Sitting here comfortably in my home in suburban Philadelphia it’s easy to look across the ocean and prescribe all kinds of failures to the modern experiment in Judaism known as Israel. But long before the march of Jews out of the death camps and a 20th century return to Zion there was a Declaration of Independence here and another march from slavery to freedom that is still pockmarked by its own disappointments and unfinished business. Those of us who are white no matter how concerned and even involved some of us have been in that march do not have the experience of a Black mother and father trying to protect a child from all the civil challenges that await. Which is why, so very many people were divided by the injustice that is baked into our system when a young Black man was shot and killed in Ferguson.
Israel is a different country with different challenges in a different time. But it too has a problem of perfecting the mechanics for two peoples to live in peace as neighbors freely and securely in two adjacent independent states. Each people have its claim, its own terrible history which is still being played out in the violence on the streets of Jerusalem and on the roadways that bisect the West Bank and very differently in Gaza. Violence begets violence and as everyone is only too familiar there has been a lot of begetting since 1948 and long before. With an election only weeks away there is a chance for something better as each side, (in Israel there are many sides AKA many parties), presses their own case to define themselves as the one that will deliver strength or economic and social justice or some combination that appeals.
But underneath the earth shakes and all the inhabitants of this Holy Land remain prisoners of an unending war that shapes the education and service of young Palestinians and Israelis alike and too often replays the conflict over and over again on a continuous loop that takes lives and ruins livelihoods each day as each side defends its interests, seeks advantage and counts its victims as martyrs of independence or resistance. And in 2015 the thought of seeking and finding peace is scary to Israelis on the left and right because the region has become even more unstable and putting ones name and political future on the line for a peace process that while fundamentally necessary is also fundamentally risky has led smart politicians on the left to make a more nuanced case. It has been said already that the time has come and gone for peace and the two state solution and an increasing number of liberal Jews internationally more than in Israel are calling for a hybrid one-state solution which is met on the far right by a one state solution known instead as Greater Israel.
Zionism is a term that Labor/Hatnua would like to ride to an election victory by giving it a new and charismatic liberal cache. To many it represents the heartfelt return to the Zion espoused by Herzl in print in 1896 with the publication of the Jewish State. It held and holds the dream of so many Jews over so many centuries to return to the Promised Land. Between Iran and ISIS and al-Qaeda and Hezbollah and Hamas it is difficult to consider a rational pathway that threads the needle well enough to turn off the spigot of hate against the Palestinians and theirs against Israel long enough to create a peace agreement that will last even one week. Too many people in Tel Aviv, Beersheba and Ramallah have learned the hard way to accept this reality as truth. For me Zionism is more than a return to our Holy Land. It is a return that requires a next step toward freedom for all, and a step after that and more than likely another step beyond to take two people to a place of understanding and peace and then go on to help them to remain there. I believe that there was extraordinary patriotism in the struggle to obtain the land. There was extraordinary patriotism in the struggle to tame the land. And there will be extraordinary patriotism in the struggle to divide and share the land. It seems to me that this struggle is the struggle for Zionism today and it will take an extraordinary effort by Israelis from all political persuasions and some international support and a blessing from G-d/Allah to realize.