The Rainbow Sign
This isn’t Theodor Herzl’s Zionism. The father of Jewish nationalism thought Jewishness should serve as an ethnic base for an atheistic polity. Though Lapid is an avowed secularist, he has not demanded the abolition of the rabbinate, a state body, now controlled by the ultra-Orthodox, which regulates Jewish marriages, conversions, and burials and oversees kosher certifications. Yesh Atid’s Knesset membership is drawn from a wide range of Jewish traditions. Dov Lipman is an ultra-Orthodox rabbi from the United States who made his name fighting religious extremism in Beit Shemesh. Ruth Calderon is the founder of a progressive, egalitarian beit midrash. Shai Piron is a religious Zionist and headmaster of a yeshiva.
Now lost in the Billy Bragg agit-prop, Israel was once a revelation to the left. And with good reason. The settlers of the Second Aliyah were socialists, and they transmuted the Mir, the Russian peasant’s communal farm and the intelligentsia’s idée fixe, to the kibbutz, the organizing unit of Jewish economic activity during the Mandate period. As independence approached, the Yishuv was so in the thrall of leftism that the State Department feared a Jewish state might come under Soviet tutelage.
That woman is now in her 80s, but the exchange has stuck with me, and it always surfaces in my mind around this time of year, as we commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day and celebrate Israeli independence. If I found her sense of vulnerability unsupported, I shared her implicit sensibility, a hard truth of the 1940s: Only a Jewish state and a Jewish military can be depended upon to protect the Jews.
The Islamic Republic claims it wants nuclear capacity for peaceful purposes. That’s a highly dubious proposition. But so is the notion that Iran would drop an atomic bomb on Tel Aviv. Even if President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a modern-day Haman, he lacks the power to realize his vision. Like all Iranian presidents, he is a glorified functionary, with real authority invested in Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Despite essentialist, facile chatter about the mullahs' “culture of death,” Khamenei is a realist. He knows Iran will be “obliterated” if it perpetrates a second Holocaust. Instead, the Islamic Republic seeks to challenge Israel’s military superiority and counterbalance the American-Saudi axis. Those aims menace the geopolitical interests of the U.S. and the Jewish state, and the two countries have responded with appropriate and devastatingly effective sabotage campaigns.
Here, those regulations have been interpreted loosely. Last year, Harvard Hillel sponsored an event with Peter A. Beinart, a liberal Zionist supportive of a West Bank settlement boycott. In 2010, a former member of Fatah spoke here. Two years earlier, Hillel hosted an anti-occupation art exhibit. Other Hillels, unfortunately, have not been so generous.