the hatred for Israel and Jews, even Europe’s actual genocide is not sacrosanct – with “genocide” liberally invoked to make Israel’s self-defense immoral, and genocide against Israel, its supporters and coreligionists legitimate.
The tragic recurrence of anti-Semitism in the Diaspora, the Israeli response to the Hamas attacks and the reenergized collective bond between Israel and the Diaspora, means Zionism is alive and well. The logical conclusion from what I have described is that there will be an incremental increase in aliya from the West, but the reconfiguring of Diaspora Jewish identity will be far more extensive.
Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, believed Zionism would put an end to anti-Semitism through Jews having a state of their own.
On that front the modern day prophet got it wrong. But Zionism was also about providing Jews with a refuge. And while this is not 1938 and Western Jewish communities are not going to board emergency El Al airlifts from Europe, this tenet of Zionism remains as true in 2014 as it was when Herzl headed the Zionist movement over 100 years ago.
Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza entails many negatives for Israel and World Jewry. But much has been gained in terms of Israel- Diaspora relations and Zionism. The challenge now is to utilize this for the ongoing well-being of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. 
Associate Prof. Danny Ben-Moshe is a principal research fellow at the Centre for Citizenship and Globalization at Deakin University in Australia and a documentary filmmaker at twitter@dannyb-m