yossi beilin 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Political Zionism led by Theodor Herzl would not have come into existence were
it not for anti-Semitism in Europe, pogroms in Russia and a fear lest the
emergence of the Jews from the ghetto and their integration into the economic,
political, media and academic systems of the day provoke a sharp and violent
reaction. There were alternative Jewish movements aimed at reaching the Land of
Israel on the basis of religious motives or in order to build a new society
founded on agricultural settlement and social justice. But that was not the
Zionist movement as established in 1897.
The real dream of most of those
who established Zionism at the end of the nineteenth century was to integrate
into Europe. Since they concluded that this was not practical, and considering
that a return to religious life in the ghetto was not desirable, they adopted a
fallback option whereby the Jewish people would move to a state full of Jews
that by definition could not be anti-Semitic.
The awful failure of the
Zionist vision was that it was realized after and not before the
The existence of a nascent Jewish “Yishuv” in the Land of
Israel saved a few hundred thousand Jews from the Nazis but not the millions for
whom the gates of the world were locked. The main importance of Israel in my
view is that it is the only place in the world unconditionally open to Jews
wishing to come here.
Herzl’s vision described a country with a fully
empowered Arab minority living in amity with the Jewish majority, a country
living at peace with the world and accepted by it. In the prevailing reality
prior to the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, Israel was a foreign implant, living
by its sword, boycotted by the entire Arab world – the exact opposite of the
But Israel of the 1990s was the Jewish state closest to
the vision of Herzl and his colleagues: the Arabs living in Israel enjoyed
relative prosperity and a far higher level of equality, the Arab boycott was
partially abandoned and 13 Arab states engaged in discussion with Israel
concerning regional development (in the multilateral talks on water, economic
cooperation, refugee rehabilitation, environment and arms control).
peace process encouraged many countries to establish diplomatic relations, and
Israelis were proudly welcomed by the world in view of their rapid economic
development and scientific and other achievements. The original Zionist dream,
which delegated to Israel a global mission in the fields of international law,
human rights, aid to developing countries, etc., was very close to realization.
Our status in the United Nations and in other international organizations was
THE PAST 10 years were ones of dramatic reversal. Without
asking whether this is exclusively Israel’s fault (I don’t think it is), the
facts speak for themselves. Against the backdrop of the violent second intifada,
the Second Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead in Gaza and, most recently, the
events surrounding the Gaza flotilla, Israel finds itself in a situation
reminiscent of the 1970s, when the UN adopted the insane decision (rescinded
only 17 years later) to define Zionism as a racist movement.
Israel has been pushed almost completely out of the Arab world, the Arab boycott
has returned, and formerly friendly countries are turning their backs. Various
parties in international academia and the trade union movement are passing
resolutions to boycott their Israeli colleagues, and representatives of the
Israeli government have a hard time completing their prepared remarks even in
There is little the current Israeli government can
do to change the world’s attitude, combat the boycott efforts and neutralize the
attempts to turn the country into a new ghetto – one from which it is
inconvenient and even embarrassing to depart. The country is led by an extreme
right-wing coalition, most of whose spokespersons are busy vindicating the
arguments of our international critics. Israel’s number one diplomat, Foreign
Minister Avigdor Lieberman, is perceived as a fascist-leaning racist. He cannot
hold an intimate conversation with a single serious actor anywhere in the
In order to extricate itself from this new ghetto, Israel needs to
change its policy.
Were the present government to do so, Israel would be
forgiven the composition of its leadership. But the likelihood of this happening
is slim because Israel’s leaders believe in the path they have chosen: some of
them suffice with lip service to peace while others don’t even bother with lip
service and state openly that they don’t believe in peace. None are prepared to
pay the price for peace.
In this reality, the only possibilities for
change are a strong American policy that leads both sides to peace, or waiting
for the next elections. Meanwhile, Israel will continue to pay an unbearable
price of isolation from the world.The writer is a former minister of
justice who currently chairs the Geneva initiative and is president of
This article was first published on
www.bitterlemons-international.org and is reprinted with permission.