Independent Jewish Voices (IJV)’s McGill chapter hosted their first lecture event on Monday, November 14. The club invited Yakov M. Rabkin, professor of history at l’Université de Montréal, to talk about his book “What is Modern Israel?” which was released earlier this year.
Rabkin began his talk by explaining the relationship between Zionism, anti-Zionism, and anti-Semitism. In his book, he traces the birth of Zionism, which emerged at the end of the 19th century as a reaction to several instances of anti-Jewish violence in Europe and the onset of writings by German intellectuals such as Theodor Herzl.
He discussed the exile and massive migration of Jews from Central and Eastern Europe due to religious and political discrimination that led to a forced settlement in Palestine.
“There is a very important transition that happened with the concept of anti-Semitism,” explained Rabkin. “A hundred years ago, if you thought Jews belonged to a different state, you were an anti-Semite, but now if you deny it, then you are an anti-Semite.”
He said he believes it is important to distinguish between racial and religious anti-Semitism in order to better understand the frameworks in which Israeli sentiment function.
“Religious anti-Semitism offers a way out by means of conversion,” he explained, “however, racial anti-Semitism offers no escape as such.”
This distinction ultimately postulates the existence of a Jewish race and a nation-state propagated within a colonial setting , according to Rabkin.
In his book, Rabkin also discusses the role of Soviet Jews in constituting the Jewish nationality.
“The Soviet Jews [when they settled in Palestine] took with them not only Russian songs and Russian culture, but they took with them the concept that the world hates us,” he said.
He went on to shed light on the influence of Jerusalem-based think tanks that have been working for several decades to make Israel central to Jewish identity.
“This agenda has succeeded for a large majority of secular Jews through programs like birthright,” he said. “Israel has become a residual identity for Jews even if they have never been to Israel or don’t speak a word of Hebrew.”
He concluded his talk by analyzing why organizations like IJV disturb Zionist voices.
“People who equate Zionism to Judaism become very sensitive to criticism since religion is supposed to be private,” Rabkin explained. “The concept of anti-Semitism has become a tool by which any sort of Zionist criticism is silenced, but criticism of Israel does not necessarily have to be anti-Semitic.”
The talk was followed by a question and answer period where several students, professors, and members of the Montreal community shared their experiences of going to Jewish day school, practicing Judaism, and what Zionism means in the context of Judaism as a religion.
In an interview with The Daily, Jad El Tal, a U3 student and AUS Equity Commissioner who attended the event, spoke about the importance of solidarity with pro-Palestine Jewish voices on campus.
“I came here because solidarity is important to me, and I know that there are wonderful, wonderful Jewish people on campus that are pro-Palestine,” he said. “So I’m just here to show my support and solidarity and because IJV is new to McGill, so I want to be part of that.”
A co-founder of IJV McGill, Anna, spoke to The Daily about her hope of establishing a community of diverse Jewish voices on campus through their group.
“Events like this […] speak to Jewish voices that otherwise don’t have a place to go or to feel like their story is being validated,” she said. “There is clearly an empty seat in the Jewish auditorium that is now being filled.”