Keep Dreaming: To serve the Jews

Demands that Israel demonstrate genuine commitment to peace in order to reclaim the sympathies of enlightened people everywhere may be ill-conceived - even if they are right.

July 2, 2010 15:56
SCREENSHOT FROM the Twilight Zone episode ‘To Serv

twilight zone 311. (photo credit: Screenshot)


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With a title like this, fans of The Twilight Zone may already have some sense of what’s to come. But I’ll get back to that shortly. First, I want to make reference to the many around the world, speaking in the name of Israel’s best interests, who have of late besieged us and beseeched us on the pages of respected newspapers, in mass petitions, in open letters and in political gatherings, demanding that we change course and both adopt and project an image of a liberalism that reflects a genuine commitment to the pursuit of justice and peace in order to reclaim the sympathies of enlightened people everywhere and of liberal Jewish America in particular. They are right. And they are wrong.

They are right, because it is true that we must do what they are insisting upon. They are wrong, because the ethical imperative they are preaching needs be internalized as an end in itself and not as a means of securing anyone’s support.

I, for one, have my doubts as to whether or not governments and Jews around the world would really rally to our side even if we were to rescind the blockade of Gaza completely, dismantle every roadblock in contested territory and permanently freeze any new settlement activity. Our withdrawal from Lebanon and disengagement from Gaza, after all, are not ancient history, and both resulted in far more rockets raining in than accolades. More than that, we have amassed vastly more than our fair share of UN condemnations for human rights violations, when there are so many other nations far more worthy of this distinction than we who are ignored altogether.

Still, any violation of human rights, act of oppression or policy of discrimination in the Jewish state must be eschewed by those who hold fast to the Zionist dream. With whatever strand of this glorious movement for the national liberation of the Jewish people one identifies – political, cultural, religious, socialist – creating an asylum from the scourge of anti-Semitism was only a part of the plan. The other part called for “shaping an exemplary society with a unique moral and spiritual character, marked by mutual respect for the multifaceted Jewish people, rooted in the vision of the prophets, striving for peace and contributing to the betterment of the world,” as reaffirmed by the World Zionist Organization as recently as two weeks ago during its international congress.

In fact, these values that we are being asked to champion and live by are fundamental to what the establishment of a commonwealth in the Land of Israel has always been about, from the time of Abraham. Through his seed, Israel – dwelling in its own land – would the entire family of nations be blessed. And it is the moral compass of this charge, at once ancient and forward-looking, that needs to guide us, the PR payoff aside.

WHICH BRINGS us back to that episode of The Twilight Zone that my friend Brian recently reminded me of. In it, aliens land on Earth and quickly begin eradicating all the ills of humanity: hunger, disease and warfare. Any wariness regarding their intentions is dispelled when the Earthlings begin decoding the invaders’ manual, which they discover to be entitled: To Serve Man. As people happily begin boarding a spacecraft to visit the purported paradise of the aliens’ own planet, one of the translators frantically tries to reach them, desperately entreating them from a distance: “Don’t get on that ship! The rest of the book, To Serve Man, it’s... it’s a cookbook!”

But the warning comes too late. The access ramp is raised and the passengers are helplessly and hopelessly whisked off to their fate of, well, being served, but in a manner somewhat other than the unsuspecting victims had anticipated.

I am not suggesting that those who are calling upon us to make sacrifices or take risks in our pursuit of peace are motivated by anything other than their best intentions and our best interests. But it is ultimately our responsibility, not theirs, to ensure that we are not going to get roasted in the process. In the meantime, I regrettably believe that they are misinterpreting the intentions of those who have amassed on our borders.

The alien invasion we are trying to ward off is not being orchestrated to defend the legitimate humanitarian rights of suffering Palestinians (repressed far more by their own regime than by ours), but rather to delegitimize the very notion of a nation-state for the Jewish people. As long as the nobility of that claim has not been dignified by public acceptance in the Arab world, Zionism will continue to be castigated as racism, equated with apartheid and denigrated as colonialism no matter how enlightened a society we are able to fashion, and regardless of how progressive the manner in which we relate to the minorities in our midst.

Today, the common goal of all who would wish “to serve the Jews” as anything other than fodder for our enemies must be to proclaim loud and clear, over and over again, that statehood is our inalienable right, as is our claim to dwelling in peace within defensible borders, unthreatened by those who are unable to reconcile themselves to our very existence. At the same time, even as we must insist that we not be held to moral standards any higher than those applied to others, we ourselves need to seek to surpass them.

In the Torah reading of this past week, Balak declares his enmity of Israel by calling upon Balaam, a hybrid of sorcerer and prophet, to curse our people. Three times he blesses us instead. “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, thy dwelling places, O Israel.” While we must jealously guard our assertion of sovereignty on the one hand, with the other we must pursue our sacred duty to become worthy of that blessing, so that the many who have set out to damn us will end up singing our praises instead.

The writer is deputy chairman of the World Zionist Organization and a member of the Jewish Agency Executive.

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