Liberating Zionism

Article excerpt

IN 1992, ISRAEL LEGISLATED "TO ESTABLISH IN A BASIC LAW THE VALUES OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL as a Jewish and democratic state"-without suggesting what that Jewish content ought to be. Having revived Hebrew as a spoken language after 2,000 years of dormancy, it is time for Zionism to draw deeply from its Jewish sources.

One core narrative of the Jewish People is the biblical Exodus from Egypt. In the opening chapter of the book of Exodus, the midwives and birthing mothers are torn between the obligation to submit to the authority of Pharaoh-who commands them to kill all Hebrew male babies-and their commitment to enable life and creation. At that moment, the Exodus women activate their moral outrage and conceive liberation from oppression. Their bold rebellion seeds the ensuing redemption that sustains Jewish hope through thousands of years. Passover has been among the most celebrated traditions of Jewish families. Nurtured on the messages of social justice and freedom, Jews have contributed to the struggles of many oppressed groups, and ultimately waged our own-Zionism. Exodus sets out an unrelenting trajectory toward the homeland. The establishment of Israel, the airlift of far-flung Jewish communities in danger, and the opening of the former Soviet bloc all refer to the Exodus ideals.

Up until and including the Six Day War in 1967, Israel was a favored protagonist in a modern Exodus drama. From the 1970s onward, Israel's detractors inverted the Exodus script Since the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel has come to be viewed as a colonial power, preventing the Palestinians from achieving the self-determination that Israel enjoys. Casting the Jewish People in the Pharaoh role confounds Jewish consciousness. Once a youthful and bold adventurer, Israel has reached middle age and appears to many to have become part of a sordid and commandeering "establishment." Yet, even as the image of the ruthless Israeli military machine projects throughout the global media, Israelis feel little of the control and security that would accompany such strength. Particularly during the sequential Palestinian uprisings, the wars in Lebanon, ongoing terror attacks, and the threats of a massively hostile region, the sense of danger and injury to the Jewish body persists. Violence and occupation discombobulate the joyous sense of achieving the long-desired return to Zion. There is profound dissonance between external perceptions of Israel as "oppressor" and Israelis' self-perception as "oppressed. …

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