Returning to Rabin's Zionism

Silent Majority Should Speak Out Against Intolerance

By Daniel G. Zemel and Jack Moline

Published February 27, 2012, issue of March 02, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

On a hopeful evening in early November 1995, a broad cross-section of Israel’s population gathered in Tel Aviv’s Kings of Israel Square to join together for the cause of peace. They came to hear from their leader, Yitzhak Rabin, recently awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the Oslo Accords. Rabin’s words that evening included the following statement: “Violence erodes the basis of Israeli democracy. It must be condemned and isolated.”

Upon finishing his speech and singing “Shir LaShalom” (“A Song of Peace”) with the crowd, Rabin left the stage and headed toward his waiting car. It was then that three shots rang out, and this lover of Zion, who had devoted his life to rebuilding his people’s homeland, was killed in an act of senseless violence. The perpetrator? A misguided Jew with a heart of hate, Yigal Amir. How little we understood then the extent to which Amir was simply the most extreme and murderous example of an ideological culture that threatens the character and fabric of the Zionism that created and shaped Israel — the Zionism of Yitzhak Rabin.

This very Zionism that so many American Jews love — the Zionism of the founding generations representing leaders and thinkers as disparate as A.D. Gordon and HaRav Abraham I. Kook — is yet found in vital corners of Israeli society. In many ways it remains the Zionism of the silent majority. This Zionism, which embraces both universal ethics and the fulfillment of Jewish peoplehood, needs to raise its voice and protest the despicable crimes that are perpetrated in the names of Judaism and Zionism today, crimes ranging from spitting on school girls to burning mosques, from assaulting soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces to defacing private property with swastikas. This Zionism needs to re-energize itself and proclaim its values to the world in Israel as well as here in the North American Diaspora.

There is no doubt that Israel faces many dangerous and serious threats. Hamas in Gaza regularly causes violent turmoil by lobbing rockets over Israel’s southern border. Hezbollah, funded by Iran, is the constant threat from the north. And, of course, Iran itself, a nation led by a Holocaust-denying president, is believed to be developing a nuclear weapon while calling for Israel to be wiped off the map. There is no question that Israel’s security needs require our unswerving and relentless support in the face of these very real and grave threats.

But this other menace cannot be ignored, a menace that looms ever larger as a threat to Israel’s existence as a nation that is both a thriving Jewish homeland and a modern liberal democracy. Extreme groups of ideologues hold hostage Israel’s public discourse regarding, among other things, religious pluralism, women’s rights, human rights and all matters of social justice. Fundamentalist Haredim and ultra-nationalist settlers have made common cause in an unholy alliance that tramples the vision and ideals of Zionism’s founding thinkers and flouts the eternal universal message of Torah. Their influence in Israeli government policies is an outrage.

We who love Judaism and Zionism have waited in vain for those religious and political leaders who are closest to the extremists to reprove them and diminish their influence. No one can peddle hate, propagate racism or celebrate intolerance in the name of Judaism and still be considered a faithful Jew. Zionists, lovers of Israel in the American Jewish community, can no longer be the Jews of silence. Rather than look on in dismay as a generation of American Jews distances itself from the entire enterprise, we must stop and speak our minds. Zionism has always been, in its essential aspiration, about expanding and realizing the potential of the Jewish people. Let us not sit idly by while extremists make a mockery of this definition.

February 28 is the 90th birthday of Yitzhak Rabin. Let us rally to honor his memory and the Zionism for which he lived and died.

Jack Moline is the rabbi of Congregation Agudas Achim in Alexandria, Va. Daniel Zemel is the rabbi of Temple Micah in Washington, D.C. They are the co-authors of the statement “Religious Ethical Zionism,” which can be found online.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.