The first article in this series
explained that there is no "salvation." There is no magic solution that will make all the problems of Israel, the Middle East and the world vanish forever. There is an ongoing reality. History is a process, and our actions on one day will have repercussions on the next day. We need to plan for those repercussions, as well as to deal with new challenges that are going to be thrown at us by history. History will also offer us opportunities that we can and must exploit. We can exploit those opportunities only if we have set down strong national foundations.
If we are weak and dependent, we cannot make peace and we cannot make war successfully. Our strength is what gives us freedom of action. That strength is not built by a single action, but by many actions. Nor is it furthered by bellicose proclamations, hysterical Jeremiads and extremist demonstrations. The Six Day war demonstrated the strength of Israel and the quiet economic achievements of the recent period did so as well. No explanations were necessary. Grandiose and bellicose pronouncements of government officials, invocations of the wrath of Jehovah and hysterical Op-Eds about the coming Holocaust do not advance our cause in any way.
A consequence of the continuity of history and the ongoing nature of national development is that the work of Zionism is never done, just as the work of any national movement or any national culture is not done, as long as the nation exists. There will not be a "post-Zionist" period as long as there is a Jewish nation, just as "post Hellenism" could only occur after there was no longer a Hellenistic civilization.
We must constantly return to our ideological foundations and renew them, and derive our policies from our ideas and long term goals, rather than seeking "salvation" or "permanent solutions" in gimmicks such as peace treaties or wars. The gimmicks are tools and results of policies, they are not goals or policies in themselves. The results of wars and peace treaties depend on their context: the underlying demographic and geopolitical realities and historical processes.
The first goal of any state and any people must be survival. If you are dead, it doesn't matter how much land you had or how much money or how many peace treaties you made, or what sort of epitaph praises you on your headstone.
Survival requires many things, including luck, planning, flexibility, adaptability, realism, dedication, patience, calmness, basic unity of purpose and inner strength. To the extent possible, the "luck" must be made by being ready to exploit opportunities and cope with disaster. The Holocaust came very close to wiping out the Jewish people. Had there been no Zionist movement, there would have been no Jewish state, and it is very likely that the Jews would soon vanish as a nation. Had the Jewish people been more receptive of Zionism in the early decades of the twentieth century, many more people could have been saved. Lack of unity and clear vision cost many lives.
Strength must come from unity, prosperity, dedication and a vital and adaptive culture that attracts and holds the allegiance of our people. Actions and ideas that are not based on realism are bound to fail. Nations have been led to disaster by madmen who try to conquer the world. A culture that has nothing to offer our people except isolation and fanaticism or vagaries of pop-modernism, is not going to hold the Jewish people together. A country that cannot offer "quality of life" and prosperity will not hold its population: if other horizons beckon, people will leave. They will not work and play, live on hay and be satisfied with pie in the sky when they die.
All of this theory may seem to you to be going noplace, but it has practical consequences, and should be able to point us to what is important and what is not important.
A first practical, mundane problem that we have neglected is population. One of the greatest challenges posed to the Jewish people by reality is our tiny size. Grandiose visions of Greater Israel and Messianic prophecies are confronted by this reality at every turn. We can't do much without people. It won't help to bemoan the high birthrate of our neighbors either, because we do not control that. We must tailor our goals to our real place in the world, and we must never internalize the anti-Semitic myth of the all powerful Jewish conspiracy. At the same time, we must do everything in our power to avoid physical extinction by the facts of demography.
To put it simply, we have to have more Jews, many more Jews. We have to bring more of them to Israel and we have to ensure their safety. We aren't doing too well in achieving those goals. Recently a great stir was created when it was found that perhaps, by juggling the figures, it could be shown that there are 6 million or so Jews
in the United States, rather than about 5 million as previously thought.
There are no more Jews than there were before, but we can feel better about it. But even if there are 6 million or 7 million Jews in the United States, the fact remains that in more than half a century since the Holocaust, the Jewish people have still not succeeded in recovering even our prewar population of 18 million. This demographic failure is an acute "problem" because of the "competition" provided by our Palestinian and Arab neighbors. However it is also an intrinsic and structural problem - a nation that is aging and not replacing itself and growing is on the road to failure. Investing in studies that show there are more Jews on paper is not going to really make more Jews. Someone has to give some thought as to how to reverse the Jewish demographic trend. This year too, Israel had the lowest immigration in eighteen years
, a fact that cannot and should not be hidden by nice stories about handfulls of Jewish American families who came here, however much we welcome their arrival. And in the background, there are perhaps 800,000 Israelis living in the United States, who form a part of that real or paper 6 million of which the American Jewish community are now so proud. No statistics on emigration are available yet for 2006. Our most valuable export is Jews.
For the first years of their respective existences, Zionism and the state of Israel rested on sound percepts, carried out mostly sound policies based on those percepts, recognized problems and took corrective action, recognized opportunities and exploited them, and kept in mind priorities and the constraints of reality. Zionism is the God that didn't fail
. Zionism didn't fail precisely because it was not a god or a Messianic movement, but rather a movement that conceived of history as process. Zionism is the only twentieth century ideology that succeeded and is still in business, though its goals were the least likely to be accomplished objectively and though it had the most meager resources available to accomplish those goals. It is well to consider the reasons for our success and learn from them. A flexible and pragmatic ideology enabled us to take advantage of opportunities when they arose. A dedicated population in Israel with an underlying unity of purpose, made it possible to overcome insurmountable obstacles. That is how the "miracles" were made. We need many more miracles, and it behooves us to consider how they must be made. Ami Isseroff
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Replies: 5 Comments
An important initiative deserving of support is the Center for Judaic Studies under the direction of Prof. Xu Xiu at Nanjing University.
While it might not yield significant numbers of converts, it will engender better understanding of Jews, Judaism and Israel among the people of the most populous country in the world. Not coincidentally the Center was founded at the time of China's opening of diplomatic relations with Israel.
Stuart L. Meyer, Monday, January 1st
Very nice points!
Perhaps as ways are found for Arabs to join Jews, there are also ways for Jews to join Arabs. One challenge to be overcome is the idea that revelation is exclusive for one people. Illustration: Roses and tulips can grow in the same garden under the care of one gardener...
Neil D. Chase, Monday, January 1st
Some of these suggestions are good. But people will only want to convert if we have an attractive society and an attractive message, and the education of Arabs and other steps that need to be done, like changes in the Jewish attitude to converts or to helping others to join the Jewish people in a different way, must be put in the context of a healthy society.
Coercive measures like banning contraception don't work. Ask the Pope or look at Ireland. We won't have any strenth through joy movements here either. We have to think of creative solutions that make it easy and socially acceptable for working mothers and career women to raise families while acquiring an education or working. But that is just an example.
Ami Isseroff, Monday, January 1st
My proposed Zionist Goal: Israel is proof that unity of spirit is its source of strength, as its citizens are from all over the world. Therefore, compulsory education for Arab children, in Israeli public schools, as a requirement for residence, is a firm, fair way of overcoming the perverse hatred taught by Muslic clerics.
Neil D Chase, Saturday, December 30th
The population problem can also be addressed by putting greater emphasis on conversion. Everything depends, of course, on whether it is best to consider being Jewish as a religious or a racial thing. The Nazis, of course, went for the racist interpretation, so that conversion out (to Christianity or to atheism) didn't save anyone's life. Now, of course, Islamic anti-Semitism is essentially religious in origin (so that someone converting to Judaism would be treated as Jewish for all purposes). There's no easy way to get this right, but overall some measure of conversion may still be helpful. Converts present certain advantages: they are keen, they are (in this case) more likely to make aliyah, they are more likely to do hasbara, and so on ó and they may pass on their enthusiasm to Jews brought up in the faith, and possibly to their own children. Maybe the Knesset (or Beth Din)should vote for a ban on contraception and subsidies to Jewish dating servicves. But Ami is right, the population issue is a serious one ó not just for Jews, but for Europeans of Christian extraction faced by high birth rates within the Muslim population.
Denis MacEoin, Thursday, December 28th
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