Our Zionist Forebearers

Articles on the thought and vision of Israel’s original founders and thinkings.

The Z-Word: Reimagining Zionism

Israel's Declaration of Independence

In the last several years the Z-word, Zionism has taken quite a beating. It has been associated with poisonous nationalism, apartheid like prejudice, and Nazi like racial cleansing. College students are often on the defensive when they talk about Zionism. The lastest news from Israel doesn’t help matters either. Leaders within and outside of Israel have looked at some of the legislation going through the Knesset and wondered about our commitment to democracy. The well-publicized exclusion of women has engendered comparisons to Iran.

What makes all of this so very sad and ironic is that Zionism was not meant to be this way. The Israeli Declaration of Independence spoke of a very different vision:

THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

The past few weeks have been very painful for those of us who love Israel. They are a stark reminder that justice, freedom, and peace are fragile. They can only be maintained by constant effort. There must be an on-going effort to clean house and fight hatred and exclusion. Without such an effort, power struggles and political and economic gamesmanship quickly cast shadows over human rights.

This is a problem inherent in all democracies. Few would question the commitment of the USA to democracy, yet in recent years the USA has also faced a string of challenges to its own constitutional vision. Interment and torture of foreign soldiers in the name of security has challenged the moral commitment to constitutionally guarenteed rights to due process. Invasive body search by the TSA challenges the right to privacy. This fall at least one candidate expressed disregard for the US Supreme court and constitutionally mandated balance of powers. Other republican candidates acted as if separation of church and state was a typo in the US constitution. Recently proposed internet legislation put free speech at the mercy of high powered corporate legal teams.

The difficulties in the USA and Israel are both reminders that each generation must take its own responsibility for their parent’s and grandparent’s vision of justice, freedom, and peace.

Today gap year students will be gathering together at Hadassah College in downtown Jerusalem to discuss Zionism for their own generation. The conference, titled “The Z-Word: Reimagining Zionism” will bring together college and gap year students in Israel to study and debate both the historic vision of Zionism and its current challenges. Speakers include experts from across the political and academic spectrum as well as think tanks and activists.

This conference is clearly important as a way for the next generation to take responsibility for preserving the best of Zionism. However, it is just as important as a meeting of minds between Israelis and the Diaspora.

Israel will fail to be a Jewish state if it only represents the Jews who actually live in Israel. We Israelis hold in sacred trust a land of deep symbolic meaning to all Jews across the globe. Although we have our own distinct identity here in the Middle East, we can never forget our role in the wider Jewish world. However we cannot include that which is silent. Diaspora Jewery must speak up and engage Israelis. Ingathering isn’t just physical. It doesn’t just mean aliah. It also means a meeting of minds and hearts throughout the Jewish world.

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Categories: Building a Just Israel, Diaspora and Israel, Our Zionist Forebearers | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

In praise of women – Ze’ev Jabotinsky

Ze’ev Jabotinsky would have never stood for the exclusion of women in any part of the life of the state. When the Jerusalem Municipal Committee refused to include women in the 1920’s he refused to pay dues, writing to the board:

With all my heart, I would like to share in the expenses of the Municipal Committee (Va’ad Ha’Ir), but until such time as women are given a place on the executive board of the Committee, my name shall not appear on the list of dues-paying members to your institution.

In his autobiography, he wrote:

I hold the woman’s place over that of men in every fundamental aspect of public and private life. Except for brute labor which demands physical prowess, there is no position or profession that I would not prefer handing to a woman over a man. …in three portraits of women that fate dealt my way–an experience that ingrained within me the concept of a soul woven from strings of steel and strings of silk. And this concept I call ‘woman.

These were not just isolated instances. In 1963, Professor Yosef Nedava edited and published an anthology of Jabotinsky’s sayings on women, “The Image of the Woman as Seen by Z. Jabotinsky“. In the introduction, Chemda Giladi writes:

Both in his speeches and in his writings, Jabotinsky called for the granting of equal rights for women in tribute to their loyalty to the Zionist revival, which frequently reached the level of true zealotry. He unceasingly called to draw upon the spiritual attributes of the Hebrew woman to educate the young generation about settlement, in the city and town, in public institutions and in social work. “Settlement rises and falls with the woman,” he claimed. “The man can conquer the land, yet the settling of a place, despite all difficulties, depends upon the woman, the family.” Moreover, he declared, “Every movement is rigid and lame if women do not take part within it.”

For more see “Jabotinsky on the status of women, their abilities, and rights”:

Categories: Gender Segregation, Our Zionist Forebearers | Leave a comment

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