This is Arieh Lebowitz, currently in Jerusalem for meetings of the Vaad Hapoel (the Zionist General Council) of the World Zionist Organization, which meets in between the quadrennial convenings of the World Zionist Congress. I am part of the World Union of Meretz (WUM) faction, and will also participate in meetings of the Jewish Agency for Israel.
I was impressed with a speech by a Swiss member of the WUM faction, Kevin O. Sachs, a 24 year-old university student in Zurich, and have his permission to publish it here:
I speak today as a member of the unified faction [the WUM in alliance with Artzenu (the Zionist movement of Reform Judaism) and the World Labor Zionist Movement], the World Union of Meretz, Hashomer Hatzair and as a young progressive Zionist.
Kevin O. Sachs
Growing up in the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement in Switzerland, my Zionist identity was shaped by the belief that every people deserves the right to self-determination, and that the State of Israel is that expression of the Jewish people’s inalienable right to self-determination. This vision entails a self-critical balance between a society guided by Jewish values on one side and a pluralistic, democratic and secular state that ensures justice for all on the other.
Zionism has, from its very beginnings, always tried to establish a state that is democratic, which abides by Jewish and universal values; a state as a national home and haven; but not only a haven, a place that would offer a new meaning to Jewish existence too; a state that holds the observance of full equality and respect for its non-Jewish citizens as an integral and essential part of its Jewish identity and ethos.
But look at what befell the young, bold, passionate country. How, as if it had undergone a quickened aging process, Israel — and Zionism with it — lurched from infancy and youth to a perpetual state of apathy and indifference when it comes to changing the status quo.
Some call upon us to retire Zionism all together because its primary goal of statehood for the Jewish people has been achieved and in the years after that, the term has been stained by the misdeeds of Israeli governments so that today it is a dirty word on college campuses and in newspaper columns. I think it is our duty to respond to those voices in figuring out what the next chapter in Zionist history should be.
Zionism for me entails a certain element of Chalutziut [pioneering], and actualization. Younger generations represent the opportunity to continuously renew the Zionist ideal and adapt it to today’s realities — the Zionist ideal being a Jewish democratic state in Israel that will stand the test of time. The only way we can secure this ideal is by pushing, as a movement and as a community, for an end of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians. Without that, our collective dream of a Jewish-democratic state will be compromised.
Now, the strange bedfellows of the extreme right and the extreme left try to tell us that the status quo or even a bi-national state is a viable option for the future. But to be a legitimate Jewish democracy Israel has to maintain a Jewish majority as intended by Theodor Herzl, “a state of the Jews.” It has to remain the Jewish nation-state, the expression of Jewish self-determination and, at the same time, it has to remain a democracy where all players can participate in the political process and play the game by the same rules.
Trust me, our success is important to me, to my party and to my generation, because the future of all of us depends on our ability to act. Just yesterday we marked the 18th anniversary of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. He took the road of peace with the Palestinians, not because he possessed great affection for them or their leaders. Even then, as some of you might recall, common belief was that we had no partners and we had nothing to discuss with them. Rabin decided to act because he discerned, very wisely, that Israeli society would not be able to sustain itself endlessly in a state of an unresolved conflict. He realized long before many others that life in a climate of violence, occupation, terror, anxiety and hopelessness, extracts a price Israel cannot afford. This is all relevant today, even more so.
It was young people on that 4th of November 1995 who took to the streets to support negotiations with the Palestinians. Disagreements today between right and left are not that significant. The vast majority of young Jews I encounter understand this already, and know what the outline for the resolution of the conflict could look like. Many of the young people I’m talking about think of themselves as Zionists, many of them were even growing up in one of the major Zionist youth movements, which in my opinion offer one of the most active expressions of Zionism today.
But we are about to lose some of them because we seem to have passed judgment and given out grades in recent decades on who can be a Zionist and who can’t. The image was created that Zionism was some kind of binary system. Either you are with us or against us. Today my reality and the reality of thousands of others [is that] being social progressives and Zionists at the same time is considered an oxymoron. However, Zionism, in its original form, served as a spectrum or umbrella to all kind of streams, thoughts and philosophies. There was secular Zionism, religious Zionism, Labor Zionism, Revisionist Zionism, and liberal Zionism to name just a few. It seems to me that one side of this spectrum has occupied the term, Zionism, exclusively for their own narrative.
It is the right wing’s current belief that Zionism should mean an unconditional love for the State of Israel, its policies and its leaders. They refuse to understand that our criticism of the policies and leaderships of the State of Israel comes from a place of profound love for our homeland, alongside the desire to repair the world and naturally, Israel, with Tikkun Olam.
Let us join forces once again — left and right, liberal and conservative, young and
old — to restore the Zionist ideal, to end the needless suffering of so many we hold so dear by pushing our leaders to enter real negotiations with the Palestinians. Let’s not keep exhausting ourselves with the internal bickering that has gone on for over 45 years. Let’s not accept that the political leadership of Israel continues to reflect the position of the radicals and not that held by the majority of the public. Let’s keep the Zionist dream alive. Let’s take brave and bold steps towards a better, more just future so we can pride ourselves once again with the fact that Israel is a light among nations.
Chazak ve’Ematz [Be Strong and Courageous]