The No-State Solution is, as its back cover suggests, “a provocative manifesto, arguing for a new understanding of the Jews’ peoplehood.” It is a highly academic, thought-provoking conversation between Boyarin and a variety of Jewish and non-Jewish scholars, thinkers, and writers crossing back to the days of the Talmud. Ultimately, it shows Boyarin in conversation with himself — an internal dialogue in external form.
Boyarin self-describes as “an active anti-Zionist” with a growing commitment to “Jewish identity and identification, Torah study, scholarship, practice, literature, liturgy … ” He believes in the importance of “vibrant, creative Jewish national culture,” as well as “full justice for Palestinians.” He sees the current state of Israel as “well on the way to being a racist, fascist state.” Struggling to reconcile his values and commitments, he envisions the future of Jewish peoplehood not as a religion or nation-state, but as a diaspora nation connected through time rather than space or land.
Boyarin, in other words, sees the Jewish people as always in movement. He compares this in part to the Black diaspora experience, which accounts for a people similarly connected through time, dispersed across land. He further argues that the Jewish people are likely safer as a diaspora community, spread throughout lands ruled by many, than in the days of Purim when, largely under the control of one ruler, the community could be wiped out by one antisemitic act or person.
Boyarin bolsters his views by citing famed Zionist visionaries Theodor Herzl and Ahad Ha’am. While it is possible — as Boyarin demonstrates — to use Herzl’s and Ha’am’s writings to voice support for a substate autonomous region, and/or a renewal of Jewish cultural life dependent on a national center (but not technically a nation-state as we would define it today), that interpretation is overly narrow, ignoring the broader vision their texts put forth.
Boyarin also acknowledges but then largely dismisses the long history of Jewish yearning (or more aptly, yearning by Jews) to return to the land of biblical Israel. He makes no mention of the debates within the late-nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century Zionist movement about whether or not this new Jewish state needed to be within that holy land — debates that ultimately determined that, yes, it did.
Some of Boyarin’s arguments, or omission of arguments, may alarm readers. In particular, he makes several comparisons to varying aspects of the Holocaust, at one point arguing that while “the Nazis, of course, offered a terrible Final Solution to the Jewish problem, Ben Gurion [offered] an only less terrible vision: a final solution to the Diaspora.” When making references to the Holocaust, Boyarin typically provides a disclaimer; the reader must then decide if it mitigates any harm potentially associated with such an argument.
Boyarin is far from the only Jew to struggle with the State of Israel as it exists today. Many books have been written about Israel’s challenging relationship with its Palestinian neighbors and non-Jewish citizens/residents, the role of the ultra-Orthodox authority, borders, and more. Most texts are based on the premise that the State of Israel, however flawed, is still fundamentally a dream being realized, or a dream that could be realized. These authors are critical of Israel in the hopes of shaping it for the better. Boyarin’s manifesto takes a distinctly different approach. For him, a rejection of the State, and all it is and has become, is the only way toward a just future. If a manifesto is designed to inspire conversation, it will be interesting to see if this does, and if so, to what end(s).
Joy Getnick, PhD, is the Executive Director of Hillel at the University of Rochester. She is the author of the Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning Beyond Borders: The History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, has taught history at area colleges, and previously worked in the JCC world and as the director of a teen Israel travel summer program.