Zionism cannot be parve
Netanyahu and Mofaz’s new unity government cannot be trusted, for it lacks both Zionist extremes; without them, Israel is just like any other state and might as well pack up and leave.
I don't trust the new Israeli government. Why? Because it lacks the most principled of Zionist extremes. It empowers Kadima - a “centrist” party which openly and proudly has no principles - and this scares me profoundly.
When we act over the violent objections of committed Zionist minorities - the 1990s expansion of the settlement project, and the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, for example - it's been devastating to Jewish unity, and arguably bad for us and our credibility in the world on many levels, regardless of whether you or I agree with the actual policies. By contrast, on several historic occasions, Israeli decisions have been essentially supported or at least accepted by both extremes: to go to war with Lebanon in 2006, to make peace with Jordan in 1994, are major recent examples which come immediately to mind.
Think about it: any decision that both Meretz-Yahad MK Yossi Beilin and right-wing activist Moshe Feiglin would agree on, you'd probably be OK with, and the decisions would probably be good for Am Yisrael. Anything they passionately disagree on, is probably bad for Israel. Even if the thing being discussed might be a good idea, or a good idea to you or your 'side', the very fact that it damages Jewish unity should make you think twice about its true validity.
A “unity” government deserving of the name would dare to operate by consensus in the true meaning of the word. One might think that this cannot work in hyperpolarized Israel; I beg to differ. I was exposed to actual consensus government, to see and sometimes even experience it working, among Quakers and American Indians (long story...).
At my Quaker summer camp community we had a knock-down drag-out town hall discussion to decide the theme of the town fair, between the partisans of “Sex and Ice Cream” and the partisans of - well, I forget the other proposal - but the passions were equal of anything I've seen even in Israel, believe it or not! However, we all had motivation to find a larger community modus vivendi together, and from that desire a third option was generated. That option addressed the concerns, desires and sensitivities of both extremes. It worked, everyone could live with it, and it was far more satisfying and participatory for all than a majority vote.
Consensus is thus something radically different from this coalition, from the common term 'the Israeli consensus'. True consensus, like discussions in the Talmud, honors the extremes, instead of marginalizing them. It believes that the strongly held values of the 'left' and 'right' are more important than the sentiments of the less-committed, 'moderate' middle. Acceptance of living in a consensus community means, I get to stand by my extreme opinion, to have it respected and even veto—but at the price of also accepting the opposite extreme's opinion and right to veto as well.
This creates a whole community of solution-seekers-- searching for paths or ideas, even out of the box or radical, that everyone can live with-- even and especially both extremes. The distinction between actually agreeing with a policy, and being willing to accept it, is crucial. Israel must go in this direction - not just because the values of the extremes come from deep commitments to their visions of Jewish identity and truth, but also because when the extremes really feel that over-my-dead-body desire to veto, they mean it, and we all lose.
Zionism is not and cannot be parve. It is a utopian vision, whether secular or religious or hopefully and eventually both. We should not, we dare not water it down by excluding the poles. Thus let's give both of them veto power in a true unity coalition. The world holds us to a double standard because we are not like other nations, and they're right: If Israel is here for mere “moderate” reasons, to be like any other state, that's not enough! If that's all, we should close Zionist shop, make it a one-state or pack up and leave. We don't have a choice about living in our small state with the Jews of the extremes, but that can be a blessing. We need the vision and the passion and the principles of those who believe in Israel most deeply. Beilin and Feiglin both with a veto. This would be a Zionism I could believe in.
Matthew Mausner is a historian, activist, and entrepreneur in Jerusalem. He is the founder of the New Jerusalem Talmud, a platform for critical thinking and a wiki for controversy, and works on projects toward bringing healthier discourse and unity to the Jewish world. He studies part-time at Yeshivat Sulam Yaakov.