Enable Zionism or lose it

According to Darwin, those that survive are not the strongest but those that adapt best to changing environments. By that standard, present day Zionism and with it the State of Israel as we know it might well be on its way out. Nobody should be surprised then that more and more Jews in Israel do not subscribe to the theory of evolution.

The fact that Zionism (and the State) has never fully implemented critical sections of the Declaration of Independence has prevented it from adapting gradually to the demands of a modern, vibrant multi-cultural society and of our peculiar neighborhood here in the Middle East.  Instead of confirming individual liberties and liberalizing we are continually infringing upon them and among other curtailments, neither maintain freedom from religion nor of religion. Instead of enabling we are disabling.

The state, enamored by the use of the almost absolute power it wields in the West Bank is becoming more powerful within Israel as well, using its power with less restrictions, grinding away with a vengeance at freedoms taken for granted in other democracies, constantly challenging the separation between the executive and the judicial and riding roughshod over the legislative. It is quite unafraid to break international commitments and international law and is equally undaunted by international condemnations. Refugees and migrants are under constant threat of incarceration regardless of their actual status (which the state refuses to establish in the first place) and any non-Jew who came has to know that his or her stay here is more likely than not to be temporary no matter what his personal circumstances or status may be. Israel as a liberal democracy is morphing into an ever more nationalist and ethnocentric nation-state by the day.

Israel was never meant to be a state for the Jews only. It has always been understood, from the beginning, that there would be a sizable percentage of non-Jewish inhabitants and that these non-Jews would be entitled to equal treatment under the law and have full citizen’s rights. There was never an express stipulation that Jews must be a majority in the State of Israel nor what margin that majority would have to be, nor was there a call for a Jewish Nation State. Nowadays, to insist on a significant Jewish majority forever has become bon ton in Israeli politics despite the racist undertone. The subtext of course is that a Jewish majority would never cause harm to a non-Jewish minority while a non-Jewish majority would conceivably harm the Jewish minority, at least potentially. Fear is the key here.

Despite the unequivocal proclamation of our Declaration of Independence calling for equal citizen’s rights for all and 67 years (!) of lead time, we have not yet lived up to this elementary democratic standard. We are still struggling, on and off, to bring the treatment of the Arab population in Israel into line with that of the Jewish population and everybody who makes a minimal effort can document how we discriminate in so many ways, institutionally, publicly and privately. Yes, I know, they have it better here than in any Arab country. They know this as well but that does not relieve us of our responsibility.

Not only have we not managed to live up to our own Zionist commitments with regard to the Arab population in Israel, we have taken upon us an occupation of land not ours according to international consensus: The West Bank and to some extent, even today, the Gaza strip. On a daily basis we are increasing our commitment to the West Bank through ongoing settlement activity and infrastructure investments and we make future disengagement from that territory, a disengagement that the international community and the Palestinians demand from us, difficult if not impossible to execute. At the same time we are keeping a large Palestinian population, more than 3 Million under a restrictive occupation regime that frequently is cruel and vindictive and often enough can and does kill. And for some strange reason most of us Zionists are quite capable of justifying this state of affairs 24/7, without batting an eyelid.

At the recent “Israel Now” conference in Tel-Aviv, in the session on the two state solution, the majority of participants, journalists, former and present public servants and elected officials expressed sincere doubts and even disbelief that the two state solution could ever be implemented. This view is, of course, not unique to the speakers who attended the session, it is a view widely held and frequently quoted in the media and academia. Nevertheless, there is no indication whatsoever that the political echelon in Israel, either in the coalition or in the opposition, is in any way engaged in contemplating reasonable alternatives to the two state solution that would keep Israel a democracy,  provide full civil rights to all inhabitants of the area and not dismantle the Jewish state. Everybody seems to be happy with an untenable status-quo that includes the occupation and a pie-in-the-sky two state solution whose implementation is becoming more unlikely by the day.

What then has present day Zionism to offer other than the original, more than 67 year old demand for a Hebrew state which became a Jewish state in the Declaration of Independence and now somehow has transformed into the demand for recognition as a Jewish Nation State (a rider we demand from the Palestinians only) ?

How does current Zionism address the fact, if at all, that we keep three Million + Palestinians without civil rights ? How does today’s Zionism come to terms with the fact that we committed ourselves to uphold the United Nations Charter including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – and we just don’t ? How does present day Zionism reconcile with the fact that we do not give equal rights to non-Jews who are citizens of Israel ? How does present day Zionism deal with our institutional discrimination against non-orthodox Jewish denominations and with the fact that we are the only democracy where not all Jews can practice their Judaism freely ?

Well, to put it bluntly, it simply doesn’t. It digs in. Those who dare question some of the shadier practices of the present Zionist regime, have their own Zionism questioned 24/7 even though it is actually Zionism itself, the way it manifests itself today that needs to be questioned. By not implementing the Declaration of Independence to the letter, Zionism has become its own biggest enemy, preventing the adaptation necessary to avoid becoming irrelevant which it surely will the moment the State of Israel ceases to be a democracy. The continued maintenance of an occupation that will soon pass the 50 year mark and an ongoing parliamentary effort to chip away at civil liberties and democratic practices is a clear indication that doing away with democracy as we know it can simply not be discounted.

Please remember that Zionism is the movement of the Jewish people for self-determination. It’s sole aim was to create a national home for the Jews in Zion. Israel was created in 1948 and is recognized to be that national home. Unfortunately,  Israel has not been able or willing to complete the original mission of Zionism which was to foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel, to ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex, to guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture, to safeguard the Holy Places of all religions and  to be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. 

Zionism as it is practiced today clearly needs to be enabled to implement the original Declaration of Independence. If the Israel body politic will not do that and pretty quickly as well, Zionism as a legitimate movement for self-determination of the Jewish people and with it the legitimacy of the State of Israel will be compromised beyond repair.

* The text in bold is lifted verbatim from Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

About the Author
The author served in the Prime Minister’s Office as a member of the intelligence community, is Vice Chairman of the Israel-Indonesia Chamber of Commerce, Vice-Chairman of the Israeli-German Society (IDG), Co-Chair of the Federation Movement (, member of the council at and author of "Identity: The Quest for Israel's Future".