THE TWENTY-FIRST Zionist Congress, Geneva, 1939..
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
One of the many marvels of early Zionism was its clear vision: A state for the Jewish people that would be recognized internationally and achieved under the law. Today, we find ourselves in a very different situation.
We have a state, internationally recognized (mostly) under the law, but now some Zionists are pushing the “borders” of what is internationally accepted and under the law.
In 1897, at the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Theodor Herzl made clear that one of the main goals of political Zionism was to create an internationally and legally recognized home for the Jewish people in Palestine. As such, all land was legally purchased from Arabs up until 1947, when the War of Independence (Nakba) broke out. Today, this is not the case. There are some (reasonable) legal arguments that can be made for Israeli presence in the West Bank, but if the majority of the international community sees it as illegal and it has been ruled illegal by most international courts, biased or not, then does it matter? Zionism used to be associated with political Zionism as a means for the oppressed Jews to avoid the evils of antisemitism and achieve self-determination.
Although not entirely accurate, as more than a quarter of settlers are secular, I fear that now Zionism is increasingly and negatively associated with religious Zionism; settling land without purchasing it or “legally” acquiring it, ultimately resulting in a situation that is preventing others self-determination (although this is of course not the only reason).
It is not antisemitism for non-Jews to believe that Jews don’t have a unique and exclusive right to settle the West Bank for religious reasons. Yes, some of the settlements were built for security reasons, but not all, and it is unreasonable to expect others in the international community to support this manifestation of Zionism.
THUS, THE question becomes: Do we care? Of the many effects that the tragedy of the Holocaust had on the Jewish psyche, one that is perhaps underemphasized is the distrust and disregard for the international community.
In the time of need, the Jews were largely abandoned by the international community, as all doors were closed for those fleeing. Even the prestate Yishuv couldn’t help the Jews as Britain, under pressure from the Arabs, greatly limited immigration to Mandatory Palestine. Understandably, many feel the international community that condemns Israel today did not, does not, and will not care about the Jews. Thus, Hillel’s famous saying, “If I am not for myself, who is for me?” has become a mantra for Jews. However, the saying continues, “But if I am only for myself, what am I?” And this is the problem, I don’t think we know. There is no cohesive vision of who we want to be or where we want to be.
Since the end of the Six Day War, we still haven’t decided what to do with the West Bank. The current prime minister is reactive and not proactive, as he is becoming a master of maintaining the status quo. As we continue to build settlements, our international standing and our moral high ground continue to wane. In the eyes of the world, we have gone from the oppressed to the oppressor.
Do we care? The political Zionists certainly would.
One thing all Zionists can agree on is having a safe and secure Israel. Thus, I agree with the slogan of Benny Gantz’s new party: Israel before everything, which, to me, means security first. I do not have the security expertise of Gantz to know if Israel can remain safe and secure without a military presence in the West Bank, but I do have a strong belief that stopping settlement building will not hurt Israel’s security. Do I also think that stopping settlement building and shifting back to a vision more consistent with political Zionism will bring an end to unjust criticism of Israel or will bring peace to this region? No, of course not.
But, it certainly won’t hurt. I hope that this election will bring more vision and help us decide who we want to be as well as where we want to be.
The writer is a former Fulbright scholar in Israel, a recent graduate of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and co-host of the podcast Israel-Palestine: Beyond the Headlines with Alec and Ezra.
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