It’s hard to write about Zionism. First, it’s a belief system that is so deeply entrenched among many Jews that everyone has a clear and fixed idea about what it is. As a result, it is almost impossible for it develop and change as the need arises. Second, Zionism raises red flags among so many on the left that it is difficult, if not impossible to use the term without immediate barriers rising to obstruct discourse.
Since the Lebanon war, and especially Azmi Bishara’s voluntary expulsion (yes, I mean those contradictory terms to go together) from Israel I’ve been rethinking my own Zionism. No, I haven’t stopped being one. But I’ve expanded my vision of what I think Israel should become to fully realize the vision inscribed in its Declaration of Independence.
Given all of the above, it’s very rare to read a discussion about Zionism that sheds light AND heat on the subject. And it’s rarer still to read a writer who captures my own feelings and anxieties about Zionism. Avrum Burg is a political thinker who always does this for me. To such august company I now add Seth Freedman who, writing in Comment is Free, has expressed my own thinking and my own ambivalences so precisely that he feels almost like a Jewish intellectual brother.
Like me, Seth comes from a mainstream Jewish communal upbringing. Hebrew school, his Jewish youth movement, and IDF military service, all instilled a patriotic sense of Zionist destiny in him. Israel was the embodiment of millenia of Jewish longing for a homeland. As such, the nation represented the highest ideals of the Jewish people. If it ever did wrong, this was a tragic accident but certainly not a consistent policy.
Seth writes that over the past year all this has changed and he’s become a questioning Zionist. One who no longer accepts the bromides offered by our Jewish upbringing or the current Israeli government. Seth’s commentary revolves around the Israeli Occupation and its degrading treatment of the Palestinians.
My own feelings certainly stem from this. But I’ve also been thinking a great deal about the role of Israeli Arabs in the nation’s society. They are, to my mind, the canaries in the coal mine. If they are choking on the dust of discrimination, neglect, oppression and poverty–then Israeli democracy remains unrealized. There must be a way for two peoples to inhabit a single state and live equally and harmoniously together. That is my vision. And yes, it’s still a Zionist vision because Israel would remain a Jewish homeland. But it would also be a homeland for its Arab citizens.
I’m not talking about a bi-national state in the sense there would be two separate nations within Israel. Rather, it would consist of two ethnic groups cohabiting within one state. Each group would have political, cultural and religious rights guaranteed by a constitution. No group, even if it were the minority, would ever have to feel disenfranchised or worse. Yes, there would be political jockeying and one group or another would at times feel put upon. But with a set of ironclad constitutional guarantees, no group should ever feel the need to mount the barricades.
I think Seth has really added to the Zionist discourse with his essay and I urge you to read it and tell him what you think either here or in the CiF comment thread. Thanks to reader David Bloom for alerting me to Seth’s essay.
Note to my trusty readers: I’ll be away from my computer until Wednesday and so not able to update the blog. See you when I return. Maybe peace will break out in the interim! Im yirtzeh ha-shem