The Four Children: How Do We Talk About Israel?

I’m a part of a pro-Israel club on Columbia University’s campus called Students Supporting Israel (SSI). This past week I participated in SSI’s third Hebrew Liberation Week. A week that celebrates the story of the Jewish people and their indigenous connection to the land. It’s no coincidence that our week coincides with Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voices for Peace’s annually held, “Israeli Apartheid Week.”

In their words, “the aim of Israel Apartheid Week is to educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system and to build Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns as part of a growing global BDS movement.” BDS’s goals include: Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories, removal of the peace barrier in the West Bank, and the right of return of all 4.88 million Palestinians. Ensuring the end of the State of Israel.

During this week we spoke to all different kinds of people. Those who believed Israel had no right to exist. Others who claimed Israel is a colonialist, imperialist apartheid regime. I also met Zionists from Russia, Poland, Bangladesh and more. I spoke to Jewish students who were deeply grateful that we were speaking for them, and Jewish students who loathed us for our views. There were many students who told me they had no stake and just walked back and forth to converse and learn from both sides. There were others who were silent and simply listened.

By telling us the story of the Four Children, the Haggadah is reminding us to accept each person for who they are, what they know and begin from there. However the four archetypes, “one who is wise, one who is wicked, one who is simple, and one who does not even know how to ask” can also be understood in regards to four models of political engagement with Israel and Zionism.

The Smart Alec, Ashkenazi, Cherry Tomato Zionist:

This child’s heart is full of pride about Israel. He or she knows that at 70, Israel is a strong, prosperous country and is overwhelmingly optimistic for its future. He or she revels in the biblical landscapes of Israel and the skylines in Tel Aviv. When faced with criticism of Israel their response is, but did you know Israel invented the cherry tomato? Israel is a fun birthright trip. A sexy, sleek America with better hummus. They sit at the Passover Seder bursting with facts to tell of Israel’s technological achievements, how amazing supermodel Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was and how incredible the Startup Capital of the world is. Did you know Israel has more startups per capita than any other country in the world? They have no questions for you, but they supply answers to questions that you never asked.

To this child you will say, you are like Moses. You see the Promised Land but you are not here with us yet. Your Zionism is sweet but unsophisticated. Let me teach you to move beyond being an old Jew from Eastern Europe, and see yourself as the new Jew from Judea. When you visit Israel, you must think of yourself as an ancient Israelite returning home.

The Jewish Voices for Peace, Self-Hating Child:

This child grew up in a liberal Zionist community. He or she came to college yearning for acceptance. They wanted to be considered one of the ‘good’ Jews so they joined anti-Israel advocacy groups. They describe Israel as an apartheid, settler-colonialist regime and called for the boycott and sanction of Israeli products. They use their position as a Jew in an elite University or human right NGO to attack Israel.

They ask, “How could you support Israel a settler-colonialist state?”

Do not set this child’s teeth on edge. They hate Israel not because they are evil, but because the Diaspora has torn them away from their Jewish identity and indigenous roots. This child’s identity has been colonized, and it must be decolonized. As a parent and as a community we must educate them. An analysis of the genomes of 128 Ashkenazi Jews shows that we are all related to the same 350 people from 600 to 800 years ago who fled the Land of Israel. Thus, the creation of the state of Israel is a story of the self-determination of an indigenous people and should be used as a model for all indigenous peoples.

The “it’s complicated” I don’t have an opinion, Simple Child:

This child is a liberal idealist. They insist that there are two equal sides and repeatedly assure you that they just want peace. Why can’t we all get along? They’d rather not discuss historical claims, religious connections or assert any firm opinions. When asked about whether Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, they stress the importance of Jerusalem as an international city. They are not in the process of learning and reconnecting with Israel, but entirely apathetic to the idea of Zionism.

The “Doesn’t know how to ask”

This child doesn’t know where to start. They might be afraid. They might be uninterested. As a community, we must engage with this child.

You shall say to the simple child and the child who doesn’t know how to ask, “There is no reason to waver in our commitment to Israel and Zionism. We are Zionists not in spite of our liberal values, but because of them. Let us talk about how you feel most comfortable reconnecting and forming a personal connection with your homeland. This is not about telling you what to think, it’s about teaching you how to love your identity. Learn to be unabashedly proud of being Jewish and of your homeland, the modern State of Israel.”