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Ariel Peres, Shimon Sharon and the end of Zionism
By Moshe Dann
Twelve years ago the 'Oslo Process' was inaugurated based on secret agreements and understandings. Its PR rationale was Land for Peace, relying on Arafat as a partner. It was all a lie.
Today, after thousands of dead and tens of thousands crippled, that same process (led by some of the same people) continues under the PR slogan disengagement. Since there is still no 'peace partner' as yet (only a truce partner) terrorists will not only stay in place but are honored and strengthened. Oslo III is, therefore, 'Land for Nothing.' Unilateral withdrawal is only a euphemism for retreat. No mandate and no explanations. As Israelis say, Kacha! (just because).
Missing in the debate over Israel's proposed retreat from all or most of Yesha the historical and strategic heartland of Israel -- is the context from which that policy has emerged. During the last forty years the essence of Jewish identity, the foundations of Zionism, and the institutions of Israeli democracy has been assaulted.
This assault has diminished Jewish content in public education and in daily life, it has attacked the national religious settlement movement inYesha, has politicized the IDF and the courts, it has controlled the media, educational and cultural institutions and by and large Israel's political economy. By pitting loyalty to the State against the settlers there is a constant desire to divide and conquer public opinion. The State itself replaces ideology with its own values based on the myth that it represents the popular will and serves our common interests.
Engaging in diatribes against personalities and hysterical scenarios only contributes to a general confusion about who is responsible; there is a failure to understand the inner dynamics of what's really happening -- and this leaves us in anger and despair.
The Sharon/Peres plan is part of an agenda that seeks to destroy Zionism and replace it with a new Israelism (nationalism per se), to transform Jewish nationhood into a secular pluralistic republic (in the Western European tradition) and to maintain control of Israel's political/economic system in order to preserve the interests of the ruling elite. This agenda seeks to de-Judeize Israel, to assimilate and integrate into (and hopefully be accepted by) the international community, especially by the West, and to stay in power.
Three main obstacles stand in their way: Anti-Semitism, Arab terrorism and the national religious Zionist camp. The latter, especially the Jews who live in Yesha are not marginal; they are fully integrated into the fabric of daily life and especially the IDF. These Jews are rooted in an ideology of Jewish settlement that is basic to Zionism and Jewish consciousness.
Disengagement, even if possible is not only or even primarily intended to separate from Arabs (the external threat), but from the religious Right, the settlers, who represent an internal threat to Israel's ruling elite. Both Arab and religious Jewish nationalists because they are idealists -- are perceived by the political/economic establishment in Israel as extremist threats to their power. Idealists can't be bought. Disengagement therefore means nothing more than uprooting Jewish communities and allowing Palestinian terrorists a sovereign state in return for, hopefully, international good will. PM Sharon has said clearly to the Palestinians: 'whether or not you stop terrorism and incitement, we will leave.' What a bargaining position and incentive!
The hope is, of course, that Palestinian moderates will control extremists in return for a significant cut of the loot, in addition to the billions stashed away by Arafat in Swiss banks and throughout the world. But even if terrorism continues at a reduced level, that too will be acceptable, manageable in the jargon of experts, as long as there won't be too many casualties and the elites continue to rule. It's not so much that the ruling elites want freedom from the Arabs, since they are necessary in the workforce; the elites want freedom from Judaism and from Zionism.
The willingness of Israel's government to cede most of Yesha to a terrorist-oriented Palestinian state is the logical consequence of the political agenda. This includes building barriers and fences throughout the country along what were the armistice lines of 1949 (with some exceptions). In some cases it may provide a temporary obstacle for terrorists; more important, however, it restricts the expansion of Jewish communities and defines a future Palestinian state. It declares: 'Israel stops here.' That, perhaps, may buy some respite, but not for long. Nor is it enough.
For the international ruling elites, Israel is an anachronism among nation states. Zionism is an impediment to both the international communtity and the Israeli State who desires an assimilation into a world economic structure. Israel is particularistic (nominally Jewish) in a 'pluralistic/universalistic' world; the basis for its existence is a 'homeland for Jews.' That made sense after the Holocaust; today it's inadequate and insufficient as an historical reference. Hence, the need to restructure.
Sharon and Peres seek to create a new coalition representing a center that will thwart challenges from the Greater Israel national religious anti-Palestinian-state forces on one side and those calling for the dismantling of the State on the other. Their agenda is not only to create physical borders, but social, cultural and political ones as well that will ensure their continued dominance of Israel's political economy and culture.
The Oslo Accords were meant to stop Jewish settlement in Yesha; the Sharon/Peres plan takes it the next step: the destruction of those Jewish communities.
Regardless of Palestinian terrorism and incitement, the inevitability of a Palestinian state (in Sharon's words) has become an obsession that has paralyzed the government's ability to consider any other options and requires Israel's dependence on American/European and Palestinian good will. That policy comes out of a deeply-rooted belief that the Jewish people do not have the inalienable right to establish their national home in the Land of Israel.
Yoram Hazony's book, The Jewish State; The Struggle for Israel's Soul, laid out in striking detail how Israel's Left-wing intellectual elite have undermined the basic premises of Zionism. Published just before former PM Ehud Barak agreed to give Arafat and the PLO almost everything they wanted nearly all of Yesha, including east Jerusalem and exclusive rights over the Temple Mount, Hazony exposed a cancer that has eaten away at Israel's raison d'etre as a Jewish state. This post-Zionist policy waited only to be implemented. PM Sharon, who presented himself as a Right-wing leader, became its Godfather.
Coincident with Oslo, Education Ministers cut budgets for teaching about Judaism and introduced pro-Palestinian propaganda in textbooks. Today, Jewish students in Israeli secular schools may graduate knowing little or nothing about their religion or their history. That is deliberate policy.
Israeli universities, with one exception, are bastions of anti-Jewish propaganda. TV stations which are primary cultural molders denigrate Judaism and Jewish values and promote consumerism. Alternative radio stations (like Arutz 7) that provided services and information to supporters of the Greater Israel concept were closed (unlike the pro-peace at all costs, Voice of Peace, and unlike the hundreds of pirate Arab radio stations).
Specials laws and penalties have been proposed to prevent expressions of dissent. Legitimate protests are considered criminal acts. New prisons and detention camps are planned for those who resist evacuation.
Ministers who disagree with PM Sharon have been summarily fired. Never before has such arrogance been institutionalized and legitimized. Even institutions which are supposed to prevent such abuse have remained silent.
Indoctrinated by Israel's polictically dominated media, many Israelis no longer believe in their country and the justice of its cause. Politicians, community leaders and artists espouse anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist doctrines that would be considered bigotry if uttered by non-Jews; their insults are carried by a compliant media into every home.
Add to all this four years of unremitting terrorist attacks and the result is emotional exhaustion and despair. Sharon has taken advantage of that societal malaise to fragment and demoralize the opposition; but this is not new.
The seeds of this denouement can be found decades ago in attempts by Israeli socialists to substitute a form of nationalism for religious faith and a detachment from Judaism. Their attack on Jewish identity, the one common denominator which holds us together, is an attempt to break the connection between Judaism and Zionism.
Israeli leaders are unable to express an authentic, proud and definitive Jewish message. Nor have they been able to articulate Israel's place and purpose in Jewish history. They have defended Israel as if it were simply a country like any other rather than one that lives on the edge of extinction because it is Jewish. That distinction is crucial: the only reason that the Land of Israel has value is because Jews live in it, because it is central to Jewish consciousness and belief.
The culture of Israelism, which spurns authentic Jewish content and has little or no understanding or connection to Judaism, or Israeli history, contains a kind of Judeophobia. Attacking Jews who live in Yesha is an example of the Kulturkampf that is tearing apart Israeli society and with it the nationalist ideology and religious belief that define and distinguish us. For many, that is why the Jews of Yesha have become The Enemy.
The struggle in Israel over Sharon's policy of retreat is not merely about power, and certainly not peace, but over Jewish identity and Jewish values. It is ironic that those who support this policy because of their concern for the Jewish character of Israel and Israeli democracy have so little regard for either at home.
Anti-Zionist Leftists have, however, raised important questions. What does Jewish national self-determination mean when so many Israelis either totally reject that concept or have little understanding of it?
If Israel is nothing more than a few Jewish symbols and some official recognition of holidays, but without a Jewish content, why does there need to be a State of Israel at all?
In order to ensure their control, the ruling elites and their supporters will buy off whomever they can and impoverish the rest until they too give in. They will imprison those who protest and try to break the will of any opposition. In the name of The State, they will try to destroy the Jewish and Zionist ethos that has sustained and inspired us for thousands of years and brought us back to our homeland.
The triumph of The State, wherever it is, can only be meaningful when it expresses the will of the people. Otherwise, it is only another form of repression.
The author, a former asst professor of History (at CUNY), is a writer and journalist living in Jerusalem. firstname.lastname@example.org Dedicated to the memory of Adir Zik.
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