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Saturday, August 4, 2007

Zionism is a lot more than the right of Israel to exist

The problem of defining Zionism keeps turning up like a bad penny. It is not an empty semantic argument. It is symptomatic of a deep malaise.
It is plain that when different people answer the question, What is Zionism? they are often giving definitions that reflect either carelessness, or ignorance or willful distortion of the meaning of Zionism to suit their own political program.  
According to the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria, there are now over 260,000 tax-paying Jewish residents in the region....Jews continue to arrive from all parts of Israel, as well as from abroad, seeking homes in places such as Shiloh, Bet El, and Hebron, and many of those who have grown up there continue stay on after they marry, in whatever housing is available, raising large families and building for the future in those disputed areas....

Yes, Zionism is alive and well in the Biblical heartland of Israel, both idealistically and demographically.

Something is indeed alive in the "Biblical Heartland of Israel," but it is not necessarily Zionism. It is one interpretation of Zionism, which would not necessarily meet with the approval of the founders of Zionism. The attempt to make a shotgun marriage of Zionism with the occupation will end in tragedy for Zionism, as the occupation must end, and when the occupation ends, that sort of Zionism will end, and all the avid "Zionists" who support the occupation will go about their business in America, just as they did before the 1967 Six Day War , before most orthodox Jews "discovered" Israel as an actual place to live in.  

On the hand, Doni Remba at Ameinu, attempts a shotgun marriage between Zionism and his version of progressive values. According to him: 

 "Zionism is the belief that Israel has a right to exist as a democratic Jewish state--nothing more, nothing less."

Nothing more? That is a fine definition of Zionism, which everyone from Mahmud Abbas to Mr. Feiglin can support. Of course, Abbas will have a different definition of "democratic" than Feiglin, and they will also differ in their idea of what is a "Jewish state." Feiglin will contend that Israel is not a "Jewish State" unless and until we all assume the 613 commandments of Judaism, not omitting one jot or tittle. Abbas will contend that Israel is not democratic unless we abolish the law of return. Even professors Walt and Mearsheimer content that they strongly support the right of Israel to exist. That right is anchored in international law. Of course, Zionism supports the right of Israel to exist, but so do many non-Zionists and even a few anti-Zionists.

When the Zionist movement was founded, it demanded a national home for the Jewish people, guaranteed in international law. It did not ask for a state. There was no Israel and no Jewish State. Could one then say, that since Herzl and others who attended the first Zionist congress did not assert the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish democratic state, they were not Zionist?

We may also ask, why is the Jewish people different from all other peoples? The Chinese, Saudi Arabians and Sudanese have their own states, that are not particularly democratic, but nobody claims they have no right to exist because they are not democratic. Democracy is part of a value system adopted by the Zionist movement and the Jewish people (save a few exceptions), but the existence of Israel cannot be made conditional on its being democratic, according to the definition of the UN or the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or some Jews in America.  

We also must contend with the dynamite hidden in the phrase "Jewish state," which is open to hi-jacking by those who insist that Israel must be a Jewish theocracy. For that reason, Avrum Burg, who has said some outrageous things, pointed out, correctly, in this case, that we should strive for a "state of the Jewish people" rather than a "Jewish state."

What does a real definition of Zionism add, that is missing from Doni Remba's definition. Remba himself supplies the answer: "It is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people."  A national liberation movement believes in much more than the right of a state to exist. Zionism succeeded in large part because it transformed the Jewish people. "Life is with people." Without the Jewish people to live in Israel and to support Israel, the "right of Israel to exist" would be a meaningless legalism. One of the Zionists cited by Remba, Echad Ha'am, was a leader in the cultural revolution wrought by Zionism, which brought about the rebirth of the Hebrew language as a spoken tongue, and increased the consciousness of secular Jews that they are a part of a Hebrew nation and culture. And of course, one of the key "ingredients" in Zionism is aliya. Without aliya (immigration) there would be no Jews here. Support for the existence of Israel, democratic or otherwise, without support for Aliya and Hebrew culture, is a sterile sort of Zionism, because Israel obviously cannot exist as the state of the Jewish people without having Jews in it. We cannot say that "Zionism is the belief that Israel has a right to exist as a democratic Jewish state--nothing more..."  

Ami Isseroff


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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