Sunday, August 07, 2005

The True Meaning of Zionism

Gershon Baskin is the Israeli CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. This article was originally published in he Jerusalem Post on July 25.

By Gershon Baskin

JERUSALEM -- I made aliyah 27 years ago from New York after being very active for 10 years in the Zionist youth movement's Young Judea. I grew up with a pluralistic attitude toward Jewish life in Israel. While I am not religious, I was taught and I taught others to have respect for religious beliefs and for religious people.

During the past years a gulf has opened up between Orthodox and nonreligious people in this state. Until recently I thought we could find an accommodation of peaceful coexistence. I am not so sure about that today.

I always believed that the true fulfillment of the Zionist dream required Israel to find the way to live with its neighbors. The Zionist dream was to create a safe haven for Jews from all over. This, by definition, means that Israel must provide shelter and security for Jews.

Political Zionism always found a way to advance the cause by being practical. But Zionism got sidetracked by the Arab-Israeli conflict. Zionism was not about conflict with our neighbors. It was about creating a just, progressive and humane society based on "Jewish values" for Jews to live and prosper, both in spirit and in substance. Real Zionism accepted the reality that non-Jews would always live within our midst. This was expressed with both eloquence and finesse in Israel's Declaration of Independence. That Declaration has always served, for me, as a kind of statement of intent and of the values upon which this state and this society rests, or should rest.

Zionism is not about occupying the West Bank and Gaza. The continuation of the settlement enterprise is an act of suicide for the Zionist dream. It is not only about demographics. It is perhaps even more so about values, morality and lessons that we, as Jews, should understand better than anyone else.

The disengagement from Gaza is a Zionist act. Ending our occupation and domination over Gaza and its people is an action aimed at saving Zionism from those who have tainted the noble aspects of its cause since 1967. The Zionist dream is still in danger and the Zionist enterprise is at risk as long as we continue our occupation and domination over the West Bank and its people. The march out of the
occupied territories must continue. We must return to ourselves and build Israel from within.

The future appears ominous. Over the past months I have watched the streets of Israel and, in particular Jerusalem, turn orange. As the streets, the trees and the fashion has adopted this new symbol I have found myself confronted with the very strong visual image of a people I do not recognize.

How could these people - with their messianic vision and value system that justifies treating the "other" as less equal than Jews - and I be part of the same nation? We have the same roots, we share a common heritage, we come from the same places, yet there has been a split; for some time they and their kind have been very different from me and my kind.

I received a bumper sticker in my e-mail this week. It was two Israeli flags, one in orange and white and the other in blue and white. It said beneath the flags: "Israel -two states for two peoples."

That is a pretty good expression of my feelings toward the settlers and their supporters. We do not share values. We do not share a common view on the nature of this country or what it has to do to save itself.

Their ideology says, "Jews don't expel Jews", implying that Jews may expel non-Jews. They believe that they can subjugate the Palestinians and that the Palestinians will thank them for providing them with bread and water. Their sense of superiority disgusts me and raises questions about how we can live together.

I recognize that they are not all the same; that even within the orange world there are many shades. But the worldview, conduct and ethics of the settlers are different from mine. We both claim that our behavior is based on Jewish values, but our interpretation of what these values are, are as different as night and day.

The disengagement from Gaza is a victory for me and my kind. It is not yet a done deal, though. There may be those in the orange camp willing to use violence or provoke acts that could freeze the disengagement. Blowing up the mosques on the Temple Mount or a terrorist attack against Palestinians could provoke a new wave of
Islamic terror that could lead to halting the withdrawal from Gaza.

As their desperation grows the chances of a cataclysmic type of event-taking place increases. There are those whose motivations are so irrational that taking human lives for their cause is as easy as killing a mosquito. The toxic mixture of messianic lunatics aligned with political fanatics is explosive. If they represent Zionism and Zionist values then I am not a Zionist and my dream is not the Zionist dream.

But what I believe and want for Israel and the Jewish people is the fulfillment of the vision of the Declaration of Independence.

I want to be a free people in my nation living in peace with my neighbors both within and along our borders. I cherish diversity and appreciate the wealth of cultural pluralism that we can experience in this land and in this region. I don't want to rule over another nation and don't want their land. If important parts of my heritage and history are on the other side beyond our borders, I might want to visit them. But I don't have to be in possession of those places or rule over others in order to control them.

Many of those holy places are also holy for others who live in this land and who have other beliefs. Judaism teaches us to sanctify life, not places. The Zionist dream is a political expression of the sanctification of life. If we are worthy of living in this land we must respect all its peoples. We must recognize that our own security and prosperity is dependent on the security and prosperity of both peoples of this land. If we want dignity and respect for ourselves and our dreams, we must give dignity and respect to the others.

One day, I hope, the Israeli-Arab conflict will end. The struggle to reach that end will heighten and deepen the feeling of alienation between the two Jewish peoples of this state. We will then have to confront how we live together in peace and mutual respect.

Right now it seems like an impossible dream; right now it feels like a nightmare.


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