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Everyone agrees that the future of Zionism and Israel is in peril, and the present is not so hot either.

Daniel Pipes laments Zionism's Bleak Present.

The heart of Pipes's complaint is this:

  • Young Israelis are avoiding the military in record numbers, with 26 percent of enlistment-age Jewish males and 43 percent of females not drafted in 2006. An alarmed Israel Defense Forces has requested legislation to deny state-provided benefits to Jewish Israelis who do not serve.

  • Israel's Attorney General Menachem Mazuz has up-ended the work of the Jewish National Fund, one of the pioneer Zionist institutions (founded in 1901) by determining that its role of acquiring land specifically for Jews cannot continue in the future with state assistance.

  • Prominent Israeli historians focus on showing how Israel was conceived in sin and has been a force for evil.

  • Israel's ministry of education has approved school books for third-grade Arab students that present the creation of Israel in 1948 as a "catastrophe" (Arabic: nakba).

  • Avraham Burg, scion of a leading Zionist household and himself a prominent Labor Party figure, has published a book comparing Israel with 1930s Germany.

  • A 2004 poll found only 17 percent of American Jews call themselves "Zionist."

If we examine Dr. Pipes' complaints about Zionism, they are divided into two or three categories:
1- A complaint that we Israelis are slacking off.
2- Complaints that amount to "too much democracy in Israel."
3- A complaint about lack of enthusiasm for Zionism among American Jews.
4- Complaints about what the enemies of Zionism are doing and saying.

It is undoubtedly important for us lazy and shiftless Israelis to have supervisors in the US who tell us we are slacking off. But what a great boost it would be to Israeli morale if Pipes and some others would come here, or send their sons and daughters to do military service!

There is no such thing as "too much democracy," as Dr. Pipes, who is a great advocate of democracy in the Middle East would be the first to say. If Israeli authors are allowed allowed to point out errors Israeli society and Zionism can only benefit, and if some of them are untruthful, in the end the truth will out. That is the price we pay for an open society. If the Israeli Supreme Court rules that Arabs must have equal rights with Jews, that is certainly a decision that is carrying forward and implementing a central tenet of mainstream Zionism. We are proud that there is "too much democracy" in Israel. The equality and the freedoms offered to Arab and Jew, to Bahai and Christian and Muslim, are the crown jewels of Zionist achievement.

The Arabs of Israel call the 1948 war the "Nakba." The Israel Ministry of Education decided that it was wisest to note this fact when teaching about the Israeli War of Independence to Israeli Arabs. Some American Zionists are apparently under the delusion that until this decision was made, Israeli Arabs had thought that the Arab side won the war, and that if only the subject will not be mentioned in our schools, all will be well.

It is true, apparently, that one poll showed that only 17% of American Jews identify as Zionist. Results of polls depend on who is asking and what is asked, as Pipes knows. So why did he choose to highlight this particular poll? The poll was taken by Brit Tzedek VeShalom, a movement that is very careful not to call itself "Zionist" but rather "pro-Israel" - a meaningless phrase, and the poll was carried out to discredit "Zionism" which was not defined. A much larger percentage of Jews however, and an overwhelming majority of all Americans, support Israel. Here is a more realistic statement of results of a different poll:

In a forthcoming paper on American Jewish attitudes toward Israel, Steven M. Cohen and Ari Kelman find that while 82% of their broadly representative sample regard themselves as ďpro-Israel,Ē only 28% --and fewer still in the younger cohorts -- see themselves as ďZionists.Ē Thus, even among the Jews, even among Israelís supporters, the word has become musty -- or worse, an unwelcome evocation of the judgment of its least sympathetic critics.


Perhaps some Jews are unwilling to say they are Zionists because they believe, with some justice, that being a Zionist entails thinking seriously about living in Israel, and they aren't ready for Aliya (immigration). Perhaps they are right. Zionism is more than making bellicose statements on behalf of Israel. Perhaps some of them are also put off by portrayals of Zionism that make it seem that Zionists are anti-democratic or racist or opposed to peace. If Zion has become a "four letter word" in the other sense, the way to fix the situation is not by taking stands that are opposed to democracy. Perhaps others are not actually sure of the definition of Zionism.

As for the Arab states and the Muslims whose extremist fervor worries Dr. Pipes, as David Ben-Gurion said, never mind what the others do, the question is, 'what are we going to do?'

Israel was founded in the midst of war and surrounded by states that announced their intention to destroy it. So what else is new? When Zionism was strong, we have always thrived on adversity, growing to face each challenge.

With all due respect to Pipes, as I noted elsewhere, we have all surely seen a lot of predictions and lamentations of this sort:

  • A prediction that in ten years Israel would be bankrupt.

  • A poll in which Israelis predicted that the Histadrut would outlast the State of Israel, and that the State would probably not survive 25 years.

  • A cartoon showing a sign at the airport that read "Will the last one to leave the country turn off the lights."

But all those dire portents were evident in the '60s, so apparently they were not so accurate. We are still here. Pipes writes:

To top it off, Arabs are moving these days in the opposite direction, reaching a fever pitch of ethnic and religious bellicosity.

When I first came to live in Israel, Amman radio referred to Israel as "the Zionist entity" and Nasser ruled in Egypt. Nobody beat Nasser for "ethnic bellicosity."

There is plenty of reason to be concerned for Israel or Zionism or the Jewish people, and no reason for complacency. That has been true for the last hundred and ten years at least. However, "Zionism" should not be used as a platform for flogging political opponents and opposing democracy. Fixing the problem entails understanding what is wrong and lending a hand to fix it, not whining about it and expecting Israelis to all adopt Pipesthought and get to work.

Ami Isseroff

Original content is Copyright by the author 2007. Posted at ZioNation-Zionism and Israel Web Log, http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000437.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.

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Replies: 3 Comments

This is a great blog and I wish I had stumbled on it before (I found it in your comment on SimplyJews).

I will be linking to some of your posts.

"But there are a lot of people out there who are for peace and human rights without being anti-Israeli or bind to the problems on te Arab side" - count me in!

Gert, Monday, November 5th

" it's so tiresome being torn between progressives who hate Israel or supporters of Israel who aren't at all progressive"

You can say that again. But there are a lot of people out there who are for peace and human rights without being anti-Israeli or blind to the real problems on the arab side. We are caught in a complex and difficult situation, but it's better than the easy and simplistic answers the right and the extreme left have to offer.

Micha, Thursday, November 1st

This is a great post. Thanks for clarifying this. It just goes to show you that you cannot trust polls without knowing more about their methodology. And it also goes to show that you cannot have enough historical background; every bit helps when you're evaluating political trends and trying to put them into perspective.

This site is a comfort to me, given that I'm on the left and also (gulp!) pro-Zionist. It's nice to see that there are other people out there who think in the same vein. Otherwise, it's so tiresome being torn between progressives who hate Israel or supporters of Israel who aren't at all progressive.

Joanne, Wednesday, October 31st

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