Our world has sunk into a place that is based on anger and fear. Not exactly new or positive words to characterize America or Israel or Europe or China or Russia or what’s left of the Ukraine or the vast remainder. Here in the not quite United States we’re suffering from a gradual loss of identity that corresponds with the rise of an egomaniacal businessman and ersatz television star to become President. This singular creature has remade a political Party and overrun our 247 year old Democracy with the simple words of every cult leader; “don’t believe your eyes, believe what I tell you.” It’s difficult to admit what the proliferation of this attack on our communities has cost. But it seems to effect numbers that exceed the reach of Coronavirus which means it’s affected just about everyone with a connection to social media and that’s equivalent to a political, social and cultural pandemic all wrapped up in the neat phrase; “Make America Great Again.”
Israel is struggling through its own war on Democracy with the right wing government trying to diminish the power and independence of the Supreme Court to strengthen its own authority in the Knesset, as hundreds of thousands have demonstrated against the government in the streets for thirty three consecutive weeks. It’s a particularly troubling time because the traditional rules that protect Democracy seem to have fallen away in practice and in the parlance of today. As a result many have lost faith in institutions and are moving towards an uncertain future.
Religion remains vitally important in Israel. But who wins when G-d has blessed everyone? In Genesis 13; And the Lord said unto Abram after that Lot was separated from him; “ Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art, northward and southward and eastwards and westward; for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth; so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and the breadth of it; for unto thee will I give it.”
Four chapters later in Genesis 17 G-d says; “As for Ismael, I have heard you; behold I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation.”
In this year in which antisemitism is rising yet again, there are basic questions to be considered and difficult decisions to be made if we are to protect all G-ds children. People and Nations get trapped in definitions such as the meaning of Zionism. Does it mean something different to Benjamin Netanyahu than it meant to Theodor Herzl in 1896? Is there space for the Liberal Zionism that I myself cling to after so many years of Occupation? Herzil said that; “we want to lay the foundation stone for the house which will become the refuge of the Jewish Nation,” at the first Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897. He continued by saying that; ”Zionism is the return to Judaism even before the return to the land of Israel.”
Today members of the ultra-liberal Jewish Voice for Peace proudly assert their opposition to Zionism: “Jewish Voice for Peace is guided by a vision of justice, equality and freedom for all people. We unequivocally oppose Zionism because it is counter to those ideas.” From JVP; Our Approach to Zionism.
There is a rather well regarded right leaning Jewish Professor of History, not in Israel, but Canada; Gil Troy, who tries to make sense out of the current conflict over both Zionism and Democracy in Israel: “As a Zionist, I will continue fighting this government, whenever any minister says something dumb, offensive, undemocratic, anti-Arab, and/or un-Jewish. Admittedly, that feels like a full-time job these days. But as a Zionist, I will continue fighting this irrational Israel-hatred, even though that, too felt like a full-time job last year – and has only intensified since.” From Netanyahu’s immorality, incompetence encourages anti-Israel voices – opinion by Gil Troy Jerusalem Post.
Moving backward, a Country known as Palestine was ruled by the Ottoman Empire for some 400 years until WWI; AKA 1917. As everyone knows the British divided the area with the French through the League of Nations as Mandatory Palestine in 1920. However, in part to gain advantages during and after the War the British made promises to both Arabs; McMahon-Hussein Correspondence and the Jews; Balfour Declaration that honored both Arab independence and a Jewish national home in Palestine. To identify these agreements as in conflict is to say it nicely. The British more than had their hands full until they didn’t.
Two items that live in infamy for Jews are the 1929 Hebron Massacre and the 1936-39 Arab Revolt which altered British policy to severely limit Jewish immigration to Palestine during WWII; AKA the Holocaust. Arabs in turn suffered from attacks by Jewish ‘Freedom Fighters’; the Irgun and Lehi who blew up the King David Hotel and launched the Deir Yassin massacre. While there are no equivalents, the death tolls rung for Jews and Arabs and British alike until the British no longer were willing to try to govern Palestine and turned the issue over to the new United Nations.
The United Nations decided to divide the baby by producing a Partition Plan that would give both people’s a grub stake in their land. It doesn’t sound right because it couldn’t work then and can’t work today without an enormous amount of effort on all sides that might lead to a bisel of real understanding and eventual acknowledgement if not acceptance. But first there was a winner of the War of Independence and a loser of the Nakba. History is important for the loser and the winner. After 75 years both sides have changed as has the Middle East and for that matter our entire World. There are still two peoples living in the land that both consider Holy. One is dominant and the other is the other. And that is a tragedy!
It is up to us, all of us, to fix the tragedy that is Palestinian life in Israel, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and their Diaspora which has been forgotten by Jews and Arabs alike. There are no magic fixes. There is the meaning of Democracy which all can aspire to. Equality is a goal that hasn’t been achieved in Israel or America. I believe the days and nights of our autocrats are numbered and that it is time for people to learn how to listen and practice with their neighbors and begin the long road back on a pendulum that we allowed to swing way too far in a self serving direction. We are all G-ds children and it is time we admit that and begin anew!
Larry Snider was President of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace based in the Philadelphia area. He now resides in South Jersey and can be reached at email@example.com