Israel's leaders have forgotten Herzl's dream
Israel must choose between either holy places and East Jerusalem, or peace and democracy.
During Israel's 62nd Independence Day celebrations this week, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin went out of his way to make clear that Israel does not intend to compromise on Jerusalem.
Rivlin was very outspoken, and said that Israel would not apologize for conquering various parts of Jerusalem, and for holding on to its sacred places.
In the background of the ceremony shined a huge projection showing the famous photograph in which Theodore Herzl looks out over the Rhine River at the occasion of the first Zionist congress in Basel.
With this image behind him, Rivlin spoke of how Israel must continue Herzl's dream. He also spoke of the weakness of those who are willing to partition Jerusalem, calling those who support such a move 'galuti' - the stereotype of the cringing Diaspora Jew who tries to please the gentiles, in contrast with manly patriotism.
I wonder when Rivlin last read Herzl. So let's first get the history clear. Herzl's overriding goal was to solve what was at him time called the 'Jewish Question'.
Herzl wanted Jews to have a sovereign state of their own. As opposed to Rivlin, Herzl very much believed in diplomacy and his impact on the Zionist movement was primarily a combination of his visionary and diplomatic abilities. Herzl also set a constructive and cooperative relationship between Jews and Arabs as a centerpiece in his depiction of the new Jewish state in his novel 'Altneuland'.
Herzl believed that Israel needed to adhere to the ideal of liberal democracy and dreamt of the future Jewish state as a progressive country; his vision was forward-looking rather than preoccupied with symbols of the past.
Rivlin is basically a believer in democracy; I have no doubt about that. He invited those who do not identify with the Zionist dream to be part of the country. For some reason, Rivlin found it inappropriate to simply name these invitees as Israeli Arabs ? though it was obvious to whom he was referring.
Rivlin is trying to have it both ways. He doesn't see that it is impossible to have your cake and eat it, too. It will be either democracy or the settlements; either peace or East Jerusalem.
That much Rivlin could have gathered from listening to Defense Minister Barak, who, in ceremonies leading up to Yom Ha'atzmaut repeated time and again that the occupation must stop, that we must choose between the settlements and Israel as both a Jewish and a democratic state. But maybe Barak is too galuti for Rivlin?s taste, too - even though he is the most decorated officer in the history of the Israel Defense Forces.
Rivlin repeated the mantra that Jerusalem will never again be partitioned. But he is just perpetuating a myth: Jerusalem is partitioned de facto. Rivlin says that Jews and Arabs shouldn't live in segregated neighborhoods. Does he mean that Palestinians should be evicted from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah in favor of settlers? Is that the type of coexistence that he advocates? Does he seriously think that this is what will make Arabs identify with the State of Israel?
The background of all these declarations is, of course, the open conflict with the Obama administration, and the right-wingers both in Israel and the U.S. who accused the president of perpetuating this conflict.
Before Obama entered office, they say, Israel and the U.S. saw things the same way; there was harmony, and Israel could do as it pleased.
This view is incredibly short-sighted: the international community - including the U.S. - long ago made up its mind that the two-state solution needs to be implemented. It has never accepted Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem, and even George W. Bush - who Netanyahu and Rivlin miss sorely - would not move the U.S. embassy from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. And it was during the Bush Administration that two leading political scientists, Walt and Mearsheimer, questioned unconditional U.S. support of Israeli policies and argued it to be against U.S. interests.
Netanyahu's repeated assertions that he really knows the U.S., and that when push comes to shove the U.S. will unconditionally stand behind Israel no matter what it does, is quite simply wrong.
Rivlin's declaration that Israel needs to be strong and stick to its values is simple-minded, because two of these values conflict. Israel will have to choose between the holy places and East Jerusalem on the one hand, and peace and democracy on the other hand. Rivlin will have to choose between Herzl and the Zionist revisionist Ze'ev Jabotinsky. Herzl believed in cooperation; he believed in multiculturalism long before the word was even invented. And yes, Herzl believed in diplomacy: He didn't think that the Jewish state should or could be in constant confrontation with its environment.
Jabotinsky believed in power. He thought that indeed Jews needed to become 'manly'; that Jews needed to learn reliance on guns rather than on diplomacy. It is true: Jabotinsky was torn between militarism and a strong liberal streak in his mental outfit. So, I believe, is Reuven Rivlin; I have no doubt that he wants Israel to be a true democracy. But, like Jabotinsky, when the moment of truth comes, Rivlin's nationalist streak wins over his belief in liberal democracy.
I believe that most Jews around the globe are deeply committed to democracy. Recent polls show that most U.S. Jews continue to support Obama, including his policies towards Israel. They do so, because they think that in the long run, Israel's existence as a Jewish and democratic state depends on implementing the two-state solution, and they know that time is running out.
I call upon the rather silent majority of liberal U.S. Jewry not to be afraid any longer to speak its mind. Don't let the vocal minority of the right tell you that you need to choose between being pro-Israel or pro-peace. J Street is right: you can be both. And don't forget that Herzl's vision is on your side and not on that of the right.