Friday, September 05, 2014

Liberal Zionism Just Needs Some CPR

I strongly recommend commenting on this one! Disagree with me! Let's start a really awesome discourse about Israel.

A response to Anthony Lerman's "The End of Liberal Zionism" August 22, 2014 The New York Times

            In the words of Anthony Lerman, “The romanticist Zionist ideal, to which liberals…subscribed many decades, has been tarnished by the reality of modern Israel.” Wherever Lerman crafted that sentence, I wonder if he knew that a counselor returning from a liberal Zionist summer camp with over 100 children would read his article on Sunday morning. Spotting the token Israel article in the Sunday Times, I was surprised to learn that my ideals, according to him, were dead. Although Lerman eloquently explained his opinion in the August 22 edition of The New York Times, liberal Zionism survives post-Rabin. Considering that Diaspora Jews no longer cling to the literal philosophy of Theodore Herzl and criticize present close-mindedness, we must revise (in a manner different from Jabotinsky) what it means to think and act like a Zionist in the twenty-first century.
            In spite of Lerman’s best efforts, he overestimated the degree to which liberal Zionists are on “the brink.” Foremost, he equivocates criticism of Israel and that of Israeli policy. As much as a beet-red, Obama-scoffing Republican simultaneously detests their president and lauds American democracy, the liberal Zionist squirms in discomfort as Netanyahu and his cohorts escalate a Gaza mission while feeling ownership over the Sea of Galilee and its cathartic charm. Hating Israel’s post-Begin, individualistic, hawkish political culture by no means perpetuates anti-Semitism. The truly “self-hating Jew” allows one’s brethren to set aside Jewish values in the face of security or sometimes hysteria. In bringing this article to some of my colleagues, they quickly attacked Lerman for his standard definition of Israel as a “Jewish state”. Judaism distinguishes itself from other religions as both a system of prayer and a rich culture with food, languages, and customs, which by no means are universal. Sure, to some of the world, Judaism means long sideburns, tefilin, Kosher dining, and the whole lot, but for others, Judaism extends well beyond halacha (Jewish law). The identity and pride remains, as do many of the shared values- family, education, diligence, and tradition. Therefore, as long as shootings happen at Jewish centers in Kansas or rioters shout “Juif, la France n'est pas à toi!” (Jews, France is not for you!) in the streets of Paris, a sovereignty that opens its doors to Jews of all backgrounds deserves to exist. Lerman claims that perpetuating the Jewish state, “implies policies of exclusion and discrimination”, but the reconciliation of religion, culture, and democracy is what makes being a liberal Zionist so exhilarating. In this sense, the left truly controls the future of Zionism, fostering an empowered, dignified nation for the years to come. Straying from criticism’s frequently negative connotation, the alternatives, joining the hawks or remaining apathetic, only fuel the current occupation and conflict. To conclude his argument, Lerman regards the two-state solution as forgone. Since Netanyahu declined the notion of a just partition between two people engaged in peaceful dialogue and commerce, the whole world might as well abandon their convictions too. Refusing to challenge such disregard for Palestinians’ right to a homeland as much as much as the oppressed Jews’ from Hungary to Argentina right defies basic Jewish principles. From an early age, we are raised to believe in a higher purpose in this world, that we are among a privileged people to repair the world of its evils. Lerman notes that liberal Zionists, “ should know that Israel is not Judaism”, but only Jews who engage with such Zionism can be the ones who bring justice to the Holy Land.
            This summer, with the nearly 2,000 Palestinians killed in the name of Israeli defense, pushed many Zionists to the supposed brink. With all eyes on Israel, we often find ourselves caught in the corner. Do we criticize our homeland while the whole world awaits us to be adversaries? Benyamin Netanyahu, in my opinion, holds the majority of responsibility for this aggression. Only Netanyahu announced settlement construction as Kerry departed from the January round of peace talks, and only Netanyahu ignored Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority, when he proposed steps toward a unified Palestinian government, as the Israelis desired. While the United States allows Israel to appease by means of pseudo-shuttle diplomacy, the Israeli right continues to obliterate the progress of the last sixty years. The true fate of Israelis, whether they dream of flying doves or rockets, lies in the hands of solely Israelis. As much as the diaspora supports Israel’s steps toward democracy, only citizens of Haifa, Hertzliya, and Halon decide who occupies the coveted Knesset seats. The most the world can do is persuade an Israeli to vote in their favor, or as I would regard it, tackle a bear.
            Admittedly, the task of a liberal Zionist requires courage and perseverance. For the majority outside the state of Israel, the ways in which we influence Israeli policy seem limited. On the contrary, Lerman’s prognosis of death only indicates that we are not trying enough. To start, we educate the future generations and hope to pass along a zeal for justice in the way they (and not we) see fit. From distinguishing the Palestinian Authority between Hamas to simulating the headaches of Israel’s coalition system to reminding them of how Israel arose in the wake of genocide, we establish a defense system mightier than any iron dome. When the future turns against us, the battle is already lost. If we provide the tools for youth to synthesize their own opinions about Israel’s past, present, and future, we allow for the world to grow and not stifle in clutches of stereotypes and bigotry. The most daunting task for me, however, is this weird role we play as PR rep for the Israeli government. The key to talking to Jews and non-Jews alike is to criticize Israel while explaining that from this disapproval comes love and hope to repair the Holy Land, the region, and the world. As much as I disdain the settlements over the green line and the xenophobia run amuck in the current political climate, I work with Israel out of care for friends affected by the conflict and Jews all over the world who suffer from persecution. When Israel strikes with a punch too heavy, we must be on the frontlines, calling attention to the difference between a secure nation and an Orwellian one. To the disappointment of much of my readership, I must say that posting “Peace Now” or that interesting CNN article is not true advocacy for the state of Israel. In 2012, I lobbied then Representative Edward Markey to urge State Department officials and Foreign Policy Committee members to engage in diplomacy in place of funding unchecked militarism. Joining a campaign or leading a community project establishes the bridge connecting Tel Aviv and Tallahassee. Finally, to be a Zionist is to understand Zion itself. Though a photograph is worth a thousand words and a conversation with an Israeli ten thousand words, a visit to the Holy Land and conversations with dozens of Israelis opens the mind and allows for the mutual steps necessary for peace.
            Although Anthony Lerman largely neglects the zeal for justice and peace of most liberal Zionists, he finishes his opinion piece with an interesting point. As much as JStreet, Hashomer Hatzair, and the Union for Reform Judaism engage with Israel in meaningful ways, the Palestinian voice is only a whisper in the current conversation. Liberal Zionists must not only reach for the hands of Israelis but also the many Palestinians who dislike the political climate. So yes, Lerman, we may be approaching the brink, but hand in hand, we can bridge the gap.