Yakov M. Rabkin is a professor of history at the Université de Montréal, author and public intellectual. His book “A Threat from Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism” was nominated for best French to English translation for “an important and timely work” at the 2006 Governor General’s Awards. It has also been listed as one of the three best books of the year by Japan’s leading daily Asahi Shimbun in 2010. This book is currently available in twelve languages. –Wikipedia
Milena Rampoldi: My organization, ProMosaik e.V., is of the opinion that there is an opposition between Jewish religious and ethical values and the State of Israel. How do you see this and which are the principal aspects of opposition between the Jewish ethics and the State of Israel, as it is at the moment?
Yakov Rabkin: In spite of its many new allies, Zionism is under enormous pressure from within as more Jews, in Israel and elsewhere, come to question the wisdom of maintaining a Zionist state that consecrates discrimination and fuels violence. Yet, Zionism’s original revolutionary intolerance does not allow this pressure to be relieved through strategic adjustments. It maintains Zionist orthodoxy at a time when Israeli society, the embodiment of Zionism, has long shed its revolutionary nature and embraced bourgeois values and consumerism. A hard core of devoted settlers, mostly drawn from the National Religious circles, retain some of the revolutionary zeal and the culture of self-sacrifice, even though they have also absorbed many of the bourgeois values they often strenuously decry.
Zionism was a revolution. Like any revolution, it produced counter-revolutionaries, Jews who opposed Zionism encompassed a whole gamut: from Rabbi S.R. Hirsch in Germany to Hasidim in Eastern Europe, and from Moroccan Jewish notables to American Reform Jews. The opposition to Zionism and to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians draws on basic Judaic principles of justice as well as on the prudence in issues related to Messiah and Redemption.
Hillel’s classic principle summarizes the attitude that inspires opposition to Zionism, which has dispossessed, displaced and discriminated against Palestinians:
That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah.
In spite of the emergence of a powerful and prosperous modern Zionist state, opposition to Zionism has refused to vanish. This reflects in the title of the Hebrew version of my book, which was published in Israel in Spring 2014: “Jewish Opposition to Zionism: a Continuous Struggle.”
MR: Which important Israel-critical forces do you see in your Jewish fellows, which can help to return to real Jewishthics in Israel today?
YR: Even though most Israelis have moved from left to right in their political attitudes, quite a few continue to oppose militarism and injustice. A few days before the launch of my book in Israel, over half a million Orthodox Jews demonstrated in Jerusalem against conscription into, as some of them put it, “the Zionist army.” The State of Israel, which was established as a rebellion against Jewish tradition, has never been governed in accordance with Jewish ethics, and it would be unreasonable to expect it would any time soon.
MR: How do you think that the Jewish diaspora can help to solve the Israeli- Palestinian conflict?
YR: The political impact of Diaspora Jews on Israeli policies is infinitesimal. It is a serious error, if not altogether an antisemitic delusion, to see Israel as a representative of Jews or Judaism. The best Diaspora Jews can do is to emphasize the fact that Israel does not act on their behalf. It is very important because Israel derives its legitimacy from the claim that it is “the Jewish state.”
MR: What would you like to say to the citizens of Gaza after the 50-days war of this summer?
YR: I admire their stamina and valiance in the face of overwhelming military power acting with total impunity. I also express sympathy with all those who lost relatives and friends.
MR: If you have to describe Jewish religion in 5 words, what would you say are the main principles of Judaism?
YR: The above mentioned phrase by Hillel.
MR: Can you tell us a bit about Jews in Canada?
YR: It is the fourth largest community in the world, composed mainly of Ashkenazi Jews. Montreal has a significant Sephardic population, mostly stemming from North Africa. On the average, Jews are better educated and have a slightly higher income than other Canadians. There exists a solid network of community institutions helping the less fortunate, both Jewish and non-Jewish poor.