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Why Israel and Zionism are a Partial Success

20 March 2014

By Yisrael Ne'eman.

As mentioned in my previous article anyone advocating Israeli annexation or any other form of full legal responsibility for the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and its Arab population are playing with fire by undermining the Jewish majority and democratic principles upon which the State of Israel rests. We must ask ourselves why the original objective of full Jewish development in the entire Land of Israel did not succeed. The answer is a simple one – the Jewish People by far did not adopt the Zionist ideal as a way of life.

A brief review of history is in demand. There had almost always been a trickle of Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel but these pietists did not believe in the establishment of Jewish sovereignty until the coming of the Messiah. In the early 1880s there began the First Aliyah - pioneers who arrived with a notion of Jewish self rule. Theodor Herzl wrote the Jewish State, organized the first Zionist Congresses by the 1890s and laid out his plans for Jewish national independence. Such a solution to the Jewish Problem became a basis for debate but overall the idea was rejected. The vast majority of traditional Jews preferred a life of religious devotion whereupon they waited for the Messiah in their home communities (in particular Eastern Europe) despite vicious persecution while others sought new opportunities in the West or joined revolutionary secular movements calling for assimilation. Zionism was not the preferred option.

The twenty years between WWI and WWII offered a golden opportunity to immigrate to the Jewish National Home as presented in the Balfour Declaration and implemented in the Palestine Mandate. The vast majority refused despite suffering antsemitism especially in the newly independent countries of Eastern Europe. There were 10,000s in the Fourth Aliyah (1923-27) and over a quarter of a million fleeing Nazi persecution in the 1930s but this proved far from enough. Over 120,000 came "illegally" without approval from the British who by 1937 imposed quotas. Whether it was Labor's Ben Gurion, the revisionist Jabotinsky or the leaders of the national religious movement – all demanded Jewish immigration to Mandated Palestine. Even the antisemitic Eastern European regimes were willing to help facilitate Jewish immigration. But the Jewish world was not mpved. Their leaders either convinced them to wait for the Messiah, join the world socialist revolution or to become part of the body politic in their countries of residence. Furthermore most refused to part with their possessions.

Overall everyone failed, including the Zionist leadership who could not persuade the Jews to save themselves. The results of WWII and the Holocaust are known. Six million Jews were lost. Had millions (or at least hundreds of thousands more) arrived in the twenties and thirties the story of the Jewish People might very well be very different. Coming to mind are the possibility of a Jewish State before WWII or at least a powerful enough Jewish community to save many 100,000s more from the Nazi clutches than the few who did arrive in the Palestine Mandate. But history is not about dreaming what would have been "if" there were other factors.

In the aftermath of barely surviving the initial stages of the War of Independence in 1948 Israel absorbed over a million immigrants into the mid 1960s, mostly Holocaust survivors and Jews from Muslim and Arab lands. After the 1967 War a golden opportunity presented itself for Jewish immigration from Western countries – the USA, Canada, Europe and South America. But did the Jews come? A few Jews arrived but most returned to their countries of origin citing financial/material issues and/or the option of sending their children to college instead of joining the military. So both Diaspora Jewry and the Israeli leadership (Golda and Begin in particular) pinned their hopes on Soviet Jewry immigration. By the 1970s Moscow was buckling under American pressure resulting in part from Jewish demands to allow immigration to Israel. In addition we had détente and the Soviets needed excess American grain exports. Some 300,000 Jews left the Soviet Union. A bit over half came to Israel while others managed to head to North America or Western Europe. The process repeated itself in the 1990s as close to a million Jews from the former Soviet Union came to Israel and hundreds of thousands others headed elsewhere.

Did Western Jews make aliyah to Israel? In general – No. In the past 35-40 years most western immigrants lean more right and religious but even here orthodoxy prefers to remain abroad. True many come for frequent visits as do those from non-orthodox backgrounds. And lest we forget most of the haredim living in Israel do not support the state and have a much higher birthrate than secular, traditional or modern orthodox Jews, meaning support for the State of Israel as we define it today will continue to dwindle within the Israeli Jewish community itself. Add to this a growing number of extreme secular types who only consider themselves to have been born here and have little loyalty to the Jewish nation state. Another question arises as to the 100,000s who left Israel since its inception. Virtually all went to the western Diaspora communities.

Even good Zionist Jews compromised, stayed in the Diaspora and continue to do so today. Demographics are determining the two-state solution. The Jewish People mapped out and implemented their own fate. For over 2,000 years we continue to choose living in Diaspora Jewish communities for better or for worse. The 20th century was rife with opportunities to make aliyah to the Palestine Mandate or later State of Israel.

The need for a two-state solution with the accompanying security arrangements (to be discussed next time) is as good a deal as we can cut considering that most Jews world-wide are not ardent Israel supporters. It is very understandable that western Jews who support Zionism from without will not commit themselves to making aliyah. An immigrant's level of material well being drops and one's political influence dissipates when exchanging the Diaspora Zionist frameworks for rough and tumble (even in local) Israeli politics.

The Arab world recognizes Jewish national and demographic weaknesses and will press the points they believe most achievable even should we see them as unreasonable. The framework of any arrangement with the Palestinians is a matter of facing the facts of only partial support for Zionism and the resulting partial success.