Liberal Zionists Unite!

Now Is Not the Time To Recoil from Israel

Resilient: Israelis take part in a demonstration calling for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on August 16 in Tel Aviv.
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Resilient: Israelis take part in a demonstration calling for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on August 16 in Tel Aviv.

By Elan Ezrachi and Naamah Kelman

Published August 29, 2014, issue of September 05, 2014.

The worst thing that can happen now to the Israeli liberal left is if Liberal Zionists around the world turn their backs on Israel and give up. The national anthem of Israel is called “Hatikva,” hope, and a recent op-ed in The New York Times by Antony Lerman, “The End of Liberal Zionism,” would have us surrender all hope to the worst forces in Israel today: growing racism, religious extremism and the end of a two-state solution, the preferred option for a future for the two peoples in this tortured and contested land. But here’s the news: We Israeli liberals are keeping the voice of justice, reconciliation and democracy alive and kicking despite the news of our demise. At this juncture, Liberal Zionists around the world need to play a greater role in the Diaspora and in support of their allies in Israel. Here are five reasons why:

1. We, Israeli Liberal Zionists, are not going anywhere. Israel is our home, whether we were born here or chose to make aliyah to fulfill the vision of a just Israel. It is our responsibility to make this place a thriving democracy based on our cherished principles of freedom and equality for all. For that to happen, we need the support and involvement of like-minded people around the world.

2. Israel is not synonymous with its governmental policies and actions. Israel is a diverse social-cultural entity where politics and state-based actions are only part of the larger picture. Israel is a dynamic civilization where the gamut of Jewish (and secular) ideas and behaviors are played out in a robust way. Therefore, the role of liberals in society at large is critical and deeply felt. This includes artists and musicians, well-known activists, active and retired politicians and some outspoken rabbis.

3. Even though most of us believe in the two-state solution as the optimal settlement of the 100-year-old conflict, we cannot put all our (liberal) eggs in this basket. If for some reason there will never be two states here, or not in the foreseeable future, there will still be plenty of work for us liberals to do in the areas of human rights, cultural and religious pluralism and protecting democracy. This will be true in any political scenario.

4. If Diaspora Liberal Zionists stay out of the game, they will leave the stage solely in the hands of the centrists and the right-wingers of the Jewish community. This will be bad for Israel and bad for the Jewish people. Judaism has thrived and survived through accommodation and integration. We need to be connected to liberal democracies and Jews everywhere, and we can amplify your voice here.

5. If liberal Jews around the world will work together with their Israeli counterparts, our cause will actually become a significant political voice within the global Jewish political arena and it will also contribute to the strengthening of Jewish peoplehood.

Israel is still a “work in progress.” If not the promised land, we need to be a “promising” land. Many of Israel’s social and institutional norms are still in formation. We have seen over the years how in many areas, Israeli society has become far more liberal and inclusive, participating in the global economy, open to criticism, embracing religious pluralism and diversity. These cultural developments were born from the relentless grassroots work of liberal Israelis who have been in the trenches for decades together with the support of their Diaspora counterparts. True, most of the progress has been made in civil areas, while the political-regional issues are still governed by fear and aggression and locked in coalition agreements that make real change hard to achieve.

So now, dear friends, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and, together with us, fight for the future of Israel as a peace-loving nation stemming out of the words of our declaration of independence that calls for the creation of a state based on the values of justice, peace and liberty as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.

Elan Ezrachi is a Jerusalem-based consultant to international Jewish organizations. Naamah Kelman is a rabbi and the dean of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

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