It is Nonsensical to Ignore Historical Context of Zionism

Sir, The Jews emerged as an ethnic group in the area known as the Pale of Settlement in eastern Europe in the 18th century. Many considered themselves to be part of a people with a culture, history, literature, languages and a religion. Zionism and other solutions to the Jewish question emerged out of the advent of European nationalism and the Jewish enlightenment. To take this historical development out of context and to compare them to the acculturated Jews of 21st century America, as Tony Judt does, is nonsensical (“Israel must unpick its ethnic myth”, Comment, December 8).Prof Judt rightly vents his anger at his teachers for their simplistic rendition of Jewish history. Yet he in turn responds in kind – making the complex simplistic and the unique general. For example, he conflates religious Zionism with the ultra-orthodox anti-Zionist haredim. He considers Zionism wrong, not different.Today a majority of diaspora Jews support the right of Jews to national self-determination in part of historic Palestine. The fear is that the drip-drip delegitimisation of the state will be followed by the delegitimisation of the people. This identification with Israel comes not only through an understanding of the horror of the past, but also because they resent the intellectual abandonment of the Jews as a national group.

Prof Judt further confuses support for the state with support for the government. Most British Jews would probably not have voted for Benjamin Netanyahu in the last Israeli election.

Colin Shindler ,

School of Oriental and African Studies,
University of London

Financial Times 10 December 2009

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