Responsible Zionism

Few democracies face the dire consequences that Israel does in exercising her citizens’ suffrage. Few democracies face the very real security threats which Israel does. Already on two borders we have the long and deadly arms of a much larger country entrenching itself with the oft declared intention of obliterating the Jews. I take Iran at its word.

Combatting the very real menace of conventional and perhaps even nuclear Iran requires not just military might, but diplomatic skill. Maneuvering around the vested interests of Europe, Russia and the United States (let alone Arab states) is no small matter. The strategic finesse required of a smaller nation—surrounded by implacable foes whose size, populations and wealth dwarf ours—is immeasurable.

But once again, there are calls to hand the reigns of nation to political neophytes. Confusing as it is to me to hear such calls from Israeli citizens whose lives are on the line, it is befuddling that those whose aren’t find the gall to encourage such recklessness. Brett Stephen’s unpaid (?) political advertisement for the latest anti-Netanyahu party is an especially egregious example—for his arguments are simplistic at best, dangerous at worst.

An intelligent man, it is odd that he seems to lay blame for a multi-sourced, complicated divergence between the inclinations and wishes of American Jews and those of Israelis at the feet of Benjamin Netanyahu. Our second-longest serving Prime Minister has juggled and maneuvered, in the face of dire military threats, economic uncertainty and eight years of American antagonism from the Executive Branch, a complicated web of competing and often conflicting Israeli interests.  Through the examples that he brings, it seems that Stephens, in an almost insultingly provincial fashion, misreads not only the place that religion has in a Jewish democracy, but cannot understand that his famous antipathy for the President of the United States is not shared by those here who appreciate the Trump administration’s real empathy for Israel.

It is heart-warming that Israeli interests—in working out realistic solutions to questions of Jewish identity in the public sphere or envisioning and enacting a morally just solution to the settlement of our historic homeland alongside of a non-Jewish minority—concern New York’s literati. But, can Stephens expect anyone who actually lives in Israel to take his impressions of warmth and modesty gleaned from an “unremarkable” interview filled with middling platitudes as reason to risk our very lives? In such portentous times, cheering on the combination of a washed-up general and an overly ambitious television personality just boggles the mind. But, Stephens won’t have to actually live with results, will he?

There are no guarantees in politics. We move forward taking chances. The failed Oslo Accords were consistently promoted as being a “risk” that Israel needed to take. But they were based on an immoral calculus where in Rabin’s infamous words, the Palestinians would be left to the devices of a brutal regime who would rule them “without recourse to legal or human rights’ protections” (sounds much better in the original Hebrew).

On the other hand, those offering new thinking about solving the seemingly intractable problem of minority rights in the Jewish homeland are willing to take risks whose tenor are morally sound. So while Stephens seems content to toss the dice on a less than even ill-defined “some kind of independency,” for Palestinians, Caroline Glick has stated clearly that she wants to open up a path to actual citizenship for residents of the disputed territories Israel should declare her own. This is a risk, she acknowledges. But it is one based on moving towards greater actual freedom for all, and not throwing actual people under the oncoming bus of tyranny.

So, Mr. Stephens, as I’ve stressed elsewhere, those lovers of Zion who chose to live elsewhere are more than welcome to come home. But fretting over poor Israel’s soul from the safety of some Manhattan tower while advocating that we entrust our actual lives to the vague impressions of a short chat is less than responsible. It is the sort of paternalistic pusillanimity which should make all Israeli voters reaffirm their commitment to the Zionist imperative: taking moral responsibility for our own destiny in our own land.

About the Author
Naftali Moses, born in NYC, has lived in Israel for over 30 years. He holds a PhD in medical history from Bar-Ilan University, and teaches and writes on the nexus of medicine and Judaism. The author of "Really Dead?" and "Mourning Under Glass", he has also translated several books on Jewish thought into English, published on philosophy in the Mishna, and aggadah.
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