Reclaiming Zionism

The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) brought twenty students to meet Rabbi Daniel Gordis a few days ago. An effective communicator and one of the best commentators on Israel and its history, Gordis left his hour-long lecture with the following point: Israel did not come into existence without both Menachem Begin and David Ben-Gurion. Though both men did not like each other, the Jewish state would not have been a reality without the influence of both celebrated Israeli Prime Ministers.

I left the session with the following question: What does this teach us about the course of Zionism today? I came to this conclusion: If Zionism has any chance of succeeding past our time, then we cannot divide the house. The left and right can argue about the status of Judea and Samaria, the legitimacy of the settlements, or how the Palestinian-Arab question needs to be answered. But what we cannot lose sight of is the dream and the hope that Zionism always brought forth since the days of Herzl.

Whenever we sing HaTikva, we come together as one, recalling the fact that our Jewish souls yearn for returning to Zion and to Jerusalem. We share the history. We understand the struggle. We all seek justice and freedom for the Jewish people. Our methodologies may differ, but our cause is no different. In fighting for Zionism’s soul, we drive the future of our movement and the Jewish state. For every Menachem Begin our community incorporates, we should match him or her with another David Ben-Gurion. There was no other way the Jewish state would have come into fruition, so what makes today any different?

Zionism is neither a left-wing nor a right-wing concept. As Ze’ev Jabotinsky said, it is moral and just. This is the expression of Jewish civil rights through the mechanism of the reconstituted Jewish state. We waited since the Hasmoneans to acquire our self-determination, and never once did we claim that Arabs weren’t part of the equation. To claim otherwise is racist and ahistorical. The Israeli Declaration of Independence expresses those sentiments of inclusivity and of unity.

Thus, we cannot succeed without acknowledging the legitimacy of some of the criticisms from both the left and the right of Israel’s direction toward its future.

That being said, we cannot display selective outrage at Israel’s many faults without slamming the deplorable, unethical, and inexcusable nature of the Arab world and of the Palestinian leadership. We should maintain a sense of moral clarity on Israel’s less-than-perfect existence, but we can never succumb to the asinine narrative that echoes the genocidal sentiments of our enemies. This is where organizations like J Street fail to uphold the tenets of Zionism. One cannot be pro-Israel and continuously oppose measures that combat the anti-Semitic BDS movement, which explicitly calls for Israel’s destruction. Outliers exist on both sides, and the Zionist tent should be defined by those who express the hopes of Herzl, Ben-Gurion, Jabotinsky, and Weizmann.

We cannot remain silent on our divisions and expect that we will overcome naturally. We know that our enemies will fall. We know that BDS will fail tremendously. But that does not mean we should shirk our responsibility to regain a sense of unity that came at Israel’s independence and its miraculous and brilliant victory in 1967. It requires action from the left and the right. It demands us to leave our differences aside from awhile and focusing on our values. We cannot allow ourselves to be swallowed up to the center of the earth as Korach was in last week’s parshah. We need to make our journey to the Promised Land as a combined, unified front.

But the question remains: How do we begin? Where do we start?

About the Author
Elliott Hamilton is a JD/MPH candidate at Boston College Law School and Tufts University School of Medicine. He was credited as a researcher in the 2016 film "Hate Spaces: The Politics of Intolerance on Campus."