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Is Zionism dead, as Ruth Dayan suggests?

In a recent Newsweek magazine’s interview, Ruth Dayan – 95, widow of Moshe Dayan, born and lived in Israel all her life – said this: “… the current Israeli government does not know how to make peace. We move from war to war, and this will never stop. I think Zionism has run its course.”

And I, for one, thought Zionism had run its course some time ago. But Ruth Dayan – whose brother-in-law was Ezer Weizman, famed pilot, air-force commander and Israeli president – continues: “… this continuous expansion of the settlements everywhere – I cannot accept it. I cannot tolerate this deterioration in the territories and the roadblocks everywhere. And that horrible wall! It’s not right.”

Another words, she makes a direct correlation between the current Israeli government, its unwillingness to make peace, the political situation on the ground with the ever expansion of the settlements, and Zionism as a movement and an ideal. So let us ponder the question in earnest, regarding that movement, and see whether it’s alive or dead, still relevant today or not. To do so, let’s go to seed: what is Zionism, first and foremost, if not the yearning of the Jewish people in the Diaspora to return to Zion. (I.e. Jerusalem and Eretz Israel.) Well… that has been accomplished, hasn’t it, with the creation of the State of Israel. Jews all over the world are free to immigrate to Israel, a nation among the nations; the law-of-return even promises them an automatic citizenship; and indeed, many of them choose do so. Dream fulfilled, then: end of story.

Not so fast, my friends. Was that all that the Zionism movement stood for? What about the “Visionary of the State,” the “framer” if you wish, the great dreamer of them all, Theodor Hertzl – a secular Jew, a Journalist and writer – who saw a certain, enlightened state, a nation not only by name but by values; a light to the Goyim. Isn’t that part and parcel of the deal? Isn’t the fact that the Israeli government has just shut down a left-leaning radio station a sign that not all is accomplished yet? What about the rule of ultra-orthodoxy on every aspect of life now in Israel, even in the army? How Mr. Hertzl would have reacted to that? How about the significant deterioration of human rights, not only in the West Bank, but also in Israel proper? Some in Israel, and abroad, now see a great danger to its democracy.

If Zionism is only the establishment of a safe and a secure home to the Jewish people –then mission accomplished. No need for Zionist movement anymore. But if Zionism means a democratic state; the rule of law; equal rights to all the citizens no matter of sex, race, color, and ethnicity; if it means the relentless pursuit of a just peace, then Israel, it seems to me, is actually in regression, going backwards not forward.

As a matter of fact, in 1968 the Zionist Congress adopted the five points of the “Jerusalem Program” as the aims of Zionism today: Unity of the Jewish People and the centrality of Israel in Jewish life – half check. Ingathering of the Jewish People in its historic homeland, Eretz Israel, through Aliyah from all countries – half check. Strengthening of the State of Israel, based on the prophetic vision of justice and peace – which prophet? What vision? Unchecked. Preservation of the identity of the Jewish People through fostering of Jewish and Hebrew education, and of Jewish spiritual and cultural values – check. Protection of Jewish rights everywhere – check.

If one gives up, as Ruth Dayan does, on the ability (and wish!) of Israel to pursue and achieve a lasting just peace – and I might add a true democracy to all its citizens – then indeed Zionism is dead. Otherwise, it’s still alive and kicking.


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