Annexation: Asserting the promise of a greater Israel – opinion

KEEP DREAMING: With annexation pending, now more than ever it is imperative that the abiding principles espoused by Jabotinsky and Begin be applied to the realm of realpolitik.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin attend a memorial ceremony for Ze’ev Jabotinsky at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem last year. (photo credit: FLASH90)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin attend a memorial ceremony for Ze’ev Jabotinsky at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem last year.
(photo credit: FLASH90)
With President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” on the table, and the July 1 target date set by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for enacting annexation fast approaching, Israel’s Likud-led government, now more than ever, needs to demonstrate its fidelity to the fundamental values of its ideological forefathers Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin. In doing so, it will faithfully assert the promise of a greater Israel.
There are, of course, myriad factors that the government needs to contemplate in determining if, when, where and over whom to apply Israel sovereignty: geopolitical ramifications; the effect on world Jewry; the impact on ties with the Arab world; repercussions on matters of security, cooperation and coexistence with our Palestinian neighbors; the will of the people; and the country’s morale.
But I’m going to refrain from commenting on all of that. That’s not because I don’t have my opinions, but because, given my positions within Israel’s national institutions, it is inappropriate for me to state them. However, precisely because of those positions, I feel obliged to voice some thoughts regarding the moral principles and ethical considerations that need to guide those who, in the days and weeks to come, will be making the fateful decisions that will henceforth define the Zionist venture.
I choose to begin by referencing Ze’ev Jabotinsky. One could hardly find a Zionist icon more committed to the integrity of the Land of Israel and the right of the Jewish people to settle it than him. Yet this founder of Revisionist Zionism was equally committed to equality, human rights, the rule of law and the paramount sanctity of democracy.
For Jabotinsky, “Democracy means freedom... and where there are no guarantees for freedom of the individual, there can be no democracy.... The Jewish state will have to ensure that the minority will not be rendered defenseless... after all, that minority comprises individuals who were also created ‘in the image of God.’”
There is no room for conjecture that Jabotinsky’s reference to minorities might not have included the indigenous Palestinians.
“All Jews and Zionists of all schools of thought want the best for the Arabs of Eretz Israel,” he wrote. “We do not want to eject even one Arab from either the left or the right bank of the Jordan River. We want them to prosper both economically and culturally. We envision the regime of Jewish Palestine as follows: Most of the population will be Jewish, but equal rights for all Arab citizens will not only be guaranteed, they will also be fulfilled.”
NOR IS there any basis for suggesting that Jabotinsky’s call for equal rights might be mitigated by assigning a status other than “citizen” to non-Jews living in enclaves within territories unilaterally annexed to Israel, an eventuality reportedly being contemplated.
“[Even] after the formation of a Jewish majority,” he foretold, “a considerable Arab population will always remain in Palestine. If things fare badly for this group of inhabitants then things will fare badly for the entire country. The political, economic and cultural welfare of the Arabs will thus always remain one of the main conditions for the well-being of the Land of Israel.”
This fierce commitment to human nobility is captured in this Zionist thinker’s legendary declaration that “every man is a king,” which, for him, meant two things: “The first consequence... is, obviously, universal equality: The essence of your or my royalty is that there cannot be anyone above you or me in dignity or status. The second consequence is individual liberty: A king is nobody’s subject.”
These values espoused by this Zionist visionary cannot be dismissed as mere rhetoric. Had Jabotinsky had his way, they would have been enshrined in a constitution for the state-in-the-making, a draft of which was prepared by those at the highest echelons of the Revisionist movement. It included not only the affirmation that “the principle of equal rights for all citizens of any race, creed, language or class shall be enacted without limitation throughout all sectors of the country’s public life,” but even went so far as to declare, “In every cabinet where the prime minister is a Jew, the vice-premiership shall be offered to an Arab, and vice-versa.”
Jabotinsky’s ideological heir, Menachem Begin, was as stalwart a nationalist as his mentor, and no less a proponent of the right of the Jewish people to settle in the entirety of Eretz Yisrael. Yet he, too, was a passionate proponent of liberal democracy.
The examples are numerous. Among them, a speech to the Knesset urged the repeal of Emergency Regulations which provided for military jurisdiction over Arab populations under Israel’s control.
“Some say that it is impossible for us to provide full equal rights to Arab citizens of the state because they do not fulfill full equal obligations. But this is a strange claim. True, we decided not to obligate Arab residents... to perform military service. But we decided this of our own free will and I believe that the moral reason for it is valid... we believe that in the Jewish State, there must be and will be equal rights for all its citizens, irrespective of religion, nation, or origin.”
On another occasion, addressing the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee, he remarked, “If we accept the committee members’ definition of ‘emergency,’ then in all honesty... you are saying that we must reconcile ourselves... to the long-term presence of tyrannical, fascistic laws.”
TO THOSE who might suggest such sentiments would not be expressed in regard to Arabs in areas under Israel’s control but upon whom citizenship were not conferred, suffice it to say that Begin stated unequivocally, “We believe that there are human rights that precede the human form of life called a state.”
These ideals, of course, are integral to the Zionist vision and hallowed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. They have been articulated over and over again by the full spectrum of the Zionist pantheon.
Theodor Herzl captured them when he wrote, “I truly believe that even after we possess our land, Zionism will not cease to be an ideal. For Zionism includes not only the yearning for a plot of Promised Land acquired legally for our weary people, but also the yearning for ethical and spiritual fulfillment. “
David Ben-Gurion encapsulated these ideals thus: “By these will the state be judged, by the moral character it imparts to its citizens and by its fidelity to the supreme behest: ‘And thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ Here is crystallized the eternal law of Judaism, and the state will be worthy of its name only if its systems, social and economic, political and legal, are based upon these imperishable words: not to deprive, not to rob, not to oppress, not to hurt.”
This is what Israel’s leaders need bear in mind as they contemplate the next steps regarding the unilateral imposition of Israeli law on portions of the West Bank. Wherever Israel’s borders may ultimately be drawn, it is vital that they – and we – recognize that the greater Israel we are still striving to fashion is not going to be determined by the country’s boundaries, but by the faithfulness of its inhabitants to the lofty ideals of the generations of Zionists who preceded us, and on whose foundation we have erected the miracle of Israel. They are no less precious for having been minted decades ago.
More than that, abandoning these values would constitute a betrayal of the Zionist idea, unsettling even our steadfast supporters and leaving our ardent advocates disoriented after years of legitimately laying claim to the moral high ground. Despite the venom of our sworn enemies, the Zionist enterprise can survive. But the disapproval of Jabotinsky and Begin? I am less confident.
The writer is a Zionist living in Jerusalem. The opinions expressed herein are not only his. They are shared by millions of Jews in Israel and around the world who care as deeply as he does about fashioning the Jewish state as the exemplary society it was always meant to be.