No, liberal Zionism isn’t dead. It (still) hasn’t gotten started yet.

5 Tamuz 5775

June 21, 2015

I’m trying to republish this post and clarify the purpose behind it:  To those of us who are convinced that God wants Jews to be as safe as anyone else, but also to advocate for social justice and equality, how do we withstand the cynics who claim for their own purposes that we can’t have both?

Recently I’ve come to ask (since I’ve seen this issue increasingly discussed) whether the Zionist ideal should ever have been an all-Jewish state.  Zionism developed in an age of romantic nationalism, but the State began when the postwar world was first beginning to deal with the results of that attitude.  Perhaps a state can be more Jewish when its Jewish community plays a large role in defining its character but has to share this role with others.

By “Liberal Zionsim” I mean the ability of Jews to use the (relative) security afforded by Israel’s existence to view ourselves as part of the world and feel empowered to promote freedom and social justice worldwide, as many of us believe to be part of God’s will for us.

We cannot allow Israel’s challenges, and even many Israelis’ disagreement with this vision, make us give up the hope that a Jewish state can help create a better world.  (Some of those who want you to choose between Zionism and human progress want to undermine one side or the other of this balance.)  So what can we do, especially those of us living outside Israel, to keep this possibility alive for Israel?  Here are some of my thoughts.

1. In the recent fighting in Gaza, it was absolutely right to support the success of Israel’s soldiers and the well-being of its civilians.  It was also right to help explain Hamas’ insidious tactics and its cruel indifference to the lives of all civilians, Palestinians and Israelis.  But now we must know for ourselves whether all the Palestinian losses were necessary.  All of us should follow all objective investigations of this (and make sure those exist), read the results, promote the favorable findings and acknowledge any bad findings.  We should also contribute to rebuilding in Gaza that’s coordinated with Israel.

Addressing Israel’s long-term direction, here are some steps we can take responsibly:

2. Push for a unity government of all democratic parties.

3. Promote the ending of the legal ambiguity of the territories.  Leaving aside a Palestinian state, the land should contain only two categories of Israeli-governed territory: the State of Israel with equal rights for all citizens; and, if necessary, zones of military administration with only Palestinian, not Israeli, civilians.  It’s legally and morally untenable to have a portion of land be Israel for Israelis and occupied for Palestinians. This is true regardless of the results of any negotiations and regardless of anyone’s reliability.

4. Learn for yourself about the political opinions of Israeli leaders and the laws and regulations being promulgated.

5. Manage your own relationship to Israel and communication with it.  Explain Israel with your own words and thoughts.

6. Most of all, if you believe you’re right to oppose racism and support freedom and social justice, don’t part ways with other progressives; educate them about Israel’s potential to be motivated by positive dialogue as opposed to threats.

It’s also time for Jews in and out of Israel to rethink our attitude toward the “outside” world.  Anti-Semitism is real, but we have to stop seeing it as an eternal cosmic force.  We need to fight the impulse to see ourselves as an isolated group that can only count on ourselves.  We need to think of well-meaning people everywhere as part of our “in-group”.

Very soon Jews the world over will gather to hear the shofar herald a new year.  We may as well stay home unless we believe that people can change, and that old enemies need not be stuck in hatred.  We owe the same confidence to Israel and Israelis that they can use their implacable determination, and awareness of sharing a communal burden, to create a society that values all its citizens and  demands their allegiance to each other.

I am prepared to keep believing that Jews can play an important role in creating a better world.  What about you?

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4 Responses to “No, liberal Zionism isn’t dead. It (still) hasn’t gotten started yet.”

  1. Riva Says:

    Beautiful! Let’s both try and find the time to act on these well articulated resolutions in the coming year. Thanks for framing our relationship with Israel in such positive terms.

  2. abekohen Says:

    For the first 30 years liberal zionism, aka socialism, had a stranglehold on Israel. It succeeded in creating a state, but failed miserably in its “some are more equal than others” implementation.

    • chovevamim Says:

      It’s possible that you and I wouldn’t agree on the ideal political/economic platform, but I’m not calling for bringing Ben-Gurion back from the dead. (If we could, I’m sure he’d run again.) He was a visionary for his time, but I’m calling for new approaches for the Zionist future.

      • abekohen Says:

        Your new approach is the old approach as described in Ecclesiastes (Kohelet).

        מַה-שֶּׁהָיָה, הוּא שֶׁיִּהְיֶה, וּמַה-שֶּׁנַּעֲשָׂה, הוּא שֶׁיֵּעָשֶׂה; וְאֵין כָּל-חָדָשׁ, תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ.

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