Upon arriving early in the morning of June 17, I was compelled to go directly to Tel Aviv for the opening session of the World Union of Meretz meeting in the kibbutz movement headquarters, rather than checking in at our Jerusalem hotel. Why meet in Tel Aviv and not at our hotel in Jerusalem? Because simultaneous translation and the use of loudspeakers could not occur over Shabbat in Jerusalem. The capital’s blue laws even obtained to urinals in a men’s room; flushed by an electronic sensor, a sign advised users that they should not pee there on Shabbat (I kid you not)!
The World Union meetings included some informative and stimulating discussions. A. B. Yehoshua, the outspoken writer, elaborated upon his controversial statement recently to the American Jewish Committee that one can only lead a “totally Jewish” life in Israel. It is not clear to me that he fully justified this remark, but he came across as reasonable and insightful nevertheless.
Among his insights: Israelis “don’t have a problem of continuity, we have a problem of content…. Israelis cannot be assimilated.” Zionism is not “an ideology” but rather a “joint platform” for diverse and different ideologies. A Zionist is classically a person who supported “a Jewish state in the Land of Israel”; Zionism covers a spectrum of ideologies and philosophies, ranging from fascism to socialism, and all points in between. Typically as a Zionist, he defines Jews as a “people” and not a religious group, adding that the religious path is a choice or an option for individual Jews. Perhaps counter-intuitively, he criticized American Jews for not supporting Israel’s peace camp enough, observing that all people have a full right to discuss issues in Israel, just as they do about other countries, and even stated that one’s willingness to speak out makes you more involved and therefore a better Zionist.
A colleague seated next to me, who is especially sensitive to the Israeli-Arab presence in Israel, suggested that Yehoshua confuses Israeli and Jewish identity. When Yehoshua made his point about Israelis not assimilating, I thought of the counterpoint, which I’ve heard both from the avowed secularist, Martin Ben-Moreh (head of the Meitar College, “Judaism as culture” school of thought) and from numerous religious voices, that most Israeli Jews are becoming “secular pagans” – losing their sense of connection to Judaism and the Jewish diaspora. [Incidentally, Charney Bromberg, Theodore Bikel (a story in himself), Larry Lerner and myself visited Ben-Moreh’s institution – one which veteran Mapamniks (later Meretz personages) Yair Tsaban and Yehuda Bauer are affiliated with.]
On the same day, June 17, the World Union hosted a panel discussion on the infamous Mearsheimer-Walt analysis of the US “Israel Lobby.” Moderated by Meretz USA president Lilly Rivlin, the panelists included Meretz party leader M.K. Yossi Beilin, Haaretz journalist Akiva Eldar, and Dr. Gady Taub. Most significant to me were Beilin’s comments: first mentioning how shocked he was by the “hatred” he detected in the professors’ tone, Beilin went on to describe several instances when, as a high official in the dovish governments of the 1990s, the so-called Israel lobby of AIPAC went against both the interests and the wishes of the sitting Israeli government.
To be continued…