The asylum seekers and Zionism

What is Zionism's responsibility to those who are seeking a better life, but might not be Jewish?

September 3, 2017 21:33
4 minute read.
African migrants gesture behind a fence during a protest against Israel's detention policy towards t

African migrants gesture behind a fence during a protest against Israel's detention policy towards them. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN - REUTERS)


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Last Tuesday Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked caused a stir in the legal, political and media arenas when at the Justice Conference of the Israel Bar Association she stated that “Zionism should not continue... to lower its head to a system of individual rights, which is interpreted in a universal manner that divorces it from the history of the Knesset and the history of legislation with which we are all familiar... Zionism has turned into a dead zone of the law,” and “national challenges are a legal blind spot.”

Shaked was referring to the verdict of the High Court of Justice on the issue of African asylum seekers. The court ruled that they may be deported if they consent to the deportation, but that cannot be interned for more than 60 days in an effort to “convince” them to leave Israel voluntarily.

Shaked, like many other ministers in the current government, condemned the 60-day ruling, since it will thwart the government’s deportation policy.

What all this has to do with Zionism is not clear, unless making the lives of African asylum seekers miserable so that they will get the hell out of the Jewish state, thereby solving the problems of the Jewish residents of south Tel Aviv who bear the main brunt of the presence of tens of thousands of asylum seekers in the country, at the price of infringing on the basic human rights of the latter, are considered Zionism.

Shaked added in her speech that the “Basic Law: Israel, the State of the Jewish Nation” bill, which is currently being drafted, will ensure that the status of Zionism will be upgraded vis-à-vis that of “accepted basic human rights.”

Of course, Shaked has an absolute right to believe in whatever she wants, just as those of us who believe that what she believes in is a total perversion of the meaning of Zionism as perceived by the founding fathers of the State of Israel and a manifestation of extreme chauvinism that could herald the destruction of the modern Jewish state, have a right to ours, without being labeled defeatist traitors.

The problems involved in the inclusion of the term “Zionism” in the proposed superfluous Basic Law are manifold. First, as with “democratic state,” “Jewish state” and “who is a Jew” so there is no agreement about what Zionism means. Thus, before the establishment of the state there was a general consensus that Zionism involved the “ingathering of dispersions,” both by legal and illegal means, acting toward the establishment of a Jewish state with the consent of the international community, acquiring land in Eretz Yisrael by all legal means, and developing a Jewish economy, Jewish governing institutions and a military capability in mandatory Palestine.

After the establishment of the state in 1948, there was a general consensus that Zionism implied free Jewish immigration to and absorption in the Jewish state, developing the country’s economy and institutions, developing a strong military capability to defend the state from its external enemies, and strengthening democracy, including the granting of equal rights to the state’s non-Jewish minorities, subject to security constraints.

The consensus started to disintegrate after the Six Day War, when the question of the future of the territories occupied during the war turned into a subject of deep contention.

For part of the Jewish population Zionism implied Jewish settlement in the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (originally also the Sinai Peninsula until it was evacuated following the peace agreement with Egypt), and the eventual annexation of these territories.

For another section of the Jewish population Zionism implied ensuring that a solid Jewish majority is preserved in the State of Israel, and agreement to trade most of the occupied territories (excluding Jerusalem, Gush Etzion and strategically vital areas) for peace with the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbors.

In addition, as a growing percentage of the Jewish population turned religious, the content of Zionism for many became increasingly religious, compared to the predominantly secular content of Zionism in the early years of the state. Thus, a growing part of the population started viewing the Zionist state as a Jewish state in the national- religious sense, even going so far as to demand the predominance of Halacha (the Jewish Orthodox religious law) over the laws enacted by the Knesset. The secular part of the population continued to view the Zionist state as the state of all Jews of whatever orientation – religious or secular; Orthodox or non-Orthodox; Ashkenazi, Mizrahi or converted; right wing, left wing or centrist; straight or gay, and placed ever-growing emphasis on the issue of human rights.

Under the circumstances, trying to impose a particular brand of Zionism on those who believe Zionism to mean something different is an act of folly, that will merely increase the schisms in the already deeply divided Israeli society. In addition, the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) – both Ashkenazi and Sephardi – who object to basic laws on principle (according to them the supreme law is the Halacha), object even more vociferously to these decrees of the secular state including the term “Zionism” to define the Jewish state.

The conclusion of many scholars with middle-of-the-road inclinations is that it is desirable to maintain vagueness regarding the exact definition of terms on which opinions are divided, which, as mentioned above, also include, in addition to Zionism, “democratic state,” “Jewish state” and “who is a Jew.”

But to return to Shaked. Those who tried to stop her delivering her speech at the Bar Association’s conference acted undemocratically, and ought to be condemned for doing so. However, this doesn’t mean that her ideological opponents should not fight by all legitimate means to stop her from realizing her agenda.

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