Why I am no longer a Zionist

JVL Introduction

Alice Rothchild’s journey is typical of many Jews, brought up in the post-Holocaust world for whom Zionism was simply taken for granted, “the Jewish state a miracle to be celebrated”.

Here she tells of her disenchantment in a story that will resonate with  Jews in Britain and elsewhere who also “cannot support an ideology that is grounded in Jewish privilege and persecution of another people”.

This article was originally published by Seattle Times on Fri 9 Aug 2019. Read the original here.

I can’t support an ideology grounded in Jewish privilege and persecution of Palestinians

Special to The Settle Times

A central debate within the U.S. Jewish community involves Zionism and its relationship to Judaism. In the recent anthology “Reclaiming Judaism from Zionism: Stories of Personal Transformation,” 40 rabbis, scholars and activists reflect on their particular intellectual and emotional journeys that began with an unquestioning love of Israel. Like the other contributors, I became aware that the ideology of Jewish nationalism and the policies of the Israeli government have corrupted my concept of Judaism and its central religious and cultural values.

I grew up in a family, post Nazi Holocaust, that viewed the creation of a modern Jewish state as a miracle to be celebrated. We idealized the kibbutzim, saved our quarters to plant trees in the barren land and loved the romantic ideal of the Israeli pioneers making the desert bloom.

At the same time, like many Jews, I was proud of my progressive politics. I supported civil rights, women’s rights, labor unions; this was my lived expression of a religion that extolled healing the world and working for justice. As a second-generation immigrant, it was also how I saw my role in America, a land where my grandparents, fleeing the pogroms of Eastern Europe, found a home, even if it was only the hard scrabble ghettos of Brooklyn in the early 1900s.

My transformation began as I delved into the complicated issues of colonialism, imperialism, racism and genocide. I realized that my education about the creation of the U.S. had conveniently left out the destruction of native peoples, the primacy of slavery, the ubiquitous racism and the role of European colonialism. Similarly, there was much in my Hebrew school and subsequent Jewish education that was left unspoken about the founding of the state of Israel.

I experienced an awakening as I learned from the Israeli and Palestinian historians who gained access to newly opened state archives that told the story of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. As I began to travel and work in the region, my connections with progressive Jewish Israelis and Palestinians became a force that I could not turn back. Standing at an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank with hundreds of mostly Palestinian women and children waiting for a 20-year-old, heavily armed Israeli soldier; sifting through the puzzles, broken dishes, Legos and underwear in the rubble of a bombed neighborhood in Gaza; listening to women who grabbed their children and ran from Israeli bombs in 2014, stumbling over blood and shattered bodies — these are all experiences that cannot be “unseen.”

This led me to question Zionism, the ideology of Jewish nationalism, where the creation and defense of a Jewish state is the only viable answer to anti-Semitism. I learned that this is a modern idea born out of European Jew-hatred. The ideology was modeled after European settler colonialism: build a state in an untamed region of the world and bring modernity to the remaining natives. Zionism is also the litmus test for being a good Jew in America. I began to understand that Zionism inherently involves harm to Palestinians who were living in historic Palestine when Jewish immigration began in the early 1900s. In 1948 with the expulsion of 750,000 and the destruction of more than 450 villages, the Palestinian people were ultimately forced to bear the price of the Nazi Holocaust. That Nakba (catastrophe) has continued to the present day with the Israeli government’s racist and militaristic approaches to the challenging project of sharing a land that is claimed by two peoples.

Like many Jews, I cannot support an ideology that is grounded in Jewish privilege and persecution of another people. This has been catastrophic for Palestinians and deeply corruptive for Jews. I say this out of love, not self-hatred. Safety for Jews will not come from circling the wagons, building bigger walls and more invasive drones. Safety will come by building coalitions with other communities, by developing inclusive societies grounded in equality, democracy, and the fight against the extreme militarism and growing intolerance that is gripping much of the world.

Judaism developed as diasporic Jews created a spiritual response to dispersion and exile; a multicultural, multinational philosophy based on beliefs and values, not military might. The very recent development of political Zionism buttresses the needs of a militarized state where historical Jewish victimization justifies structural Jewish privilege and any level of violence in the name of “self-defense.” This is incompatible with a religion grounded in love of the stranger and pursuing justice, and a culture that supports human rights and international law.

After centuries of powerlessness, how we as a community handle our new positions of power and privilege is critical to the survival of an ethical Jewish tradition as well as a just resolution to a more than century-old struggle in historic Palestine that is being fought in our name.


Alice Rothchild’s journey is typical of many Jews, brought up in the post-Holocaust world for whom Zionism was simply taken for granted, “the Jewish state a miracle to be celebrated”.

Here she tells of her disenchantment in a story that will resonate with many Jews in Britain and elsewhere who also “cannot support an ideology that is grounded in Jewish privilege and persecution of another people”.

Alice Rothchild is a Seattle author, filmmaker, and retired obstetrician-gynecologist. She is the author of three books, most recently “Condition Critical: Life and Death in Israel/Palestine,” and has contributed to a number of anthologies including “Reclaiming Judaism from Zionism: Stories of Personal Transformation.”

Comments (6)

  • Patrick Barclay says:

    Here in the UK we are faced with poverty, inequality, crime etc.
    To become a more egalitarian society a Labour Government needs to be elected.
    I am not Jewish but I read your articles with great interest.
    What I find is that despite the name of your organisation being “Jewish Voice for Labour” most of your articles show an compulsive obsession with Israel and Zionism.
    Would it not be more important for you to become obsessed with UK injustice and man the barricades to ensure a LABOUR Government is elected.
    A Labour government of “the many and not the few “

    • Mike Cushman says:

      Patrick

      Our blog carries articles on issues that we are most knowledgeable about asJVL. Many of us post on other crucial matters elsewhere. If you look at our Facebook and Twitter feeds you will fins htey cover a much wiser range of topics where we link to interesting and important items we see elsewhere.

      The attempt to. inaccurately, depict Labour as antisemitic is an important weapon of those who seek to prevent the election of a Labour Governmetn committed to radical initiatives to combat inequality and poverty. By providing the information people need to combat these slurs ids part of getting such a Governmetn elected.

      Equally Palestinians are daily suffering violent occupation and siege and we seek to support their struggle for justice. Others are highlighting the suffering of others in China, Burma, Yemen and too many other places. We wish those campaigns well but we do not hav ethe expertise to comment usefully ourselves.

      I hope that helps you understand why we publish what we do.

  • Lesley Crompton says:

    As a non Jew, but a member of JVL I find many of your posts illuminating. This article by Alice Rothschild is excellent- educational, interesting and thought provoking. I hope that many more people read it and common sense and kindness for our fellow human beings will finally prevail.

  • Kathlyn says:

    Raised as a Zionist, Alice’s account resonated greatly with me. I experienced a similar sharp awakening when I visited Israel for the first time…a visit that provoked a great deal of research, reading and soul searching to uncover the reality underlying the myth I had been fed for the first 25 years of my life. As Alice so succinctly said, once seen these heart-breaking realities cannot be ‘unseen’. I live with the guilt that my naivety may have contributed to the horrors faced daily by Palestinians.

  • Janet Crosley says:

    Patrick , I am also a non Jewish member of JVL. I am glad that JVL publishes this informative content about the situation in Israel and Palestine. I have Palestinian friends , mainly Christian who Ihave been visiting since 1973. As Britain was very involved in the creation of Israel, I think we should be aware of the terrible time that all non Jewish people have to endure. I also am very glad that so many people now realise that the mainstream Jewish organizations can be found wanting in some areas. Thank you JVL.

  • Andrew Hornung says:

    I agree substantially with Mike Cushman’s response to Patrick, but, given that Mike talks largely of digital activity, of postings, twitter feeds etc., I would like to add a point. As a member of my CLP’s EC and an active member of my branch, the vast majority of my political time is spent on issues with no connection with Israel/Palestine Zionism.
    My membership of JVL, however, gives me the information – and occasionally the co-ordinative structure – necessary to combating attacks on the Party and on individual members that have been mounted precisely to undermine our ability to promote socialist policies.

Comments are now closed.