After a recent vote at the UK Zionist Federation’s National Council meeting, Yachad (the left-wing ‘pro-Israel, pro-peace’ group), had their application to become an affiliate organisation rejected. Despite how the situation is being portrayed in the UK by Yachad and their supporters, it is not a kind of ‘boycott’; even though the ZF’s Constitution Committee found Yachad to be “lacking in its overall support for Israel” the application still went to a vote by each of the ZF’s member organisations, with the majority voting against.
Yachad asked their supporters to sign a letter asking the ZF “what’s wrong with my Zionism?”, stating that “78% of Anglo Jewry favour a two-state solution. Is their Zionism not good enough for the Zionist Federation?”
The implication is that the ZF does not represent 78% of Anglo Jewry and that they and their supporters are not pro a two-state solution; that only Yachad are, which, as the ZF explained, is not the case. Many of the 78% may be pro a two-state solution, but see Israel’s primary concern as security and defence issues, above the kind of concessions that would more likely endanger civilians than bring peace.
At its core, most would agree that Zionism means supporting Israel as the historic Jewish homeland – Eretz Yisrael – and, as an extension of that, defending Israel from threats to delegitimise it as the Jewish state. And let’s not forget that the word Zion refers to Jerusalem – and not a divided Jerusalem.
Yet instead of defending Israel, Yachad seem to focus almost exclusively on criticising and highlighting any wrongdoing – any incident of Israeli racism or extremism – in a way that makes it look commonplace. They do not directly support boycotts of Israel, but they do endorse those who advocate for boycotts of settlements produce, like Peter Beinart, who they hosted to speak to students about how it is “the duty of Zionists to advocate for a boycott of West Bank Settlement produce.” They have also defended the suggestion of labelling products as coming from settlements, by comparing it to the labelling of ‘fair-trade’ products for those who care about “ethical consumption” and want to ensure products are “made in decent conditions”. Yachad’s demonisation of settlers rivals that of the worst Israel-bashers, and intentionally or not, they portray settlements as the biggest obstacle to peace; with barely ever a mention of Palestinian extremism and glorification of terrorism, not just in Hamas, but in Fatah, who have stated – in Arabic at least – that they do not support a two-state solution and will not recognise Israel as the Jewish state.
The closest Yachad have come to fighting the delegitimisation of Israel is their scorn for George Galloway walking out of a debate upon learning that his opponent was Israeli. On possibly the only occasion where they shared a purely pro-Israel article on their Facebook, this was accompanied by an oh-so-funny remark about how “the Israeli Foreign Office would have spellchecked” it, in response to another comment that “It reads like pre-programmed Israeli foreign office propaganda.”
Considering how obviously different Yachad’s approach is from that of the average Zionist in the UK Jewish community, you wonder why they would even want to be associated with the ZF.
Yachad’s director Hannah Weisfeld said “We felt that it was important that our voices were represented in the organisation that claims to speak on behalf of Zionists in the UK.” In an op-ed for The Daily Beast, she claimed the ZF “is not representative of the community so it’s best the Zionist Federation does not purport to speak on behalf of the Jewish community when it comes to matters relating to Israel.”
But if the ZF is not representative of the community, that would be because the community has moved away from it, not because the ZF and what it stands for has changed. In a Jewish Chronicle article in November, Weisfeld wrote about ‘new’ Zionists whose ‘liberal values’ clash with their Zionism, who “no longer want to feel a dissonance between how they relate to the rest of the world and how they relate to Israel” and instead want to “create a new type of engagement with Israel, one that can be proudly taken into the public sphere”. But this is not ‘reclaiming’ Zionism, as she puts it; this is hijacking the meaning of the word.
Of course Zionism does not mean seeing Israel as perfect and never giving criticism where it’s due, but the actions of some extremist individuals does not mean Israel has become racist, or is all of a sudden on the brink of becoming an apartheid state; and ultimately, the meaning of Zionism has not changed. What’s changing is the response of Jews to Israel’s enemies from that tedious old-fashioned version of support where you actually defend Israel against (often deliberately) unfounded accusations. With Israel’s enemies becoming more vocal, in response the definition of Zionism is being manipulated by those who are looking for an idealistic happy medium between their connection to Israel, and wanting both acceptance in the Jewish community, and to appease Israel’s enemies.