Zionism – A Mission for the 21st Century

by Maskil on 8 Sep 2009

Israeli soldiers shortly after the capture of ...
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For the better part of a century, Zionism in its various forms managed to engage and embrace some of the finest minds and spirits amongst the Jewish people. It also enjoyed widespread support amongst non-Jews, mainly in the West.

Zionism – Mission Accomplished?

With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the largest part of the mission of Zionism was accomplished. For decades thereafter, though, Zionism continued to play a role in encouraging immigration to Israel (Aliyah) and in building up the fledgling state, confronted by dangers and shortages on every front.

In many ways, however, Zionism had simply become a synonym or shorthand for “supporting Israel”. (I, for instance, think of myself as a “Lover of Zion” rather than a fully-fledged Zionist.)

Threats And Challenges To The Zionist Ideology

Especially since the Six-Day War, Zionism as an ideology has had to confront a variety of internal and external threats and challenges, including:

  • The infamous UN GA resolution equating Zionism with Racism, which singled out only the Jewish people’s national liberation movement as racist!
  • Likud’s election victory in the late 70s. Labour Zionist icons such as the Histadrut and the Kibbutzim fell out of favour, although Israel had nothing to replace them with apart from naked capitalism.
  • Changed attitudes towards Zionism within Israel, even amongst those who remained staunchly patriotic.
  • The liberation/occupation of areas such as Judea and Samaria. This began with so much promise (whether one envisaged the return of the territories or not). In subsequent decades, though, it has exhausted Israel’s moral capital in the eyes of the world (and in those of many long-suffering supporters), eroded the morals and morale of the IDF, severely degraded the rule of law throughout Israel and the territories and caused Israel to hugely and wastefully invest in infrastructure that will eventually fall outside her control. It has also dragged Israel into an unwinnable demographic war with the existing inhabitants of those territories. Enough said.

Some Suggestions For A New Zionist Agenda

Given all these negatives, it is fair to ask whether Zionism still has a mission in the 21st Century, and if so, what should form part of its agenda. Here’s my first attempt at defining a mission and vision for 21st Century Zionism; a consensus Zionism that might once again enjoy widespread support within both Israel and the Diaspora.

Resettling Little Israel

Settlement and population distribution inside the Green Line have been almost completely abandoned during the last 4 decades, in favour of the doomed Settlement Enterprise in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). Israel now needs to turn inward and take back its country, applying the wasted resources from YESHA to Israel proper instead.

Restoring The Rule Of Law

Israel is well on the road to becoming an outlaw state, both in its relationships with the rest of the world and internally. Zionism needs to demand from its adherents and from the state that they respect the rule of law, internationally and domestically. It also needs to call for a formal constitution to be put in place, and insist on absolute equality before the law.

Universality, Separation, Equality

Israeli society has been deformed and distorted by the various exemptions, subsidies, inequalities and other forms of “affirmative action” that have benefited mainly the anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) sector. Zionism must demand an immediate end to all such self-destructive inequalities in the name of party politics (or Torah). The playing fields must be levelled.

Social Justice

The abandonment of Israel’s early social and socialist ideals in favour of (semi) free-market capitalism has led to huge socio-economic gaps arising, almost invariably along ethnic, religious, gender and geographical lines. The work of Zionism cannot be considered complete until we have at least begun to address these and other glaring social justice issues.

The Environment

The Land of Israel suffered from almost 2,000 years of abandonment, neglect and exploitation. This was followed – in the 60 years since Israel’s birth – by the effects of her urban explosion, industrial revolution and large-scale pollution of natural resources. Zionism needs to have an item on its agenda that deals with making Israel physically a fit country to live in.

A New Work Ethic

Sadly, labour Zionism – the Zionism of the left that gave Israel almost everything it has of value – is effectively no more. Israel needs a new work ethic, one that – at the very minimum – does not recognise the right of the voluntarily indigent to draw on the state’s welfare infrastructure.

Strengthening Jewish Communities

Lastly, although it may not seem like something that should form part of a Zionist agenda, Zionism needs to commit to strengthen Jewish life wherever it exists. The rapacious demand for ever more Aliyah to meet Israel’s perceived needs must end. Instead, a smaller, tighter Israel that no longer engages in unwinnable demographic conflicts must support and engage with Jewish communities worldwide.

This is my own first pass at attempting to realign Zionism with the needs of Israel and the wider Jewish world. Has anything fallen through the cracks? I’d be interested to hear from readers what other broad headings they believe should be included in the platform of Zionism.

Or is there simply no longer a need for Zionism, Zionist ideology and Zionist organisations? Can we instead rely on pro-Israel movements and the Israeli political scene to provide the vision that Zionism once gave us?

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