As Israel approaches its 67th birthday, the Jewish State seems to be a fact that can be taken for granted. Israeli society is moving from the pioneering “David” mindset of its vulnerable youth, to a westernized, modern, and powerful, some might say “Goliath” society. Many people believe that Zionism is an idea of the past. Israel is in a post-Zionist phase, the reality of a Jewish and democratic state in the land of Israel.
Far on the left, people believe that Israel’s strength and lack of moral consideration has turned it into an occupying state that does not respect the rights of the indigenous, stateless Palestinians. They believe that Zionism is incapable of treating the “Other” properly. The Right, tired of Israel trying to appease the belligerent Palestinians for so long with little positive results; believes security and prosperity for the Jewish citizens of Israel are more important and necessary than ensuring Palestinians receive the same freedoms. Both Right and Left leaning thinkers believe that Palestinians deserve those freedoms, it is only a fear of terrorism and security that justifies the treatment which may be seen as discrimination.
Most of the Israeli and Jewish world stand somewhere in the middle of this spectrum when considering Palestinian rights against maintaining Israel’s security. As Jon Stuart and many others have made very clear, Bibi does not speak for all Jews, he does not even speak for all Israelis. His party’s 30 mandates in the recent Israeli election represent merely a quarter of the 120 seats in Israel’s Knesset and his views are somewhere not far to the right of center on this spectrum.
As long as the Palestinians remain in this unfortunate situation without proper representation, it will remain in the forefront of Israeli society and world politics. All of the parties involved need a viable solution to this problem. If the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and Israel’s neighbors, Lebanon and Iran, remain hostile, Israel will be forced to continue compromising those freedoms to maintain her security.
How could Zionism, an ideology created to provide the Jewish nation respite from 2000 years of persecution due to a lack of independence, become a nation that does not respect the stateless Palestinians?
For a while, I believed that to learn how Israel can deal with these moral considerations while maintaining its status as a Jewish and democratic state, I would have to look outside of Zionist philosophy. While hiking the Israel National Trail, my friends and I have been reading Arthur Hertzburg’s The Zionist Idea, a compilation of articles written by the leading Zionist thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries. The compilation is teaching me that I made a mistake. Each of the thinkers makes it clear that Zionism does not end with the creation of a Jewish state, rather it is the first step in introducing the Jewish nation to the world and to a community of free-thinking, cooperative nations that strive to provide respect and equal opportunity for all who search it. A Jewish state is necessary, but that state must maintain a high moral standard and act as a “light unto the nations” leading the path to a seemingly messianic era.
Zionism has not caused these issues in Israeli society. It has been Israel’s struggle to survive throughout its complicated history that has caused Israeli politicians and society to forget Zionism’s true ideals in favor of pragmatic politics. A constant necessity to maintain her security in the volatile middle east has justifiably forced Israel to sacrifice moral ideals to maintain its security.
To fix this, we do not need new politics or ideals based on other cultures, we need to bring the ideals of early Zionists back into the politics of today’s society. The same ideals that drove persecuted, but enlightened European Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries to build the pioneering State of Israel. Instead of abandoning progressive ideals before an election to obtain more votes, we need leaders to follow Ben-Gurion’s example, telling the youth and other citizens that we must act as a moral-ideal driven society in order to thrive. We must whole heartedly pursue peaceful solutions to the conflict without compromising on security, in other words, we must act like a Zionist state.