An Israeli friend asked a good question, "What must we do to improve our lives?" He was thinking no doubt of the perennial "security situation," but my long winded reply put that relatively minor problem in perspective. I would like to share it with you. I am sorry if it sounds quite a bit like a 1940s Zionist political speech.
When you ask how to improve our lives, you are probably expecting an answer about the Arabs and the territories, so I will answer about the Arabs first, but please understand that it is a minor point.
The world will judge us on how we treat the Arabs of Israel, as Chaim Weizmann warned. To our Arab and Druze neighbors in Israel we must extend the hand of friendship and the invitation to cooperation. We must reward loyalty not with petty bribes and political "gravy," but with the full rights and privileges of citizenship and integration into our society for everyone who serves in our armed services and participates in our national life. They are Israelis. If they want to belong with us, we must include them.
We must deal honestly and forthrightly with the Arabs of Palestine whose territories we conquered in 1967 but we must stand on our rights as well as allowing their rights. We have done the opposite. We entered on an agreement of thieves to cheat on the Oslo accords and to allow them to cheat. To make a "peace process" that would be a show for the foreign Khawajas with "photo ops." The Arabs cheated more than we did, but having been dishonest ourselves, there was nothing we could do. The Arabs put on a better show than we did, and now we whine about Arab control of the media.
We must allow the Arabs of Palestine to develop a national life in their own land if they are really committed to peace. If we insist on self determination for our people, we must allow it for them. But if they continue in the way of eternal "resistance" and the "right" to destroy the Jewish people, if that is how they define their nationalism, we must be ready to destroy every vestige of that "nationalism," which is no better than Nazism.
Improving our lives is a complex program. The Arabs will learn to live with us only when they understand that we are not a cobweb state as Nasrallah said or a cardboard state as Meshal said. This has not changed since the Palestinian Zionists first faced this problem in 1920. This is not a matter of tanks and airplanes. Those are not really the "iron wall" that Jabotinsky envisioned. The Hamas and the Hezbollah have no tanks and no airplanes. In 1948 the Arabs had the tanks and airplanes, but they also had the cobweb states and the cardboard armies. We had no tanks, and no airplanes at first, only heros out of story books with iron wills and antique machine guns. But the defenders of Nirim
and Negba and Kfar Darom and Nitzanim were not ten feet tall. They were ordinary people like you and I. They were not ferocious warmongers, but farmers and workers, many of them escapees from the Holocaust
It is not a matter of diplomacy only either. If we do not have a solid society and solid achievements we can negotiate nothing. If we project an obnoxious and hateful philosophy or a weak and cowardly one, we will get nothing. If we are weak and disunited or fanatic and unrealistic we will have no allies, and nobody will honor any treaties with us. If we are strong and forthright, we can negotiate from a position of respect and strength.
I am afraid that now many may stop reading, because I am about to mention someone who makes Israelis turn the page. Please bear with me. David Ben Gurion
symbolized the whole package. He was flawed, like many great leaders, but he was a great leader and visionary. We forgot too many things that Ben Gurion said.
The key to the whole program, and to all of Zionism, is building a healthy society. It starts with a Ben-Gurionism, "Never mind what the "goyim" [other nations] say, what matters is what we do." Our successes begin with us and our problems and failures begin with us.
In 1944 Ben Gurion gave a speech to youth groups about the Imperatives of the Jewish Revolution
. It was a propaganda "Tziyonut" [Hebrew word for Zionism, often used sarcastically] speech, but it later came to be understood that it epitomized his philosophy in many ways. He said we must guard three things - Independence, Unity and Halutziut. We lost all three. He was thinking of the labor Zionist movement, at the time when the Jewish people in Israel and the labor movement were more or less synonymous, but it applies to the entire Jewish people. He was thinking of people who followed USSR. We are hitched permanently to USA. Not only our defense, but our national strategy and national will and our culture have atrophied and our policies are made in USA like our weapons.
Unity doesn't exist either in the labor movement or elsewhere in Jewish life. It is OK for there to be two Jews and four opinions, as long as we all do what is necessary and save opinions for internal discussions. But if one is serving in the army, another is in America ranting about divided Jerusalem, a third is selling Azmi Bishara propaganda as Zionism, a fourth is inducing young men not to serve in the IDF because of the occupation, while a fifth is stoning the IDF because the IDF evacuates settlements, there will not be a Jewish state or a Jewish people. Halutziot is still practiced by a few eccentrics who live in Sderot and others who build kibbutzim in the Negev. For the rest of Israel it either invokes a sneer or is misappropriated by settlers in air-conditioned and subsidized homes, living in the West Bank and farming their land with hired labor.
Everything that you see in Israel was not built because of money and power, but because of an idea that was implemented by visionaries. Without the idea and the faith in the idea, all the money in the world and all the political influence in the world, all the tanks and all the guns, will avail us naught. The glass and concrete skyscrapers of Herzliya Pituach will crumble to dust and the goats will graze on the sand dunes as they did 100 years ago. The tanks and airplanes will be rusted junk. Ideas and faith in ideas are what prevailed for the Jewish people against the very gates of hell, which were marked "Arbeit Macht Frei."
The generations of our grandfathers and our fathers, and even our generation at one time, built a state and a labor Zionist movement. The impossible idea of Syrkin
was that the Jewish state must be built by the Jewish proletariat. The generation of 1948 and 1967 made it happen. It was, and is, a maginificent achievement for a people that rose from the ashes. It was built one mimeographed flyer at a time, one tomato at a time, one dunam at a time, one brick at a time, one gun at a time, one tree at a time, one penny in the JNF can at a time.
Politicians will be politicians. Those blow-hard ideologues we despise and neglect were the "Barack Obamas" of Israel, and they had plenty of silly slogans, as silly as "We are the change that we seek." But behind the slogans, there was substance. They were not the change, but they made the change. A nation of merchants and scholars became a nation of farmers and workers and soldiers. Everything you see in Israel, good and bad, is a monument to the stubborn and tough visionaries who made their ideas a reality.
Then somehow we threw it all out. We lost it. We became ashamed of Zionism because we were ashamed of the occupation and of the Labor party bureaucracy and corruption and hypocrisy. Rather than fixing the problem, we threw out the Ben-Gurion with the bath water. "Tziyonut" became a dirty word. We left the "Tziyonut" to others. We are awarding the Israel prize to a man who despises Zionism, Ze'ev Sternhell.
The "Baaley Batim," the comfortable high class Jews of the Diaspora laughed at the crazy Jews who went to Palestine. Those who survived the Holocaust now became the leaders of the "Zionist" movement, along with the non-Zionist orthodox. Jewish millionaires in America now have more influence on Israel than we do, and they demand even more influence. They want to determine our borders and who may live here, but they will stay in New York and Los Angeles. Ben Gurion and his friends knew how to deal with these people, how to take their money and tell them what needed to be done and do it. Now we are listening to the ideas of those who had no part in building Zionism or the state and who have no understanding of the Middle East or modern Israel.
A suicidal, self-destructive impulse gripped both the labor Zionist movement and Zionism itself, so that we even became ashamed of the word "Zionism." The suicidal impulse is evident in many things that we do. We subsidize yeshiva students but make engineers pay for their education. A kiosk owner makes a better living than a machinist or a construction worker, not just because of economic realities, but because of the way our tax laws are constructed.
The Israeli left voluntarily abandoned leadership of the nation and let the right and the politically indifferent take over and redefine Zionism as Chabadism or Beginism or Jews who give money to other Jews to buy guns to defend other Jews in the West Bank. The left is too busy fighting the occupation to defend Zionism and Israel. Nobody will give leadership of a national movement to a political group that has abandoned the task of nation building. The decline of Labor Zionism is the fault of Labor Zionism.
The moral bankruptcy of Labor Zionism was dramatized in the saga of the Soltam factory. Forgive me for relating an ugly truth. The Labor Zionist movement build a trade union federation - the backbone of the workers' movement that built Israel, and they built a defense industry that was the symbol of our independence and our strength. But the Histadrut was corrupted by cynical leaders. The factory owned by Zionist workers was used not only to make shells for the IDF, but also to make ammunition and guns for the mullahs of Iran, until the Hezbollah shot those shells back at us. Then the factory was closed and the workers federation sent attack dogs to break the strike of the workers. Now our shells are made in factories in America, and so is our national existence.
We have neglected all the important things, in part because of mistakes of Ben-Gurion.
We need to reconstitute a workers stream of schools and make them the best in the country. We need to teach our children about the values and the people that made possible the state in which we live. But we cannot remain buried in the past. We need to give the future a chance, by giving our children the technical education that will ensure Israel's technical leadership. We need to spend twice as much on education as we do today and a lot less on discotheques and automobiles. University education must be free for everyone with the qualifications, especially for technical subjects.
Our grandfathers swore that they would end the parasitic Jewry of the Halukah (the charities for Yeshiva students) and they would build kibbutzim and factories. Now we are dismantling the kibbutzim and factories and building Yeshivot and subsidizing Kolels (charity organizations for ultraorthodox Talmudic students). Our National Insurance money pays for armies of idle black coated fanatics with ear locks who do not serve in the army themselves, but who insist that others must defend every inch of greater Israel.
We need to focus on basics again. Philosophy is very fine, but if secular Jewish Israelis do not have children there will be no secular Israelis. That is a fact that you cannot dispute. "You don't need to be a rocket scientist" to understand that. The orthodox Jews understand this. Khaled Meshal knows it. Ahmadinejad understands this. Birds and bees know it. Bedouin in the Negev who completed 9 or 10 years of school seem to understand this better than the engineers in the hi-tech companies and the professors in the universities. Israel was once a child-centered society, and it must be so again.
We need more school trips to Bab el Wad
and Yad Mordechai
and less trips to Auschwitz. The national obsession with the Holocaust
is killing any chance to develop a vital living Jewish culture both in Israel and abroad.
The Holocaust happened. It must never happen again. The armored cars rusting at the side of the road to Jerusalem - if they can still be seen - are a testament to the real determination of our people that we shall never allow another Holocaust. That is our answer to the Holocaust, and not trips to Auschwitz. Too many Jews went to Auschwitz in World War II. It is time for Jews to come to Bab-el-Wad and Yad Mordechai, to settle in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and in Sderot and Yeruham and Eilat.
Not only the Zionist movement, but the entire Jewish people seem to be bent on suicide. In the United states, the number of Jews will diminish year by year because our rabbis and our customs repel converts instead of welcoming them. In Israel, we cannot absorb a large group of Russian immigrants who are not Halachic (Jewish law) Jews for the same reason. In Russia they were Jewish. Many were heroes of the Jewish resistance movement. In Israel, non-Zionist rabbis insist that they are not Jewish. If these rabbis had to pass on the Jewishness of Ben-Gurion or Mordechai Anielewicz
(the hero of the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt
), they would exclude them as Jews.
The key to improving our lives is us. We will only survive if we stop destroying ourselves. Ami Isseroff
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Replies: 3 Comments
Re Kibbutzim - It happens that your analysis of the Kibbutz problem is not entirely correct. Maabarot is doing very well. Degania is not becoming privatized because of financial difficulties. There were problems - some due to the Kibbutzim, some due to the banks. If someone wanted to save the kibbutzim, they would be saved. But the members no longer wanted to live that way, and the society did not encourage them or view them as heroes. Why be a a Kibbutznik if society honors kiosk owners who get rich much more?
The Kibbutzim disappeared because they did not spend their money wisely, but the Yeshivot proliferated because they did a great national service, are profitable, and help the Israeli economy, right?
If we have only Yeshivot, we shall have no old age, so there is no point in saving money for it.
Whorehouses are even more profitable than kibbutzim OR Yeshivot.
Ami Isseroff, Sunday, March 2nd
All correct - except the disappearance of the kibbutzim as we used to know them. Alas, they simply did not manage their money properly and spent them on too freely.
I don't share your view that we, the Israelis, are not Zionists anymore. We are, but we are also more critical of our leadership and are not afraid to say it.
Misha SHAULI, Saturday, March 1st
A good raging rant, Ami, at all that is stuffing up Israeli society. A few points of difference though. You omitted to mention that Israel offered to return territories for peace and was met by the Khartoum three noes. You mention that Israel cheated on its agreements, but fail to document them; please enlighten us in the diaspora. You, along with every lefty (and anti-Zionist), ignore Israel's right to the fruits of victory against an agressor; penalty free aggression has invited more agression as Sderot and Lebanon II demonstrate. You fail to mention the stupid Israeli electoral system where anti-Zionist Jews and anti-Israel Arabs can hold seats, where there is no impeachment mechanism for an arguably traitorous PM and FM. You fail to mention a post-Zionistic judiciary which favours hostile Arabs over Zionistic Jews and an intelligence service that gives politicised rather than objective assessments. Finally, you sneer at diaspora Jews who want to influence Israel. Well, Ami, not all Jews can move to Israel and we all have a stake in Jerusalem and the Jewish state. What we do in the diaspora influences the perception of our countrymen about Israel. What you in Israel do affects the way we are seen by our countrymen. And most importantly, the fate of a democracy is vital to us all; should Israel be destroyed by force or foreign fiat, the jihadi elements will be strengthened and all democracies, particularly the Jews living there, will suffer. Never forget, Jews are one people, one family, regardless of our nationalities and allegiances.
Paul Winter, Friday, February 29th
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