After 115 Years, It's Time for Zionism to Retire

The national liberation movement's time came and went. Now we have a state. Neither good citizenship nor misdeeds have anything to do with Zionism anymore.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Zionism is already 115 years old; it should have retired long ago. If on Independence Day we're concerned about the future of a state approaching retirement age (presuming it's a man, not a woman, who would have retired two years ago ), then we should call for the replacement of Zionism with something younger, more energetic and more relevant. Zionism should have become a rank-and-file pensioner shortly after the state was established or, at most, when the movement turned 62 or 67.

A state does not retire, but a national liberation movement must, like every elderly citizen - knowing when its time has passed. It must be consigned to history. These things are even more true if the movement has already fulfilled its mission, achieved its goals and now everyone is beating up on it, misusing it, decking themselves in its feathers and taking its name in vain.

Moshav Emunim near Ashkelon. Credit: Alex Levac

In 2012, the 64th year of the state, no one even knows for certain what remains of it, what the role of Zionism is and how it is defined. That's how it is when one doesn't have the sense to retire at one's peak - and that peak was long ago.

Who is a Zionist? All the answers are wrong, even if they are more plentiful (and more ridiculous ) than the answers to the other existential question of who is a Jew.

The truth is that there is no answer. Not because Zionism was not a just cause - it was, even if it was tainted by unnecessary injustices, and not because it didn't succeed. It was the greatest national success story of the 20th century. But that century is over and its greatest success story has been established. The national home arose, and now it is a regional power. Anyone who wanted to - about one-third of the Jewish people - has joined it, and the door remains open to the rest.

All the remaining, disturbing questions and all the challenges are matters for the state and the society that have arisen, as with every state and society. Their connection to the founding movement is no longer relevant. Yes, Zionism is no longer relevant, and its place is in the history books alone.

But the Jewish people lives, as they say, and therefore Israel has tried to invent a new Zionism for itself, far more totalitarian than its predecessor. Alongside the religion of security, Zionism has become the state's second recognized religion, forcing itself recklessly on all its subjects. We have room only for "Zionists."

Anyone who serves in the Israel Defense Forces is a "Zionist"; anyone who settles far from Tel Aviv is also a "Zionist"; anyone who volunteers to help the other, the poor, the weak, the blind, the sick and the lame - a "Zionist"; anyone who donates something to someone - a "Zionist"; anyone who sings the national anthem and hangs the national flag, and anyone who stands to attention when necessary (and when it's not necessary ), anyone who settles and unsettles, anyone who justifies every state injustice, anyone who immigrates and even emigrates is a Zionist. Anyone who tyrannizes another people and anyone who looks away is a Zionist and a son of a Zionist. All of us are Zionists; well, nearly all of us.

All the positives also lead to negatives, and that negative is illegitimate, traitorous, hated and a hater of Israel. Anyone who doesn't do any of the things mentioned above is post- or anti-Zionist. In Israel 2012, a pursuer of justice and human rights is by definition not Zionist. Even to talk about morality, law or international law is blatantly "not Zionist."

We have given world Jewry grades in Zionism. Anyone who donates to settlements - Zionist; anyone who donates to human rights organizations - anti. Anyone who belongs to the nationalist, rapacious, right-wing Jewish establishment - Zionist. Anyone who seeks a fairer, more enlightened alternative - post. Anyone who blindly supports all of Israel's misdeeds - Zionist; anyone who dares to criticize it - anti-Semites, even if they are Jewish. A former Israeli who lives in Vegas and gambles on his former country's future, urging it to blow up, bomb, crush and destroy - Zionist. Anyone worried about its justice - post-Zionist.

The world, too, has invented some new Zionisms for itself. In the eyes of the Arab world, every Israeli is a Zionist; in the eyes of most of the Western world, any supporter of the Israeli occupation is a Zionist. Both of these see Zionism as negative epithet and a mark of shame. The new Zionism has only acquired a bad international reputation.

Zionism's way has been lost to us. That was inevitable, because it has completed its task. Once the State of Israel arose and became a national home nearly at the retirement age of the movement that engendered it, once it became established, strong and powerful, and brutal and impervious, its flag should have been folded, stored in the repositories of history as a souvenir, and Zionism should no longer have its name taken in vain. The old order of Zionism is over and the campaign over the character and appearance of the state should begin, as happens in every healthy state.

Anyone who contributes to the state is a worthy citizen and a decent patriot. Anyone who contributes to its institutions is a philanthropist - this has no connection to Zionism. Anyone who is required to serve in its army, exactly like anyone who is supposed to pay taxes to it, is fulfilling his legal obligations. This has no connection to Zionism or to values.

Anyone who supports the state's misdeeds is a traitor, and anyone who remains silent defiles himself. Anyone who settles in remote parts of the country is perhaps a pioneer, anyone who contributes to its economy, science, creativity and art is also a good citizen, and this too has no connection to Zionism.

Anyone who steals land is a thief, anyone who denies rights to a minority is a racist. Anyone who believes in a just Israel is a patriot; anyone who is secular, is secular; and anyone who is religious is religious; anyone who is Jewish, is Jewish; and anyone who is not Jewish, is not Jewish. What connection does all of this have to Zionism? All are citizens of the state.

Zionist as an adjective has passed from this world, and no one is entitled to hand out grades for Zionism anymore. Anyone who lives here is an Israeli. Anyone who doesn't live here is not Israeli. Period.

Nor should the relationship with the Jewish world pass through this prism of Zionism: We may invite any Jew here, anyone born in this country or his descendants. Anyone who wants can contribute from outside, just as other expatriates contribute to their home countries.

The campaign to strengthen the State of Israel and make it a more just and secure place also has nothing to do with Zionism. Such campaigns are taking place nearly everywhere. Let us not boast vaingloriously.

Am I a Zionist? How shall I answer? If Zionism is settling in the territories then I am anti-Zionist. If Zionism is continuing the occupation then I am non-Zionist. And if Zionism is the Jewish people's right to a state, just like the Palestinian people's right to a state, including at least partial correction of the injustice done to them in 1948, then I too am a Zionist. If Zionism is striving for a democratic state, then in that case too I am a Zionist, son of a Zionist.

A concept as confusing and misleading as Zionism is today does not belong to the state that arose for the Jewish people gloriously (or not ), and therefore it should have ceased to exist long ago.

'Until here'

On the eve of Independence Day this week, a flock of dark gray crows hovered over Nahal Lakhish in the Ad Halom Park in southern Israel. Ad Halom means "until here," and that's where the Egyptian army was stopped in the summer of 1948. Here the State of Israel was saved, about two weeks after its establishment.

"All of us are tired. The Egyptians are in Ashdod but they may advance on Tel Aviv if we do not stop them. Despite the exhaustion and for the sake of our families, we will also go out tonight," commander Aryeh Kotzer told his company shortly before he was killed.

Kotzer should have been considered one of the last Zionists. Those who came after him were Israelis, for better or worse. As we stood near the memorial to the Givati fighters who died in the Ad Halom battle, sophisticated air force planes thundered through the skies to their base nearby. A foreign worker cultivated an orchard, and an avenue of oleander bushes blossomed in pink. The hills surrounding this memorial park still bear the ruins of Palestinian towns and villages, whose thousands of inhabitants fled or were expelled in that war that left not a single Palestinian home inhabited on the coastal plain between Jaffa and Gaza.

Now these lands are full of moshavim, some of them flourishing. One of them, called Emunim, which was founded in 1950 by immigrants from Egypt, has a circular plaza called the Plaza of Mercy. At the center of the village is a twinkling electronic signboard, in place of the bulletin boards of yore, calling upon the owners of farming plots to attend a general meeting on May 1 and inviting residents to come collect planks for the Lag Ba'omer bonfires. One home has solar panels on its roof. The radio announces that Check Point Software Technologies reported higher profits. And a large iron gate at the edge of the moshav bears a painting of a large Israeli flag, in honor of Independence Day. On top of the flag hangs a large poster for a charity, Amutat Hasei Ayala, succor and aid to the needy. Not far away you can see the prefab temporary homes of Nitzan, housing settlers evacuated from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

None of this is connected to Zionism anymore.



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