Livni close up 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file[)
Like any good family, the Jewish people have shown time and again how we can
unite in times of crisis. When Israel faced its enemies on the battlefield or
when Jewish communities abroad have been threatened, we have come together and
recognized our collective responsibility for one another.
But if this
alone is the nature of the ties that bind us, it constitutes a failure of vision
and of leadership. To define ourselves only by the threats we face is to allow
our adversaries to define us. It is a definition founded in fear. This may be a
mechanism for Jewish survival but it is not a prescription for vibrant and
meaningful Jewish living.
Israel – as the homeland of the Jewish people –
has a central role to play in developing a positive and unifying vision for the
Jewish world. And yet, in my meetings with Jewish leaders and citizens from
around the world I have been struck by the growing sense that Israel’s place in
Jewish life is eroding.
For too many young Diaspora Jews that I meet,
Israel is not the source of pride or inspiration that it was for their parents’
generation. Living in vibrant Jewish communities abroad – within states that
embrace multiculturalism and respect religious and minority rights – too many
Jews no longer feel they need Israel as a safe haven or as an anchor for their
identity. What’s more, they feel they have been taken for granted – their
loyalty to Israel is expected, but their voice and their concerns are not
Within this country, identity is increasingly pulled between two
poles: one, a secular Israeli identity centered around army service and the
Hebrew language; the other a growing but narrowly defined Orthodox or haredi
Jewish existence. In the process, a common commitment to the ideas and values
that unite us as a people and that can resonate with Jews here and around the
world seems increasingly tenuous These trends should alarm anyone who cares
about the unity and future of the Jewish people. They not only threaten to
fragment the Jewish people, but they place the Jewish communities here and in
the Diaspora on radically different trajectories which undermine and weaken
THIS STATE of affairs requires a dramatic reframing of the role of
Israel in Jewish life and the nature of the relationship between it and world
Jewry that should be built around four key principles: First, if Israel is to
realize its mission as the national home of the Jewish people, it must act like
one. It must find ways to welcome rather than alienate Jews regardless of their
opinions or the stream of Judaism with which they are affiliated. It must
embrace an inclusive and pluralistic Jewish agenda that respects our traditions
without denying the legitimacy of difference.
While Israel must retain
its sovereign authority to determine its own future, decisions taken in
Jerusalem that affect the Jewish people as a whole require that we listen to,
consult with and take account of the concerns and interests of Jews beyond our
Second, the relationship between Israel and world Jewry cannot
be founded on shlilat hagola (negating the Diaspora), nor on the mistaken idea
that Israel is no longer central to Jewish life. For the first time since the
Babylonian age, the Jewish people live in vibrant communities both in their
ancient homeland and abroad. The relationship between these communities should
be seen as mutually reinforcing rather than hierarchical.
As Zionists, we
must continue to encourage aliya, but we also have a vital interest in the
vibrancy and welfare of Diaspora communities.
Similarly, Diaspora Jews
have a critical stake in Israel’s success and prosperity.
This is not
only because Israel must always be a place of refuge in times of need. It is
also because Israel – through its rebirth and its very existence – gives
sovereign expression to our people’s collective right to self-determination and
creates unimagined opportunity for Jewish renewal, creativity and engagement
with the world.
Third, if we are to encourage a common sense of purpose
and belonging, there must be a place within Jewish discourse for responsible
criticism of Israel’s policies, even from overseas, without it being considered
an act of betrayal. To equate supporting Israel with supporting the policies of
any given government at any given time risks distancing Jews by forcing upon
them a false choice between their commitment to Israel and their personal
worldview. Israel is a confident and strong democracy and it is able to
withstand and contain this kind of criticism.
AT THE same time, those who
criticize from within the family – those who criticize out of love – have
responsibilities as well. They must be conscious of the fact that their
criticism may be exploited for more sinister ends by Israel’s enemies and they
should shape the context and form of their criticism accordingly. They must also
show sensitivity to the excruciating dilemmas and constraints under which Israel
operates and not fall victim to the double standards that so often characterize
Fourth, and most important, while in many ways Israel has
realized the Zionist vision of establishing a Jewish state, we have yet to
succeed in creating a Jewish society. By this, I do not mean a theocratic
society founded on Torah. I mean a society that is inspired by Jewish values,
tradition and experience – a society that is a source of meaning, identity,
culture and spiritual growth for Jews around the world, and a source of
leadership and moral example for the world as a whole.
It is a society
that answers the questions of what we stand for and what we contribute not
because we are threatened by enemies that seek to delegitimize us, but because
we owe it to ourselves and our children. This is not just a project for
Israelis, it is a project for Jews worldwide – it is a responsibility that both
communities share and neither can abandon.
In 1897, at the First Zionist
Congress in Basel, the overwhelming majority of the Jewish people were able to
unite around a profound idea that transformed Jewish history – the miraculous
rebirth of a state for the Jewish people in their ancient homeland.
time for us to embark upon a new Jewish conversation with that same
revolutionary spirit – a conversation that recognizes that Israel and world
Jewry are together writing the next chapter of Jewish history.
It is within our
power and our responsibility to generate that conversation and articulate a new
Zionist vision that transcends political differences and gives expression to the
unity and vitality of the Jewish people, its values and its
potential.The writer is leader of the opposition and head of the Kadima