Hillel explores Judaism and politics of Zionism

By ELIZABETH RAPHAEL | February 13, 2020

Juniors Michael Leff and Kim Robins co-facilitated the discussion event “Political Zionism and Anti-Semitism” at Hopkins Hillel on Monday night. The event, the first in a planned series of events on statehood and Zionism, was sponsored by the Tikvah Fund.

The Tikvah Fund is a philanthropic organization that describes itself as “politically Zionist, economically free-market oriented, culturally traditional, and theologically open-minded.”

Leff, the president of the Hopkins American Partnership for Israel, and Robins explained that the overall goals of the series are to look at Zionism from different angles, examine lesser-explored phenomena like religious Zionism and cultural Zionism and to ask how historical views of Zionism may interact with modern political dynamics.

Theodor Herzl and Ze’ev Jabotinsky, as the widely accredited founders of the Political Zionist and Revisionist Zionist movements, were featured prominently. 

Leff explained Herzl and Jabotinsky’s respective platforms. While Herzl argued that the simple fact of Jewish peoplehood made a Jewish state necessary, Jabotinsky believed that what made a Jewish state necessary was the anti-Semitism that he saw pervading the world.

After this introduction, participants read various passages written by Herzl and Jabotinsky and were asked to reflect on Jewish territorial statehood. 

Both Leff and Robins said they were aware of the controversy of this issue as it relates to the contemporary Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is in part why the pair decided to work together on the event series, they explained.

“Michael was the primary contact coordinating with Tikvah Fund,” Robins said. “Tikvah suggested that somebody co-sponsor the event who held a different demographic place in the Jewish community, so Michael thought of me, and we have worked together on adapting the content that Tikvah sent us.”

Robins explained that she considers herself to be politically progressive, putting herself further left than Leff. 

“I have been involved in some progressive political causes on campus during my time here, including some political work that has been critical of the state of Israel in its modern form and the government in the state of Israel,“ Robins said. “It’s a very contentious issue in the Jewish community, the criticism of Israel and anti-Zionism and my friends in groups that I’ve been a part of have been accused of being anti-Zionist and even anti-Semitic.”

According to Leff, the contrast between the two also stems from their distinct personal relationships with the notion of Zionism as it relates to their faith. 

“Zionism has been a part of my life since I was very young,” Leff said. “The idea that there is a Jewish state, that is both a safe haven and a refuge for the Jewish people and something that represents the opportunity to build incredible democracy and social institutions, and everything it might represent in potential, regardless of the actual problems, was something that was very real to me from a very young age.” 

Robins, on the other hand, decided to become a co-facilitator to better understand her own position on this issue.

“How do notions of the Jewish state play out at the conceptual level? What does it mean to be in a Jewish community facing persecution?” Robins said. “One of the reasons I was so enthusiastic about putting on this event is that these are questions that I was very much struggling with that I wanted to deal with myself, and I wanted to think through these with other people.”

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