The father of post-modern Zionism
Tuesday, did the Israeli electorate determine that Zionism is no longer relevant? The chattering class's repeated characterization of this week's elections as "post-Zionist," prompted me to return to the sources. To Theodor Herzl.
Would Herzl have understood the problems and dangers plaguing Israel today? How would the father of modern Zionism deal with the current challenges facing the Jewish people?
I found the answers in an essay on Herzl written in 1938 by Professor Benzion Netanyahu, republished in his 2003 book, The Founding Fathers of Zionism (Hebrew).
Herzl distinguished himself from the other early Zionist leaders by virtue of his ability to place the establishment of the Jewish state in the Land of Israel in the larger context of global affairs. In contrast, his colleagues at the end of the 19th century approached the issue of the Jewish state as an internal and sectoral Jewish issue unrelated to world trends, regional developments and threats to Diaspora Jewry.
Herzl's perspective drew him to the conclusion that the establishment of a sovereign Jewish state depended on simultaneous actions in the international, regional and internal Jewish arenas. Internationally, Herzl worked to achieve Turkish and European recognition and support for the establishment of a sovereign Jewish state in the Land of Israel. Herzl sought a legal charter for the state to ensure that the right of Jews to immigrate and take possession of the land would not be challenged as their rights were challenged in the Diaspora.
Regionally, Herzl understood that establishing Jewish settlements in the Land of Israel would provoke the local Arabs to attack them just as the presence of Jewish settlements in Europe was enough to provoke local Christians to attack them. As a result, he repeatedly stressed the need for a Jewish army charged with defending the settlers from attack.
Among world Jewry, Herzl understood that even if the international community recognized the Jewish people's legal right to establish their state in the Land of Israel, the state would not be born unless the Jews wished to establish it. And so Herzl worked to instill a national will to sovereignty and liberty among the long powerless and oppressed Jews of Europe. As Herzl explained to them, "Our proximity to Jerusalem is the same as our desire for Jerusalem. It is question of the will that beats within us. Our task [as Zionists] is to awaken this will, to strengthen it, and if possible to spur it on."
Prof. Netanyahu authored his essay as Hitler completed the remilitarization of the Rhineland and was poised to take over Austria and Czechoslovakia; Britain breached its international legal commitments to the Zionists as set out in the League of Nations Mandate and the Balfour Declaration, throwing its support behind the Arabs; the Arab terror war against the Zionists in Israel raged on with Nazi support and the Zionist leadership under Chaim Weizmann daily demonstrated its weakness and fecklessness.
Today, with the erosion of Israel's international legitimacy; the establishment of the Hamas government in the Palestinian Authority; the inexorable progress of Iran's nuclear weapons program and the Israeli elections results that gave the most Knesset seats to two parties dedicated to the mass expulsion of Jews from their homes and the handover of Judea and Samaria to Hamas, Herzl's Zionist strategy is as relevant for the Jewish people as it was in 1938.
IN SPITE of the Israeli media's best efforts, Zionism did not die on Tuesday. Although the formation of Kadima strengthened the Israeli post-Zionist Left, it is impossible to view the election results as a mandate to implement Kadima's policy of mass expulsions and military retreat from Judea and Samaria.
The nation is split in half between Left and Right. The parties that support capitulation won 54 seats and those that oppose capitulating won 50 seats.
Although both Kadima head Ehud Olmert and Labor leader Amir Peretz are capable of forming coalition governments, with the support of all seven MKs from the Gil Pensioners' Party - support that is far from assured - both have but a bare majority for the expulsion and retreat plan. Indeed, the only stable coalitions for Kadima or Labor include anti-capitulation parties. This state of affairs together with the low voter turnout Tuesday means that Kadima and its sister parties on the Left did not receive a mandate and do not have the political strength to automatically implement their expulsion and retreat plan.
So Zionism, as represented today by the Nationalist camp, is not dead. But as they did in Herzl's time, the Zionists today face difficult and complicated challenges. If Herzl's followers today follow the example he set in 1897, like him they can change Israel's current diplomatic, military and social realities. They can renew the nation's faith in itself and strengthen Israel's international posture and legitimacy. By accomplishing these goals, they will remove the threat of capitulation and loss of Jewish sovereignty for the foreseeable future and set the conditions for Israel's victory in the Palestinian terror war.
To achieve these aims, Herzl's disciples, whose most prominent political representatives are the Likud and National Union-NRP, need to operate simultaneously in the international and Jewish arenas.
Internationally the Nationalist camp needs to address three separate audiences. First, they must turn to the neo-conservative leadership in the US, Australia, Canada and Europe.
Two years ago, the Nationalist camp was abandoned by American neo-conservatives. This was largely as a result of the neo-conservatives' unqualified support for US President George W. Bush, who supported Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza and northern Samaria in spite of the fact that his plan flew in the face of the Bush Doctrine. Today, with Sharon out of power and with the growing willingness of American conservatives to criticize the Bush administration for its apparent unwillingness to adopt and implement credible or effective policies on Iran's nuclear weapons program and the Iranian and Syrian subversion of US efforts in Iraq and Lebanon, there is a good chance that some neo-conservatives will be willing to return to their traditional support for Israel's right and duty to win the wars waged against it by its neighbors.
Second, the Nationalist camp should strengthen its ties to the American Christian Zionists whose leaders just founded a lobbying arm modeled on AIPAC which they hope to use to extend US support for the Jewish state. The Nationalist camp should help them understand that implementing Kadima's capitulation plan will harm US interests by strengthening Iran and Syria and their Shi'ite and Sunni proxies in Iraq and Lebanon; endangering the Hashemite regime in Jordan; and providing global jihadists a stable base of operations in Judea and Samaria that will endanger Israel's long-term survivability.
The anti-capitulationists should show them that the converse is also true. An Israeli victory against the Palestinian terror war will strengthen the US and its allies and weaken its enemies.
The Nationalist camp must strengthen its ties to Diaspora Jewry. Its members should explain the direct connection between the Israeli weakness and capitulation extolled by Kadima and the empowerment and legitimization of anti-Semitic forces in the Diaspora. Diaspora Jewry should be exposed to the view that when the Israeli government adopts a policy that weakens Israel, supporting that government is not the same as supporting Israel. By emphasizing the shared fate of world Jewry, the Nationalist camp will strengthen Jewish solidarity and Jewish identity among Diaspora Jewry and increase interest in aliya.
On Wednesday, the US and Canada cut off all ties to the PA following the formation of the Hamas government. Their moves were portrayed as shows of support for Israel, which indeed they were. And yet, irrespective of Israel, it is in the national interest of all states that oppose the victory of the global jihad to cut off support for the Hamas-led PA. Al-Qaida and Hamas receive funding from the same sources, are indoctrinated by the same religious authorities and view the world in the same way. The legitimization of one necessarily involves the legitimization of the other. The Nationalist camp should work to bring this point home throughout the world.
TURNING TO domestic affairs, to prevent the implementation of Kadima's capitulation plan, the Nationalist camp should conduct a continuous campaign to bring down Kadima and enlarge the Nationalist camp's political base. This needn't be particularly difficult.
Olmert is not Sharon. Any doubts that this is the case were dispelled when his party colleagues attacked him for Kadima's loss of 40 percent of its supporters during the last two and a half months since Sharon's incapacitation. Unlike Sharon, who was elevated above his colleagues, Olmert's political associates see him as a first among equals. They do not fear him and the public does not trust his word as it trusted Sharon. Olmert will need far more than a simple parliamentary majority and media backing to implement his capitulation plan.
Yet Olmert's weakness alone will not bring about Kadima's collapse. The Nationalist camp needs to preserve and widen its political base. To accomplish this, it must maintain opposition to Olmert's capitulation plan among Shas, United Torah Judaism, Israel Beiteinu and Likud voters. The voters' opposition will prevent their party leaders from risking their wrath by supporting capitulation in exchange for cabinet and sub-cabinet posts. As well, it must convince at least two MKs from the Pensioners' Party to reject the withdrawal and expulsion plan.
The Nationalist camp needs a strong and unified leadership to preserve and widen its support base. Such leadership can only emerge if the Likud and National Union-NRP Knesset factions merge. To his great credit, MK Effi Eitam from the National Union recognizes this imperative and since Tuesday night has been working quietly and skillfully to bring about the merger. Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu should immediately accept Eitam's offer. Doing so will both neutralize attempts by his Likud rivals to unseat him and ensure that the Likud remains the leader of the Nationalist camp despite its electoral defeat.
All of these actions owe their inspiration to Herzl's strategic program for establishing the Jewish state. If undertaken simultaneously by a unified, professional and dedicated Nationalist camp we can foresee that in addition to weakening an Olmert or Peretz-led coalition government and strengthening the Nationalist camp, they will enhance Israel's national security by preventing the implementation of the capitulation plan and renewing Israel's legitimacy both in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of its citizens.
One hundred years ago, Herzl and his colleagues referred to what we now call post-Zionism as a Diaspora mentality. As was the case back then, today following his Zionist strategy remains the best way to ensure the survival of the Jewish state and the Jewish people. If we heed his message, the father of modern Zionism will also be known as the father of post-modern Zionism.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.