Progressive Zionists, especially those in the Diaspora, often give the impression that they believe that their major effort must be criticism of Israeli foreign policy, society and the occupation. We disagree with many aspects of Israeli policy. Constructive criticism and loyal opposition are essential parts of any democratic society and any dynamic movement. In a democracy, every citizen has the right to speak their mind. Certainly, nobody in Israel or in the Zionist movement can dictate to Jews in America or Britain what to think and how to act, whether they are Zionists or not.
Within the Zionist movement and Israeli society, given the immense problems that Israel has always faced, and Israel's current notable lack of success in dealing with some of these challenges, nobody should be shut up or delegitimized for suggesting a different way to achieve the same goal, provided that we all agree that the goal is a prosperous, democratic and secure Jewish national home.
However, the Zionist movement has goals and principles, and cannot be led astray by anti-Zionists, or those who want to re-open the question of Israel's right to exist, or to question whether Jews are a people. We are not "pro-Israel" outsiders looking in, and we are not a passive Israel fan club, whether we live in the Diaspora or in Israel. We have an active role to play in furthering the cause of Zionism and building the Zionist movement, in ensuring the present and future well being of the Jewish people and the Jewish state. We must all be agreed on the goals. Criticism cannot be the main preoccupation of any Zionist group. Rather it must be derived as a legitimate part of the Zionist endeavor, in the context of strengthening the Zionist movement and the Jewish state.
The major activity of Progressive Zionism must be directed to traditional Zionist goals of Zionist and Hebrew education, aliyah and political support for
the State of Israel and for Israeli government policies, when those policy goals are vital for the survival of the Jewish state. If we believe that occupation of Hebron is not right and not helpful to Israel, then we should not be supporting occupation of Hebron. However, that doesn't mean we can support "peace" initiatives whose aim is to destroy Israel. Nobody can argue that advancing the cause of the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad suicide squads, or of the Hezbollah and their supporters, including Azmi Bishara, or the cause of the PLO, is "good for Israel" in any way. People who adopt such views can do so as Jews or private citizens, but it is absurd for them to claim that they are "Zionists" or that they have a place in Israel support groups.
Recently, Daniel Fleshler suggested that moderate (or Progressive) Zionists should be at the forefront in defending Israel against the "far left." Why not let moderates engage the far left?"
he wrote. Why not indeed? And who and what are stopping him, or stopping any of the Progressive Zionist or "pro-Israel" groups in the United States, or any of the friends, kibitzers and onlookers? Some progressive Zionists are doing it, as individuals. It is an idea that works. I have seen it in action, and it is a big part of the rationale for our own Zionism-Israel
Web site and publicity on behalf of Israel. All they have to do, is do it.
Any Zionist organization has several different arenas for presenting and arguing the case for Israel. We should not be presenting different stories to different people - "one story in Arabic and a different story in English," like Yasser Arafat. On all these fronts, the messages should be the same, and should be consistent with fundamental principles. Within the Jewish community, progressive Zionists have a winning case. We are uniquely positioned to defend Israel and Zionism, because we can present a humanistic and progressive view of Zionism and win back those who have turned away from Israel owing to extremist advocacy and settler Zionism. To the general public and to foreign governments we also have a strong case, because we can argue for a pro-active peace solution that is based on real justice, a two state solution that is based on self-determination and freedom for two peoples, democracy and human rights. For our friends on the Zionist right, we need to explain, over and over, that in the long run, Israel has no chance of surviving without peace, that the idea of Israeli "victory" over 1.3 billion Muslims is absurd, and that policies that isolate Israel in the international community and make Israel a diplomatic liability to the United States would weaken Israel rather than strengthening it.
The sad truth is that the Zionist right has monopolized "Israel advocacy" by default. They often present a view of "Zionism" that is, frankly, embarrassing. In the name of this "Zionism," racist blanket condemnations of Islam, exhortations to annex the West Bank, "plans" to nuke Mecca, attacks on moderate and even right-wing Israeli politicians (including Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert) as "Stalinists" and traitors, and attacks on mainstream US Democratic politicians as "leftists," are offered alongside advertisements for "I am a conservative" T-shirts. The occupation and local Diaspora political causes are confounded with "Zionism." Some seem to have forgotten that Ben Gurion was not a Republican, and that George Bush is not Jewish. Less extreme varieties of "Israel advocacy" sometimes mount defensive and somewhat hysterical condemnation of anyone who advocates policies of compromise that are an accepted part of the Israeli political dialogue, but considered anathema in the USA. An article by Nicholas Kristof
, naive and fatuous but well meaning, that advocated adoption of the Geneva accord as a peace plan, was attacked as propagating the anti-Semitic slurs of Mearsheimer and Walt. Kristof is a well meaning, sometimes unrealistic commentator, but to read the reactions to his column, one might think he is in league with Hassan Nasrallah and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
This sort of "Israel advocacy" holds center stage because nobody has offered anything better. Progressive Zionist organizations have not usually been in the forefront in defending Israel against charges of "apartheid," combating the "one state solution" propaganda or protesting against terrorism. Not surprisingly, they aren't able to command the respect of main stream Zionists. All they have to do to defend Israel is "just do it."
George Soros floated the idea of a dovish alternative "Jewish Lobby" that would compete with AIPAC -- an idea that has gone noplace
meanwhile. Suppose that such a lobby or interest group were to be established. What should progressive Zionist organizations and individuals expect of that lobby? Do we really want it to urge the US to "treat Israel like Apartheid South Africa, as one Zionist organization urges?
The article notes that withdrawal of support from apartheid South Africa made it possible for the ANC to win. In the Israeli-Arab conflict, the opposition, who would play the role of the "ANC," are the Hamas and the Hezbolla. These groups want to establish an Islamic Sharia state. At best, the opposition, the "ANC" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is represented by the PLO, that at present advocates a "two state solution" that would flood Israel with Palestinian refugees and destroy it as the national home of the Jewish people. If the United States and other Western countries withdraw support from Israel and the opposition wins, there will not be a Jewish national home.
Certainly we want the United States to be actively involved in promoting peace in the Middle East. But it is hardly realistic to expect that Israel will negotiate peace on the basis of the platform of the Hamas-controlled Palestinian government that calls for total Israeli withdrawal and "return" of Palestinian refugees to Israel with no quid pro quo
other than a temporary truce, which asserts the right to continue terrorism as long as the "occupation" (which Hamas defines as extending over all of Israel) continues, and which has basically torn up all previous agreements. Is it possible to negotiate with such a government? Would they keep to any new agreements or would they tear those up too? Shouldn't people like Soros and Kristof, who ostensibly advocate peace, be advocating pressure on the Palestinian government? Should they be advocating recognition for that government? Soros and Kristof, like everyone else, are entitled to their opinions. However, it is absurd to expect that any Zionist organization or pro-Israel interest group would support what amounts to a pro-Hamas platform.
Zionist activism for peace must stand firmly on the principle of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. A progressive Zionist lobby cannot ask the US to advocate "peace" solutions that are in fact Israeli surrender, pressure the US to stop supporting Israel or legitimize genocidal Islamist extremists. Progressive Zionist defense of Israel is a good idea, and it is about time that Progressive Zionist groups started doing it. Ami Isseroff
(revised March 24, 2007)
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