WJC Mission highlight – Dr Einat Wilf on Zionism

March 23, 2018 by Julie Nathan
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The World Jewish Congress (WJC) held a ‘Special Mission Celebrating 70 Years of Israel’, in Jerusalem over 18-19 March 2018. The delegation consisted of 70 Jewish leaders from 40 countries. The Executive Council of Australian Jewry, an affiliate of the WJC, was represented by me…writes Julie Nathan.

Julie Nathan

The two-day mission focussed on strengthening Israel-Diaspora relations. There were many speakers, including WJC President Ronald Lauder, former ECAJ President Isi Leibler, Members of the Knesset Isaac Herzog (leader of the Opposition) and Naftali Bennett (Minister of Diaspora Affairs), Israeli diplomats and former Mossad chief. Despite the big line-up, and the interesting insights they conveyed, the highlight for me was the speech given by Dr Einat Wilf, a former Member of the Knesset.

Einat spoke with clarity and resonance on a topic that is often not well understood. I took the following notes of her speech and have reproduced what I hope is an accurate version of the gist of her comments.

Einat stated that the core of Zionism is the Jewish mastery of our own fate. It is something we are still fighting for. At base, the opposition to Zionism, is about power relations, that Jews should know their place. There are cultural and theological structures, millennia old, that say that Jews are not equal. It is Zionism that proclaims to the world that Jews are equals, as individuals and as a collective.

No one ever gives up power voluntarily. When someone or some idea challenges the power structure, there is a sustained effort to put them back in their place, whether it is women, or an ethnic or other minority.

Einat Wilf 

Zionism is about being sovereign, being masters of our own fate, of being able to hold our heads up high. It says the Jew is equal to others. For millennia, we were subjected to a steady diet that Jews must know their place, cannot be sovereign, and that there is something wrong if the Jew is master of his/her fate.

There is a fierce debate about Israel, and that is okay. But there are several aspects to this which we need to see for what they are.

Firstly, critics of Israel say that Israel needs to be shown the light. They claim to know what is best for Israelis, that Israelis and Jews do not know what is best for themselves. This denies and undermines the sovereignty of the Jewish people. It is at core paternalistic.

Secondly, those critics outside Israel claim to be more moral than Israelis. Their view of morality is an ascetic view, of distancing oneself from life, hence being able to be ‘purer’. But the Jewish view of morality is in engaging in life, not distancing oneself from it. This entails dealing with difficult questions like how to conduct war when you are attacked. Morality emerges from engaging in life, not in withdrawing from life.

Einat concluded that we have had a great 70 years together, and that in the next 70 years, we will finally be masters of our own fate. I inferred from that she meant that Jewish national self-determination in the Jewish homeland will finally be accepted, just like the sovereignty and self-determination of other nations.

The speech by Dr Einat Wilf at the WJC event is reflected much clearer in Einat’s own written words which convey her ideas on the role and place of Zionism in the world. It is important today, with Zionism and the existence of Jewish sovereignty in Israel under so much sustained opposition and attempts to delegitimise, that we read the message. The following is an extract from an article by Einat:

“The inspirational power of Zionism lay not only in its call to action, but in its vocabulary of human equality, liberty, and dignity. Zionism called upon the Jewish people to take action to achieve their rightful place among the nations as equals—nothing more, nothing less. This was a simple, but compelling, argument: In a world where nations and peoples were increasingly considered to possess a universal right to sovereignty in states of their own, where they could enjoy liberty and dignity, free from the oppressions of empire, the Jewish nation possessed that right as well.

Precisely because of its potential intersectional power to inspire downtrodden people to take action for their own equality and liberty, Zionism has been subject to decades of persistent attacks. It is in the nature of power that no one ever gives it up willingly. When those who were previously deemed inferior challenge existing power relations, especially long-established ones, they will always face backlash, typically ferocious and violent. This is intended to dissuade them from internalizing the dangerous idea of equality, sending them back to their “rightful” place.

Because Zionism meant that the Jews had the gall to challenge civilisational structures that assigned them an inferior status, it too faced backlash, and had to deal with both physically violent and intellectually sinister manifestations. The backlash was designed not only to put the Jews back where they belong, but also to prevent the spread of its contagious ideas. If Zionism stands as proof of the human will to dignity, then its name must be besmirched and the reality to which it gave birth erased, lest others follow suit.

It is no accident that so many Jews, inspired by the revolutionary idea of Zionism, seek to share it with others, and bring forth its message that victimhood is not destiny. But when they find that they are refused entry to the room where those supporting causes of human equality and liberty gather, on account of their Zionism or support of Israel, their exclusion sadly bears witness to the success of the backlash. Those who exclude pro-Israel or Zionist Jews from supporting intersectional causes of downtrodden people are depriving themselves of the most powerful sources of inspiration to human action.

But Zionism is about rejecting a destiny of victimhood. The backlash against it, in all it ugly forms, should not deter those who understand its story from sharing its powerful message with all.”

Julie Nathan is the Research Officer for the Executive Council of Australian Jewry


One Response to “WJC Mission highlight – Dr Einat Wilf on Zionism”
  1. Rabbi Pinchos Woolstone says:

    A life based on Torah and Mitzvah observance is the blueprint which includes the rejection of victimhood;this will be felt acutely as we delve into the Hagodoh this Friday and Saturday night.
    Our National Liberation had its genises with the going out from Eygpt and the ensuing journey both physical and metaphysical.
    Wishing all my friends in Sydney.
    Chag HaPesach Kosher veSameach

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