A tractor is seen in the date fileds of Kibbutz Samar..
(photo credit: YARDENA SCHWARTZ)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi 1) and Naftali Bennett (Bibi Jr.) think they have cornered the market on Zionism. They believe they can determine who is a “Zionist” and who is an “anti-Zionist.”
Well, let’s see who is a better Zionist, these two talking heads or Case A.
A.’s claim to Zionism begins with his ideal since early adolescence to be a pioneer (halutz) – a builder and defender of Jews in the Land of Israel. That was more than 70 years ago. Before that, A. faithfully bought green Jewish National Fund stamps from his tiny allowance, and a bit older, went out into snow-covered icy streets of Toronto’s winter collecting money for greening “Palestine” walking from house to house, together with his haverim (comrades, no less) in their youth movement. Keep up to date on the latest opinion pieces on our new Opinion & Blogs Facebook page
A. led groups of youngsters, starting when he was 15, and was head of the Toronto branch of Hashomer Hadati religious pioneer movement at age 16. A. was almost expelled from high school because of the days he played hooky to make sure whatever the movement did would succeed. He ran the Hashomer Hadati camp in Bronte near Toronto at age 17, and not much later, prepared for life in Israel was on a hachshara training farm for pioneers for close to a year. On his first day on the farm, he dug and cleared a blocked cesspit, up to his boot tops in ordure for the sake of Zionism.
Before coming to Israel, A. and his wife were “sent” to help lead the three branches of the movement, called by then Bnei Akiva, in Los Angeles. “Sent” meant receiving a single one-way railway ticket and a promise of a job which never materialized.
A. found work, paid for his wife’s airfare; both held jobs while devoting every weekend and their two-week annual vacation working for the movement. When they left Los Angeles via Toronto for Israel, they paid their own way to New York and then the ship’s fare to France. Only there did they receive Jewish Agency tickets on the 5,000-ton Israel ship Artza in 4th class.
That meant that A. slept in a men’s dorm with 40 other immigrants, mainly from Morocco, and his wife in the women’s dorm with female immigrants.
Sixty-three years ago they arrived in Haifa. They came without family connections, without party “protektzia” (influential political contacts). They came with readiness to work hard, to build a land for Jews who wanted or needed a new home. On the first day on kibbutz, A.’s hands blistered and bled because the kibbutz had no work gloves to protect his soft palms as he twisted iron building rods for reinforcing concrete.
From then on, it was more hard work, long hours, and dedication to the ideal which won recognition from people like Teddy Kollek, later the legendary mayor of Jerusalem, and Abraham Harman, later president and then chancellor of the Hebrew University. By chance, Levi Eshkol, the great builder of Israel, then finance minister, found A.’s speeches to his liking and from 1955 until 1965, A. wrote speeches in English, while only when Eshkol become prime minister (from 1963) did speech writing become part of his official (paid) role in the Prime Minister’s Office. Until then, helping the prime builder of the country was sufficient additional, if unpaid, expression of A.’s Zionism.
Now to telescope the last 50 years, A. helped bring tens of thousands of students to Jerusalem by triggering the creation of the Rothberg International School of Hebrew University. He later was part of the Jewish Agency executive which helped tens of thousands of immigrants reach Israel. He personally visited and encouraged every major community in its love for Israel and support for building it, reaching many thousands face-to-face. He helped raise an Israeli family now reaching its fourth generation, all of whose adults strive to deepen human well-being and Jewish cultural depth in their profession or lives, and who have served or are serving in uniform.
Okay reader, you are correct. A. is this writer. I defy Bibi 1 or Bibi Jr. to question my credentials. I did not pursue power and glory, and I did not use my press connections to get my name and face in the media.
And I did not use a hiatus from power to seek personal wealth. As I told Teddy Kollek decades ago, the most meaningful day in my life was to be sworn in as a civil servant of Israel. Civil servant in the Anglo tradition.
And civil service pay scale.
So, Bibi and lesser imitations, stop trying to define “Zionist” and “anti-Zionist.” A teacher of Hebrew literature may very well be doing more for our people and heritage than would-be statesmen. And building settlements while ignoring the poor in our cities is a smaller Zionism than what Bibi Jr. and his model think is Greater Israel. By the Greater Israel standard, David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol were also anti-Zionists.
Bibis all, will you dare say that too? And Bibi 1, stop brandishing the blood of murdered Jews in Europe, and cease issuing calls for them to come “home.” This is serious, not a populist photo- op. It is stupid politically and diplomatically as well as insulting.
Your “Zionist” call to run away from Europe makes terrorism there and killing Jews an Israeli issue. It is not. It is a European issue. Today’s sane leaders in Europe – leaders of states and leaders of the Jewish communities – want to keep it that way. We are not pre-Inquisition. France today is not that of Dreyfus or of Vichy’s Petain/Laval. Germany is not that of youknow- who.
Hold the European political leaders to their words; otherwise cease and desist. The European Jews will decide where their home is. If they choose Israel, well, that’s why we are here. It’s a choice they should make for positive reasons, knowing we love and cherish them.
In short, cut out the cheap grandstanding claims of “Zionism.” Don’t introduce “anti-Zionism” thought-policing into our lives. The czar had his secret thought police in Russia. Japan had official thought police till 1945. Lenin and Stalin used torture and terror to exercise thought control. So did the fascist dictators in Europe, whom I do not wish to name.
We are a free people. Our thoughts are and must remain free.
Zionism stretches its wide blue-white tallit over most Israelis: from the children of the religious Zionist Mizrachi and the scions of Revisionism all the way across to the past and present center and left-wing Zionists.
If you want to challenge my Zionist credentials – do so. I dare you.
Avraham Avi-hai has served Israel in many more capacities than those mentioned above. He also is a student of history and political science, as well as of Bible and Jewish thought. His novel A Tale of Two Avrahams (Gefen and Amazon) draws on his political experience and his studies.