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Guest Opinion: No loyalty oath

In his weekly column in the Tidings on Feb. 17, Herb Rothschild compared Senate Bill 720, co-sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden, to an unconstitutional McCarthy-era loyalty oath in support of Israel. Whether one agrees with the bill, it is simply an extension of an existing law enacted by the Carter administration that prohibited American businesses from complying with boycotts of American allies that might be required by foreign governments. Jonathan Greenblatt, who heads the Anti-Defamation League, says the current revision of an existing law would simply "expand the 1977 law to include international organizations like the United Nations or the European Union.”

There is no loyalty oath suppressing free speech, and claiming that the “loyalty oath returns,” as Rothschild does, is defamatory. Criticism of Israel, or any nation for that matter, is the duty and free speech right of all people. Greenblatt writes, “The Israel Anti-Boycott Act does not target the rights of U.S. individuals and companies to criticize Israel, which — like any country— is subject to criticism for its policies. This bill declares that Congress ... opposes the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution of March 24, 2016, which urges countries to pressure companies to divest from, or break contracts with, Israel ...”

At the root of the issue seems to be Rothschild’s complete misunderstanding of what Zionism is and what it is not. It is not a colonial enterprise. In fact, it is an anti-colonial enterprise. During the  20th century well over 100 nation-states were created or reborn, some of them due to the demise of Ottoman, British and French colonialism, and many of them in the Middle East and Africa. Nations such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait that never existed as independent nations were created. And nations such as Hungary, Poland, Pakistan and Israel, who had an actual history of independence, were reborn as nations.

Zionism is simply the national rights movement of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland called Judea and renamed Palestine by the Roman Empire to remove its Jewish historical identity. It is not a liberal or conservative movement, nor does it identify with a particular political party today. Zionism simply asserts the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish nation with equal rights for all its citizens: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Druse, and its non-religious citizens. It does not prevent the claim of Palestinians to their own nation, but that is something that would have to be negotiated, taking into account Israel’s unique security needs due to its small size within the much larger Arab Middle East.

Nor does Zionism mean that every policy of the Israeli government is good. Israel, like any other democracy, is not above criticism. Zionism simply means that Israel has the same right to exist and to be judged with the same standards based on moral equivalency as any other nation. Nothing more, nothing less.

Finally, Rothschild’s assertion that “Zionists have long tried to suppress any criticism of Israel, with considerable success” borders on slander. He knows first-hand that Zionists belonging to the Jewish and non-Jewish community in Ashland have always been ready for a respectful dialogue and debate, but have never tried to “suppress any criticism” of Israel. Unless he believes that dialogue and offering alternative opinions to his own is a form of suppression.

This is true for Zionists throughout America and Israel who legally assert their right to respond to attempts to defame Judaism, or delegitimatize the nation of Israel, as is done too often by sponsors of the BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanction) movement.

— Rabbi David Zaslow is the spiritual leader of Havurah Shir Hadash in Ashland.