Stop playing the ‘Zionist card’

No party can or should claim to be the party of Zionism. It is time for parties to stop playing politics with Zionism and, if they won’t, I hope voters will not be fooled by such tactics.

January 2, 2013 21:26
4 minute read.
Herzl's portrait at Independence Hall

Herzl's portrait at Independence Hall 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)


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The word “Zionism” has been thrown around during this election season, with parties claiming to be “true Zionists” or arriving on the scene to “restore Zionism” to Israel. This attempt to woo voters through what is nothing short of a scare tactic should stop.

And, if the candidates in these parties won’t cease, I hope voters will see right through the abuse of this word, which should apply to all people who dedicate their lives to improving Jewish life in the State of Israel.

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I must begin with a confession. As a new immigrant to Israel, I also fell into the trap of the more extreme Right and believed that right-wingers were the “true Zionists” and only they “truly cared about Israel.”

Just two years after arriving, I had the privilege of participating in a meeting with then-public security minister Avi Dichter of Kadima.

After the meeting, I asked him how he, as a person who dedicated his life to the state as the former head of the Israeli Internal Security Agency (known as the “Shin Bet”) and now as a government minister, could serve in a party which was exploring a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

After all, this pursuit included the possibility of evacuating Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria – “isn’t this un-Zionistic?” I asked.

Minister Dichter smiled at me, patted me on the shoulder, and said: “Was no one Zionistic before 1967? What was Zionism before the words ‘Greater Israel’ appeared on the radar screen? It was about making Israel the best country it could be and a ‘light unto the nations.’ That is my focus and by that standard there is no greater Zionist than I. I said the same about my political rivals. We may disagree about the politics, but I would never say they are not Zionists.”

What a critical lesson! Why did I buy into the notion that Zionism meant “a greater Israel?” For the first 18 years of the state no one even dreamt of a “Greater Israel.” Zionism meant building a spectacular country which could be a safe haven for Jews and inspire the world. Even dictionaries got it right! Webster’s dictionary defines “Zionism” as “an international movement originally for the establishment of a Jewish national or religious community in Palestine and later for the support of modern Israel.”

The Cambridge dictionary defines it as “a political movement which had as its original aim the creation of a country for Jewish people, and which now works to help the development of Israel.” And that is what it should mean today.

NOW THAT I have become heavily involved in Israeli politics and have met many of the personalities involved, I see how Avi Dichter’s words about himself as a leader were right on the mark. I have met leaders on the far Right of the political spectrum who will not support budging from any land in Israel regardless of the agreement which may be on the table.

While I disagree with them, their motives are certainly Zionistic – not because they display a commitment to the land itself, but because they believe this is best for the State and people of Israel. However, at the same time, I have also met leaders from Left of the political spectrum who want to rush to a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Despite the fact that I disagree with them, I now understand that their motives are also Zionistic and that they are working toward what they believe is the best way to enable the State of Israel to flourish and succeed as a Jewish country.

There is no doubt that the leaders of my party, Yesh Atid, who are in the Center of the political map, are Zionists in every sense of the word. I receive daily inspiration from their dedication to the State of Israel, with most of them having given up very comfortable lives for the far more difficult political world because they want to improve our state.

“Zion” in the Bible refers to Jerusalem. Jerusalem does not sit in the land of any specific tribe and is the spiritual home for Jews from all walks of life. Thus, the very notion of creating polarization by labeling fellow Jews as “non-Zionists” actually runs counter to the very concept of true Zionism. It is time for parties to stop playing politics with Zionism and, if they won’t, I hope voters will not be fooled by such tactics.

Choose a party because you agree with their plans to improve Israel, if your focus relates to the burning internal issues within Israeli society.

If you prefer to vote based on security issues, choose a party because you agree with its approach toward making peace with the Palestinians or with their insistence and devotion to ignoring the Palestinian problem.

But no party can or should claim to be the party of Zionism.

The author is an educator, author and community activist based in Beit Shemesh. He has rabbinic ordination and a masters degree in education. Rabbi Lipman is a candidate for Knesset with the Yesh Atid party.

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