The Jewish people, small in number and constantly finding ourselves a minority in various host societies, with little control over our national destiny, saw Zionism as the answer to Jewish powerlessness over our own lives.
To be a majority in the Jewish homeland and to be able to control the destiny of the Jewish people.
For Israel to be Herzl’s ‘normal’ country, Jews in the diaspora would need to come to live in Israel and effectively, aside from pockets of ultra-orthodox, the Jewish diaspora would disappear.
Desirable, because having both a state and a diaspora simultaneously, causes dilemmas with sometimes, competing interests at play.
Today’s challenge is that we currently find ourselves in a hybrid position between these two conditions, neither fully state nor diaspora. A sort of 50:50 split between numbers of Jews in Israel and those outside – but rapidly moving in one direction.
What Israel does today and almost more importantly how she is perceived, has a direct effect on Jewish life and continuity in the diaspora. By factors both from within and without.
The reverse is not true in the main.
Despite US Jewry, by weight of numbers, as the prime example, attempting to resist the tide of history.
Jewish life and identity inside and outside of Israel is complicated, but in the diaspora, there are additional factors beyond our control.
In some way yes and some way no, it seems to me that today we find ourselves in a somewhat, and I stress somewhat, analogous position to the situation that began in 2000 – in terms of how Israel is seen.
Camp David failed. Arafat had walked away from a two-state solution as he was not willing to pay the price of a Jewish state next door.
In late September 2000, with the agreement of Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the Moslem Waqf, opposition leader Ariel Sharon made a peaceful visit to the Temple Mount.
This was then used by the Palestinians as one of the triggers to start the violence that ended up in the Second Intifada. Something we later confirmed as suspected, had been planned by Arafat in any case, with or without Sharon’s Temple Mount visit.
In February 2001, Ariel Sharon was elected in a direct election landslide.
However, the prism that large elements of the Jewish and non-Jewish world saw Sharon through, at the time, was his connection to the Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982.
His and Israel’s reputation was not helped by some Jewish leaders of the day, who rushed to decry his election.
Nor by moral equivalence shown at its worst when an editorial in the Jewish press was headed “The return of Mr Sharafat” and included “So we are stuck with Sharon and Arafat – Siamese twins”.
Sharon was in fact of course not elected because of Sabra and Shatila, which had taken place 18 years earlier.
He was elected for two main reasons – Palestinian rejectionism of the extremely generous Clinton Plan, which put the lie to their desire for a two-state solution and the resultant Palestinian initiated violence.
When in April 2002 the battle of Jenin took place and anti-Israel feeling reached fever point, false allegations were made of a huge massacre that had supposedly taken place there, with ‘thousands of innocent civilians’ claimed dead.
Sharon’s alleged reputation helped to make these outrageous claims initially seem credible to many.
When the truth was able to be established, much later on but far too late as the damage to Israel had been done, it turned out that the IDF, wishing to minimise Palestinian casualties, sent in elite troops, rather than bombing Palestinians from the air.
That decision cost Israel 23 lives. Around 50 Palestinians, mostly heavily armed terrorists, were killed. There was no massacre at all.
In January 2003, Sharon went on to win his second election in another stunning victory, in a return to a full Knesset vote.
Many found Sharon’s rise difficult to comprehend because they were still looking at 1982 instead of 2002.
Today, the new Israeli government is not yet formed but its evolving coalition is very much presented as a tussle between Prime Minister elect Netanyahu, now ironically described by the press as a ‘moderate’ and his partners – whether the Haredim, or Smotrich, or Ben Gvir or Maoz – individually or collectively.
These smaller parties, flexing their political clout in order to attempt to shape not only their respective sectors, but Israel more broadly and in numerous ways.
A lot will depend on the final coalition agreements – which we do not yet have – and of course much will depend on what is actually done.
Part of the dilemma of Jewish life in the diaspora is how to express one’s views, without shooting oneself in the foot – or having them come back to bite one down the track.
Life is grey, not black and white.
No less a staunch lifelong supporter of Israel than Abe Foxman, ex head of the ADL, gave an interview to the Jerusalem Post saying: “I never thought that I would reach that point where I would say that my support of Israel is conditional, but it’s conditional.
I don’t think that it’s a horrific condition to say: ‘I love Israel and I want to love Israel as a Jewish and democratic state that respects pluralism.’ If Israel ceases to be an open democracy, I won’t be able to support it.”
The problem is that Israel’s detractors will not rush back to the well-meaning Foxman down the track to ask him with baited breath if Israel passed his test. They will simply claim she is neither pluralistic, nor a democracy – using Foxman’s own words to undermine Israel’s reputation.
Israel’s democracy is a one house or unicameral system, with no house of review and no constitution.
In an ever-ongoing balancing act, there is a tension between on the one hand, the Knesset elected by the people and on the other, the High Court whose job it is to determine the rights or wrongs of Basic Laws which themselves act as a de facto constitution.
The pendulum swings from one side to the other, back and forth and now there is a mood to introduce a so called ‘Override Clause’ so that the Knesset may preclude any matter from subjection to judicial review where it might be ruled unconstitutional by the Court.
Rumours around the ‘Override Clause’ have also caused some consternation.
The issue however is not the suggestion per se, which many/most actually consider desirable/acceptable, but rather how large a majority of the Knesset should be required.
In a somewhat similar manner to the election of Sharon, the rise in the Knesset seats of Smotrich and Ben Gvir have less to do with their history and particular policy platforms and more to do with other factors of the day such as personal insecurity and ‘keeping Bibi honest’. Something Bennett had promised to do as part of his previous election campaign, but post-election, was considered by the right to have ‘sold out’.
On a side note, interestingly, Labor and Meretz had no trouble sitting in coalition ‘for the greater good’, with a conservative religious fundamentalist party like Mansour Abbas’s Ra’am, whose views on homosexuality et al strongly resemble those of some of Netanyahu’s proposed partners.
Netanyahu claims, with a lot of justification, that as the incoming prime minister and leader of the largest party in the coalition, with almost three times as many seats as the next biggest party in the proposed coalition – that his partners are the ones joining him.
Whilst they are trying to claim that it is Netanyahu who is joining them.
A lot depends on how the construct will actually work – and who will dominate.
Expect a lot of bumps on the road ahead.