More Catholic than the Pope

Yakov Rabkin
December 2006

Published in The Irish Times on December 12, 2006.

More Catholic than the Pope

Last Friday, I landed in Dublin a few hours after my article appeared in The Irish Times (“Traditional Jews Still Oppose Zionist State”, December 8, 2006). The following morning, as usual for an observant Jew, I walked to the closest synagogue to celebrate the Sabbath and to say publicly a thanksgiving blessing that is recited after crossing the ocean. However, when I attempted to do so, two synagogue officials blocked my way to the bimah (platform from which the Torah is read and public blessings are recited) and prevented me from reciting the benediction. Visibly angry, they whispered: “You will not be allowed to say blessings here”. When utterly surprised I inquired why, I was told “You know why”. Apparently, they deem hostile and illegitimate even writing about the history of Jewish opposition to Zionism. Mindful of the serenity of the Sabbath, I preferred to leave rather than to provoke tension.

All over the world, from Cochin in India to San Francisco in California where I have spent the Sabbath in my frequent travels, fellow Jews have invited me to say this blessing of gratitude, to share meals, have offered help and hospitality. Welcoming guests is an important commandment in Judaism and an honoured part of Jewish life. The only explanation of the anomaly I encountered in Dublin comes from the observation made by a reviewer of my recent book A Threat from Within: a Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism (Zed Books, 2006) who expressed his hope that it “will force many Jews to come to terms with the contradictions between the religion they profess to believe in and the ideology that has in fact taken hold of them.”  Apparently, some Dublin Jews are yet to come to terms with these contradictions.

Since Zionism seems to have eclipsed their Judaism, it would be logical to expect some of them to attend my public lectures in Dublin and to contribute their views to the discussion of the relationship between Zionism and Judaism. To my regret, this did not happen.

My article in The Irish Times quotes the Israeli philosopher Joseph Agassi of Tel-Aviv University who argues that “to recognize the legitimacy of religious anti-Zionism is crucial for an honest debate about Israel and Zionism – which remains stifled since the Zionists, both Jewish and Christian, deny all legitimacy to anti-Zionism.” Dublin Zionists also prefer honest debate to remain stifled.

Conversely, in Israel such debate is more open. It so happened that last week two major Israeli newspapers, The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz, gave prominent place to my book on Jewish opposition to Zionism and conducted public debate in English about its topic.* This openness should inspire those who seek to support Israel from beyond its borders. Otherwise they risk appearing hopelessly irrelevant by becoming “more Catholic than the Pope”.

Yakov M Rabkin

Professor of History

University of Montreal

* These materials can be consulted on: ( and

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