What is the national vision for how Israel? Opinion. Sept 2022

We are in a period of reflection during this month of Elul, and with the reminder from the daily blowing of the shofar, that we are approaching the Jewish New Year and the Ten Days of Awe.

Jewish Man Blowing the Shofar Horn of Rosh Hashanah New Year. Religious Symbol Stock Image - Image of culture, cultural: 196388697
credit: Dreamstime.com

Whilst we concentrate on our own personal selves, introspection, repentance and so forth, it is also a time we should be thinking and dreaming on the national level.

What is it that the Jewish People desire?

How do we shape our future and what should or can that look like?

If the State of Israel is the expression of Jewish self-determination – what is it that we are attempting to determine, so to speak?

What is the national vision for how Israel should look internally and in terms of relationships with her neighbours to be fit for purpose?

These questions and the dilemmas and contradictions they raise, if and when they are actually discussed, are what makes Zionism so exciting and dynamic.

Last month we marked 125 years since Theodore Herzl convened the first Zionist Congress in Basel in August of 1897.

This August also saw the Zionist Federation of Australia’s Jewish Educators’ Conference, held biennially. A particular pleasure for me, as I initiated this conference a little over 20 years ago. To see it become the fixture it has, with over 400 educators participating, is the definition of nachat – pride, joy and satisfaction all rolled into one.

As this year’s Australian Zionist Youth Council’s Bog Sem (leadership seminar) was timed to overlap with the Educators’ Conference, there were an extra large number of young adults attending.

There were many excellent sessions by both local and international talent.

One of the sessions I had the privilege of presenting was titled “Two States – Myth or Reality?” Another was “Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews, whereto from here?” Both these topics deal with external and internal issues important in attempting to define what Israel wants to be about.

Less important than the answer, but more pertinent to the Jewish future, was a question asked by one young adult in the group.

After presenting a series of scenarios and different maps from San Remo, to the United Nations Partition Plan, via the Clinton Map and right through to the Trump proposal – she saw the obvious conceptual shortcomings inherent in all of these plans.

Although Israel had, on the odd occasion, suggested its own map, such as the Allon Plan (more than 50 years ago), most proposals put forward over the past 100 or so years, as the names confirm, were basically someone else’s ideas.

Before we can even contemplate what to do with the Jewish State and offer anyone else anything or not, we, the Jewish People, need to decide what we think the Jewish State should look like.

To agree on what her full purpose is.

Then we can consider how big or small she has to be to achieve that purpose.

What size of a Jewish majority within her borders is required to ensure her ability to carry out her mission?

What does she need to look like internally to fulfil her destiny?

How does one ensure that this State will be secure and what are the acceptable trade-offs for that security?

For we well understand that if she cannot be secured, all the rest is just theory.

Herzl’s famous book, Der Judenstaat, with its fuller title – The Jewish State: Proposal for a Modern Solution to the Jewish Question – is not just a writing about establishing the Jewish State. It’s much more than that. It’s also about how she should look and behave.

Herzl was dreaming of something that did not exist at the time, which makes his vision all the more remarkable.

125 years after the First Zionist Congress and with Israel now the dominant force in the Jewish world, demographically and in every other way, we really need to focus on what it is we desire and wish for.

The Jewish State is strong, has critical mass and can put forward her own plans.

If she wants to.

Unlike in previous times, we have the luxury of being proactive.

When we leave a vacuum, even of thought and desire, someone else will fill it for us.

The questions raised above play almost zero role in the forthcoming elections, except at the margins or for the purposes of passing convenience.

At the national level, Israel is failing to express a national desire or plan.

Rather than the bulk of the Israeli parties debating policies and platforms, they are once again running on personalities.

Whether ‘for or anti-Netanyahu’, is still the central question being put before the electorate and, perhaps more importantly, in the coalition negotiations that will most likely follow the actual Nov 1st election.

One might think that there are huge differences of opinions across the majority of the mainly Jewish parties on for example, the external situation.

This is not the case. In fact, there is a large degree of unanimity in principle, with much fiery rhetoric attached for political show.

So much so, that aside from the left and right extremes, the general milieu is one of vagueness, undefined commitment to maintaining a Jewish majority within unspecified national boundaries, whilst at the same time presenting an undetailed resolve to somehow ensure and improve Israel’s security.

Motherhood, without the much more difficult detail and substance.

The extremes, for all of their many faults, are at least much clearer.

Smotrich and Ben Gvir on the extreme right vowing to oppose any Two State or Two Identity plans. With Meretz on the extreme left, enthusiastic promoters of such ideas to wildly and irresponsible extents, whilst continuing its own ambiguity surrounding its status as a Zionist party.

The extreme right publicly continues to refuse to agree to the future inclusion of any Israeli Arab party into coalition and going even further this week, by now suggesting a total ban on Israeli Arab political parties.

Whilst Meretz insists on calling Arab Israelis ‘Palestinian Israelis’, with all of the ramifications of such a loaded term, including ironically, somewhat disenfranchising Israeli Arabs.

Israeli Arabs themselves have a clear policy-based choice between two parties in the forthcoming election, when it comes to their own future.

On the one hand, there is the Joint List led by Ayman Odeh, concentrating on the emergence of a Palestinian State and on linking the future of Arabs inside and outside of Israel’s boundaries.

On the other, Ra’am’s Mansour Abbas focuses on the position and integration of Israeli Arabs within the State of Israel.

Smotrich has correctly identified Ra’am as the bigger danger to his own vision, but for the wrong reasons – deliberately or otherwise.

The Labor party primaries brought forth a new slate of candidates – with the exception of its leader Michaeli – now mainly concerned, in the short term at least, about cost-of-living issues. The Jewish future can, having been kicked somewhere down the track by them as well.

Much of this unanimity amongst the major mainly Jewish parties comes of course as a result of Palestinian rejectionism and the ring of terrorist groups surrounding Israel, necessitating an almost total focus on security.

However, we should recognise that Israel has matured today and can both chew gum and walk at the same time.

With the High Holydays almost upon us, we should take some time for national reflection.

A luxury afforded us for the first time in 2,000 years.

At the next ZFA Educators’ Conference, will we be able to tell that young woman – yes, here is the Jewish plan for the Jewish State and the Jewish future?

If we simply sleep too comfortably and do not engage in Herzl’s process of dreaming, we will wake up one day to yet another attempt by others to define our own future.

That is surely the opposite of self-determination.

Shana Tova U’Metuka – A good and sweet year

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Ron Weiser is the Honorary Life Member ZFA Executive and Honorary Life President, State Zionist Council of NSW

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2 comments

  1. Remember those little blue money boxes that we all had and used to put coins into?

    For some reason that memory came flooding back while reading this.

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