It’s time to fight for the Zionist dream. And it’s time to give some thought to what that dream is—and what it’s not.
During the recent hostilities in southern Israel, the image that caught my attention was the picture of terrified Israeli schoolgirls cowering behind the school bus that they had just evacuated and looking to the sky for missiles launched from Gaza. That image has remained with me. I know that the Iron Dome defense system performed admirably and that the military operations of the Israel Defense forces were deemed successful. I know that plans are underway to expand Iron Dome, and there has been some tough talk from Israel’s leaders about Hamas. Still, I can’t get those cowering schoolgirls out of my mind.
Yes, this is a difficult time. Iran poses an existential threat, and Israel must act wisely and prudently to preserve the peace treaty with Egypt. Nonetheless, if the enemies of the Jewish people can threaten to close down the Jewish state at will and confine a million people, including two hundred thousand schoolchildren, to their homes, schools, and “reinforced buildings,” then Zionism has very little meaning. If Zionism is about anything at all, it is about a commitment that children in a Jewish state will no longer need to cower behind a bus.
And Zionism is about other things as well.
When law-breaking settlers founded the settlement Migron on Palestinian-owned land, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised to remove them. The first demolition order was issued in 2006. Six years later, the settlement still stands. The delay is due in some measure to the slow pace of the legal process, but in large measure, as the Supreme Court has again affirmed, to an ongoing willingness of the government to circumvent the Court’s will. The compromise put forward by Benny Begin was more of a surrender than a compromise. It called for defying the declaration of the Court, leaving the settlement in place for (at least) 3 more years, and rewarding the law breakers with another new settlement (thinly disguised as part of an existing one). All of this was done to avoid a confrontation with those who threatened violence if the government were to enforce the Court’s ruling. And—not at all incidentally—the Begin compromise violated an explicit agreement with the United States government, signed in 2004, that Israel would remove illegal settlements and not establish new ones.
Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. Proud and assertive, it proclaims that the Jewish state will defend its citizens and protect its children, come what may. And it is committed to a state that respects the law in letter and spirit, honors its international agreements, and puts the will of the people and the welfare of the nation before the private theological agendas of religious extremists.
This is the Zionism of the right and the left, of Herzl and Jabotinsky, of Ben Gurion and Rabin, of Begin and Sharon. And it is a Zionism that can unite and inspire the Jewish people.