אם תרצו — אין זו אגדה
That, of course, is Theodor Herzl’s short phrase from his book: Old New Land. We grew up on it in Israel, sucking on its nourishment collectively as we did on our mothers’ milk in the kibbutz’ collective babies-house. The Zionist movement did so, too, and so did the nascent state of Israel. It is time now to sing it out loud again in the streets and online. Don’t be shy about it, my friends, even if it sounds a bit sentimental. Because, you see: If not now, when? And if not us, who? To paraphrase another great Jewish man’s proposition (I have the privilege and obligation of carrying his name and, in a very miniscule way, his legacy). Yes, we do have a Jewish national homeland in Israel. No, it is not yet fully safe, secure and permanent. It is time – high time – to do so in these coming elections.
It is a cliché, certainly in Israel, that whenever there is new elections – quite often, as is the case in this coming March 17 elections, it takes less than four years for it to occur – novice candidates and seasoned politicians alike will say: This is the most crucial, most important elections Israel has ever faced. Or something to that effect. It is also true – all good clichés carry within them grains of truth – that to a degree such is the case this time as well. Especially in a state like Israel, which experienced throughout its short history wars of survival, living in and existing in a very dangerous part of the world. And yet, though it looks as if right now Israel faces no such existential threat, no such imminent danger of war, it does seem to me – I’m not alone in this, other observers agree with that notion – that this coming elections might determine the future of the Jewish state for generations to come. The “dream,” the “fairytale” of “Herzl the Visionary,” is facing a reality check and challenge like in no other time and elections since 1977, or maybe even since independence.
Here is why. The trajectory that propelled Israel into existence since 1947 (UN Resolution 181), and including the 1967 Six-Day war, with all its ups and downs, lefts and rights, was essentially an upward curve. Israel gained independence; solidified its military strength; received tremendous financial and moral support from the Jewish world, and from America and Europe (Germany in particular); it has put it, mostly, to good use, first with agriculture and then with technology, establishing a sound economical base, with its cultural center, Tel-Aviv, flourishing and expanding. At the same time, so did its religious and occupation center, Jerusalem, especially since the Six-Day War. But now, this clash of two cities has reached its boiling point. We are now at a fork on the road. And the next elections will determine which road the Israelis – and with them, or without them, the Jewish world – will choose to take.
If it will be the road of the latter, Jerusalem, then it can only lead – in opposition to the state’s declaration of independence, and Ben-Gurion and the other founding fathers’ wishes – to more theocracy, more religiosity (remember the “Jewish State Law” that brought this elections about in the first place), further occupation and deterioration of the rights of the Arab citizens of the state, the equal and human rights of women, the permanency of the rule of law, the cruel and unjust rule over other people, the Palestinians, a one-state solution that will bring with it further anger and actions not only from the surrounding Arab states, but from Europe and finally America as well. It is, in a word, a road leading to destruction.
The other road, that of Tel-Aviv, the first and biggest Israeli city – where, so appropriately, the state was born and declared – is the road away from all these things. It is a road that will lead toward solidifying Israel’s democracy – not theocracy. It’s a road toward the future – not the past. It is a road leading toward humanity, art and culture, economic entrepreneurship, freedom of expression and equality under the law – away from occupation and rule over other people. Tel Aviv, as reality and symbol, has its share of problems, of course. But above all else, she strives forward, toward progress. Toward inclusion in the affairs of the ever-merging inter-connecting global world, not seclusion. Away from messianic, biblical mirages. This road can now change the false, wrong turn the trajectory the state of Israel has taken since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, and redirect it back to the the future. Toward Herzl’s dream of enlightened, pluralistic humane state. You can will it, people of Israel, it is up to you. It is still not just a dream.