The Zionist project is far from finished, and the old challenges and principles still hold true today.
Land, sovereignty, Jewish identity and national security • As much as we would like to leave these buzzwords behind and simply enjoy life, these Zionist values are indispensable in a region as hostile and unstable as ours • A call to return to the basics, cliched but still true
The State of Israel is 66 years old. We have a third and fourth generation of sabras living in a successful country. We’ve shaped a normal Jewish life for ourselves. We are peace-seekers, moderates (perhaps too much so), and very democratic. We’ve succeeded in creating prosperity, plenty and growth. An honorable, modern and traditional Hebrew-Israeli identity has developed here. Our demography is impressive, certainly relative to the Western world. In a world in which nothing is perfect, we’ve put together an impressive package of Jewish life not known during 2,000 years of exile.
In many ways, the feeling is that Zionism has won. There is no Zionist leader of among the founding members who would not have stood in awe of what we have achieved. But therein lies the problem: because of our success, we’ve deluded ourselves to think that we can now rest on our laurels, that Zionism “has served its historic mission”, that the days of pioneering and sacrifice are over, and the pathos and sense of mission we still see among some idealists is quaint and unnecessary.
A Zionist’s work is never done
But it just isn’t true. We haven’t completed the challenges Zionism laid before us. The great policy questions are still with us. We have not permanently solved the big questions of settlement and control of the land, even within the Green Line. The Jewish character of the state is not guaranteed. Demography is not unequivocally on our side. It’s a mistake to assume that the IDF is and will continue to be as strong as it is now, that national security is a given and that combat service is unimportant. It is a huge mistake to assume that the daily struggle for existence and for Jewish sovereignty is a thing of the past.
It just isn’t true, because while we’re pretty normal, our neighbors are not. The Middle East is burning. Heads are being cut off, people are being executed in the streets, and communities are being wiped out wholesale. Fear rules, and violence is law. No state has real security; there are only incessant wars between Muslims over every possible reason from old sectarian scores to modern borders. We are in the midst of this burst of insanity, its scapegoat, the subject of burning anti-Zionism and anti-Semitic hatred.
It just isn’t true, because we also have a troublesome Arab minority here at home. They have it good here – they justifiably have no intention of replacing their Israeli ID with that of any Arab country – yet many of them still hate us, using our naiveté and our peaceful aims against us. Obviously, not all of them are our enemies. But enough of them are; in the moment of truth – and in the Middle East this is sure to come – they will incite others and themselves to fight us and will join our enemies, no matter how nice we are or monstrous our foes. Anyone who doubts this is invited to travel to the Negev, the Galilee, the mixed cities and the border and see for themselves. Remember, too what happened here in October 2000 and over the past few days (hint: it’s called an irredentist minority).
It just isn’t true, because there’s an extreme internal Jewish group among us, a group which doesn’t hesitate to accept money from our greatest enemies to smear our name. A minority who judges us by a yardstick they would never apply to any other nation on earth, who will stoop to any low to undermine Israel’s sovereignty. A minority that does everything it can to bring old and new enemies to bear on us, exploiting our democracy against us. This is truly a curious phenomenon: people who despise their state and people who are more moral than any people in history, identify with their cruel and hateful enemies, and yet are certain that that is the essence of morality. There is a left wing in the world, but there is no left wing outside of Israel so extreme and destructive since the days of the KGB and its useful idiots in the west.
Bring Back the Zionist Spirit
It is extremely dangerous to assume something as fragile as the present situation is solid, that it can be left on its own without constant maintenance, and that its existence under constant threat is virtually guaranteed. The things we want and love are never “just there”; their existence is the product of hard work, dedication and constant investment. To quote Mark Steyn: Permanence is the illusion of every age, and this illusion is particularly dangerous for Israel.
Our truth is simple: we can’t yet turn the page in the book of Zionism. Our enemies and their allies are still trying just as hard to undermine Israel as they did back in the days when Zionism was still a critical political idea for the Jewish People but nothing more than that. Israel is on the brink of an existential crisis, a crisis that we and our leadership are doing everything to suppress.
The fact is that everywhere we let ourselves go, everywhere we lost the Zionist fervor, Jewish sovereignty retreated. Values, land, security, identity – all have been under attack, and we have been retreating ceaselessly for years. The struggle still goes on, and better to fight back than give up by quitting the field.
We do indeed deserve to live a life which worries more about the small stuff, a private life, a life of personal freedom without the headache of national responsibility. But life, especially national life, does not work like that. We will continue to face serious challenges in this country, and we need to face them head-on.
We’ve reached the point that any Zionist slogan sounds like false pathos, while any cynical or ironic anti-Zionist statement sounds sophisticated and edgy. This is not a healthy situation. True, the original Zionist fervor of the founding generation is not relevant for our generation. Nevertheless, one cannot function entirely without ideals.
While sophisticating ourselves to death, we’ve been losing our demographic majority in the Galilee and the Negev, combat recruitment is steadily declining, the IDF is becoming more like a UN force than a national army, the police tolerates Arab violence to an alarming degree and the State is divesting itself of its sovereignty and its Jewish identity.
Ben-Gurion or Jabotinsky would have never let this happen – not because they were cleverer than us, but simply because they knew to preserve the simple Zionist insight regarding our inalienable national rights. Today, in light of the powerlessness of the government in the face of the violence engulfing the country – a sure sign of the erosion of sovereignty – I cannot avoid the conclusion that a state built on an uncompromising Zionist spirit will not survive without it.
We have achieved much in 66 years. Many new states arose in the 20th century, but Israel towers over the rest in terms of the challenges it has faced and the achievements it has made in spite of them. I am more than happy to be accused of excessive pathos: there is no historical equivalent for the State of Israel and its accomplishments. We must nevertheless never take any of it for granted, remember that the challenges have not gone away, and internalize the fact that uncompromising Zionism is still the foundation for our existence in this dangerous region.
English translation by Avi Woolf.