Saturday, February 07, 2015

The Battle for the Soul of Zionism

                It’s starting to look more and more like Bibi Netanyahu will keep his job after the next election.  Polls indicate that he seems to have regained a lead among the only voters who count, despite being easily one of the least popular statesmen in the world.    Apparently, Bibi’s nine year tenure as leader of the Jewish State is not enough for the Israeli people.  There is something about the way he spits in the face of Hamas, Fatah, Iran, America … or should I say that there is something about Bibi’s brand of intransigence, intolerance and wagon-circling that makes Jewish-Israelis feel secure.   He claims to give them a “Bibi-sitter.”   I suspect they see him as a needed patrol officer in a very tough neighborhood.   

                Fair enough.  Bibi can have his tenure-track job.  But something happened during this election cycle that gives me hope.  Bibi’s opposition assumed a new mantle, and I love it.  They have coalesced around the term “Zionist Camp.”   Composed of both the Labor and Hatnua parties, this center-left coalition is making a point that is being heard not just in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv but around the world.   To be a Zionist today, they claim, is to be a political liberal.  When it comes to Zionism as a movement with a future, the argument continues, the two-state solution is the only one remaining – and to the extent Bibi has effectively given up on that solution, he has demonstrated that his commitment to Zionism is temporary and superficial, at best.  

                Does that message sound crazy?  At this point in time, it still might.  But I suspect that it will increasingly gain steam over the next several years as the views of those outside the “Zionist Camp” are unmasked.    

Everyone can see that the Hard Left – by which I include such Jewish-American groups as Jewish Voices for Peace – are anti-Zionist.   In these circles, Zionism is seen as a primitive, tribalist, colonialist ideology that is essentially just a form of cultural (or religious) fundamentalism.   Those who subscribe to this ideology have no problem identifying themselves as opponents of Zionism.   Indeed, as I have witnessed, when they join the peace movement and speak to Palestinians or other Arabs, they speak with disdain not only for the policies of a particular Israeli Administration but for the whole concept of a “Jewish State.”  For the Hard Left, the idea of Israel as a Jewish State is as offensive as the idea of America as an explicitly “Christian State.” 

But what about Bibi and his boys?  How does the “Zionist Camp” get off suggesting that Bibi is no Zionist?   Unlike the Hard Left, doesn’t he proclaim his devotion to Zionism?   Doesn’t he, in fact, see himself as a staunch protector of the Jewish State who is consistently elected to make sure that the bleeding heart liberals don’t lower Israel’s shields and welcome those who are poised to destroy her?  If that narrative is correct, how can anyone say that Bibi doesn’t belong at the heart of the Zionist Camp?

Consider that Bibi represents a coalition of secular and religious people who, for a variety of reasons, want Israel to expand deeper and deeper into pre-67 Palestine.   Their expansionist policies, if permitted to continue, would effective remove the prospects of a viable Palestinian State side-by-side with Israel (unless you include the Kingdom of Jordan, which is composed largely of historically-Palestinian people, but which is not the kind of democratic, Palestinian state that would satisfy the residents of Gaza and the West Bank).   To be sure, Bibi has paid lip service to his support of a two-state solution, but his actions and even some of his rhetoric suggests that he has given up on the possibility of such a solution.  Perhaps Bibi doesn’t believe that the Palestinian Arabs can truly behave as partners for peace, or perhaps he has the same kind of manifest-destiny expansionist impulses that once fueled the growth of the United States.  Whatever his thinking, the result is clear:  he wants Israel to grow to the point where there can be no viable Palestinian state, and he is willing to live with the prospect that ultimately this “one state” will be faced with the prospect of being composed primarily of Arabs rather than Jews.  Given that democracy seems to be the wave of the future, argues the “Zionist Camp,” Bibi is putting Israel in a position where eventually it will either be a pariah and Apartheid state, or a primarily Arab democracy, neither of which should be acceptable to a true Zionist.

What’s more, many of Bibi’s supporters are revealing that their desire to expand into the West Bank doesn’t stem at all from an interest in preserving the security of the Jewish State.  They want that land simply because they want THAT land.   If you look at particular places that are identified most with the stories of the Bible, far more of that Land is in the West Bank than in pre-67 Israel.   Some of the most religious Jews care less about preserving the right for Jews to have autonomy over Tel Aviv than they care about ensuring that Jews can settle in such West Bank cities as Hebron.  In other words, they would rather have all Jews and Palestinians living together in a single state with an Arab majority, than to have two states for two peoples, as long as in the One State their ability to settle in the holiest of (West Bank) places is enhanced.

Already, I see signs that folks from both the Hard Left and the Religious Right can envision a “win-win” – the walls are torn down, the Palestinians return to Haifa, and the Jews return to Hebron.    Let there be dancing – single-sexed dancing, in many cases – throughout the land!   You won’t hear Bibi advocate such a vision publicly, but what is notable is the folks who share such a vision include members of right-wing, religious parties, and ultimately, it’s those parties who help Bibi form his coalitions.  

My friends, I totally buy the theme of the so-called Zionist Camp.  I too see “Liberal Zionism” as the only Zionism that is true to the origins of the movement and the only Zionism that can possibly have staying power.  I recognize that “Liberal Zionism,” also known as “Two-State-Solution” Zionism, is not a romantic vision.  It is a vision of divorce, not of marriage, and divorce is always somewhat ugly.  But let’s face it; the Middle East has been somewhat ugly now for a long, long time.  It’s time to create a lasting peace in which every person in the region can be a citizen of an independent state.  Personally, I don’t see that as possible without at least some degree of divorce.  And frankly, I want the Jewish people to have their own peaceful state and not to have to live as minorities all over the world, including throughout the Middle East.   I think that makes me a Zionist.  

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