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Zionism and Peace

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Zionism and Peace - A Zionist Credo

August 25, 2005

To me, the quest for peace and coexistence with our neighbors is an integral part of Zionism. I support peace because I am a Zionist. The longing to be a 'Free people in our own country' is incompatible with the 'ideal' presented by settler Zionism, of ruling over another people in a Bantustan-like autonomy, or forcing peaceful people to leave their homes against their will.

This view of Zionism may not suit some Israelis. Even more, it does not suit some Jewish superpatriots abroad. They live in Chicago or Los Angeles, but they are willing to fight to the last Israeli to save the "holy land" of Gaza or Tapuach.

My view is not the caricature of Zionism presented by anti-Zionist hoaxers who invent fake Zionist quotes and draw cartoons of Sharon eating babies. However,  it is the kind of Zionism that built Israel. The Zionism that dreamed of a society based on justice, a society that could live in peace with its neighbors, and be a good example for the nations of the world.

This is not the Zionism of the Yesha settlers' council, or the fictional Zionism dreamed up by demonizers.  It was the Zionism I was raised on, It was the Zionism of the founders of the Palestinian Zionist community and of Israel.  It remains the Zionism of a few foolish people in Israel, who somehow prove themselves to be the majority; but Zionism always was the ideology of a few foolish people. Israel is a state built by foolish Jews. Our smart and successful relatives stayed in Poland and Germany. We know what happened to them.

If we can make peace with our neighbors, Israel will conquer the hearts of the entire world. This is a much "Greater Israel" than the one that could be built by military conquest, settlement and creation of new enemies. If we cannot make peace, there will probably not be any Israel, sooner or later; if you do not make peace, you must fight wars. If you fight enough wars, eventually you lose one.

Asserting the right of the Jewish people to self determination implies that there must be an equal right for Palestinians. Asserting the right of self-determination for the Arab Palestinian people  implies that the Jewish people have the same right.

Therefore, every Zionist who understands history must be for peace, and anyone, on either side,  who does not accept the existence of a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian state is not for peace, or for justice or decency. They are on the wrong side of the fence, whether they are anti-Zionist haters or Greater Israel extremists.

Everyone who studies the history of Zionism understands that it must be so, but not everyone who writes about Zionism understands it.  Jacqueline Rose, an English professor who learned about Zionism from Edward Said, a well-known Zionist thinker no doubt,  has written a perfidious and mendacious account of Zionism. It relies on the deep knowledge of Zionism that she got from Edward Said and the Klassic Komix version of history, and in part on an equally mendacious book by Professor Avi Shlaim, implying that all of Zionism is based on the "Iron Wall" ideology of Ze'ev Jabotinsky, which they caricature as unlimited militaristic expansionism. Jabotinsky, however, was in a minority among Zionists, and all he was asking for, despite his overblown rhetoric, was that the British allow the Jews a few policemen with rifles in mandatory Palestine. That was the "Iron Wall" of Jabotinsky.

Zionism was always a 'pragmatic ideology' - an oxymoronic term that can only be used to describe the unique Zionist movement perhaps.  Zionism as it exists today was shaped by  a century-long struggle. We have come a long way since Meir Dizengoff wrote, nearly 100 years ago, "We shall never possess cannons." We possess cannons, and aircraft, and tanks and submarines. We created an army and we are proud of that army. The army, however,  is not an end, it is a means to an end. We conquered territories in 1967, but the conquests were not an end, but rather a means to an end. The mission of the IDF, in the final analysis, is to bring us peace. The purpose of the conquests is to bring us peace. If the conquered territories become a barrier to peace, then we must give them up, but we must not surrender the Zionist ideal in doing it.

The 1967 war was fought out of necessity. I can attest that virtually every Israeli citizen believed then that we faced mortal danger. The victory in that war created a new process and a new ideology in Israel, that distorted the original meaning and purpose of Zionism. Mainstream Zionism was never about settling particular bits of real-estate. It was always about being a free people, secure in our own land. The disengagement from Gaza, carried out recently by Ariel Sharon, the man whom anti-Zionists pictured as the arch-fiend of anti-Zionism, tested the strength of mainstream Zionism against the revisionism of the settlers. The real Zionism, not the demonized caricature portrayed by people like Avi Shlaim and Jacqueline Rose, is the Zionism that will survive. The other Zionism that you read about in those books, and in the statements of the fanatics, is a fraud invented by hucksters and demagogues. It never built anything and it never did did anything for the Jewish people.

There are those who say that peace between Israel and our Arab neighbors is impossible. I agree certainly. Peace however, is less impossible than the alternative. Creating always involves making something that appears to be impossible before it is created. Zionists have always been experts at the impossible. To create the state of Israel, Zionists had to do several impossible things, preferably before breakfast. Even the earlier Zionists themselves scoffed at the possibility that this puny movement of students and dreamers could undertake the restoration of the Jewish people, to make real the seemingly mystic promise of "ingathering of the exiles." Nobody believed there could be Jewish workers, a Jewish army, Jewish cities.  Achad Haam derided the poverty of the few settlements in the Ottoman lands and ridiculed the idea that any great power would ever give Theodor Herzl his "Volkerrechtig" (guaranteed in international law) Jewish national home. Less than 20 years later, Achad Haam was proven wrong by the Balfour Declaration . Then the skeptics insisted there could never be a state, and when the state was created, the skeptics insisted that the Jews could never defend their state, and that we could never bring a large number of Jews to live here. The "experts" still publicize these failed prophecies as though they are proud of themselves. In their reality, Israel never happened, because it could not happen. They were all much wiser than us Zionists, these experts, and they all knew what was impossible,  but the Zionists didn't know what is impossible.

Jacqueline Rose and others are right to say that Zionism is a Messianic ideology. However, they did not understand the meaning of "Messiah" in Zionism. It is no accident that the Israeli national anthem is Hatiqvah, The Hope. Ben-Gurion said that the essence of Messiah is the hope and anticipation of his arrival. Once he arrives, the Messiah is just another event. The essence of Zionist Messianism is creating and becoming. It is the process of realizing our hopes. Those who thought that Zionism ended with the establishment of Israel, that we are in a "post-Zionist" period, did not understand that Zionism is a process that is never fulfilled - the Messiah who never arrives. There is always another challenge, and it is always necessary to reinvent the 'pragmatic ideology.'

Peace in the Middle East is impossible. Everyone knows that. It is just as impossible as the Jewish state and the ingathering of the exiles, and all the other things we have already done. I know it must happen, because without peace there is no Israel and perhaps, no more Zionism.  "If we will, it is no legend."

Ami Isseroff

See also - http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/Senate/5455/ written in 1998.

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