Are there two faces of Zionism? There are the liberal American Jews, such as Ezra Klein, Peter Beinart, Jonathan Chait, the comedian Jon Stewart, and the New York Times columnist Roger Cohen whom I will quote at some length here, all of whom back a two state solution to the now, although not always, shooting war between Israelis and Palestinians.
And there are those more conservative Jews, American and Israeli, who refuse to consider a two state solution before Israel’s arch enemy, Hamas, has been crushed, believing not without reason that to do anything else is to put their own people at risk, and ultimately to risk their own forefathers’ now over 100 year old Zionist vision of a land of their own for the Jews.
There are persuasive arguments on both sides and so far the two sides have remained apart as have the Israelis and the Palestinians. In what follows, I place, column wise, one alongside the other, the words of Roger Cohen, writing in the New York Times, and the words of Michael Oren, a conservative American/Israeli Jew and former Israeli ambassador to the United States, writing in the Wall Street Journal, and earlier in the Washington Post.
[This post if not complete. Still more work to be done, additions to be made. Please be patient.]
The Shared Destiny of Israel and Gaza
by Roger Cohen July 24, 2014
LONDON — Freight cars full of bodies shot out of the sky make their way across Europe. After more than two weeks of fighting in Gaza, at least 150 Palestinian children are dead, according to the United Nations. Thousands of Hamas rockets have hit Israel, and 32 young Israeli soldiers have been killed fighting to end this terror. As the poet Seamus Heaney observed, “It is difficult at times to repress the thought that history is about as instructive as an abattoir.”
When children die in these numbers, when the legitimate claim of the Jewish people to a sliver of earth is again contested, when the shrieking cacophony of each side declaiming its “truths” overwhelms, human progress seems a fickle fantasy. Truth, even before social media, was always the first victim of war.
Yet, against all evidence, people hope. They seek justice. It is in their nature.
Hamas establishes a stranglehold over 1.8 million Palestinians squeezed into what David Cameron, the British prime minister, once called the “open-air prison” of Gaza. It is a Jew-hating organization. It is ready, when need be, to use the lives of its own people as pawns. It pours concrete into a maze of tunnels rather than schools. Isolated before the latest violence, it revives by demonstrating a measure of military command and control, by hurting Israel, by appearing resolute as Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, wavers.
The demands of this reconstituted Hamas become the demands of the Palestinian people. Abbas is marginalized. This is not a strategic victory for Israel.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, pursues a status-quo strategy that keeps Palestinians divided and Israel dominant. The price of the strategy is periodic violence. This is the third Gaza mini-war in six years. An oppressed people will rise up. That is in the nature of things.
Some decades ago, Netanyahu denounced the efforts of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to reach peace with the Palestinians through the Oslo Accords. Rabin, who had once vowed to “break the bones” of Palestinians, sought peace not because he had changed his view of the enemy but because he saw no alternative. Like the men responsible for Israel’s security interviewed in the movie “The Gatekeepers,” he had concluded that endless dominion over another people was unsustainable and incompatible with the preservation of a Jewish and democratic state. Netanyahu compared Rabin to Neville Chamberlain. Rabin’s widow never forgave him.
This month, Netanyahu said that rockets from Gaza demonstrated how critical it was that “we don’t get another Gaza in Judea and Samaria” — the West Bank. He declared: “I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the river Jordan.”
As David Horovitz observed in The Times of Israel, “That sentence, quite simply, spells the end to the notion of Netanyahu consenting to the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
After the suspension of some flights into Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport due to Hamas rockets, Netanyahu’s stance is immeasurably reinforced.
Inherent in Israeli policy are the eruptions of violence that in turn justify the policy that in turn spurs further violence. Vile Hamas revives itself. Palestinian statehood recedes.
Yet, people, in their majority, hope.
Netanyahu wants a majority Jewish state in the Holy Land. Abbas wants an end to the occupation, freedom and statehood for the Palestinians. Those two objectives are not mutually exclusive. In significant ways they are complementary. But they involve sacrifice of cherished national ambitions.
Two impossible things happened in my lifetime. My parents’ South Africa ended apartheid without the bloodbath I’d heard was coming throughout my youth. Europe’s division at the Berlin Wall dissolved, allowing freedom to spread eastward (if not quite far enough yet to spare those corpses in freight cars).
Sydney Kentridge, a classmate of my father’s in Johannesburg and a lawyer for Nelson Mandela, once told me that he concluded at the 1956 treason trial that one day “both sides would realize that neither could win.”
He was right. Hope is not always irrational.
On a recent visit to Israel, I passed through the Damascus Gate into Jerusalem’s Old City. Palestinians emerging from Al Aqsa Mosque moved toward me in a vast throng. They ran straight into a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews headed toward the Western Wall, and at that moment, out of the Via Dolorosa, a crowd of Philippine Christians emerged, carrying a heavy wooden crucifix. It was an impossible scene, funny even: the three great monotheistic religions jostling in the alley, no way around each other.
Nobody is going away. The peoples of the Holy Land are condemned to each other. Without that realization, any truce, even any demilitarization of Gaza, will only be a way station to the next round of slaughter.
That’s the likely but not inevitable scenario. Impossible things do happen.
from Zionism and Israel’s War with Hamas in Gaza
by Roger Cohen
JULY 29, 2014
My great-grandfather’s brother, Michael Adler, was a distinguished rabbi who in 1916 compiled the “Prayer Book for Jewish Sailors and Soldiers” at the front during World War I. As “chaplain,” he toured battlefields administering last rites. At the end of the war he asked if British Jews had done their duty.
“Did those British citizens of the House of Israel to whom equality of rights and equality of opportunity were granted by the State some sixty years ago, did these men and women do their duty in the ordeal of battle?” he wrote. “Our answer is a clear and unmistakable YES! English Jews have every reason to be satisfied with the degree of their participation both at home and on the battlefronts in the struggle for victory. Let the memory of our sacred dead — who number over 2,300 — testify to this.”
The question for European Jewry was always the same: belonging. Be they French or German, they worried, even in their emancipation, that the Christian societies that had half-accepted them would turn on them. Theodor Herzl, witnessing French anti-Semitism during the Dreyfus case, wrote “The Jewish State” in 1896 out of the conviction that full acceptance for the Jews would never come.
Herzl was prescient. Zionism was born of a reluctant conclusion: that Jews needed a homeland because no other place would ever be home. Scrawny scholars would become vigorous tillers of the soil in the Holy Land. Jews would never again go meekly to the slaughter.
The ravages of European nonacceptance endure. I see within my own family how the disappearance of a Jewish woman grabbed by Nazis on the streets of Krakow in 1941 can devour her descendants. I understand the rage of an Israeli, Naomi Ragen, whose words were forwarded by a cousin: “And I think of the rest of Europe, who rounded up our grandparents and great-grandparents, and relatives — men, women and children — and sent them off to be gassed, no questions asked. And I think: They are now the moral arbiters of the free world? They are telling the descendants of the people they murdered how to behave when other anti-Semites want to kill them?”
Those anti-Semites would be Hamas, raining terror on Israel, whose annihilation they seek. No state, goes the Israeli case, would not respond with force to such provocation. If there are more than 1,000 Palestinian deaths (including 200 children), and more than 50 Israeli deaths, Israel argues, it is the fault of Hamas, for whom Palestinian victims are the most powerful anti-Israeli argument in the court of world opinion.
I am a Zionist because the story of my forebears convinces me that Jews needed the homeland voted into existence by United Nations Resolution 181 of 1947, calling for the establishment of two states — one Jewish, one Arab — in Mandate Palestine. I am a Zionist who believes in the words of Israel’s founding charter of 1948 declaring that the nascent state would be based “on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.”
What I cannot accept, however, is the perversion of Zionism that has seen the inexorable growth of a Messianic Israeli nationalism claiming all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River; that has, for almost a half-century now, produced the systematic oppression of another people in the West Bank; that has led to the steady expansion of Israeli settlements on the very West Bank land of any Palestinian state; that isolates moderate Palestinians like Salam Fayyad in the name of divide-and-rule; that pursues policies that will make it impossible to remain a Jewish and democratic state; that seeks tactical advantage rather than the strategic breakthrough of a two-state peace; that blockades Gaza with 1.8 million people locked in its prison and is then surprised by the periodic eruptions of the inmates; and that responds disproportionately to attack in a way that kills hundreds of children.
This, as a Zionist, I cannot accept. Jews, above all people, know what oppression is. Children over millennia were the transmission belt of Jewish survival, the object of what the Israeli novelist Amos Oz and his daughter Fania Oz-Salzberger have called “the intergenerational quizzing that ensures the passing of the torch.” No argument, no Palestinian outrage or subterfuge, can gloss over what Jewish failure the killing of children in such numbers represents.
The Israeli case for the bombardment of Gaza could be foolproof. If Benjamin Netanyahu had made a good-faith effort to find common cause with Palestinian moderates for peace and been rebuffed, it would be. He has not. Hamas is vile. I would happily see it destroyed. But Hamas is also the product of a situation that Israel has reinforced rather than sought to resolve.
This corrosive Israeli exercise in the control of another people, breeding the contempt of the powerful for the oppressed, is a betrayal of the Zionism in which I still believe.
Why Americans See Israel the Way They Do
by Roger Cohen
AUG. 2, 2014
Demonstrators in Paris oppose the violence in Gaza. July 23, 2014. Credit Romain Lafabregue/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
TO cross the Atlantic to America, as I did recently from London, is to move from one moral universe to its opposite in relation to Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza. Fury over Palestinian civilian casualties has risen to a fever pitch in Europe, moving beyond anti-Zionism into anti-Semitism (often a flimsy distinction). Attacks on Jews and synagogues are the work of a rabid fringe, but anger toward an Israel portrayed as indiscriminate in its brutality is widespread. For a growing number of Europeans, not having a negative opinion of Israel is tantamount to not having a conscience. The deaths of hundreds of children in any war, as one editorial in The Guardian put it, is “a special kind of obscenity.”
In the United States, by contrast, support for Israel remains strong (although less so among the young, who are most exposed to the warring hashtags of social media). That support is overwhelming in political circles. Palestinian suffering remains near taboo in Congress. It is not only among American Jews, better organized and more outspoken than their whispering European counterparts, that the story of a nation of immigrants escaping persecution and rising from nowhere in the Holy Land resonates. The Israeli saga — of courage and will — echoes in American mythology, far beyond religious identification, be it Jewish or evangelical Christian.
America tends toward a preference for unambiguous right and wrong — no European leader would pronounce the phrase “axis of evil” — and this third Gaza eruption in six years fits neatly enough into a Manichaean framework: A democratic Jewish state, hit by rockets, responds to Islamic terrorists. The obscenity, for most Americans, has a name. That name is Hamas.
James Lasdun, a Jewish author and poet who moved to the United States from England, has written that, “There is something uncannily adaptive about anti-Semitism: the way it can hide, unsuspected, in the most progressive minds.” Certainly, European anti-Semitism has adapted. It used to be mainly of the nationalist right. It now finds expression among large Muslim communities. But the war has also suggested how the virulent anti-Israel sentiment now evident among the bien-pensant European left can create a climate that makes violent hatred of Jews permissible once again.
In Germany, of all places, there have been a series of demonstrations since the Gaza conflict broke out with refrains like “Israel: Nazi murderer” and “Jew, Jew, you cowardly pig, come out and fight alone” (it rhymes in German). Three men hurled a Molotov cocktail at a synagogue in Wuppertal. Hitler’s name has been chanted, gassing of Jews invoked. Violent demonstrations have erupted in France. The foreign ministers of France, Italy and Germany were moved to issue a statement saying “anti-Semitic rhetoric and hostility against Jews” have “no place in our societies.” Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, went further. What Germany had witnessed, he wrote, makes the “blood freeze in anybody’s veins.”
Yes, it does. Germany, Israel’s closest ally apart from the United States, had been constrained since 1945. The moral shackles have loosened. Europe’s malevolent ghosts have not been entirely dispelled. The continent on which Jews went meekly to the slaughter reproaches the descendants of those who survived for absorbing the lesson that military might is inextricable from survival and that no attack must go unanswered, especially one from an organization bent on the annihilation of Israel.
A strange transference sometimes seems to be at work, as if casting Israelis as murderers, shorn of any historical context, somehow expiates the crime. In any case it is certain that for a quasi-pacifist Europe, the Palestinian victim plays well; the regional superpower, Israel, a militarized society through necessity, much less so.
Anger at Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is also “a unifying element among disparate Islamic communities in Europe,” said Jonathan Eyal, a foreign policy analyst in London. Moroccans in the Netherlands, Pakistanis in Britain and Algerians in France find common cause in denouncing Israel. “Their anger is also a low-cost expression of frustration and alienation,” Eyal said.
Views of the war in the United States can feel similarly skewed, resistant to the whole picture, slanted through cultural inclination and political diktat. It is still hard to say that the killing of hundreds of Palestinian children represents a Jewish failure, whatever else it may be. It is not easy to convey the point that the open-air prison of Gaza in which Hamas has thrived exists in part because Israel has shown a strong preference for the status quo, failing to reach out to Palestinian moderates and extending settlements in the West Bank, fatally tempted by the idea of keeping all the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
Oppressed people will respond. Millions of Palestinians are oppressed. They are routinely humiliated and live under Israeli dominion. When Jon Stewart is lionized (and slammed in some circles) for “revealing” Palestinian suffering to Americans, it suggests how hidden that suffering is. The way members of Congress have been falling over one another to demonstrate more vociferous support for Israel is a measure of a political climate not conducive to nuance. This hardly serves America’s interests, which lie in a now infinitely distant peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and will require balanced American mediation.
Something may be shifting. Powerful images of Palestinian suffering on Facebook and Twitter have hit younger Americans. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that among Americans age 65 or older, 53 percent blame Hamas for the violence and 15 percent Israel. For those ages 18 to 29, Israel is blamed by 29 percent of those questioned, Hamas by just 21 percent. My son-in-law, a doctor in Atlanta, said that for his social group, mainly professionals in their 30s with young children, it was “impossible to see infants being killed by what sometimes seems like an extension of the U.S. Army without being affected.”
I find myself dreaming of some island in the middle of the Atlantic where the blinding excesses on either side of the water are overcome and a fundamental truth is absorbed: that neither side is going away, that both have made grievous mistakes, and that the fate of Jewish and Palestinian children — united in their innocence — depends on placing the future above the past. That island will no doubt remain as illusory as peace. Meanwhile, on balance, I am pleased to have become a naturalized American.
Start with Gaza
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become a ritualistic obscenity. It offends the conscience of humankind. The Oslo accords are dead. The “peace process” initiated through them is a farce. It is time to rethink everything.
In Gaza, an open-air prison for 1.8 million people, more than 300 children are dead, killed in the almost month-long Israeli bombardment. Each of those children has a name, a family. Several were killed in the recent shelling of a United Nations school, an act that the United States called “disgraceful.” The many civilian casualties in Gaza cannot be waved away as the “human shields” of Hamas. They were not human shields; they were human beings. When the guns die down, Israel will begin a difficult accounting.
But, yes, Hamas used these human beings, used them in the sense that the organization has no objective in the real world. Israel, which it says it is bent on annihilating, is not going away. Hamas manipulates and subjugates the Palestinians it governs in the name of a lost cause. To send rockets into Israel is to invite a certain response whose result, over time, is to reinforce a culture of paralyzing Palestinian victimhood. Hamas is criminal. It is criminal in its sacrifice of the Palestinian national cause to a fantasy, in its refusal to accept the Palestine Liberation Organization’s recognition of Israel’s right “to exist in peace and security,” in its determination to kill Jews, and in its willingness to see the blood of its people shed for nothing.
A Jewish homeland was voted into existence by United Nations Resolution 181 of 1947 calling for the creation of two states in the Holy Land, one Jewish and one Arab. That homeland was defended through Arab-initiated wars aimed at reversing the world’s post-Holocaust mandate. Israel’s existence is irreversible. It is grounded in that U.N. decision, won on the battlefield, expressed in the forging of a vibrant society; and it represents the rightful resolution of the long Jewish saga of exclusion and persecution.
Except that the resolution is incomplete. Israel’s denial of a Palestinian state, its 47-year occupation of the West Bank, its highly “capricious control regime” (in the words of the former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad) over the lives of Palestinians, its expansion of settlements — all this creates an unacceptable “status quo” in which every lull is pregnant with violence. The occupation must end one day. Without two states Israel will lurch from one self-inflicted wound to the next, growing ever angrier with its neighbors and a restive world from which it feels alienated.
With nearly 2,000 dead, including 64 Israeli soldiers, the victors of this latest Gaza mini-war are apparently Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas. Support for Netanyahu is overwhelming. A vast majority of Israelis back his actions; many believe he has not gone far enough. Hamas, meanwhile, has hurt Israel; it has endured; it has exercised command-and-control under prolonged attack; it has embodied Palestinian resistance.
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But these are Pyrrhic victories. Deeper currents are at work. Surely even Netanyahu must take from this horrific episode the conviction that something must change. He has long pooh-poohed peace. He compared Yitzhak Rabin to Neville Chamberlain, and Israelis somehow forgave him. He came very late and very lamely to the idea of two states for two peoples, only to set impossible conditions for that goal, undermine moderate Palestinians, and waste U.S. mediators’ time.
He seized a few months ago on the formation of a Hamas-Fatah unity government to say “the pact with Hamas kills peace.” Now Netanyahu would like nothing more than for the Palestinian Authority, representing the Fatah faction, to take control of Gaza. In effect he would like the Palestinian unity he lambasted to work. He knows demilitarization of Gaza, the stated Israeli objective, can only be attained by remilitarizing it with an Israeli tank on every corner. Nobody wants that. Israel is already running the lives of enough Palestinians — or trying to.
As for Hamas, its victory is also illusory, adrenalin before the fall. It can offer its people nothing. The place to start now is with ending the divisions in the Palestinian movement that the unity government papered over — Gaza first, instead of West Bank first. A Palestinian national consensus is the prerequisite for anything, including the rebuilding and opening-up of Gaza.
Real reconciliation can only come on the basis of an ironclad commitment to nonviolence and to holding of free and fair elections, the first since 2006. Good Palestinian governance, unity and nonviolence constitute the path to making a free state of Palestine irrefutable. The longer Hamas fights this, the greater its betrayal of its people.
Netanyahu has fought Palestinian statehood all his life. But it is the only way out of his labyrinth. In the end his sound bites yield to reality. That reality is bitter indeed.
THERE are good people and bad leaders the world over, but perhaps nowhere more so than in the Middle East. Plenty of Israelis and Palestinians work to build bridges, but their voices are lost in the stampede of zealots schooled in hatred and cynics adept in the manipulation of fear for the consolidation of power.
I was reminded of this in recent weeks. An email from an Israeli woman, Ruth Harari, told me of how her parents arrived in what would become Israel from Ukraine and Poland in the 1920s, how they built a kibbutz, how she was educated there in “the values and principles of freedom, honoring human beings whoever they were.” Her forebears stayed in Europe, where they vanished in the Holocaust. Hardship in the Holy Land never diluted her parents’ commitment to Israel and justice, ideas indivisible to them.
“We still have values,” she wrote during the third and most deadly Gaza eruption in six years, with its almost 2,000 dead, most of them Palestinian civilians. “For that reason, I argue, it is more painful for me as an Israeli to hear and see the footage of the innocents, children especially, in Gaza, and to read about the suffering inflicted upon them not only by Israeli attacks, but by the ferocity of their leadership. We have to sit and talk. We have to live with one another.”
What do such words amount to? No more than confetti in a gale, perhaps, scattered by the force of Hamas, and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and the unblushing Jewish advocates of forcible removal of Palestinians from Gaza, the West Bank and even Israel itself.
The center, it seems, cannot hold. This little war has had about it something of the Salem witch trials, bookended by murky incidents of murder or disappearance generating mass hysteria. With each war, each tweet, even, vitriol grows.
Hannah Arendt warned of the dangers of nationalism in a Jewish state; she thought it might be redoubled by dependence on the United States. I find another thought of hers more important: “Under conditions of terror, most people will comply but some people will not. Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation.”
Conscience and individual courage do count, even if they appear powerless, especially if they appear powerless.
In a different context, the words of the father of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, the Palestinian boy killed in the buildup to the war, count: “Whether Jew or Arab, who would accept that his son or daughter would be kidnapped and killed?”
I talked to Andy Bachman, an American rabbi and friend. He is just back from two weeks in Israel. “I hear vile stuff,” he said. “My job is hope.” Never, he believes, has it been more critical for moderate Israelis and Palestinians to raise their voices in common cause. If Hamas is to be disarmed, as it must be, the only way in the end is to win the hearts and minds of other Palestinians through economic progress and justice.
Bachman, reflecting on the war’s moral dilemmas, cited the biblical story of Samuel. As Samuel ages, people see that his bribe-taking sons are not leadership material. They ask him to find them a king. Samuel consults God, who laments that “they have rejected Me, that I should not be King over them.” If the people only followed God’s law, they would not need a ruler. Samuel warns the people of the future predations of any king, but they will not be swayed. They insist “that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.” In the end, God acquiesces.
For Bachman, the tension between living in a divine world of perfect justice and the violent human realm of imperfect choices is captured here. Zionism was just that: the desire to be “like all the nations,” a normal people with a leader — but that also means, in Bachman’s words, “making pained and sometimes horrible choices.” He said, “As a parent, I mourn so greatly the loss of innocent life. And equal to that feeling is one of horror and shame that Hamas ran a campaign knowing that would happen, making it part of their strategy.”
In Israel, Bachman works with Rebecca Bardach on a project called Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel. It now runs five bilingual schools with 1,100 students, children learning Hebrew and Arabic and, above all, how coexistence works. The aim is to grow to as many as 15 integrated bilingual schools over the next decade.
Like individual voices of conscience, such undertakings seem flimsy beside walls, blockades, bullets, bombs, rockets and the relentless process of separation and division that pulls Jews and Palestinians apart. They are flimsy but no less important for that. They make the stranger human. They are interceptors of fear. The most useful commodity for the merchants of war and hatred is fear.
It will take immense courage now for Israelis who wrestle with their consciences to raise their voices for a two-state peace — and just as much for Palestinians to engage in open self-criticism of disastrous choices. The next time hundreds of thousands of Israelis take to the streets for cheap housing, they should draw a connection between that demand and the billions spent on the occupation. An Israeli zealot killed Yitzhak Rabin. He cannot be allowed to kill Rabin’s last endeavor.
The Saturday Essay, In Defense of Zionism
by Michael Oren Aug. 1, 2014
[Michael B. Oren defines Zionism as ‘the belief that the Jewish people should have their own sovereign state in the Land of Israel.’]
They come from every corner of the country—investment bankers, farmers, computer geeks, jazz drummers, botany professors, car mechanics—leaving their jobs and their families. They put on uniforms that are invariably too tight or too baggy, sign out their gear and guns. Then, scrambling onto military vehicles, 70,000 reservists—women and men—join the young conscripts of what is proportionally the world’s largest citizen army. They all know that some of them will return maimed or not at all. And yet, without hesitation or (for the most part) complaint, proudly responding to the call-up, Israelis stand ready to defend their nation. They risk their lives for an idea.
The idea is Zionism. It is the belief that the Jewish people should have their own sovereign state in the Land of Israel. Though founded less than 150 years ago, the Zionist movement sprung from a 4,000-year-long bond between the Jewish people and its historic homeland, an attachment sustained throughout 20 centuries of exile. This is why Zionism achieved its goals and remains relevant and rigorous today. It is why citizens of Israel—the state that Zionism created—willingly take up arms. They believe their idea is worth fighting for.
Yet Zionism, arguably more than any other contemporary ideology, is demonized. “All Zionists are legitimate targets everywhere in the world!” declared a banner recently paraded by anti-Israel protesters in Denmark. “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances,” warned a sign in the window of a Belgian cafe. A Jewish demonstrator in Iceland was accosted and told, “You Zionist pig, I’m going to behead you.”
In certain academic and media circles, Zionism is synonymous with colonialism and imperialism. Critics on the radical right and left have likened it to racism or, worse, Nazism. And that is in the West. In the Middle East, Zionism is the ultimate abomination—the product of a Holocaust that many in the region deny ever happened while maintaining nevertheless that the Zionists deserved it.
What is it about Zionism that elicits such loathing? After all, the longing of a dispersed people for a state of their own cannot possibly be so repugnant, especially after that people endured centuries of massacres and expulsions, culminating in history’s largest mass murder. Perhaps revulsion toward Zionism stems from its unusual blend of national identity, religion and loyalty to a land. Japan offers the closest parallel, but despite its rapacious past, Japanese nationalism doesn’t evoke the abhorrence aroused by Zionism.
Clearly anti-Semitism, of both the European and Muslim varieties, plays a role. Cabals, money grubbing, plots to take over the world and murder babies—all the libels historically leveled at Jews are regularly hurled at Zionists. And like the anti-Semitic capitalists who saw all Jews as communists and the communists who painted capitalism as inherently Jewish, the opponents of Zionism portray it as the abominable Other.
But not all of Zionism’s critics are bigoted, and not a few of them are Jewish. For a growing number of progressive Jews, Zionism is too militantly nationalist, while for many ultra-Orthodox Jews, the movement is insufficiently pious—even heretical. How can an idea so universally reviled retain its legitimacy, much less lay claim to success?
The answer is simple: Zionism worked. The chances were infinitesimal that a scattered national group could be assembled from some 70 countries into a sliver-sized territory shorn of resources and rich in adversaries and somehow survive, much less prosper. The odds that those immigrants would forge a national identity capable of producing a vibrant literature, pace-setting arts and six of the world’s leading universities approximated zero.
Elsewhere in the world, indigenous languages are dying out, forests are being decimated, and the populations of industrialized nations are plummeting. Yet Zionism revived the Hebrew language, which is now more widely spoken than Danish and Finnish and will soon surpass Swedish. Zionist organizations planted hundreds of forests, enabling the land of Israel to enter the 21st century with more trees than it had at the end of the 19th. And the family values that Zionism fostered have produced the fastest natural growth rate in the modernized world and history’s largest Jewish community. The average secular couple in Israel has at least three children, each a reaffirmation of confidence in Zionism’s future.
Indeed, by just about any international criteria, Israel is not only successful but flourishing. The population is annually rated among the happiest, healthiest and most educated in the world. Life expectancy in Israel, reflecting its superb universal health-care system, significantly exceeds America’s and that of most European countries. Unemployment is low, the economy robust. A global leader in innovation, Israel is home to R&D centers of some 300 high-tech companies, including Apple, Intel and Motorola. The beaches are teeming, the rock music is awesome, and the food is off the Zagat charts.
The democratic ideals integral to Zionist thought have withstood pressures that have precipitated coups and revolutions in numerous other nations. Today, Israel is one of the few states—along with Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the U.S.—that has never known a second of nondemocratic governance.
These accomplishments would be sufficiently astonishing if attained in North America or Northern Europe. But Zionism has prospered in the supremely inhospitable—indeed, lethal—environment of the Middle East. Two hours’ drive east of the bustling nightclubs of Tel Aviv—less than the distance between New York and Philadelphia—is Jordan, home to more than a half million refugees from Syria’s civil war. Traveling north from Tel Aviv for four hours would bring that driver to war-ravaged Damascus or, heading east, to the carnage in western Iraq. Turning south, in the time it takes to reach San Francisco from Los Angeles, the traveler would find himself in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
In a region reeling with ethnic strife and religious bloodshed, Zionism has engendered a multiethnic, multiracial and religiously diverse society. Arabs serve in the Israel Defense Forces, in the Knesset and on the Supreme Court. While Christian communities of the Middle East are steadily eradicated, Israel’s continues to grow. Israeli Arab Christians are, in fact, on average better educated and more affluent than Israeli Jews.
In view of these monumental achievements, one might think that Zionism would be admired rather than deplored. But Zionism stands accused of thwarting the national aspirations of Palestine’s indigenous inhabitants, of oppressing and dispossessing them.
Never mind that the Jews were natives of the land—its Arabic place names reveal Hebrew palimpsests—millennia before the Palestinians or the rise of Palestinian nationalism. Never mind that in 1937, 1947, 2000 and 2008, the Palestinians received offers to divide the land and rejected them, usually with violence. And never mind that the majority of Zionism’s adherents today still stand ready to share their patrimony in return for recognition of Jewish statehood and peace.
The response to date has been, at best, a refusal to remain at the negotiating table or, at worst, war. But Israelis refuse to relinquish the hope of resuming negotiations with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. To live in peace and security with our Palestinian neighbors remains the Zionist dream.
Still, for all of its triumphs, its resilience and openness to peace, Zionism fell short of some of its original goals. The agrarian, egalitarian society created by Zionist pioneers has been replaced by a dynamic, largely capitalist economy with yawning gaps between rich and poor. Mostly secular at its inception, Zionism has also spawned a rapidly expanding religious sector, some elements of which eschew the Jewish state.
About a fifth of Israel’s population is non-Jewish, and though some communities (such as the Druse) are intensely patriotic and often serve in the army, others are much less so, and some even call for Israel’s dissolution. And there is the issue of Judea and Samaria—what most of the world calls the West Bank—an area twice used to launch wars of national destruction against Israel but which, since its capture in 1967, has proved painfully divisive.
Many Zionists insist that these territories represent the cradle of Jewish civilization and must, by right, be settled. But others warn that continued rule over the West Bank’s Palestinian population erodes Israel’s moral foundation and will eventually force it to choose between being Jewish and remaining democratic.
Yet the most searing of Zionism’s unfulfilled visions was that of a state in which Jews could be free from the fear of annihilation. The army imagined by Theodor Herzl, Zionism’s founding father, marched in parades and saluted flag-waving crowds. The Israel Defense Forces, by contrast, with no time for marching, much less saluting, has remained in active combat mode since its founding in 1948.
With the exception of Vladimir Jabotinsky, the ideological forbear of today’s Likud Party, none of Zionism’s early thinkers anticipated circumstances in which Jews would be permanently at arms. Few envisaged a state that would face multiple existential threats on a daily basis just because it is Jewish.
Confronted with such monumental threats, Israelis might be expected to flee abroad and prospective immigrants discouraged. But Israel has one of the lower emigration rates among developed countries while Jews continue to make aliyah—literally, in Hebrew, “to ascend”—to Israel. Surveys show that Israelis remain stubbornly optimistic about their country’s future. And Jews keep on arriving, especially from Europe, where their security is swiftly eroding. Last week, thousands of Parisians went on an anti-Semitic rant, looting Jewish shops and attempting to ransack synagogues.
American Jews face no comparable threat, and yet numbers of them continue to make aliyah. They come not in search of refuge but to take up the Zionist challenge—to be, as the Israeli national anthem pledges, “a free people in our land, the Land of Zion and Jerusalem.” American Jews have held every high office, from prime minister to Supreme Court chief justice to head of Israel’s equivalent of the Fed, and are disproportionately prominent in Israel’s civil society.
Hundreds of young Americans serve as “Lone Soldiers,” without families in the country, and volunteer for front-line combat units. One of them, Max Steinberg from Los Angeles, fell in the first days of the current Gaza fighting. His funeral, on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, was attended by 30,000 people, most of them strangers, who came out of respect for this intrepid and selfless Zionist.
I also paid my respects to Max, whose Zionist journey was much like mine. After working on a kibbutz—a communal farm—I made aliyah and trained as a paratrooper. I participated in several wars, and my children have served as well, sometimes in battle. Our family has taken shelter from Iraqi Scuds and Hamas M-75s, and a suicide bomber killed one of our closest relatives.
Despite these trials, my Zionist life has been immensely fulfilling. And the reason wasn’t Zionism’s successes—not the Nobel Prizes gleaned by Israeli scholars, not the Israeli cures for chronic diseases or the breakthroughs in alternative energy. The reason—paradoxically, perhaps—was Zionism’s failures.
Failure is the price of sovereignty. Statehood means making hard and often agonizing choices—whether to attack Hamas in Palestinian neighborhoods, for example, or to suffer rocket strikes on our own territory. It requires reconciling our desire to be enlightened with our longing to remain alive. Most onerously, sovereignty involves assuming responsibility. Zionism, in my definition, means Jewish responsibility. It means taking responsibility for our infrastructure, our defense, our society and the soul of our state. It is easy to claim responsibility for victories; setbacks are far harder to embrace.
But that is precisely the lure of Zionism. Growing up in America, I felt grateful to be born in a time when Jews could assume sovereign responsibilities. Statehood is messy, but I regarded that mess as a blessing denied to my forefathers for 2,000 years. I still feel privileged today, even as Israel grapples with circumstances that are at once perilous, painful and unjust. Fighting terrorists who shoot at us from behind their own children, our children in uniform continue to be killed and wounded while much of the world brands them as war criminals.
Zionism, nevertheless, will prevail. Deriving its energy from a people that refuses to disappear and its ethos from historically tested ideas, the Zionist project will thrive. We will be vilified, we will find ourselves increasingly alone, but we will defend the homes that Zionism inspired us to build.
The Israeli media have just reported the call-up of an additional 16,000 reservists. Even as I write, they too are mobilizing for active duty—aware of the dangers, grateful for the honor and ready to bear responsibility.
Mr. Oren was Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2009 to 2013. He holds the chair in international diplomacy at IDC Herzliya in Israel and is a fellow at the Atlantic Council. His books include “Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East” and “Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present.”
1. The founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, looks out over the Rhine River from the balcony of the hotel in Basel, Switzerland, where he stayed during the First Zionist Congress in 1897.
2. Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, mops his forehead just before he stands up to read out Israel’s Declaration of Independence in Tel Aviv, on May 14, 1948. Ben Gurion, a Polish immigrant, was Israel’s founding father, leading the Jewish state through the 1948-49 War of Independence and the 1956 Suez War.
4. One distinctive Israeli innovation was the kibbutz, a collectivist or socialist agricultural community. Here, kibbutz members celebrate the Jewish festival of Passover in the Beit Shean Valley in 1967.
5.After the Six-Day War ended on June 10, 1967, Israel had taken control of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai and the Golan Heights. Here, Israelis guard the Western Wall—a remnant of the Second Temple and the holiest site in Judaism—in the Old City of Jerusalem on June 16, 1967.
6. In October 1973, future Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon helped turn the tide of the fourth Arab-Israeli war after a surprise attack by Egypt and Syria, eventually encircling the Egyptian Third Army. Mr. Sharon (right), recovering from a head injury, stands with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan on the western side of the Suez Canal
7. As President Jimmy Carter applauds, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat embrace in the East Room of the White House after the signing of a ‘Framework for Peace’ in the Middle East, on Sept. 17, 1978. Mr. Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in 1977 led to the U.S.-brokered Camp David accords in 1978, followed by Israel’s first peace treaty with an Arab state the following year.
8. In 1987, a Palestinian uprising erupted in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza, jolting many Israelis into revisiting the question of whether the Jewish state could indefinitely control those areas. A Palestinian teenager, armed with a slingshot and using marbles for ammunition, takes aim at Israeli soldiers in the West Bank town of Nablus, Jan. 14, 1988.
9. As President Bill Clinton smiles, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat shake hands on the White House lawn, on Sept. 13, 1993. After months of secret negotiations in Norway, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators produced the Oslo accords, a land-for-peace deal that established the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza, began an Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories, and called for talks on the conflict’s core issues—including Palestinian refugees, Israeli settlements, and Jerusalem—after a five-year interim period.
10. Israelis enjoy the Mediterranean Sea air in Tel Aviv, on Aug. 29, 2013. Author Michael B. Oren writes that in today’s Israel, ‘The beaches are teeming, the rock music is awesome, and the food is off the Zagat charts.’
11. An Israeli 155 mm artillery piece is fired into the Gaza Strip from a base in southern Israel, on July 31, 2014. Since 2008, Israel and the Islamist militant group Hamas have fought three bitter conflicts.
Israel must be permitted to crush Hamas
by Michael Oren
July 24, 2014
A Palestinian runs in an area damaged in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City. (Hatem Moussa/AP)
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary of State John Kerry and the foreign ministers of Great Britain and France all are rushing to achieve a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Their motive — to end civilian suffering and restore stability to the area — is noble. The images of the wounded and dead resulting from the conflict are indeed agonizing. However, these senior statesmen can be most helpful now by doing nothing. To preserve the values they cherish and to send an unequivocal message to terrorist organizations and their state sponsors everywhere, Israel must be permitted to crush Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
This is the lesson of previous rounds of fighting between the Israeli Defense Forces and terrorist strongholds. In Lebanon in 2006 and in Gaza in 2008 and again in 2012, Israel responded to rocket attacks on its cities with fierce counteroffensives. Fighting against a deeply dug-in enemy that both blended in with the local population and used it as a shield, Israel’s best efforts to avoid civilian casualties invariably proved limited. Incensed world opinion generated immense pressure on governments to convene the U.N. Security Council and empower human rights organizations to censure Israel and stop the carnage. These measures succeeded where the terrorists’ rockets failed. Israel was compelled to back down.
And the terrorists, though badly mauled, won. Admittedly, their bar for claiming victory was exceptionally low. While Israel must achieve a clear battlefield success to win, the terrorists merely had to survive. But they did more than survive. Under the protection of cease-fires and, in some cases, international peacekeepers, they vastly expanded their arsenals to include more lethal and longer-range missiles. While reestablishing their rule in the streets, they burrowed beneath them to create a warren of bombproof bunkers and assault tunnels. Such measures enabled Hamas, as well as Hezbollah, to mount devastating attacks at the time of their choosing, confident that the international community would once again prevent Israel from exacting too heavy a price.
So the cycle continued. Allowed to fight for several weeks, at most, Israel was eventually condemned and hamstrung by cease-fires. The terrorists, by contrast, could emerge from their hideouts and begin to replenish and enhance their stockpiles. That is precisely the pattern established in the second Lebanon War and repeated in Operations Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense in Gaza. Hezbollah and Hamas sustained losses but, rescued and immunized by international diplomacy, they remained in power and became more powerful still. Israel, on the other hand, was forced to defend its right to defend itself. Jihadist organizations no different from the Islamic State and al-Qaeda gained regional legitimacy, while Israel lost it in the world.
The cycle can end, now and decisively. As Operation Protective Edge enters its third week , responsible world leaders can give Israel the time and the leverage it needs to alter Hamas’s calculus. They can let the Israeli army ferret Hamas out of its holes and make it pay a prohibitive cost for its attacks. They can create an outcome in which the organization, even if it remains in Gaza, is defanged and deprived of its heavy arms. Of course, Hamas will resist demilitarization, and more civilians will suffer, but by ending the cycle once and for all thousands of innocent lives will be saved.
Life in Gaza is miserable now, but if Israel is permitted to prevail, circumstances can improve markedly. U.S.- and Canadian-trained security forces of the Palestinian Authority can take over key crossings and patrol Gaza’s porous border with Egypt. Rather than be funneled into Hamas’s war chest, international aid can be transferred directly to the civilian population to repair war damage and stimulate economic growth. Terrorist groups and their state patrons can be put on notice: The game has changed unalterably.
And by letting Israel regain its security with regard to Gaza — with all the pain it entails — the United States and its allies will be safeguarding their own. Though bitter, the fighting between Israel and Hamas raging in Gaza’s alleyways is merely part of the far vaster struggle between rational nations and the al-Qaeda and Islamic State-like forces seeking their destruction. Relative to that global conflict, Operation Protective Edge may seem small, but it is nevertheless pivotal. To ensure that it concludes with a categorical Israeli win is in the world’s fundamental interest. To guarantee peace, this war must be given a chance.