Column One: Post-Zionism is so 1990s
The open door policy for Israeli radicals was defensible in the 1990s when a significant portion of the Israeli public supported them
Man waves Israeli flag in Jerusalem Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
You can learn a lot about a nation’s health by watching how it celebrates its
national holidays. In Israel’s case, compare how we celebrated our 50th
Independence Day in 1998 to what celebrations involve today.
1990s, Israel’s elite took a vacation from reality and history and they brought
much of the public with them.
Then-foreign minister Shimon Peres said
that history was overrated. The so-called “New Historians,” who rummaged through
David Ben-Gurion’s closet looking for skeletons, were the toast of the academic
world. Radicals like Yossi Beilin, Shulamit Aloni and Avrum Burg were dictating
The media, the entertainment establishment, and the
Education Ministry embraced and massively promoted plays, movies, television
shows, songs, dances, art and books that “slayed sacred cows.” Everywhere you
turned, post-Zionism was in. Post-Judaism was in. And Zionism and Judaism were
both decidedly out.
As he is today, in 1998 Binyamin Netanyahu was prime
minister, and then as now there were prominent voices seeking to blame him for
the absence of peace and every other terrible blight on the planet.
1998, the government invested a fortune in marking Israel’s 50th Independence
The main official celebration was a massive affair called Jubilee
Bells that took place at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. More than 2,000 performers
participated. But rather than serve as an event that unified Israeli society in
celebration of 50 years of sovereign freedom, the event exposed just how far
Israel’s political and cultural elite were willing to go in attacking basic
The Bat Sheva Dance Troupe was scheduled to participate
in the program and present a dance set to the traditional Passover song “Ehad mi
yodea,” (Who knows one). The song contains 13 stanzas that praise God, praise
Jewish law, and outline the Jewish life cycle. In the number Bat Sheva was
scheduled to perform, the dancers come on stage dressed as ultra-Orthodox Jewish
men and by the end of the song, all they are wearing is underwear.
choreography enraged members of Netanyahu’s cabinet including education minister
Yitzhak Levy. They insisted that the program shouldn’t contain material that
insulted sectors of Israeli society. The organizers tried to forge a compromise.
But the dancers chose to boycott the festival.
Israel’s cultural and
media establishment expressed shock and horror at what they viewed as the
government’s attempt to infringe on artistic freedom. The Association of Israeli
Artists demanded that a public commission be formed to ensure that the
government would be unable to interfere in artistic freedom in the future. Major
cultural icons declared cultural war against religious Jews.
of whether the dance was appropriate for an official, state- financed
celebration of Independence Day was never asked. So, too, no one asked whether a
dance portraying ultra-Orthodox Jews moving sensuously to a traditional Jewish
song while taking off their clothes reflected the values of society.
understand the distance Israel has traveled since then, consider Tuesday night’s
Memorial Day ceremony at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. None of the performers
attacked their fellow Israelis. And the best-received artist and song was Mosh
Ben-Ari and his rendition of Psalm 121 – A Song of Ascent.
which praises God as the eternal guardian of Israel, became the unofficial
anthem of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008-2009. And Ben-Ari’s rendition of
the song propelled the dreadlock bedecked, hoop earring wearing world music
artist into super-stardom in Israel.
IT WAS impossible to imagine Pslam
121 or any other traditional Jewish poem or prayer being performed as anything
other than an object of scorn in 1998. Back then, it would have been impossible
to contemplate a crowd of tens of thousands of non-religious Israelis reverently
singing along as Ben-Ari crooned, “My help is from God/ Maker of Heaven and
Earth/ He will not allow your foot to falter/ Your Guardian will not slumber/
Behold he neither slumbers nor sleeps – the Guardian of Israel.”
that the crowd would have necessarily booed him off the stage. He simply never
would have been allowed on the stage to begin with. The 1990s was the decade
that launched Aviv Gefen, the most prominent secular draft-evader, to
Israel is no longer in the throes of an adolescent rebellion. It
has regained its senses.
True, its celebrities look like Ben-Ari and not
like Naomi Shemer. But the message is the same. Israel is a great country and a
great nation. Zionism is in. Judaism is in. Post- Zionism is out. Post-Judaism
When last year a group of performers announced they would boycott
the Ariel Center for Performing Arts, the public reacted with anger and disgust,
Fearing a loss of state funding, their theater bosses
quickly sought to distance themselves from the performers.
return to its Zionist roots is the greatest cultural event of the past decade.
It is also an event that occurred under the radar screen of the rest of the
world. No one outside the country seems to have noticed at all.
outside world’s failure to take note of Israel’s cultural shift owes to its
failure to recognize the significance of the failure of the peace process with
the Palestinians on the one hand and the failure of Israel’s withdrawal from
Gaza on the other hand. The demise of the peace process at Camp David in July 2000 and the terror war that
followed launched the Israeli public on its path away from its radical
post-Zionist rebellion and back to its Zionist roots. The failure of the
withdrawal from Gaza, and the international community’s response to Operation
Cast Lead, marked the conclusion of the journey.
The Oslo peace process
was based on the radical belief that it is possible to make peace by empowering
terrorists and giving them land, political legitimacy, money and guns. To
embrace this nonsense, the public had to be willing to tolerate the notion that
there was something unjust about the Zionist revolution. Because if Zionism and
the cause of Jewish national liberation are just, then it is impossible to
justify empowering the PLO, a terrorist movement dedicated to the destruction of
Israel and the delegitimization of Zionism.
Most Israelis never adopted
the post-Zionist narrative. But they did accept the doctrine of appeasement. And
they shared the belief that if appeasement failed, the world would rally to
Consequently, the beginning of society’s awakening to the
lie of post-Zionism at the heart of the peace process was a function not only of
the massive Palestinian terror onslaught that began after Yasser Arafat rejected
peace and statehood at Camp David. It was also a function of the August 2000 UN
Durban Conference and its aftermath in which the international community rallied
to the Palestinians’ side. The latter demonstrated that just as Israel’s
transfer of land and guns to the PLO had endangered the lives of its citizens,
Israel’s conferral of political legitimacy on the PLO endangered the
international standing of the country.
The lesson that Israelis took from
the failure of the peace process was that Israel has no Palestinian partner for
And until the Palestinians change, Israel has no one to talk to.
While a slight majority of Israelis still support partitioning the land between
Israel and a Palestinian state, the overwhelming majority of Israelis believe
that Israel has no one to make peace with and therefore no possibility of
successfully partitioning the land.
This is not the lesson that
foreigners learned. From Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Tony Blair to Barack
Obama to Nicolas Sarkozy, foreign leaders have insisted that the Oslo process
had nearly succeeded and that its failure was a fluke.
The most the parts
of the international community that are not completely anti-Israel have been
willing to grant about the failure of the peace process is that it failed due to
a lack of courage. By this telling, the problem isn’t the concept of appeasing
terrorists with land, guns and legitimacy. Rather the problem is narrow-minded,
cowardly leaders. And so the way forward for them is also clear: figure out a
more attractive appeasement package for the Palestinians and put Israel’s feet
to the fire to make it cough up the required concessions.
THEN THERE is
the aftermath of the withdrawal from Gaza.
Israel’s unilateral withdrawal
from Gaza was a traumatic national event. The forced expulsion of thousands of
Israelis from their homes led Israeli society to the brink of
The move represented the last hope of the peace
If the Palestinians won’t sit down with Israel, so the thinking
went, Israel can still appease them by simply giving them what they want without
But not only did the withdrawal bring no peace. It brought
Hamas to power. It brought tens of thousands of projectiles down on southern
Israel. Israelis expected the world to recognize the significance of this string
But that didn’t happen.
Instead of seeing the lengths
Israel had gone to appease the Palestinians and side with it when its
appeasement failed again, the international community refused to even
acknowledge that Israel had withdrawn from Gaza. Condoleezza Rice forced Israel
to continue supplying electricity and water to Gaza and providing medical care
for Gazans in Israeli hospitals as if nothing had happened. No one accepted that
Israel was no longer in charge.
As far as most Israelis were concerned,
the final end of our vacation from reality came with the publication of the
Goldstone Report in the aftermath of Cast Lead. Here was Israel, forced to
defend itself from Hamas-ruled Gaza that was waging an illegal missile war
against Israeli civilians.
Rather than stand by Israel that had done
everything for peace, the UN’s commission accused Israel of committing war
Undoubtedly one of the reasons so few outsiders have drawn the
same lessons as the Israeli public from the failure of the peace process and the
Gaza withdrawal is because the only Israelis they listen to are the few
remaining holdouts from the 1990s. People like former Shin Bet (Israel Security
Agency) director Ami Ayalon can expect to have every withdrawal-from-territory
and destroy-the-settlements op-ed they write published in The New York Times,
whereas Richard Goldstone wasn’t even able to get the Times to publish his
admission that his eponymous commission’s conclusions were false.
open door policy for Israeli radicals was defensible in the 1990s when a
significant portion of the Israeli public supported them. Now it constitutes
nothing more than an anti-Israel propaganda campaign.
From Obama to J
Street to the EU, international actors interested in forcing Israel to make more
concessions to the Palestinians cannot understand why their attempts continue to
fail. How is it possible that despite their best efforts, Netanyahu remains in
power and the Left can’t get any traction with the public? For the answer, they
need to look no farther than Mosh Ben-Ari, his dreadlocks, and his rendition of
Psalm 121. Israel’s adolescent rebellion is over.
Post-Zionism is so