Magazine

Keep Dreaming: Between hope and despair

"New Year’s Eve, 2063. Israel is 115 years old. The Jewish state is much as it was in 2013, only more so.”

Israeli passport [illustrative photo]
Photo by: Wikimedia Commons
"New Year’s Eve, 2063. Israel is 115 years old. The Jewish state is much as it was in 2013, only more so.”

So began Daniel Gordis’s New Year’s prediction of things to come in the decades ahead (“New Year’s Eve, 2063,” December 28). He went on to present two scenarios in which we might find ourselves 50 years hence, neither one offering much to look forward to and neither one of which, he pointedly noted, included a settlement with the Palestinians. And for that, I hold him accountable for betraying the Zionist dream.

Without such a settlement, and without any sense of urgency about reaching one, we are, at best, doomed to continue muddling along – and at worst, to disappearing.

Prophecies such as his are likely to be self-fulfilling, and self-destructive to boot. They relieve those with the responsibility of navigating us toward a better future from having to make any sincere effort to do so, and encourage the rest of us to live in a perpetual state of resignation. That’s not the Israel I came to live in. It’s not an Israel I am prepared to reconcile myself to.

I know that the ongoing occupation will continue to drain our resources, sap our strength, weaken our resolve, undermine our morale, erode our morality, distance our friends, alienate our supporters and dissolve our spirit.

So, rather than throwing up my hands and blaming the current impasse on the absence of a serious partner with whom to negotiate a two-state solution, which is the only solution to the morass in which we find ourselves, I am determined to make every effort to go more than halfway in pursuit of peace, even if I shouldn’t have to.

“Don’t be self-righteous; be smart,” goes a favorite Israeli adage. Good advice I encourage all of us to heed.

Happily, I am not alone. Much to the chagrin of our government, President Shimon Peres recently referred to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as a “partner for peace” and urged the governing coalition to relate to him as such, recognizing that his public statements “in favor of peace and against terrorism” are “courageous to the point of being life threatening.”

Likud Beytenu promptly responded with a knee-jerk reaction reflecting the political paralysis into which it has boxed itself: “It’s very unfortunate that the president chose to express a personal political view that is detached from public opinion.”

What a bizarre counterpunch! Do we not deserve to hear from our leaders exactly how they see things, even if their views should be detached from public opinion? Though in this case, I daresay, our president’s pronouncement was not. Rather, I read into it an expression of the public’s deeply rooted hope, rather than the ruling parties’ submission to despair.

And it is that hope, as long as it is realistic – and Peres and I firmly believe it is – that we must nurture. Which brings me to the reaction I received to my last column, in which I touted Peter Beinart as a good old-fashioned Zionist for reminding us in his Crisis of Zionism of the ideals that launched our movement and that have always been integral to it. I was surprised not by those who attacked me for my position; that I anticipated. Rather, I was caught off-guard by the depth of angst expressed over what is going on here by those who agreed with me – in particular by those abroad.

“I’m afraid that Beinart is correct in saying that the next generation of American Jews will care less and less about Israel,” wrote one of my readers. “I see it in myself. Even with having spent five years in Israel, being very active in my shul, sending all my kids to Jewish day school, having Judaism be absolutely central to my identity, and having a son who chose to serve as a combat soldier in the Israeli army, I find myself less and less desirous of thinking about Israel. That’s probably got more to do with my feeling that the situation is hopeless and depressing than because Israel has not become the nation your hero Theodor Herzl envisioned.

“Life as a Jew where I live is very comfortable, satisfying and dynamic. Why, really, do I, or all the other Jews here, need Israel? Why do I need to be miserable every time I read something in the paper about how the world sees Israel? Of course I want Israel to thrive, to be the wonderful, ethical country of the Jews, to have it be an appreciated member of the world community. I just don’t see how that can happen.”

I do. “Od lo avda tikvatenu” – we have not relinquished our hope. The words of our national anthem should be as stirring and as inspirational now as ever. If, through 2,000 years of exile and unimaginable suffering, we were able to find the strength to sustain ourselves, it is unthinkable that after only 65 years of independence we should give up.

The Zionist vision of creating both a safe haven for the Jewish people and an exemplary society by which the entire world might be enriched is as compelling as ever and the challenges are no more staggering than they were at the beginning of the last century. Then, a handful of dedicated pioneers made fields out of stone-strewn terrain that had been neglected for generations.

They literally made the deserts bloom, created reservoirs in a parched land, planted hundreds of thousands of trees, revived the Hebrew language, absorbed hundreds of thousands of immigrants and staved off the coordinated invasion of five Arab armies even before we really had one that we could call our own.

In comparison, the trials with which we must contend today are anything but overwhelming. And our dedication to making right those things that are wrong should be a source of pride. While it is the hi-tech start-ups listed on NASDAQ that continue to make headlines, we have just as many societal start-ups, founded and driven by young, idealistic social entrepreneurs dedicated to reclaiming the Zionist dream. They may not be as wealthy as their computer-savvy counterparts, but they are every bit as talented and driven, promising that we shall all be enriched by their efforts. We also have as many candidates vying for a seat in the Knesset who are passionately dedicated to the pursuit of peace as there are those who have relegated an accord with our Palestinian neighbors to the bin of hogwash.

There is no foregone conclusion as to how many of each will sit in our next parliament. That we have 34 parties running for election, however, means that there are a great many people who care desperately about what this country is going to end up looking like.

After 2,000 years of longing, it is far too early, and far too easy, for any of us to give up on fashioning it in accordance with his or her image.

Whoever does abandon the effort is relinquishing the country to those whose vision for the Jewish state is different from their own. That applies to those in Israel who are contemplating a ballot boycott as well as to those abroad who would distance themselves from what is going on here rather than redoubling their efforts to impact the course we are taking.

New Year's Eve, 2063. Israel is 115 years old. The Jewish state is very different than it was 50 years ago. Mainly because of the peace accords that were eventually reached with its Palestinian neighbors. And that happened because in 2013, inspired by their president, enough of its people chose innovation over stagnation and went to the polls to vote hope over despair. Keep dreaming.

The writer is vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization and a member of The Jewish Agency Executive. The opinions expressed herein are his own.


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