It says something about a country, and its growing sense of impotence, when news sites proclaim with some excitement that during his visit to the Foreign Ministry in the aftermath of the vote on UN Security Council Resolution 2334, the Angolan representative to Israel got a parking ticket. As if the fact that his diplomatic immunity does not cover parking tickets is a sign of our potency.
Endless amounts of ink have been and will be spilled on what the resolution means, why the US did what it did, and where this leaves Israel – and reasonable minds will differ. On one matter, however, there is hardly any room for dispute: whatever motivated its passage, Resolution 2334 is yet another signal of Israel’s dramatically diminished standing in the international community.
Yes, it is true that the settlements are not an overwhelming impediment to peace, because no, Abbas has no interest, and because they could be dismantled, as in Gaza, should the time ever come. Yet it is also true that Israel’s dominion over millions of Palestinians is bad for Israel’s soul and its standing in myriad ways, but yes, it is also true that Israel has no good moves on the chessboard.
It is equally true that much about the UN resolution makes no sense, because no, it is not clear why Israel can hold on to territory it captured in one war that it did not start (the War of Independence), while it must give up territory that it captured in another defensive war that it did not seek (the Six Day War). Why can Israel keep Ashkelon, situated on land that was not included in the 1947 Partition Plan but that it captured in the first war, but not Shiloh, which it conquered in the third war? Why is Karmiel, situated in the center of the Galilee, indisputably Israel when it, too, was outside the internationally sanctioned 1947 borders, while Gush Etzion, which fell right before Independence and was recovered in 1967, is now a place where it is illegal for Israelis to add on to their homes?
True, this United Nations resolution, just like the 1975 “Zionism is Racism” General Assembly Resolution 3379, is so patently blind to history and context that it is hard to take seriously. Yet, we must. Because this resolution gives new fuel to BDS, makes Israeli soldiers vulnerable to being tried at the International Criminal Court, criminalizes decent, law-abiding Israelis (like the 40,000+ who live in Ma’aleh Adumim) throughout the Gush and the West Bank, and once again, places the onus for resolving the conflict not on the Palestinians but exclusively on Israel.
But our objections, logical though they may be, do not matter.
This significant defeat makes clear we are in a new era. Israel will win some diplomatic spats but lose many others. And while Israel is hardly blameless or always wise, Israel’s losses will stem more from international myopia than anything the Jewish State did or did not do.
It is thus in other arenas where Israel might shift the way that American Jews speak about it, and recraft the way that its own citizens understand what this country is. To that end, the time has come to renew conversations internal to Zionism about what it is that Israel is, the society we seek to create.
This significant loss should prompt us to return to our Zionist roots. Now is the time to breathe new life into the old and now largely forgotten Zionist debates that long made Zionism as much a conversation as it was a political movement.
Take Palestinian nationalism, for example. The Palestinians have no democratic tradition, have built much less infrastructure than they should have, and are a long way from teaching their children to live at peace next to Jews. Does that mean, however, that we cannot resurrect a discussion about the relationship between Zionism and freedom? Was Zionism concerned only with Jewish freedom, or did our own quest for sovereignty stem from a Jewish awareness that the yearning for national freedom is universal? Was Ze’ev Jabotinsky right or wrong, in The Iron Wall
, when he said that Zionism needed to respect Arabs’ love for their land as much as it spoke about Jews and their own connection to the land?
Three times in Deuteronomy 2, Moses admonishes the Israelites that some lands were not theirs, but instead, were designated to other peoples. “We marched on in the direction of the wilderness of Moab. And the Lord said to me: Do not harass the Moabites …. For I will not give you any of their land as possession; I have assigned it … as a possession to the descendants of Lot” (2:8- 9). What ought contemporary Zionism make of such admonishments? Even with a resolution of the conflict far out of reach, could such questions shape our education, our discourse?
What about the re-imagination of Judaism now that we are restored to our ancestral homeland, and are the majority culture? Rabbi Elad Dokow, rabbi of the Technion, ruled last week that students should not enter the student union because the Christmas tree there was an “affront to Jewish identity on campus.” Is that the sort of Jewish renaissance that Ahad Ha’am had in mind when he imagined our return here, or has Dokow imported classic halachic European Diasporic defensiveness to a sovereign Jewish state? David Ben-Gurion, Natan Alterman and dozens of others imagined that Jews in the Jewish state would have no use for Jewish tradition. That, we know, is not true, and young Israelis are embracing Jewish richness with vigor. But is Rabbi Dokow’s worldview the best we have to offer them? What if this country trained and supported a rabbinate that was open, moderate and intellectually compelling? Can we imagine what our society might look like?
Dozens of other social and intellectual challenges beckon us. Though the disappointments of this past week make clear that there is much about our fate that we cannot control, there is also much that we can. Perhaps this week, when a new secular year dawns and a holiday of light and miracles reaches its apex, it is worth recalling that almost a century ago, in 1923 in Berlin, Shaul Tchernichovsky wrote his famous poem, They Say There is a Land
. Its words are no less compelling now than they were then:They say: There is a land, a land drenched with sun.
Where is that land?
\Where is that sun? …
Already have we passed several
deserts and oceans [and … ]
our strengths are ending.
How is it we have gone astray?
That not yet have we been left alone?
That land of sun,
that one we have not found. …
Where is that land,
the stars of that hill?
Who shall guide our way,
tell me my path?
The answer, of course, is we. What must shape us is not the UN, other countries, or foreign leaders. Zionism was always about the Jews shaping their own future, imagining their own destinies. All that remains to be seen is whether we have it within us to rise to the challenge. The writer is Koret distinguished fellow and chairman of the core curriculum at Jerusalem’s Shalem College. His book Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn was published by Ecco/HarperCollins.