Thursday, November 11, 2021

Weekly column by Vic Rosenthal

Amichai Shikli, the dissident member of Naftali Bennett’s party and the only coalition member to vote against the budget, had an op-ed in today’s Israel Hayom newspaper that got my attention. I’ll translate the first few sentences:

At the end of a virtual tour of the back streets of the Old City, the Temple Mount appears, in all its glory; in the background, the skyline of Jerusalem with Augusta Victoria [monastery] and Mt. Scopus. Welcome to the Palestinian pavilion at Expo Dubai.

Now we enter the Israeli booth. The word “Israel” appears in all the colors of the rainbow, the headline “toward tomorrow.” Presenting the official video is Lucy Ayoub, the daughter of a Christian [Arab] father and a Jewish mother who, in an interview with Ha’aretz, boasted that “she does not surrender to occupation.”

He continues that the exhibit focuses on the great technological accomplishments of the “startup nation.” The Palestinians, on the other hand, emphasize the historical Muslim connection to Jerusalem and “Haram al-Sharif” (the Temple Mount), which is at the center of Palestinian identity. The Israeli exhibit, he notes, “concedes the national and historical aspect from the start.”

This doesn’t surprise me. Whoever designed our exhibition wants to present Israel as ultra-diverse (i.e., the rainbow and Lucy Ayoub) and hyper-modern; the part about the roots of the Jewish people in the land from Biblical times and their deep connection to it, especially to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, was played down. The designers seem to have presumed that this isn’t the Israel that works well for people in Dubai, or Europe for that matter. Only “religious” Jews care about that.

They are wrong. The Marxist and secular David Ben Gurion, made it clear in the very first paragraphs of Israel’s Declaration of Independence:

Eretz Yisrael was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.

After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.

For Ben Gurion as well as his arch-enemy Menachem Begin, Zionism was not only about defending the Jewish people against antisemitism, it was (primarily) about the return of the Jewish people to their historic homeland, and, as Allen Hertz puts it, the realization of their aboriginal rights of entry and settlement. In this connection, I’m reminded of a story about Chaim Weizmann. When asked why the Zionists insisted on Palestine when there were many other places they could settle, he supposedly responded “That is like my asking you why you drove twenty miles to visit your mother last Sunday when there are so many old ladies living on your street.”

But many Israelis apparently don’t agree. What is important to them is physical security and economic success. They would have agreed with Moshe Dayan who, upon seeing the newly-conquered Old City, said, “what do we need all this Vatican for?” Perhaps they would even have agreed with Israel Zangwill, who in 1905 led a faction at the Seventh Zionist Congress favoring the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Uganda, Canada, or Australia. They don’t see a problem with the increasing number of non-Jews making “aliyah” to Israel, as long as they are loyal to the state. Certainly the idea of ceding Hevron, for example, or other parts of Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians would not bother them if they were convinced that this could happen without compromising their security.

I have two objections to this point of view. One is legal, and the other is, for lack of a better word, spiritual. The legal point is this: there is a string of documents and treaties, beginning with the Balfour Declaration, continuing with the adoption of the British Mandate for Palestine at the San Remo Conference in 1920, the Anglo-American Convention on Palestine of 1924, and of course Israel’s Declaration of Independenceall of which rest their case for a Jewish homeland in Eretz Yisrael on the Jewish People’s historical connection to the land, which confers upon them the Aboriginal Rights mentioned above.

The Palestinians understand this quite well, which is why they attack every aspect of it. That is the reason they exist that we are not a “people,” but “just a religion.” One of things (in addition to our unique language, religion, and culture) that makes us a people, of course, is our long and exceedingly well-documented connection to Eretz Yisrael, so of course that is a problem for them. At the same time, they attempt to deny – and physically destroy the evidence for – the presence of the Jewish people here over the centuries. Sometimes this can be amusing, as when they insist that a place should be called by its “original” Arabic name, which then turns out to be a transliteration of an older Hebrew name.

Regarding the second objection, I used the word “spiritual” in a larger sense than just the religious one. Although the military challenge to Israel presented by the Palestinians is small, the cognitive and cultural war that is being waged against Israel from all around the world on their behalf has only become nastier, and is beginning to threaten both our relations with other nations and our own internal social health. In particular, we are beginning to give up on our self-definition as a Jewish, Zionist state.

The pogroms of May, in which Arab citizens viciously attacked Jewish residents of mixed cities, the recent attack on an Israeli police officer by private Arab security contractors, and the degree to which Bedouin criminals are running wild in the southern part of the country show that even Israel’s Arab citizens respond to perceived weakness.

There is a long list of things that we can do to push back against the abandonment of our Zionist consciousness. Most urgent is that we cannot afford to have a government that contains anti-Zionist elements, such as the Islamist Ra’am party of Mansour Abbas (not to be confused with Mahmud Abbas of the PA). I fully understand how it came about, but it is not acceptable. The presence of Ra’am in the Knesset (never mind the governing coalition!) violates section 7a of Israel’s Basic Law governing the Knesset, because the party platform “[negates] the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people.” Although it isn’t necessarily wrong to allocate a large amount of funds to improve services to Arab citizens, it is scandalous to place 30 billion shekels (almost US $10 billion) in Abbas’ hands to distribute as he wishes. By our cynicism, we have anointed him King of the Arabs.

Most important is the reinstatement of the Zionist goal of settling all of Eretz Yisrael by Jews. Programs should be created that will provide inexpensive homes in Judea and Samaria to young families who are priced out of the housing market today. This will require finding the gumption to oppose the US and Europe in order to build in Judea and Samaria, but we can do that.

There’s a great deal more, but readers can fill it in. Israelis often use the word “Tzionut” (Zionism) ironically. When I first made aliyah in 1979, someone asked me why I came. Tzionut, I said. He looked at me like I was insane. But it’s the reason there is a state at all, and if we forget the importance of Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish people, there won’t be one very much longer


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