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Annapolis End Game: Jewish/Zionist Partial Success

9 December 2007

By Yisrael Ne’eman

Israel’s 60th Anniversary celebrations began belatedly last week with a ceremonial dinner in honor of the November 29, 1947 UN Partition Plan advocating a two-state solution. The Palestinians and the surrounding Arab countries of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt rejected the UN resolutions, invaded and fought for Israel’s destruction, were halted and Israel survived the war. 78% of the Palestine Mandate became Israel, 20% (the West Bank) was annexed by Jordan and 2% (Gaza Strip) was held by Egypt. East Jerusalem, the destroyed Jewish Quarter and Jewish holy sites remained in Jordan. It was a national victory, spiritual it was not.

Nineteen years later the Arab World worked for Israel’s destruction again and during the Six Day War of June 1967 Israel captured Sinai, the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan and East Jerusalem. It is now over forty years later and the same demands made in the aftermath of 1967 are heard today after Annapolis. Israel must return virtually everything and hopefully get recognition from the Arab World of its right to exist. Despite being considered a military power, why is Israel’s position so weak? Israel’s international position reflects its internal strengths.

Four factors play a major role: Military power, demographics, economy, political and ideological unity. All are bound together in commitment to the Jewish State.

The roots of the problem began in the 1920s after the Balfour Declaration (1917) and the establishment of the Palestine Mandate – both made in the name of the Jewish People and their right to establish a National Home. The Zionist idea was far from dominant and most Jews chose to remain in Europe or go elsewhere, preferring the Diaspora. The vast majority of European Jewry refused to leave despite the rise of fascism in the eastern and southern regions, finally culminating in the rise of Nazism. Even the “illegal immigration” to the Palestine Mandate did not add up to more than 130,000 refugees.

Throughout the 20th century there was a lack of faith in the collective self. In the West many still believed assimilation was the best solution to the Jewish Problem. The ultra-orthodox or Haredim refused to follow the Zionist lead, many continuing to believe one must suffer in the Diaspora Exile for punishment of previous sins. They lived in a world of self-flagellation while waiting for the heavenly redemptive miracle of return to the Land of Israel. Communist Jewish youth in Europe depended on the Soviet Union to be their savior. Reasons or excuses why not to come to the Jewish homeland were profuse. Most refused to leave their families or “business”. Existential threat was of little significance. After WWII and 6 million exterminated, very few Jews remained in Europe and the State of Israel almost did not come into being for lack of a population.

Israel was declared a state in 1948, but was immediately under an arms embargo (yes, the Russians did send some arms and ammunition to oppose the pro-British Jordanians and Egyptians) led by the US and international community. There was arms smuggling and some 5,000 volunteers arriving from the west (not all were Jewish) and Israel managed to halt the Arab attacks and mount counter offensives. Known as Machal, these volunteers were critical to Israel’s survival and the Jewish People are greatly indebted to them. But their number so small. Over a million Jews served in WWII, mostly in the Soviet Army, but with 100,000s in western armies as well. Where were they all? Certainly 10,000s of western soldiers would have made a difference. They had “just finished a war”. The 1948 War was “far away”, “a very confusing situation”, and there were “responsibilities at home”, etc. It was so much easier to send money, show up at a rally and support the Jewish State. There were many more Zionist supporters than Zionists. They were first American, Canadian, British or whatever. So the West Bank, the Old City and the Jewish Quarter were lost to the Jordanians and it was all a “great pity” but Israel survived.

These Jewish communities were financially generous in the true sense of the word in helping Israel alleviate the Jewish refugee problem coming from Europe and the Arab/Moslem countries between 1949 – 67. But they themselves would not make aliyah. The Diaspora view of Israel was “refugeeism”, the country being an object of charity. Overall Israel as a homeland for the Jewish People was rejected by Western Jewry. Israel’s first prime minister David Ben Gurion constantly lost his battles for aliyah to Israel by western Jewry, such demands being viewed as blasphemous. Western Jewry was foremost loyal to their countries of origin where they were full citizens. Giving money was fine, living and dying in the Land of Israel was not (although burial in the Holy Land was certainly a positive step in the right direction – best to be amongst the first to greet the Messiah).

And then came the 1967 Six Day War, a “glorious” and “magnificent” victory. Western Jewry rushed to see the Western (Wailing) Wall. We could now cry out of joy and not oppression and maybe the Temple would be rebuilt. National redemption had been, religious redemption now arrived, “We Are One!” went the UJA slogan and everyone headed home after the obligatory visit. But Israel was closer to everyone’s hearts… and wallets (always a good thing from the Israeli perspective). Aliyah? No way, except for a few idealistic Left wing youth who joined a kibbutz, but most of them had little staying power and returned “home” within a few years. But at least one could visit Israel now, there was what to see.

The Jewish State westernized. The birthrate plummeted to less than three children per Jewish family while Israeli Arabs had five children and those in the Judea, Samaria (West Bank) and Gaza had many more. Over forty years the secular “enlightened” Left insisted on less Jewish education and more universalist, humanist values to be instilled in our children. That is all fine provided a People knows from whence they originate. Everyone has a home, but secular schools in Israel de-emphasized “Jewish”, apparently it was not “politically correct”. On the other hand the national religious schools forgot that Israel was part of a community of nations and was much weaker than the rabbis would declare, especially where territories, Jerusalem and final borders were concerned. The great secular-religious abyss formed. The Haredim (ultra-orthodox) smirked, they were waiting for the Messiah and need not participate in the development of the Jewish State.

As for aliyah the Russians and Ethiopians arrived, much more out of necessity than for any other reason. In particular the Russians of the 1990s were not Zionists like their previous brethren of the 1970s. Western Jewry stayed far away, except for a few thousand religious Zionists per year who saw the State as the first step to redemption, and even some of them fled when they “couldn’t make it.”

By the time we got to 1993 and the Oslo Accords Israeli Jews were “tired” as PM Yitzchak Rabin would often say. Too many wars, not enough support despite Jewish organizational help and US patronage. Ideology, both secular Left and Right barely had any content remaining by the time of the failed Camp David 2000 talks between PM Ehud Barak and PA Chairman Yasir Arafat. Seven years later Israel not only defeated the Palestinian terror offensive, but the economy recovered. Gaza was given to the Palestinians unilaterally. Unfortunately the rich-poor gap was exacerbated by the necessary capital incentive policies needed to put the economy back on track when dealing with all these issues. The summer of 2006 Israel did not win the Second Lebanon War. And yes, the People are “tired”.

Worst of all ideologies are discredited or lacking. One could not even depend on the Almighty anymore to ensure Israel would not leave Gaza (or anywhere else in the future). The Palestinians are demanding all the West Bank and East Jerusalem. For the most part the West, including the USA, is nodding their heads in agreement.

Zionism was never a fully agreed upon solution to the Jewish problem, therefore from the outset it could not be a total success. Israel put its efforts towards defense and is viewed as a strategic asset by the USA (even if not on the same level as before the Second Lebanon War of 2006). Israel’s economy is worth approximately $110 billion, piddling by North American and European standards. The Jewish population is about 5.5 million, in an ocean of 300 million Arabs. Israel has defended itself not badly but on the civilian level is no match for Arab markets and economic potential. Most Jews, including over 700,000 Israelis (known as “yordim”), still live outside the country. Best of all are the “ardent Zionists” who constantly heap advice and at times threats of reduced support for Israel if we do not heed their demands. Diaspora Jewish communities have very low birth rates and are assimilating quickly. Another couple of generations and they may barely exist. Israel at the same time is caught in an impending demographic disaster if there is no separation from the Palestinians, and that means ceding territory at one point or another. But it is always a question of how much and what is the damage to security.

Ideology barely exists on the political level and most politicians, beginning with PM Ehud Olmert, are discredited, especially due to scandals. Ideological unity within the country is weakening as many are questioning the state institutions.

Add to all this the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the weakening of the West in general, Israel will be forced into many concessions its mainstream never considered just a decade ago.

The bottom line is Israeli and Jewish weakness, first in numbers but no less important in activism on behalf of Jewish national resurrection. That means living in Israel, having families of significant size and advocating and implementing ideals and values to ensure a moral and ideologically motivated political representation. All this was done only in part and all of us will bear the consequences, the first of which have become manifest from Oslo through to Annapolis.

Zionism is a partial success, the Jewish People never being fully behind it in word and in deed. A two-state solution with borders based on the 1967 lines with a divided Jerusalem and the need for international guarantees (generally not worth the paper they are written on) is the End Game. The result is a partial victory - partial failure. It was a lack of will of the Jewish collective and the internationally demanded permanent status solution reflects our partial efforts.

We are reaping the harvest of our efforts. We should stop blaming others. We Jews are fully responsible for the Annapolis outcome, theoretical as it may be at the moment.