George Orwell, perhaps better than any other writer, was able to capture the danger of political groups redefining common terms in a way meant to confuse and eventually neutralize opponents. In his famous novel, “1984,” he shows how a totalitarian regime (in this case the Soviet Union) declares to its citizens that freedom is slavery and war is peace. Repeated often enough the citizenry begins to repeat these phrases in a zombie-like way, and in essence accepts these absurd slogans.
That is what is happening in Israel and the United States within parts of the Jewish community where people who claim to be Zionists actually are far from supporting the goals and principles of the Jewish state.
Ever since the first World Zionist Conference was held in Basle, Switzerland, in August of 1897, the Zionist movement was by definition a large tent. There were debates and disagreements over various ideologies, but there was a common goal of re-establishing a Jewish homeland for the Jewish nation in their ancestral homeland, Eretz Yisrael.
After Israel became a state, the debate among the Zionist parties has been less than civil at times, but it been a democratic debate, based on the principles outlined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, namely that Israel’s founding was based on the Jewish people’s historical, religious and nationalistic right to Eretz Yisrael, and that the state would be a Jewish state. How Jewish the state should be has been part of the debate, but not: should the state be Jewish?
In the last decade, though, both inside and outside of Israel, there has been a movement both in and out of Israel, there has been a movement led predominantly by what I see as post-Zionist and non-Zionist thinkers, that challenges Israel’s right to statehood. The euphemism they use is that Israel should be “a state of all its citizens.”
What is new and dangerous is that today the people and groups whose basic positions are anti-Zionist are masquerading as enlightened Zionists who claim to seek to save Israel from itself.
In Israel’s national elections last February, 106 of the 109 Jewish seats were won by Zionist parties supportive of the premise that the present lack of peace was primarily the responsibility of the Palestinians and that returning to the pre-1967 war borders was unacceptable. (Eleven Knesset seats were won by anti-Zionist Arab parties.)
Until now, those who opposed the Jewish state’s basic policies were outsiders, if not outright enemies of the Zionist cause. But now we have Jewish groups who place the primary responsibility for the Mideast peace impasse on Israel, and call for a return to the pre-‘67 borders. They claim to be enlightened Zionists and call for the tent to be expanded to include them and their point of view.
I would propose a simple litmus test for organizations seeking to be defined as “pro-Israel,” and that would be the readiness to affirm each clause of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, including: that the Jewish people are a nation, rooted historically, religiously and culturally in the land of Israel; that Zionism is Jewish nationalism; and that Israel was re-established, not established, as a Jewish state in 1948.
When I checked the Web sites of J Street, and the other sponsors of the recent J Street conference in Washington — including Americans for Peace Now, New Israel Fund, Israel Policy Forum, the Shalom Center, Brit Tzedek V’Shalom, and Ameinu — only Ameinu had a clear, unambiguous statement of belief in Israel as a Jewish state.
Some speak of a Jewish homeland, some speak of a Jewish democratic state, and others of a state for all citizens.
Their focus is on creating a Palestinian state in all of the West Bank and the Gaza, on Israeli settlements, and Israel’s use of force, violations of human rights, etc. I saw nothing about the threat of Palestinian terror. With the exception of Ameinu, I would not describe these groups as Zionist.
Organizations or individuals who claim to speak as Zionists or as pro-Israel should publicly declare their support for the above-mentioned litmus points consistent with the Israeli Declaration of Independence.
No true Zionist should have a problem signing on to such a declaration. If groups or individuals resist, let them continue to criticize Israel — but not under the guise of Zionism. Rather they will be seen by supporters of Israel as the opponents that they truly are. n
Rabbi Yotav Eliach is principal of Rambam Mesivta High School and core educator for Write On For Israel in New York.