To preserve Zionism, Netanyahu must end the occupation
Netanyahu understands that without renewing the Zionist narrative there will be no Zionist future.
Finally there is a vision. Speaking to Haaretz earlier this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defined for the first time his vision of the future: Israel as a global technology leader, grounded in its values and moving toward peace from a position of power. You can like the vision or hate it, accept it or reject it, but now it is clear what Netanyahu is proposing against Peace Now of the left, and how he is dividing those in the center. His overall goal is now apparent.
Two elements in this vision are not new. Netanyahu has always believed that Israel must be an economic power, based on high technology and the free market; he has also always believed that Israel can achieve peace, but only from a position of political, military and economic power. The third part of the vision, however, is new. Unlike in the past, Netanyahu is now positing a national goal related to identity: the need to anchor Israel to national values that will remain valid and appealing through the 21st century.
The prime minister tried to define this third goal during the Herzliya Conference, but it was received with ridicule and contempt. His attempt to address issues that are not political or strategic and to confront questions of identity was perceived as bizarre. But Netanyahu is not giving up. He sees an urgent need to find a balance between economic and technological globalization and the deepening of the Judeo-Israeli identity. For him, the issue of values remains central, serving as the basis for national strength and security. Netanyahu understands that without renewing the Zionist narrative there will be no Zionist future.
At the celebratory cabinet meeting in Tel Hai this week, his government adopted a program for restoring and reinforcing national heritage. Once again, the decision was derided and ridiculed. Secular France invests greatly in commemorating its cultural and national heritage, while democratic United States glorifies its past and speaks incessantly about its uniqueness and greatness, and yet this is forbidden for Israel.
It is forbidden to preserve David Ben-Gurion's home in Sde Boker, or the Herzl House in Hulda, or Kinneret Farm, or the Ben Shemen Youth Village. It is forbidden to preserve the water tower at Negba, or the homes of the first settlers at Kfar Giladi. It is forbidden to preserve the treasures of Hebrew song, Hebrew dance and Hebrew theater. It is forbidden to preserve the manuscripts, photographs and films documenting the beginning of the Zionist enterprise. It is forbidden because any attempt by Israel to preserve the assets of its past is an anachronism, unenlightened and tainted by flawed nationalism. It is forbidden because any attempt on the part of the Jewish people to tell its story deserves to be condemned and silenced.
The absolute misunderstanding of the Herzliya speech and the mad assault on the effort to preserve national heritage sites suggests that Netanyahu touched a sensitive nerve. The original plan prepared by the cabinet secretary, Zvi Hauser, did not include the Tomb of the Patriarchs or Rachel's Tomb. This proves unequivocally that the values the government sought to renew are not the values of the settlers in Yitzhar or Itamar; these are the values of the settlers of Ruhama and Revivim, the founders of Gedera and Rosh Pina, and those who established Tel Aviv. These are the values of Bezalel, Habima, the National Library and Neve Tzedek.
The unbridled assault on the plan, therefore, is not an attack on the right and the occupation. It is an attack on the values that have shaped and defined us. An attack on Israel's core identity.
Something bad has happened to us over the last generation. The struggle against the war in Algeria did not lead the French left to turn against the French Republic. The struggle against the wars in Vietnam and Iraq did not lead the American peace movement to abandon belief in the United States. But in Israel, the drawn out and justified struggle against the occupation has led to us turning our back on Zionism.
Netanyahu is doing something important in trying to revive Zionism, but without confronting the occupation his effort will fail. If Israel is to be a global technological leader, grounded in its values and moving toward peace from a position of power, it must gradually leave the territories. The prime minister deserves a good word this week, but he must know that only if he removes Israel from Yitzhar and Itamar will he have the strength to restore it to what was promised at Ruhama, Kinneret, Hulda and Rosh Pina.
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