Larry Snider

The Hopes and Fears of Zionism

Zionism meant one thing in 1896 and another in 1939 and another in 1948 and another in 1967 and another in 1973 and another in 2001 and yet another in 2015. If you utilize the Israeli calendar the calculus becomes all the more glaring. To say that Herzl wrote “The Jewish State,” to give his people a means to escape persecution by returning to their “promised land,” is self-evident. But it is also a story of a stiff-necked people who clung to their Torah with a religious fervor that kept them alive as outcasts in a hundred different nations for two millennia. It is the story of escape and return made six million times worse by the Nazis “Final Solution” and the world’s inexplicable indifference. It is a story of victory for one people and the victimization of another. There are a million saints and a million sinners actively working each and every day on behalf of and against peace between two ancient peoples and very few who emerge with clean hands. It is that kind of war of attrition. The question can be asked: Is the greatest good good enough? A second question can be appended: The greatest good for whom?

There are rules in the Holy Book that command the Jewish people, not just those who inhabit Israel to “be a light unto the nations,” as stated in the Book of Isaiah, (49:6). Those rules were written long before the birth of Theodor Herzl and are part and parcel of the makeup of the Jewish heart that was carried out of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Pogroms and the ashes of Auschwitz and transplanted with the survivors, the aliyah-makers, the Sabras and the settlers back to the Land of Zion.

It was a political masterstroke for Herzog and his Labor Party to marry itself with Livni’s Hatnuah Party and then to recast itself as the Zionist Union. The effort raised the recognition and credibility of the new Party enough to make it a formidable challenger to Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Likud Party over the leadership of the next government. No longer a band of losing lefties they represent the hopes and unrealized dreams of a majority of the Israeli people. However, there is a difference between the optics and facts on the ground. And one of those facts traveled to Washington D.C. last week and delivered The Speech of his life to a joint session of the United States Congress. As violent as the world is it is not an exaggeration to say that the Middle East is at the epicenter of that violence and that Israel resides somewhere near the epicenter of that epicenter. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Islamic Republic of Iran represents a major source of that violence. And it is not an exaggeration to say that the development of a nuclear weapon by Iran represents an existential threat to the state of Israel.

It has been said time and again that the economic reform of Israel has been and remains a hostage of its security requirements. Since long before 1948 it has been clear that the price of security is high as measured in both dollars and lives lost. There are those in the Center of politics like the leader of the new Kulanu party, (All of Us), Moshe Kahlon who will be elected on a platform of economic equality. There are those at the hub of Labor such as Professor Manuel Trachtenberg and young firebrand MK Stav Shaffir who join Kahlon in representing a popular movement to reform the economy, bring down the cost of living in Israel and make housing affordable. These issues are more than tangible and little more than two years ago brought a half million Israelis into the streets of Tel Aviv to protest housing costs and ultimately elect Shaffir among others.

As every Israeli knows, nobody gave the state of Israel to the Jews. There was a UN vote for Partition in 1947, but there would be no modern state of Israel without it winning a War of Independence. There were a number of losers including the nations of Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Yemen and a people who inhabited the territory of what was known formerly as Palestine who were beaten, killed, and evicted by the winning army and a number of other leaders who told them to leave their homes until the fighting was over. It is not untrue to state that sixty seven years later the fighting has not ended. But that brings no answer to the Palestinian Question which revolves on the twin axes of peace and justice.

On so many levels it would seem negligent for Israelis not to consider the rise of ISIS, the recent war with Hamas, the power of Hezbollah and its patron-saint Iran in making their political calculations on March 17th. To make it all the more complicated stories abound of Netanyahu’s involvement in a private peace initiative through his advisor Yitzhak Molcho involving terms that the leader of the Likud Party would ostensively never agree to. If one chooses to add in the activity between former Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas along with the official effort led by American Secretary of State John Kerry then the conservative Prime Minister has at the very least engaged in his share of peace-seeking. This makes him anathema to the right wing of his own Likud Party and clearly suspect to those voters who plan to vote for The Jewish Home and Yisrael Beinteinu. There are those including the 30 or 40,000 in the street demonstrating for anyone but Netanyahu who cannot accept the idea of Netanyahu as a failed peacemaker no matter what stories emanate from what newspapers.

Is a coalition government possible? Would such a coalition be strong enough to stand up to the security requirements of Israel today and still pursue the dream of peace in a pragmatic fashion? What about the cost of housing? Oy vey!

About the Author
Larry Snider was President of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace a non-profit based in suburban Philadelphia. Today he lives in New Jersey and is a Board Member of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Southern New Jersey.
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