A time of challenge

A time of challenge

By editor on

Two weeks after the heinous attack on Naomi Chazan and the New Israel Fund, I find myself still jittery. About the resilience of Israel’s democracy, of course. But, equally, I find myself fretting about the reaction of progressive Israelis and progressive American Jews to the latest developments.

Will they – will we – respond by redoubling our support for human rights and peace, social justice and pluralism in Israel? Or, perhaps, will the recent series of affronts to Israel’s progressive camp cause many to throw up their hands in despair? Will some, will many, give up on their connection to Israel – unable to reconcile their liberal principles with its illiberal government?

The challenge of being a progressive Zionist, it seems, has become harder than ever over the past year. On the one hand, we see government policies, and a growing public atmosphere, that is dominated by national chauvinism, expansionism and xenophobia. And with Israel seeing an escalating campaign to stifle internal dissent, it is no exaggeration to say that democracy and fundamental civil rights are now under attack.

On the other hand, Israel’s fears are not the stuff of paranoid schizophrenia. Israel still faces a host of neighbors not yet reconciled to its existence within the Green Line. And Israel must also deal with a resurgence of anti-Zionist thought in the West, where a variety of individuals and groups, primarily on the Left, have singled out Israel for demonization and increasingly question Israel’s fundamental legitimacy.

These domestic and external dangers to Israel, it should be noted, are far from disconnected. Israeli policies and pronouncements are helping to discredit the two-state model for peace through partition, pushing growing numbers to search for salvation in a fanciful binational ‘solution’. As more and more entertain such a vision, of course, Israel’s existential fears grow further, giving rise to an atmosphere of ultra-nationalism, which, in turn, adds to the ranks of those who would give up on Israel – completing the vicious circle.

But fear, as we know, has both rational and irrational components. And if the ongoing attack on the New Israel Fund is any indication, more and more Israelis are losing the capacity to properly distinguish between hostility and critical concern, between foe and friend. Between Khaled Mashal of Hamas and a stalwart Zionist like Naomi Chazan. As more and more Israelis embrace the thought that “the whole world is against us”, they conceptually reassign the Zionist critics of Israeli government policy from the collective “us” to that “whole world” of “others”.

Since few of us are brave or strong enough to endure an extended campaign of intimidation or public vilification, the branding of progressive Israelis as “traitors” – if allowed to continue – will ultimately diminish the ranks of those who would defend and preserve Israel. Unwilling to adopt a right-wing line and too frightened to risk excommunication by their countrymen, some progressive Israelis would become “crypto-leftists”, voicing their opinions only in their living rooms, among trusted friends. Others would give up the fight entirely and, bitterly, walk away.

The strategic danger to Israel of such a process cannot be overstated. Should the current intimidation campaign succeed in silencing Israel’s loyal critics – those who criticize its policies but defend its right to exist – the “whole world” might eventually be left to choose between the Zionism of the Yesha (Settlers) Council and of Avigdor Lieberman and the anti-Zionism of those who regard the State of Israel as an artificial, colonialist creation.

To prevent such a nightmarish dichotomy from materializing, progressive Israelis and progressive Zionists in the Diaspora need to stand together and find strength and reassurance in partnership. And, rather than backing down or scurrying into the shadows, we need to reclaim the mantle of Zionism from those who have disfigured it and emptied it of its higher ideals.

In 1982, Israeli lyricist Ehud Manor was confronted with the harsh reality of Israel’s first Lebanon War, after his government betrayed its official war aim of security for the Galilee, and instead involved Israel’s defense forces in an abortive attempt at regime change in Beirut. Manor’s response in song, patriotic but critical, saddened but defiant, can still serve as a guide for us today:

Ein Li Eretz Aheret (I Have No Other Country)

I have no other country
even if my land is aflame
Just a word in Hebrew
pierces my veins and my soul –
With a painful body, with a hungry heart,
Here is my home.

I will not stay silent
because my country changed her face

I will not give up reminding her
And sing in her ears
until she will open her eyes

I have no other country
until she will renew her glorious days
Until she will open her eyes

With a painful body, with a hungry heart,
Here is my home

Shabbat Shalom,

Ron Skolnik
Executive Director
Meretz USA

By | 2010-02-12T14:27:42-05:00 February 12th, 2010|Blog, Israeli Left, Zionism|0 Comments

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