Several years ago, a good friend of mine found herself walking the streets of London during the early morning hours, trying to convince a Palestinian she’d met that his understanding of Zionist ideology was based on a definition that she, as someone living in Israel, simply could not share, that his views were based on what she considered to be a distortion of Zionism that played into the beliefs of Israel’s religious right. She went on to explain that there is no single definition that meets the ideological values of all individuals who identify as Zionists, and that her brand of Zionism would most likely be more palatable to him than the narrow definition of what he believed Zionism to be, which she could not identify with at all.
Like my friend, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated by the notion that Zionism is assumed to embody only the beliefs of the religious right, and I am incensed by those who believe that neither secular nor left-leaning Jews can truly be Zionists. For far too many non-Israelis who obtain their news in three-minute bursts from CNN and the BBC, the terms “Zionist” and “settler” are interchangeable. They have never heard of my Zionism, a secular Zionism that encompasses a desire to live in a Jewish democratic homeland – a homeland built on Jewish history and culture, enabling its inhabitants to live as they wish without religious coercion or prejudice; a homeland whose geographical boundaries allow for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, because my vision of Zionism does not allow my self-determination for a Jewish state to negate the existence of another people.
My beliefs seem to place me in the minority among many of my fellow Jews (I’ve been called everything from “self-hating Jew” to a traitor whom the Israeli government must decide whether or not to lock up), and I have often found myself in a position of having to explain secular Zionist beliefs to people abroad who have been led to believe that Israel is comprised almost solely of religious, right wing zealots who support a Greater Israel and have no idea that any other viewpoints exist – a possibility made even more difficult to fathom following the recent elections, where Israel’s right-wing parties won 65 out of 120 Knesset seats and a far right party whose slogan “Without loyalty, no citizenship” won the third largest number of seats (15), running on a platform that rankled the nerves of many Israelis.
I have been dismayed to discover just how little people know about the real Israel, where a majority of Jewish citizens (44 percent, according to a government survey conducted in 2004) define themselves as being secular (with an additional 39 percent defining themselves as being traditionally observant and just 17 percent identifying as either Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox). Given these figures, combined with the fact that the founders of both the modern Zionist movement and the state of Israel were primarily secular, it appears as though Zionism in its original form has been hijacked to meet the needs of a narrow array of interest groups. Those of us who believe otherwise are left to wonder who distorted our ideology to such an extent that we are often loathe to claim a connection, not wanting to be mistakenly identified with ideals with which we do not agree.
This grave distortion of the core values on which Israel was created has served us badly in the global arena. Citizens of other countries believe us to be war mongers-something that’s become harder to deny in light of the recent conflict in Gaza-and I’ve lost track of the number of websites I’ve seen where writers and commenters claim that we are intent on wiping out the Palestinian population in order to fulfill our Zionist aspirations, turning “Zionism” and “Zionist” into dirty, obscene terms that they were never intended to become. In addition, as a result of the reinforced, distorted perception that religion must play a key role in the Zionist ideology, the lines between anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism have become increasingly blurred. Detractors use their criticism of Israel as a springboard for anti-Semitism by drawing on classic examples of anti-Semitic imagery to further their case against Israel and Zionism.
Of course, there will always be critics. There will be those who will never accept Zionism in any of its forms. There will also be those who strongly believe that we, as Jews and as Israelis, should not allow ourselves to even think about the opinions of others, that we do not have to take anyone or anything else into account on our path to self-determination as a people, and that our religion gives us the right to do so. There are those who might be persuaded to change their views about Zionism if they could only move past the stereotypes and misnomers to see another side of the situation, and there are those who feel the need to somehow show these people the way. In my capacity as a writer, I try to show readers that Zionism is a complex, often intensely personal concept with many different faces. Sometimes, though, I suspect my words are falling on deaf ears; after all, I am not the face of Zionism they expect to find. I am left-wing and I am secular. I am a Zionist.by Liza Rosenberg
“There were a couple of Kadima activists here earlier, but it rained, so they left…”
The best election day comment so far, said by a Green Movement-Meimad activist at my polling station this morning. There were no other party activists anywhere in the vicinity.
Hardy bunch, those Kadima folks, aren’t they?by Liza Rosenberg
I was asked to share my thoughts on today’s Israeli elections. You can see who I voted for by scrolling down to the “Cool Stuff” section in the right-hand column of the blog and clicking the Hebrew-language banner (there’s only one), which takes you to the party’s English-language website.
This Tuesday, we’ll be holding elections here in Israel. If the polls conducted so far are anything to judge by, it seems that Israelis have made a rather pronounced shift towards the right side of the political spectrum, and it’s probably safe to speculate that this is a direct consequence of the conflict.
One of the more troubling aspects of the race is the sharp rise of the far-right wing Yisrael Beitenu, or, “Israel is Our Home”, party, led by Avigdor Lieberman. Yisrael Beitenu is currently predicted to receive the third largest number of seats. Much has been said about the party’s controversial campaign slogan, which roughly translates to, “No loyalty, no citizenship”. Their campaign platform bluntly questions the loyalty of Israeli Arabs, and frankly, there’s a part of me that wonders about the party’s definition of loyalty, and whether I, as one whose opinions don’t really mesh with the party platform, would be considered disloyal as well, according to their definition.
In Israel, there is often the feeling that we are not necessarily voting for the party that we support, but rather the party that we dislike the least. This election is no different, as many of my friends are planning to vote for Kadima in an attempt to keep the Likud from winning. They don’t even necessarily like Kadima, but their distrust of Benyamin Netanyahu and the Likud party is so great that they’re willing to forgo voting for a party with which they might actually identify in order to keep Netanyahu from becoming the next prime minister. There’s even a Facebook group called “Just not Bibi”, which has more than 4,000 members.
And of course, many Israelis are disillusioned, completely frustrated by the politicians in the large parties, and ready to show their disappointment at the polls by voting for smaller parties. It’s been years since I voted for one of the bigger parties, and this year won’t be any different. I can’t bring myself to vote tactically, and tend to go with my gut instincts. I don’t feel that any of the large parties truly represent me, so the best I can do is to vote for a party with which I most identify, and hope that they cross the minimum threshold. Some would say that I’m wasting my vote, but I don’t see it that way. Sure, some of the small parties shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but there are others that promote a platform that desperately requires an increased awareness in our society.
I will finish this by saying that it would never occur to me not to vote, even when I feel the pickings are slim. I think of the societies where people are not given this opportunity, or the countries where people who show support for anyone other than the ruling party are harshly mistreated. At least here, I, along with all Israeli citizens, both Arabs and Jews, am allowed to vote for whoever I wish, a privilege I daresay that many others in this region do not have.by Liza Rosenberg
“Who’s that,” asked the Little One, as we sat in front of the television watching a story about the Kadima party on the evening news. “The Prime Minister,” I responded.
“I want him to die,” said the Little One, rather innocently.
The husband and I exchanged glances over our child’s head. The Little One’s only concrete knowledge of prime ministers revolves around the lessons in preschool about Yitzhak Rabin, whose assassination he learned about last month during the annual memorial. He’s also reached a stage where he’s curious about the concept of death and dying, and I can only surmise that a four year-old’s comprehension of a prime minister’s murder and his limited understanding of death resulted in that rather out-of-the-blue comment.
“That’s not a nice thing to say about someone, sweetie. We don’t want him to die. We just want him to go to jail,” I explained, making the husband smile.
“Okay, Mommy.” He thought for a moment. “Is he bad?” the Little One queried. “Yes, sweetie. I believe he is. He’s in trouble with the law, and the police are investigating.”
“What about him? Is he bad too?” I glanced at the television screen and saw that Tzachi Hanegbi was speaking. “Yes, sweetie. He’s in trouble too,” I responded.
“And him?” the Little One asked. Now we were watching Roni Bar-On. “Yes,” I sighed. “He’s also in trouble with the law.”
Just another day in the Israeli political arena. With politicians like these, is it any wonder that we can’t be bothered to summon up the energy to get excited about the upcoming elections?by Liza Rosenberg
As an American citizen, I have every right to vote in the US elections. However, because I chose to live in Israel, I prefer to sit back and watch the campaigns
unravel unfold from afar without taking part. As an American living abroad, I believe that it’s not my place to try to influence the outcome, given that my agenda as an expat doesn’t necessarily gel with the needs of those actually living there, who are far more dependent on the domestic agenda than I. I realize that many Americans living here in Israel feel differently, but personally, I just don’t feel that it’s my place to take part simply because I retain my citizenship.
Given my stance on this issue, I find it nothing short of absurd that Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, believes that “Israel should grant all of world Jewry the right to vote even on political issues”. According to this Haaretz article, Kantor goes on to say that “Israel’s leadership should recognize that all the Jews in the world have the right to vote in Israel elections. If anyone with at least one Jewish grandfather or grandmother has the right to make Aliyah within the framework of the Law of Return, then we (we? perhaps he’s referring to the royal “we”, given that he is European, and not Israeli) need to grant them equal rights.”
Excuse me? Israel should allow people who aren’t even citizens the right to vote in Israeli elections? That has got to be one of the more asinine comments I’ve heard in a long time (which says quite a lot, given the “hell no, we won’t go” attitude emanating from the Prime Minister’s Office in light of today’s publication of the long-awaited Winograd Report, not to mention the resulting media circus that has been counting down the days like a child counts the days until Christmas). The last time I checked, the vast majority of the world’s Jews were not living in Israel, nor are they planning to make the big move any time soon. Most of them have never even been here, and in many cases, their connections to Israel are weak at best. They do not pay taxes here, they don’t have to deal with the day-to-day stress of living here. They do not risk their lives in our army, and should they be given the right to vote here, they will not have to live with the consequences of their votes.
Truly, I have nothing against the Jewish people living in the Diaspora. That is the point, though. They. Are. Living. In. The. Diaspora. Life is hard enough and crazy enough here without people whose agendas are different from ours pulling the strings from abroad, leaving us to dance alone. I don’t have the patience to pay the price when “well-meaning” Diaspora Jews try to create facts on the ground here, leaving us to deal with the aftermath of their folly, their support of an Israel that exists only in their minds, an Israel that does not exist in the reality that is life here. I do not wish to have a political agenda dictated to me by outside forces, by Diaspora Jews who continue to live in comfort and safety abroad as they vote for my future. Let them vote with their feet first. Let them make their own lives here, before they decide how mine should look.by Liza Rosenberg