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* Why I am a Neo-Zionist*

Essay by Gershon Baskin, neo-Zionist--Jerusalem Post 7/31/07

* Why I am a Neo-Zionist*

Gershon Baskin, THE JERUSALEM POST      Jul. 31, 2007

With the very real possibility of a renewal of the Israeli-Palestinian
peace process comes a revival of the possibility of polemic politics in
Israel.  If the peace process does advance, the divisions between the
so-called "left" and the so-called "right" which have been watered down
into Israeli centrism, mainly since the beginning of the second intifada
in 2000, will become re-exposed and resurface as an existential debate
probing matters of our raison d'etre as the nation state of the Jewish
A renewed peace process will force Israel to finally deal with the
question of its borders, its relationship to Jewish history and
heritage, and to the very identity of the State vis-à-vis its Jewishness
and it democratic values. The debate will come down to a divide between
those who's minds are focused on the past, roots and traditions versus
those who are searching for a new future which use the past, roots and
traditions as a link to the future but not as shackles to it.
I am a neo-zionist. I adhere to my right, my responsibility and my
vision to the State of Israel as the State of the Jewish people. I also
am a democrat whose values for fairness, equality, dignity, tolerance,
and mutual respect are deeply imbedded in Jewish traditions, texts,
heritage and learning. As a neo-zionist I genuinely understand that the
Land of Israel found within our sacred texts is not Tel Aviv, but in the
hills and valleys of the West Bank.  But I also comprehend that Jewish
survival in the Land of Israel is only possible if we give up that part
of the Land of Israel so that our Palestinian neighbors can have a State
of the own and live in peace with us.  There is no other way. As a
neo-zionist I am more concerned with the Jewish future than the Jewish
past, and as such I recognize that we must come forth from the passages
of Torah into the reality of the 21st century Middle East and make the
necessary concessions_ now_ so that our neighbors can live with the same
collective and national dignity that we demand for ourselves.
In the Jewish fight over the Land of Israel it is the battle for Jewish
survival between the so-called Zionists - the settlers and their
supporters and those like me, the neo-zionists, the majority of
Israelis, who are not blinded by a messianic dream and believe that in
the ultimate balance of values, peace with our neighbors outweighs peace
with our past. Those amongst us who continue to advocate the Jewish
settlement of the Land of Israel beyond the areas of green line are in
fact guilty of leading the Zionist enterprise towards its end. The
settlement project in the West Bank is nothing less than an act of
national suicide.  The most significant and dangerous obstacle in our
ability to reconcile peace with our neighbors is the continuation of the
adherence to the archaic modes of our yearnings for Zion expressed by
settling the hilltops surrounding Palestinian towns, villages and cities
that turn the lives of the Palestinians into a daily hell. This is not
what Zionism was to supposed to be about.  This is not the national
liberation movement of the Jewish people that sought freedom and
dignity, Prophetic Jewish expression in daily life and safety and
security for Jews all over.
Like the Zealots of bygone days, the settlers are dragging us to our own
destruction. There can be no peace with settlements. This is a fact that
the history of the peace process should have taught us. Even Ehud Barak
who went further than any Israeli leader before him in negotiations with
the Palestinians, destroyed the very process that he wanted to conclude
by his misguided continuation of an accelerated settlement program. It
is impossible to comprehend, certainly from the Palestinian side of the
table how one can speak about territorial compromise and withdrawal
while settlements are being built and expanded. The network of
settlements, by-pass roads, and other systems of control and protection
necessary to allow the settlers to live on their hill-tops throughout
the West Bank can produce no reality other than an Israeli form of
apartheid and this is as far away from Prophetic justice as day is from
When the peace process gets underway and we will once again be forced to
deal with the territorial issue, we will have to choose between
settlements and peace. The only decision, for those of us more concerned
with our future than our past will be for peace.  The settlers
themselves will ultimately have to ask themselves where they reside, in
the pages of the past or in the remaking and rebuilding of the State of
Israel which will have to go beyond occupation and war.
Looking at how we dealt with the former settlers of Gaza, we must engage
in a serious soul searching.  There is nothing that endangers the
justice of calling on West Bank settlers to come home to the State of
Israel than the way that the Government of Israel has shamefully treated
those settlers who already came home.
Neo-zionism concerns itself with the people of Israel inside the State
of Israel. When settlers come home to the State of Israel we must
concern ourselves with ensuring that they feel at home, that they have a
place within society. The secular left in Israel feels detached, to a
large extent from the Jewishness of Israel which is perhaps why it is so
difficult for them to feel empathy towards the suffering of the settlers
who left Gaza. It is a great challenge for the Israel that sees itself
mainly in the context of cosmopolitan secular Western Tel Aviv to find
its connection to our Jewish roots and our sense of peoplehood which
goes far beyond our Israeliness. We must find and invigorate the
Jewishness of the State of Israel that takes us beyond the synagogue,
prayer and halacha as interpreted by Orthodox Judaism. Yet this too is
one of the major challenges of modern day Israel and a focal point for
Likewise, neo-zionism must concern itself, now and certainly in a
post-peace period even more intensively, with a new definition of
Israeliness that works overtime to be inclusive to the Palestinian
citizens of Israel. President Chaim Weitzman once said that Israel would
be judged by the peoples of the world by how Israel treats its Arab
citizens.  That could explain one of the reasons why the world is so
critical of Israel. But more important than how the world judges Israel
is the question of what we do to make Israel into a country where all of
its citizens are proud to live, desire to take part in the building of
the State, view their present with pride and their future with hope.
I cannot call myself a Zionist because those who use that term are
following in the footsteps of the Zealots of Masada. I am not a
post-Zionist because I do believe that the Jewish people have a right to
have a national homeland in the Land of Israel. I am a neo-zionist, a
proud member of the Jewish people; an Israeli patriot committed to a
prophetic vision of embodied within our Declaration of Independence a
believer in our future.
/ The writer is co-ceo of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and
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