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Gil Troy has written a thoughtful article for the Jerusalem Report entitled "Beyond Crisis Zionism." His thesis is that support for the Zionist movement appears to be built on crises and dramatic news, rather than positive achievement and normal development. In the long run, this situation is not normal. American Jews require something more:


Crisis Zionism - Gevalt Zionism - provides only a fleeting high and provisional unity. True, Jews seem particularly programmed to rally around the blue-and-white flag when besieged. Anti-Semitism remains the great Jewish motivator; tragically, Palestinian terrorism triggered more Jewish identity-building on campuses than a decade’s worth of outreach initiatives did.

But what do we do when the situation stabilizes, when terrorism wanes as it has done, or if, heaven forbid, peace ever breaks out? Zionism must be more than the Jewish people's flak jacket, donned only in a crisis and happily removed when the shelling stops.



The thought that we must fear peace because we have only taught ourselves to deal with crises is sobering.

Troy hearkens back to earlier days, when, he claims, Zionism was different:


Like the early Zionists, we need a positive, relevant Zionist vision using Jewish nationalism and Israel to solve modern personal problems as well as “the Jewish problem.”




Permit me to observe that things, as usual, ain't what they used to be, and moreover, they never were. Early Zionists were an extremely tiny band, and early Zionism was propelled into popularity by the pogroms, which revived the Hovevei Tziyon, the Dreyfus case, which inspired Herzl, and the disaster of World War I, which gave birth to the Balfour declaration. We don't really want to go back to the "good old days," because they were not good. Zionism was born in crisis, and was born to meet that crisis, which was caused by the rise of European nation-states and the incomplete emancipation of the Jews.

Permit me to observe further, that anyone who follows a political movement to solve personal problems is generally going to be disappointed. Zionism, socialism or any other "ism" will not cure anyone's bad knees and skin trouble. They will not bring back your wayward spouse or cure loneliness, shyness, balding or any other defect.

That said, Gil Troy has a point. Israel was created to solve problems for the Jewish people, not to generate new ones. In the bad old days, when there was a fire in the shtetl, all the rich Jews of Russia or Poland were called upon to contribute and help their poor brothers. If Israel is to capture and hold the hearts of Jews abroad and inspire pride and loyalty, it cannot remain in the role of the eternally burning shtetl, and the Jews of America, France, Britain, Australia and wherever else cannot be expected to pay our way and risk the opprobrium of their non-Jewish neighbors by participating in "the Jewish lobby" as anti-Semites call it in order to save Israel from one or another form of unfair political pressure.

Troy wrote:


The challenge remains to build a modern Jewish state that speaks to Jews throughout the world based on Israel's triumphs, not her traumas.


Israel has had many triumphs for those who find that important. The only road to such triumphs is through crises: The War of Independence, the 1967 6 day War, the ingathering of Russian and Ethiopian exiles. We have crisis Zionism because what we have to offer to Jews abroad who are safe and wealthy is crises. If we want to offer something other than crises, we need to rebuild Israeli society and national priorities. If Israel wants to be the center of Jewish cultural life, we cannot do it just by insisting we are the center. We have to offer something that will attract scholars and philosophers and just plain folks. If we want people to live here, we have to build an Israel that is a good place to live. Otherwise, young people will come on the birthright programs and the Masa programs that Troy notes, and will go back to America filled with enthusiasm that will wane in a few months, and they will stay in America. Let's face it, as long as objective conditions here remain what they are, no amount of ideological preaching or birthright programs or other gimmicks will induce Jewish people living abroad to live here or to take Israel seriously as a center of their culture. Suppose that on the other hand, we can create an Israel that is at peace with its neighbors, enjoys a standard of living on a par with that of the USA or Europe and in addition is a vital center of intellectual activity, scientific research, Jewish thought and ethical philosophy. If we can make Israel a good place to live, then at least some Jews would come to live here rather than, for example, California or Montreal, and others would look to us for guidance in how to to live their lives and organize their societies.

Ami Isseroff

[note - Jerusalem Report Web site is under reconstruction - this appears to be the first posting of the this article.]



THE JERUSALEM REPORT:

VIEWPOINT

“BEYOND CRISIS ZIONISM” by Gil Troy

March 20, 2006 p. 46

The blinding sandstorms of Middle East politics once again highlight the shortsightedness of building a modern Zionist identity based on Israeli politics' shifting sands and paced by the latest CNN headlines. Like the early Zionists, we need a positive, relevant Zionist vision using Jewish nationalism and Israel to solve modern personal problems as well as “the Jewish problem.”

The last few months have been particularly disorienting. The pride the soldiers' and settlers' democratic dignity inspired during the August disengagement has been forgotten amid the government's neglect of many Gaza evacuees and the Amonah violence that dishonored security forces and settlers. The consensus faith in Ariel Sharon's leadership has fragmented into grief over Sharon's stroke, amazement at Israel's maturity during the power transition, and befuddlement as the electoral backbiting intensifies.

Yet amid the confusion over who should lead Israel, what Israel's borders should be, and how Israel can find stability, recent headlines also hint that Zionists might find worldwide popularity again. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's ravings, Hamas's electoral triumph, and the cartoon jihad's anti-democratic rioting again prove that evil currents really shape today's Middle East. Whatever our imperfections, Israel and the Zionist movement remain on the side of the angels. Israel's raucous, messy, but free, vital, and prosperous, liberal democracy compares most favorably and outshines the Islamicist fanatics menacing whoever disagrees with them. In our perennial search for support and self-justification, it is tempting to center a new political Zionism on a democratic hatred of terrorism and love for freedom.

Alas, the world is fickle, and virtue does not guarantee popularity. The Europeans continue flattering Iran, while America's oil addiction fuels Iran's annihilationist fantasies with petrodollars. Russia decided to distinguish between outlaw Chechen terrorists and the merry misunderstood Hamasnikim - a false distinction the French naturally applauded. And the collective cowardice of most mighty Western media giants earned them honorary black umbrellas, winning this year's Neville Chamberlain Award. Most refused to print or broadcast the brave Danes' relatively benign Mohammed cartoons while diluting odes to free expression by deferring to Islamic sensibilities in ways more peaceful religions, especially Christianity and Judaism, somehow never merit in the media.

Crisis Zionism - Gevalt Zionism - provides only a fleeting high and provisional unity. True, Jews seem particularly programmed to rally around the blue-and-white flag when besieged. Anti-Semitism remains the great Jewish motivator; tragically, Palestinian terrorism triggered more Jewish identity-building on campuses than a decade’s worth of outreach initiatives did.

But what do we do when the situation stabilizes, when terrorism wanes as it has done, or if, heaven forbid, peace ever breaks out? Zionism must be more than the Jewish people's flak jacket, donned only in a crisis and happily removed when the shelling stops.

Since the 1990s, far away from the confounding headlines, a Jewish identity-building revolution has occurred. Young Jews have experienced invigorated summer camps, schools, and Israel trips, adults have enjoyed reformed (not always Reform!) synagogues, educational initiatives, and Israel missions. The best programs offer Jewish solutions to the dilemmas that vex us as human beings living in 21st century capitalist democracies. They appeal to individuals' needs without forcing them into a communal cookie cutter. They launch creative, passionate, spiritual, meaningful Jewish journeys - not guilt trips.

These programs require a unifying ideology contextualizing them, and reinforcing each other, so one Jewish experience flows into another. Proposals to merge birthright israel and MASA would actualize this important one-two punch. MASA, the Jewish Agency's invitation to thousands of Diaspora Youth to spend six months or a year in Israel is the natural follow-up program to birthright israel, which has given nearly 100,000 18- to 26-year- olds free 10-day Israel trips. In this ideal bankshot, the Jewish Agency should pump money into birthright, with its established track record, to guarantee MASA's success. The more people who enjoy 10 days in Israel, the more people will consider longer stays. Both programs resonate as part of a broader ideological mindset, using positive Israel experiences as gateways into greater Jewish engagement - and personal satisfaction.

We need an Identity Zionism - beyond the headlines -- inspired by the historic idea of Jewish nationalism and modern Israeli realities. Our Jewish community needs a Zionist dream to sit astride the American dream -- in our have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too world, either-or-choices are unrealistic. If the American dream promises individual self-fulfillment and prosperity, the Zionist dream should concern communal fulfillment and individual meaning. If the American dream celebrates making it despite being a Jew, the Zionist dream should make a better world. If the American dream champions individual careerism, the Zionist dream should stoke Jewish communal ambitions.

Modern Jews have proven repeatedly that we can fight for a Jewish state. The challenge remains to build a modern Jewish state that speaks to Jews throughout the world based on Israel's triumphs, not her traumas.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University. A revised edition of his book "Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity, and the Challenges of Today," will be released this spring.



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