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Charlotte Korchak

Charlotte Korchak’s Gave Informative Talk at Limmud 2022 on “Concepts & Misconceptions about Israel, Zionism, and the Jews”

by Penny Jones Square, April 3, 2022


“Argument for the sake of Heaven” is “debate for the sake of truth as opposed to victory.”—Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “God Loves Those Who Argue”


Charlotte Korchak’s obvious passion for her work defending Israel, Zionism, and the Jews is inevitably informed with frustration, as she openly admitted. Faced with the legions of critics in her work as a senior educator with StandWithUs, she is clearly guided by the principle of audi alteram partem (“hear the other side”), which Rabbi Sacks claims is requisite to the pursuit of justice. Her advice in confronting the five percent who are open to hearing another side is to educate and inspire, but she suggests “cutting your losses” with the other five percent who are blatant anti-Zionists. With the other ninety percent in the middle who are uninformed or misinformed, she recommends presenting the facts “in a gentle, patient way.” To do this, it is crucial to understand these three core concepts—Zionism, Israel, and the Jews—but also to understand “how the Palestinian perspective fits in.” Equipped with such knowledge, it may be possible to correct the misconceptions attendant to each concept.

Despite great personal loss (three of her friends were murdered in a suicide bombing when she was thirteen years old) and following the twenty years she spent “breaking down the emotional barrier” that resulted, Korchak has come to her more open and compassionate understanding of the ongoing conflict that incites the anti-Zionism/antisemitism she fights. That understanding is based on accepting that there are two narratives in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The clash of nationalities, between Jew and Arab, exists and cannot be ignored. Both people have a history. The truth lies in this complexity, not in the simplicity of one side or the other. But the revisions, omissions, and falsifications that have emerged surrounding the conflict, distort the true history. In her work as an educator, Korchak seeks to provide the real and very complex historical context.

The most important core concept Korchak believes Jews must be able to explain is Zionism: the belief in and support for Jewish self-determination in their historic homeland of Israel. The key false narrative used in response is the myth of Jews as white, European colonizers. She dispelled this myth as factually wrong on all counts, explaining Jews are indigenous to the land, that though they ended up in exile throughout history, they never forgot their connection to the land. They did not come back to their homeland as colonizers to steal the land from Arabs living there; “stolen land has to be conquered.” “Jews came with money, not weapons, and legally purchased land.” Though Arabs had been living in the land since the seventh century, “they are native, not indigenous.” Further, “half the Jewish population in Israel today is coloured; half have never been in Europe.”

The false claims of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid commonly directed at Israel to deny its right to exist are all “beyond factually correct.” There was “no stated intention to commit genocide, or action that would show such an intent, in the War of Independence.” Further, there has been no decline but rather an increase in the Arab population since 1948. There was no policy to eliminate the Arabs and no policy of expulsion, “only a policy of survival.” If ethnic cleansing had been a policy, Arabs from all villages would have been expelled; in fact, “villages that were neutral were not touched.” Arabs also fled at the request of their leaders or out of fear as happens in all wars.

“Zionism is not rooted in racism”; Zionists from Herzl to Jabotinsky to Ben Gurion argued that all would be citizens in the State of Israel, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. The charge of Israeli apartheid is utterly “inane.” Israel was born and remains a democracy with equal rights for all. All Israeli citizens, non-Jew and Jew alike, can vote and have representation in the government, and non-Jews can petition to go into the army, as many do. “There is no active effort to subjugate Arab Israelis” in Israel proper, and even in the West Bank when Israel had full control from 1967 – 1990s, Palestinian society improved as hospitals, schools, and clinics were built for them.

Korchak dismissed the charge that Jews are a religion and religion has no right to self-determination: “Jews are a people. You do not have to believe, only be born a Jew or convert, which is what both her parents did, thereby “joining a tradition,” not a race or ethnicity. Korchak asserted that “[w]hat makes us one people” is: a shared history; a shared culture, including a yearly calendar and traditions; a shared language (“Nine million Jews speaking Hebrew, a two-thousand-year-old language, that’s indigeneity)”; and a shared land that “binds us because it is our home.” 

And finally, to “Why Israel?,” Korchak responded with her own pertinent query: “Where else would you like us to go?” As a people with a right to self-determination, Jews have the right to go home, and they went home not because the land belongs to them, but because they belong to the land. And because “the world made Israel a must.” “The world showed us it will choose itself first”; therefore, for Jews, “feeling safe in this world depends on the existence of Israel so we will never be without a home to flee to.” Ultimately, then, “so we can survive.” And as Mark Helprin expresses it so astutely and precisely: “Survival is moral. In itself alone, it is right” (Refiner’s Fire).




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