By Dr. Ron Weiser AM
Almost everywhere one turns today, there are debates about the condition Zionism is in.
From the left and the right and even those outside.
This is the very proof that Zionism is in good shape.
That it is relevant.
Zionism is the answer to 2,000 years of Jewish powerlessness in determining our own fate.
It’s precisely because of Zionism that the Jewish people are now able to debate the Jewish future and act on it.
We’re not used to that and so the process is at times confusing.
For millennia the fate of the Jewish people was in the hands of others.
Wherever we were, we were a minority at the mercy of the majority.
Even today, where we find ourselves dispersed around the world, and sometimes as in Australia, with a very benevolent and supportive and positive environment, yes, we can make individual decisions and go about our personal lives very nicely.
But we cannot make national ones about the Jewish future. Nor can we really apply them in any meaningful way.
The third Jewish Commonwealth that re-established itself in the Jewish homeland changed the position of the Jew and altered the Jewish ability to determine and implement our future.
Zionism in action, firstly re-establishing the Jewish State.
The initial decades of Israel’s existence were certainly focussed on survival – out of sheer necessity.
But not totally.
Alongside the existential dangers she faced, Israel also managed to develop and redevelop and innovate Jewish culture and learning, to revive an almost dead language and to absorb millions of Jews who came from vastly different backgrounds and cultures and even in many cases, from different centuries in time.
For a while there was debate about where the centre of the Jewish world was located.
Was it in Israel or the United States? Or even possibly somewhere else?
In recent decades that question has been resolved by dint of demographics and the modalities for Jewish continuity.
Today more Jews live in Israel than in the USA and not too far into the distance, the majority of world Jewry will be in Israel.
This has come about because of aliyah to Israel, higher birthrates inside Israel as compared to the diaspora and the rates of assimilation outside of Israel.
American Jewry created programs such as Birthright – experiential peer programs in Israel – to try and ignite the desire in American youth to want to continue to be part of the Jewish fold – to ‘save’ American Jewry as it were, by inspiring young American Jews to continue to be Jewish, as a result of an experience in Israel.
Just as we do in Australia.
The balance between Israel and the diaspora has shifted rapidly and dramatically and in all ways.
Whilst there are many worthwhile experiments in Jewish continuity taking place in diaspora communities, it is in Israel that the real dynamism is happening.
And in Israel there are numerous modalities by which to express one’s connection to the Jewish people and the Jewish timeline.
As generous as donors are in supporting efforts towards Jewish continuity, a state has powers and abilities way beyond them.
Zionism today is about securing the Jewish future and determining what that future will look like.
For the current younger and even not so young generations, Israel has been a fact their whole lives. They have never seen a time without the Jewish state.
Israel merely as a refuge is no longer exciting, or even understood.
The Zionist manifesto is the Jerusalem Program. It has been amended as Zionism has evolved and needs have changed, but always around a central theme – the Jewish State. The 2004 Jerusalem Program begins:
“Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, brought about the establishment of the State of Israel and views a Jewish, Zionist, democratic and secure State of Israel to be the expression of the common responsibility of the Jewish people for its continuity and future.”
The whole point of Zionism is the Jewish State and it being the vehicle for fulfilling Zionism’s aims.
Today Zionism is about taking this vehicle called the Jewish State, ensuring its security and using it, engaging with it and having discussions with Jews inside and outside of Israel to determine what the Jewish people wish to look like into the future – and planning how to get there.
Today the Jewish State is the main world player in the debate around the Jewish future.
That’s not a crisis.
That’s a luxury.
What we need to spark in Jews everywhere is their desire to engage in determining their own future.
Because for so long we have not been used to having this freedom, we also need to learn how to conduct this process.
We have to learn how to have that conversation.
The big game in town is in Israel itself – debating outside without being interwoven into the fabric of Israeli thought and direction cannot succeed.
Just as Israel alone, without diaspora input, cannot hope to successfully proceed on behalf of the Jewish collective.
Zionism is a big tent – but like anything – if it is to stay up, it needs certain boundaries.
Today, whilst there are many possible red lines one could think about, there is only one that is critical.
A commitment to a Jewish State.
Because only with the Jewish State can we continue to determine our own fate.
What that Jewish State looks like, how big or small she should be and the consequences of her character and makeup are precisely the factors that play into ensuring that Israel can fulfil her mission.
And of course none of this will be possible if her security cannot be ensured. Remembering that security can take many forms and be influenced by many factors.
These are the big questions in Zionism and around which the debates flow: how to ensure Israel’s security and how the Jewish State should determine the Jewish future and what that future might look like.
And yes, we will make some mistakes, that’s inevitable. But they will at least be our mistakes.
Our aim should be to energise the next generations to understand why Israel’s survival as a Jewish State is central to their own Jewish continuity and not just some entity that’s there, just in case……
Zionism is personal and relevant.
Our challenge is to try and encourage all Jews to engage in the determination of what their own future might look like and that of their children and grandchildren and to provide them with pathways to input that future from wherever they might find themselves.
That is Zionism in action today.
The journey will be interesting and there will be some bumps on the way, but it is our journey.
It is we who need the State of Israel, she is our vehicle to the future, from wherever we may find ourselves.
Zionism is not only about some Jews ‘over there’ – it is also about ourselves and our own future.
Our time is now.
And that’s really exciting.
Dr Ron Weiser AM
Dr. Ron Weiser AM is an Hon Life Member of the Zionist Federation of Australia Executive, and the Hon Life President of the Zionist Council of NSW.