Ron Kronish

Is there a future for Liberal Zionism

Liberal Zionism lost the elections again in Israel this week. Why?

The answer is simple: there aren’t enough Jewish liberal Zionist voters. The liberal Zionists are a diminishing species in an Israel that is dominated by right-wing religious and nationalist Jews.

The demographics have been developing in this direction for the past few decades, with the immigration to Israel of mostly right-wing and mostly Orthodox Jews from North America and other places, and with the Aliyah of more than a million Jews from the former Soviet Union, most of whom vote on the right side of the political map. And, Israeli liberal Jews have about 1.3 children per family, whereas orthodox nationalists and ultra-orthodox “religious” (i.e. ritually , not ethically, observant)  Jews have been bringing 6-15 children into each  family.

The Likud trounced the Labor party (now called “the Zionist camp” in an attempt, which failed, to convey to Israeli voters that they are the true Zionists) 30-24, a differential of 6 seats in the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament. In other words, the liberal Zionists would have needed about 7 more seats in the Knesset, which means about 240,000 voters (each seat was worth about 34,312 votes in this election).

Where is Liberal Zionism going to find 240,000 voters in future elections?   I am talking about Jews who believe in the two-state solution; in diplomacy rather than war to solve our conflict with the Palestinians (and the West’s conflict with Iran); in living in genuine coexistence with our Palestinian Arab minority in Israel; in developing an economy that will be fair to all of our citizens; in upholding human and civil rights as enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence; and in furthering religious pluralism and freedom of religion for all in Israeli society.

There is only one answer to this question: in the Diaspora! Most of the liberal Jews these days don’t live in Jerusalem or other parts of Israel. Instead, they live on the West Side of New York, in the suburbs of Boston,San Francisco,Washington DC, Chicago and many other cities, including London, Paris,  Amsterdam, Copenhagen and others.

How can real change come about in future elections in Israel?

I had a dream about how this could happen.

I imagined that a quarter of a million liberal Jews from the Diaspora decided to  become citizens and vote in our elections! They were so moved by the disastrous election results in Israel this week that they came up with plans to keep their first homes (and even their second homes) wherever they live in North America or England or wherever, and at the same time they would establish a second home in Israel, become citizens and exercise their democratic duty and real responsibility to shape the future of Israel.

They came to the profound understanding that passing resolutions at conventions or conferences won’t suffice any more. They realized that their voices and their votes are needed inside Israel, not just outside Israel. They came to the stark realization that all the wonderful resolutions of how they want Israel to be more liberal will be empty gestures that only increase the gap between the liberal, progressive and pluralistic values of most Diaspora Jews and the narrow-minded, anti-democratic, isolationist positions of the current majority of Jews in Israel, unless they actually take full responsibility for the future of Israel by voting.

I liked this dream. Without this change in the demographics of Israel, we are doomed to becoming a pariah state among the nations, a society without hope, led by a backward, bigoted bunch of ranting and raving ultra-nationalists, who thrive on  paranoia and demagoguery and promote fear and hatred of the other, as we witnessed so radically in these frightening elections in Israel this past week, especially in the final days of the campaign.

I have talked about this idea with many people in recent months. Most people have told me that it will never happen, so I might as well forget it. Moreover, most liberal North American Jews will not want to share our tax burden or our military burden. Maybe this is correct.

But this does not negate the idea in principle. Without liberal Jews here to decide the fate of this country—the only Jewish democratic country in the world—we will be left to fend for ourselves, and we liberals will remain in the opposition forever. Israel will become a society that progressive modern Diaspora Jews will able to identify with less and less.

Accordingly, it is time for liberal Jews in the West to wake up! If you want to make a real difference in the future of Israel, sign up, become citizens and vote in the next election. In this way, you can make help us here change the destiny of this country, and ensure that Israel will become a country which lives up to the ideals of social justice and peaceful coexistence which were once the foundations of our existence.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr Ron Kronish is the Founding Director the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), which he directed for 25 years. Now retired, he is an independent educator, author, lecturer, writer, speaker, blogger and consultant. He is the editor of 5 books, including Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel--Voices for Interreligious Dialogue (Paulist Press, 2015). His new book, The Other Peace Process: Interreligious Dialogue, a View from Jerusalem, was published by Hamilton Books, an imprint of Rowman and LIttelfield, in September 2017. He recently (September 2022) published a new book about peacebuilders in Israel and Palestine entitled Profiles in Peace: Voices of Peacebuilders in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, which is available on Amazon Books, Barnes and Noble and the Book Depository websites,
Related Topics
Related Posts