The sixtieth anniversary of the State of Israel
(and over a century of Zionism
) is an occasion for everyone to do quite a bit of ideological housecleaning and renovation. The passage of time has treated some ideas better than others, but many seem to be saddled with notions that were appropriate 30, 50 or 80 years ago, but no longer make sense today. In fact, almost all of the political positions that are loudly held and defended today regarding the future of Israel or Zionism, or Israeli policy are based on obsolete ideas and realities that no longer exist. This accounts for the dreary monotony of Op-Ed commentaries and analyses of basic questions. Every new fact that should be reshaping our thinking, is instead assimilated and used to support a particular position that is based on an outmoded ideology. Often, the ideology was part of the original assumptions that helped generate the problem.
This reappraisal and questioning must apply to all of us, and all of "them" too, Zionists, anti-Zionists, hawks and doves, proponents of free enterprise and proponents of socialism. In some cases, the answers to the questions are clear. They may also be painful. For some other questions, we do not as yet have answers.
Anti-Zionism, garden variety
- Israel is here. Get used to it. It is really absurd to trot out the same articles every ten years, predicting that Israel cannot survive another decade because it will go bankrupt, be overwhelmed by demographic forces, or fall apart due to internal friction between Ashkenazy and Sephardic Jews or Orthodox and secular Jews. We've been hearing the same thing for about 60 years. You'd think people would catch on. Really, it's time for you all to get a lifeJewish Anti-Zionism
- Jewish anti-Zionism arose in many contexts that are obsolete. Assimilated Jews feared that the creation of a Jewish state would engender huge waves of anti-Semitism and suspicions of double loyalty (see for example Edwin Montagu: Opposition to the Balfour declaration
. The most disastrous wave of anti-Semitism resulted in the death of six million Jews in the Holocaust
, because there was no Jewish state to accept those Jews or defend their rights. Yet a tiny core of these assimilationist Jews, whose pursuit of happiness and oblivion is in no way impinged upon by the existence of Israel, still approach the subject with fear and loathing. The irony is, of course, that in so doing, they identify themselves as Jew
s, since nobody but a Jew or an Arab or an anti-Semite would have Israel that much. If you don't want to be Jewish, it's your choice. But then Israel should be just another country to you, nothing special.
Orthodox Jews feared that a Jewish state would usurp the religious authority of the rabbis. But the shtetl world of Rabbinical Judaism is gone. Yet many ultra-orthodox Jews, even those who insist on the "unity of Jerusalem" and the holiness of territories in the West Bank, nonetheless continue to assert they are "non-Zionist." Isn't it time for them to re-examine their ideas? Progressive Anti-Zionism and Political Esperanto
- A hundred years ago, it was was possible to hope that socialist or communist societies would provide full equality for Jews and other minorities. Revolutions in the name of socialism shattered these dreams. As Mitchell Cohen notes "Political Esperanto was wrong."
"The world" doesn't grant passports, and doesn't protect its would-be citizens.
A large number of "citizens of the world" met an unhappy end in Siberia and Lyubyanka. The policies of the "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics" regarding minorities were notorious. Whole peoples were wiped out. Jews were special victims of Stalinist persecution of "rootless cosmopolitans." Traditional Russian anti-Semitism was revived as "Zionology." Soviet satellite states followed the lead of Moscow. Nonetheless, it was still possible, in the 60s and 70s, to believe that the PLO, supported by the USSR represented a "progressive" force that was fighting "colonialism," and to predict the "inevitable" collapse of the "colonialist settler state" of Israel. Today, the PLO is moribund and supported by the United States, and the USSR is defunct. The state of Israel, whose demise was so confidently predicted, is still here. The Palestinian cause is championed by reactionary, repressive religious fanatic groups - the Hamas
and the Hezbollah
. Isn't it time to re-examine the validity of "Progressive" anti-Zionism? Peace
- In 1981, following the euphoria of peace with Egypt, and in the 1990s, after the collapse of the USSR, it made sense to believe that negotiations and an end to the occupation would bring peace. It made sense for many to oppose the intransigent government of Itzhak Shamir
. Opposition to the occupation and enthusiasm for negotiations - with anyone and everyone - became reflexive stands of the peace movement. But Shamir is no longer in office. Withdrawal from Gaza didn't bring peace. It brought a nightmare. The Oslo peace process didn't bring peace either, primarily because Palestinian Arabs still demand return of refugees to Israel, which would result in the end of the Jewish state. Negotiations with the Palestinian Authority make sense only if the Palestinian Authority is capable of keeping any bargain it makes. Gaza is ruled by the Hamas, which recognizes neither the Palestinian Authority nor Israel. Does it make sense for peace groups to advocate negotiations with the Hamas
that undermine the Palestinian Authority, our only Palestinian peace partner? Given that Hamas are opposed to peace with Israel, those who couple ending the occupation with peace might have to wait a long time for the end of the occupation. Transfer
- A century ago, some Zionists who knew little about conditions in the land, could entertain the notion that Arabs would voluntarily leave if they were offered sufficient monetary incentive. In the 1930s, this idea was revived as part of the Peel Partition proposal
. That proposal would have given the Jew
s a state in a tiny area, less than half the size of Israel within the green line borders. It made sense to think of transferring Arabs out of that tiny mini-state if they would be willing to go or if someone (the British) would do it for us. The idea does not die, though it has been proved to be unworkable. Now it is applied, by some, to proposals to transfer not a few tens of thousands of Arabs, but several million Arabs, who would supposedly be enticed to leave the borders of "greater Israel," so that Israel could then annex the West Bank and perhaps Gaza. It should be fairly obvious by now that this is not going to happen. Why would anyone give up a chance to be a citizen of Israel, in order to become a citizen of Syria or Jordan or Lebanon? What is the point of advancing the "transfer" idea if there is no chance that the Arabs will go anywhere, and all it accomplishes is to give anti-Zionists another opportunity to say "Zionism is Racism?" Settlement
- Settlement on the land, Hityashvut, has been the backbone of the Zionist endeavor since the first colonies were begun over 120 years ago. In the time of the British, it was especially necessary to create "facts on the ground" in places where the British discouraged settlement, in order to ensure that these locations would remain part of the state of Israel. Today however, the government is us. Settlers who create illegal "facts on the ground" in occupied territories are not defying HM government and the British colonial occupiers. They are defying our own government and our own IDF
- us. Is it constructive to embarrass the Israeli government and to tax the IDF with defending settlements in places that have a large and hostile Arab population? Large parts of the Negev and the Galilee remain sparsely settled. Isn't it better to invest our efforts in developing these lands? Are the arguments and reasoning of 1935, born in the context of Mandate Palestine, still valid today? Solutions
- Whatever solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict we support, we need to re-examine all the arguments for that solution, because all of them were born in different circumstances, "a long time ago on another planet." It is easy to see that there is not much chance for a "binational state" (born in the 1920s) or that a "one state solution" (a favorite of the Nazi Mufti, Hajj Amin el Husseini) would result in an explosion no matter who was in charge of that state. But the two state solution (born in 1937, revised in 1947, revived more recently in a new context) may need rethinking as well. Here is one very pessimistic take on the two-state solution
Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, the Ďofficialí Palestinian Authority (PA) government: They want Israel out of as much territory as possible and they wish to receive as much aid, both in dollars and weapons, as possible. But are their long-term policies consistent with the fantasy?
No, because there will not be an end to the conflict. The PAís position is that it does not and will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and that roughly 5 million refugee descendants have a Ďright of returní to Israel. What they are offering is to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank, and a temporarily binational state in what used to be Israel proper, which will soon dissolve into civil war. This is not a question of ironing out details.
Of course, as long as Palestinians insist on Right of Return for Palestinian refugees, there isn't going to be any two state solution. But even assuming that the Palestinians will offer acceptable terms, is the two-state solution really going to work? We hope so, but we have to ask questions.
Can three or four million Palestinian Arabs really form a viable state in the roughly 2,200 square miles of the West Bank and Gaza? Will this land be sufficient to support them, with the addition of several million refugees and taking into account the prodigious Palestinian Arab birthrate? Are we all sure that Palestinian Arabs can generate a modern post-industrial economy like that of Israel? And what happens if the land is not sufficient? What happens between a Palestinian Arab state of say, 15 million persons, with a per capita GDP of say, $3,000, and an Israeli Jewish state of say 10 million persons, with a per capita income of $40,000? Can there be peace between two such states?
Money from abroad - Israel grew up with a "poor boy" complex, and has never been ashamed to take charity from abroad. Every time we look in the mirror, we see a poor orphan. We ask for, and get, donations from rich Jews to support vital projects such as higher education and health facilities. We depend on a $3 billion annual subsidy from the United States. But reality is changing. Israel has a trade surplus. The Israeli shekel is much stronger currency than the US dollar. Israel has had to maintain the exchange rate of the dollar artificially, by keeping interest rates low despite inflation, and by buying dollars. Isn't it time to rethink our self-image and our requirements from our allies and friends?
Zionism - Sixty years ago the tasks of Zionism were clear and almost every Israeli Jew was a Zionist. By 1965 or so, the word "Tsiyonut" had become synonymous with "hot air" and "government propaganda" and was held in contempt by most Israelis. In recent years, many of us in Israel and abroad have renewed our commitment to Zionism - in the good sense. But what does this "Zionism" dictate in terms of action? Can there be Zionism without Aliya(immigration) ? Is it more "Zionist" to teach Hebrew to Jews in Tel Aviv then it is to teach Hebrew to Jews in Kiev or Chicago? Questions such as these, for example, are actually being asked by members of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. Everyone should be asking them.
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