21 October 2006

Zionist Unity: A Manifesto

Follows an article by Ami Isseroff, appearing here in full with his kind permission. It could be found at:



I have discovered another evil aspect of the "Zionist conspiracy." The campaign of anti-Zionists to portray Israel as a villainous illegitimate state, and paint Zionism as evil, owes a great part of its success to the Zionists.

A dangerous and destructive dynamic has evolved within the Zionist movement, motivated by differences of opinion over the fate of the "territories," and differences of approach to solving the Palestinian problem. In the process it was forgotten that we are all Zionists. That is, we all support the national revival of the Jewish people and the right of our people to self determination, and we all will pay dearly for erroneous policy decisions, foolhardy risks and missed opportunities.

The average Jewish person in Israel or abroad may think somewhat like this:

"I love Israel as I love myself. If it were only possible, I would like to be smart, rich and handsome or beautiful. I would also like Israel to be safe, and to be as large as needed to comfortably contain all the Jews who want to live there and to include all the sites that are dear in the national memory of the Jewish people. However, I understand real-world constraints: the limitations of military force, the need to make peace with Israel's Arab neighbors, and the pressure of the United States and other countries. I am not happy about the brutality incidental to Israeli settlement and military presence in these areas. On the other hand, I fully appreciate the evil intentions of the Hamas, the Hezbollah, and similar organizations, as well as the obvious fact that given the choice, the Arabs, and especially the Palestinians would like a Palestinian state to replace Israel, in the same way that we might fantasize about a greater and greater Israel.

Therefore we must pursue a judicious and pragmatic policy, choosing the best course between often unappetizing alternatives, while at the same time upholding the right of Israel and the Jewish people to exist, and resisting racist anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic propaganda.

Unfortunately, the hypothetical average Jewish person is not well represented in the different Zionist political and action groups. On the one hand, there is a strident Greater Israel lobby, that discredits and excoriates "leftists" at every opportunity, and claims to speak in the name of "Zionism." Anyone who does not agree to Jewish presence in Hebron or Gaza finds themselves branded a traitor. This animus began by targeting the extreme left of Israeli and Jewish politics, a tiny minority of anti-Zionists. It is now often extended to include Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and other Israeli government leaders. The Zionist right has alienated a sizeable number of Jews from Zionism by insisting that if you are Zionist, you have to support Greater Israel. In the United States, it often insists on being more "pro-Israel" than the Israeli government. For example, the AIPAC lobby lobbied against Israeli policy, trying to scuttle US aid to moderate Palestinians who are considered by the Israeli government to be essential allies against the Hamas. It is one thing to air policy differences in Zionist forums. It is quite another to try to intervene with a foreign government against the policies of the state of Israel. How can a "pro-Israel" movement be sabotaging the policies of the Israeli government?

On the other hand, there is a vociferous "anti-occupation" lobby that is in large part Zionist, but which constantly and single-mindedly inveighs against the "occupation" in a way that discredits not only the occupation, but all of Zionism and Israel, and sometimes Judaism as well. It echos and amplifies all the shibboleths of the anti-Zionist conspiracy. Occasionally, its adherents will wake up to reality and be horrified to find themselves surrounded in their struggle by "comrades" who are anti-Semites as well as anti-Zionists. The Zionist or "pro-Israel" left has alienated mainstream Jewish opinion by siding with the enemy on more than one occasion and using their slogans. Rabbi Lerner of Tikkun got himself arrested for advocating an "international force" at the height of the Intifadah. This policy was the policy of Yasser Arafat, who wanted this force as a shield that would allow terrorist violence to continue unmolested by the IDF. The "pro-Israel" Brit Tzedek v'Shalom group tried to lobby congress against the Israeli security fence, claiming it is a "land grab." These groups raise the banner of "compassion," but show little compassion for fellow Jews and Israelis. The net effect of their efforts is often to aid the propaganda of anti-Zionists, who are usually glad to accept their help. They have no effect on Israeli policy or mainstream Zionist thinking, because they have put themselves outside the Zionist movement.

When Israel and Zionism and their supporters were subjected to a vicious campaign of delegitimization, slander and intimidation in North American campuses, "pro-Israel" and "Zionist" groups like Brit Tzedek VeShalom were nowhere to be seen. Nobody among them was willing to come forward and defend Israel against "one state" initiatives and fantastic claims that "Zionism" comes from the Hebrew word for penis. This task was left to small groups of rightist Zionist activists. One "progressive Zionist" student group offered a brochure for activists featuring a film lauding Arab MK Azmi Bishara. That was their contribution to support for Israel in its time of need. Not surprisingly, this ruined the credentials of that group among supporters of Israel and helped marginalize progressive Zionists. Laudable stands against anti-Semitism and blind hatred of Israel were taken by liberal and left groups, not necessarily Zionist or Jewish, such as Engage and the Euston Manifesto group, but the progressive Zionist groups were mostly silent or engaged in adding fuel to the fire, with few exceptions.

Most Jews did not remark on the problem, but an Israeli did. Ismail Khaldi, an Israeli Bedouin who is Israeli consul in San Francisco said,

How can Israel's voice be heard if the Jewish students don't have the facts or the knowledge to speak up? I don't take the mass of Jewish students to task for not agreeing with all of Israel's policies, but I do take them to task for not caring about Israel or what happens there. It is the apathy which allows the anti-Israel propaganda to strengthen itself more and more over time.

Surely. it is absurd when Ismail Khaldi has to remind Jews and Zionists of what we should be doing. Surely, something is wrong when Lebanese expatriate Brigitte Gabriel or Palestinian supporter John L. Strawson are more willing to defend Israel and Zionism in public than certain "Zionist" organizations.

With too few exceptions, moderate Zionists just weren't there to protest campus anti-Zionism, and in some cases they sabotaged the efforts of other groups. Progressive groups usually confined their criticism of boycott issues to bland statements on their Web sites. Only anti-Israel initiatives became action items.

On the other hand, right wing Zionist groups in Israel or abroad only very rarely speak out against excesses or even admit that there are ugly incidents and injustices perpetrated by settlers and the IDF, or problems in implementing the security fence. Checkpoints are regrettably necessary to stop terrorism. Rudeness and bureaucratic intransigence at the treatment of Palestinians at those checkpoints is not necessary -- it is harmful. Whether or not Jews should live in Hebron, stoning Arab schoolchildren and forcing the IDF to guard them is not helping Israel or Zionism. It is wrong. It is eating away at the fabric of Israeli society. Silence about these issues that are hurting Israel is not "patriotic." For concerned Israeli patriots, silence is dereliction of duty. It is we, supporters of Israel, who should be most urgently interested in stopping these evils, because they are sabotaging Israel and Zionism.

The original founders of the Israeli mass peace movement were IDF reserve officers. Nobody could question their loyalty to the cause of Zionism, which they had demonstrated over many years. The same credit does not necessarily accrue to U.S. Jews who never lived here and were never active in support of Israel. On the other hand, you will forgive me if I find it absurd when a "Zionist" in California or Indiana takes it upon themselves to be the arbiter of who is a "traitor" or an "anti-Semite" in the Israeli government.

The center, which most probably represents the majority of Zionists and supporters of Israel, may be uncomfortable defending Israel when excesses are publicized, but is equally afraid to speak out against the excesses and mistakes for fear of hurting Israel. However, knaves and fools step in where angels fear to tread. Instead of constructive criticism we are therefore left with the shrill cries of anti-Zionists and "compassion" yuppies. The public defense of Israel is too often entrusted by default to the extreme right, who paint Zionism in the image beloved of its detractors - an inflexible, aggressive, expansionist and "racist" movement.

I know that these words will not be received with equanimity. They strike at the core of the programs of left and right. Anti-Zionists and anti-Semites use the issues to delegitimize Israel and slander the Jewish people. The Zionist left wants to force a change in Israeli policy by embarrassing Israel and withholding support. The Zionist right wants to force its political agenda on all Zionists by insisting that anyone who doesn't support Greater Israel is a traitor.

Human nature being what it is, many readers may respond to this plea for unity by defending their particular political convictions, or the actions of their particular group. That is not the point. The point is to defend the legitimacy of Israel and the Zionist movement in the best way possible, and to unite the support of Jewish people everywhere.

It is not to be expected that all differences of opinion will vanish, nor should they. We do not need to all adopt the same policies in order to defend the right of Israel to exist. Likud members and Meretz people fight on the same side in the IDF. All sides have the right to present the political views and policy positions that they think are best for Israel. However no side has the right to represent themselves as exclusive spokespersons of Zionism or the Jewish people, and no Zionist or pro-Israel group should neglect the defense of Israel and the basic tenets of Zionism.

Regardless of political differences, all Zionist and pro-Israel factions have to remember our principles and adhere to them. Both sides must present the case for Zionist legitimacy and the right of Jews to self-determination. Both sides have to criticize what is inexcusable in a balanced and constructive way that will really bring about a change in policy. Both sides have to present a humanitarian and positive image of Zionism and Israel.

Ami Isseroff

Original content is copyright 2006 by the author. Posted at ZioNation-Zionism and Israel Web Log, http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000269.html where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Disributed by ZNN list. Subscribe by sending a message to Znn-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by e-mail with this notice, cite this article and link to it. Other uses by permission only.