This generation of Jews lives at a unique moment in the broad sweep of Jewish history. For the first time ever, there is both a strong and independent Jewish homeland and a strong and free Jewish diaspora.
This extraordinary state of affairs raises fundamental questions about our Jewish future, questions that are different from any we have ever before faced.
What is the relationship between these two thriving centers of Jewish life? How do they intersect? Do we share a destiny, or will the next several generations see the evolution of two separate and increasingly divergent Jewish populations?
The desire to hold candid and far-reaching conversations about questions like these is what drove the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto to hold its first Zionism 3.0 conference in 2015. The urgency of these conversations is why our small initiative has started to blossom into a national movement.
Why 3.0? Zionism 1.0 was the Zionism that preceded the establishment of the State of Israel. It was Theodor Herzl’s gold-tinged dream of self-determination, and the aspiration of the World Zionist Congress. It was the Zionism of Jews suffering from anti-Semitism, yearning for a return to our homeland, where we could govern ourselves.
Zionism 2.0 was the Zionism of 1948 to the turn of the 21st century. It was the Zionism of reality, of the difficult work of actually building a state. One of its defining factors was that some Jews made aliyah and others didn’t. Many of those who didn’t supported those who did — financially, diplomatically and politically. And they did it without weighing in on Israeli decisions. In Zionism 2.0, diaspora Jewry had a stake, but not a say.
Zionism 3.0 is the Zionism of the 21st century, when as many Jews live in Israel as in North America. Zionism 3.0 asks whether the model should change; whether diaspora Jews should have a say in what happens in Israel, and if so, how? And, conversely, Zionism 3.0 also asks how should Israelis make meaningful contributions to American Jewish life?
Though these questions arose as early as the 1980s with the first intifada and the first Lebanon War, I believe the second intifada in 2000 sparked the need for this conversation about a potential paradigm shift. That is when the real cleavage in our community started, as more American Jews began to question Israel’s acts of self-defense against terrorism.
Contemporary American Jews are asking: Do we get to have a say in Israeli affairs?
Over the 17 years since the second intifada began, more and more members of the Jewish community have struggled with the question of how to support Israel when they don’t agree with certain Israeli policies. At the same time, they have also struggled with how to voice a reasonable critique of these same policies when anti-Semitism has so often, and increasingly, been rampant and inseparable from the American political discourse about Israel.
Today, Jews all over the United States are asking themselves the questions: Do we get to have a say in Israeli affairs? How do I support Israel if I disagree with her? And what is the right vehicle for supporting Israel and showing my personal views?
We must help them give voice to these questions and honestly explore the answers. If we don’t, then we risk driving them into the arms of groups who oppose Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state (like the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, or BDS), or having them walk away from Israel altogether.
For many Jews, and especially for younger Jews, the full-throated and whole-hearted commitment to a joint future with Israel is no longer a given. If we cannot have the difficult discussions that come with the maturation of both the Israeli and diaspora communities, if we cannot through honest effort and collaboration design a new paradigm that helps both communities to thrive, then we risk dividing our people down the middle.
That is, at its heart, what Zionism 3.0 asks: How do we ensure that, like a family, we grow together, sometimes in disagreement and sometimes in different directions, but always in love?
Let me be clear: Zionism 3.0 is not about giving diaspora Jews a new platform from which to simply criticize Israel. Zionism 3.0 is about giving diaspora Jews a way to ask the questions: Do I get a stake and a say in Israel’s future? What does that look like, and what responsibility does that confer upon me?
One Zionist will still say that diaspora Jews — who live thousands of miles from Israel, who haven’t fought in the Israel Defense Forces, who haven’t lost friends or family in Israel’s wars — don’t have the right to tell Israel what to do, and should just remain silently supportive.
And another Zionist will say that if Israel is the homeland for all Jews everywhere, then all Jews need to help make Israel into that place they’re proud of; and besides, why should any Jew accept the idea that Israel is the one topic on which Jews aren’t allowed to speak out?
Both those individuals are welcome at the Zionism 3.0 conference to be held Sunday, Oct. 15 at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto. Together, we’ll explore the answers. We must. The stakes are nothing short of the future of the relationship between the two major centers of Jewish life.