Saturday, March 7, 2009

Different Faces of Zionism

This past week I met two very different faces of Zionism. Bob, who lives in a settlement in the West Bank and Lydia who lives on a Kibbutz in Israel proper, both fervently believe in the fundamental Zionist principal of a homeland for Jews. They do however differ radically in how they execute their Zionist beliefs in everyday life.

Wikopedia defines Zionism as, “the international Jewish political movement that originally supported the reestablishment of a homeland for the Jewish People in Palestine, after two millennia of exile”. The constitutionally protected rights to religious freedom we cherish in the United States tend to lead the uninitiated to think that Zionism was a religious freedom movement. The founders of Zionism were not religious and the focus of the movement was not religious freedom but a way to escape persecution based on ethnicity. While the fundamental principal of a homeland for Jews remains central to Zionist belief, the movement evolved and fractured into four different views of what it means to be Zionist and how those views should influence Israeli governance and policy, particularly as it relates to the Palestinian Israeli conflict. These different views of Zionism can be related to different political parties in Israel today and to the wide variety of historical backgrounds that immigrant Jews bring with them to Israel.

Wikopedia goes on to define the different strands of Zionism and how they relate to current politics in Israel as follows:

Labor Zionism: Labor Zionism originated in Russia. Socialist Zionists believed that centuries of being oppressed in anti-Semitic societies had reduced Jews to a meek, vulnerable, despairing existence which invited further anti-Semitism. They argued that Jews could escape their situation by becoming farmers, workers, and soldiers in a country of their own. Most socialist Zionists rejected religion as perpetuating a "Diaspora mentality" among the Jewish people, and established rural communes in Israel called "kibbutzim". Socialist and labor Zionists are usually atheists or oppose religion. Consequently, the movement has often had an antagonistic relationship with Orthodox Judaism.

Labor Zionism became the dominant force in the political and economic life of the Yishuv during the British Mandate of Palestine and was the dominant ideology of the political establishment in Israel until the 1977 election when the Labor Party was defeated. The Labor Party continues the tradition (although it has weakened) and has in recent years taken to advocating creation of a Palestinian State in the West-Bank and Gaza.

Liberal Zionism: Liberal Zionism was initially the dominant trend within the Zionist movement from the First Zionist Congress in 1897 until after the First World War. General Zionists identified with the liberal European middle class (or bourgeois) to which many Zionist leaders such as Herzl and Chaim Weizmann aspired. Liberal Zionism, although not associated with any single party in modern Israel, remains a strong trend in Israeli politics advocating free market principles, democracy and adherence to human rights.

Nationalist Zionism: Nationalist Zionism originated from the Revisionist Zionists led by Jabotinsky. The Revisionists left the World Zionist Organization in 1935 because it refused to state that the creation of a Jewish state was an objective of Zionism. The revisionists advocated the formation of a Jewish Army in Palestine to force the Arab population to accept mass Jewish migration and promote British interests in the region. Revisionist Zionism evolved into the Likud Party in Israel, which has dominated most governments since 1977. It advocates Israel maintaining control of the West-Bank and East Jerusalem and takes a hard-line approach in the Israeli-Arab conflict. In 2005 the Likud split over the issue of creation of a Palestinian state on the occupied territories and party members advocating peace talks helped form the Kadima party.

Religious Zionism: In the 1920s and 1930s Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine) and his son Rabbi Zevi Judah Kook saw great religious and traditional value in many of Zionism's ideals, while rejecting its anti-religious undertones. They sought to forge a branch of Orthodox Judaism which would properly embrace Zionism's positive ideals and serve as a bridge between Orthodox and secular Jews.

While other Zionist groups have tended to moderate their nationalism over time, the gains from the Six Day War have led religious Zionism to play a significant role in Israeli political life. Now associated with the National Religious Party and Gush Emunim, religious Zionists have been at the forefront of Jewish settlement in the West Bank and efforts to assert Jewish control over the Old City of Jerusalem.

Religious Zionism is largely Modern Orthodox but increasingly includes (more traditional) Ultra-Orthodox Jews. Although the Sephardi party Shas is not directly associated with the Zionist movement, the party generally pursues an Ultra-Orthodox Zionist agenda

Bob is a Nationalist Zionist who lives in one of the large well established Jewish settlements or “neighborhoods” in the West Bank near Bethlehem. He was born in New York in an Orthodox family and immigrated to Israel after college 20+ years ago. Bob is a PR guy who was at one time the PR director for the settlers association. He has been the mayor and city manager of different settlements and had a lead role in founding some of them. For him Israel is all of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and he does not want to give up control of one inch of it. He believes in a one state solution with the Palestinians coming under the rule of Israel. Bob says that while he believes in democracy and that their settlement has a good relationship with a neighboring Palestinian village, “Arabs” simply do not like the Jews and that they must aggressively defend themselves from suicide bombers and missile attacks. He does not believe in the wall however. He does not think walls make for good neighbors and their settlement is fighting the wall between them and the nearby Arab village. Others in his community believe in the wall. While he did not come out and say it, I got the impression that the reason he did not like the wall is because it is a psychological barrier to the continuing expansion of settlements throughout the West Bank and could demand the removal of some of them if a Gaza style unilateral withdrawal were to take place to territory on the Israel side of the wall.

When asked about the impact of demographics on the balance of power in a democratic, single state solution, Israel, Bob indicated that he did not see it as a problem because he felt sure that a Jewish majority would be maintained to assure that Israel retains it Jewish character. My take on Bob is that he believes in the old south concept of ‘separate but equal’ that perpetuated human rights violations of southern blacks for decades; equality as defined by the Jewish majority. Based on the recent election, the Bob’s of Israel and those to the right of him are in the majority today.

Lydia is dieing bred in Israel. She is a Welsh born, atheist Jew who came to Israel 30 years ago to escape racism against Jews in Wales and England. Growing up she experienced Judaism as more of an ethnicity than as a religion. After completing school she moved to London and had difficulty getting a job simply because of her family name which is Greenberg. She changed her name to Green and all bias toward her disappeared. She still witnessed deeply held bias against Jews in London. After an incident at here work where her supervisor indicated that, “Hitler should have finished the job” she changed her name back to Greenberg, quit her job and went on an exploratory trip to Israel. She lived and worked in a Kibbutz. She met and married her husband and has never looked back.

Lydia, like Bob, is a very committed Zionist who believes deeply in the founding principals of the State of Israel and the need for a homeland for Jews. That is where the similarities between her views and Bob’s end. Lydia is a Labor Zionist. She lives in one of the last of the real Kibbutzim communities in Israel. It is a completely Socialist community where everyone contributes their work and any outside income to the common community funds. Everyone in the community gets an equal share of the profits of their work in the form of housing, food, clothing etc. Over the last two decades this model has died out and most of the Kibbutzim today are educational or vacation based centers where people go to experience what it was like for their forbearers. Interestingly her Kibbutz has been able to retain their way of life because of Capitalism. They hold the patent for the plastic covering used on large hay bales world wide and today they have factories around the world making that product. She said, “I started out a hippy with nothing but a dream and ended up a shareholder in a multi-national conglomerate!” She indicated that they too are on the verge of a vote to change to a system whereby everyone has their own money and pays for services they buy from the Kibbutz such as housing. Young people simply do not want to lose control of the wealth generated from their efforts as most now work in jobs outside the Kibbutz. They are simply not in a position to fight that any longer.

Lydia is a firm believer in the two state solution. She believes that like Israel, Palestinians have the right to autonomy over their own territory. She is active in organizations that are trying to build bridges between Israeli and Palestinians and does not believe that war is the answer. She is the mother of four sons who have all served in elite military units in the army and she is very torn between supporting her sons and her pacifist beliefs. She is also very worried about the shift right in Israeli politics. She does not see it as a good sign for the future, but she remains optimistic that peace can be achieved. She is clear that it needs to happen by becoming closer to the Palestinians not farther away or by building walls to divide them.
There are a wide range of views as to how to solve the differences between the Palestinians and Israelis on both sides. As long as there is a healthy dialog, which frankly seems to be slipping away on both sides, there is a chance for peace. It is clear that time is not the friend of peace and that the parties need help to move toward resolution. While the visit of Hillary Clinton this week was encouraging, more needs to be done by our government to bring the parties together and it needs to be done very soon.

60 Minutes - Is Peace Out of Reach?