The True Heirs of Zionism
The photo is striking: a solitary Jewish settler, wearing a kippa, is standing alone on a hilltop overlooking the Palestinian village of Duma. It was not a random location choice. In a horrific attack last summer a home in Duma was firebombed, killing an 18-month-old and his parents. Five months later, a 21-year-old Jewish settler was indicted for the murders.
Any hint of guilt by association between the unidentified settler in the photo and the settler who murdered three Palestinian family members surely was not coincidental. The New York Times headline beneath the photo asked: “Who Are the True Heirs of Zionism?” The disturbing answer was implicit in the location of the photo and the identity of its subject.
In the opening sentence of his Sunday Times article (February 7), former Jerusalem bureau chief Steven Erlanger informed readers: “Zionism was never the gentlest of ideologies.” Indeed, he continued, “The return of the Jewish people to their biblical homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty there have always carried with them the displacement of those already living on the land.” Zionism, for Erlanger, meant dispossession not liberation.
“The true inheritors of Zionism,” he lamented, may no longer be “those who hold to the secular and internationalist vision of the nation’s founders,” committed to universalist values. Rather, they are religious Zionists who, ever since Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War nearly 50 years ago, “see themselves as honoring God’s commandments” to settle in the ancient Land of Israel, biblical Judea and Samaria. But the return of Jews, whether secular or religious, to the biblical homeland of the Jewish people always has been the lodestar of Zionism.
Given Erlanger’s sources his dismay is understandable. For Bernard Avishai, author of The Tragedy of Zionism, religious Zionist settlers callously regard Palestinians as “a distraction on the landscape who will eventually be displaced.” Only “traditional” Zionism – found in high-tech start-ups, new Thai restaurants and “a Hebrew-speaking, pluralistic, thriving Tel Aviv”– offers hope.
Political theorist Yaron Ezrahi, a favorite Times source ever since Thomas Friedman wove his opinions into his own constant criticism of Israel in the mid-Eighties, complains that settlers “give a bad name to Zionism.” Representing “colonialism in a post-colonial era, they have “lost the universal values of Zionism.”
For a semblance of balance Erlanger turned to American-born journalist Yossi Klein Halevi. A youthful follower of Rabbi Meir Kahane who has more recently pursued sources of interdenominational harmony, Halevi is fascinated by the complex interplay of nationalism, theocracy and democracy in Israel, a subtle yet powerful blend of national restoration.
Conspicuously absent from Erlanger’s ostensible quest for “the true heirs of Zionism” are Israelis, secular and religious alike, who band together to collectively transform Israel into a thriving democracy unlike its Arab neighbors and, indeed, many nations that are neither Arab nor neighbors.
The real flaw is embedded in The New York Times, not in Zionism or Israel. For 120 years – not an insignificant number in Jewish reckoning – the Times has struggled with the implications and consequences of Jewish ownership. An abiding fear of divided loyalty made its publishers apprehensive of Zionism, indifferent to the fate of Jews during the Holocaust, wary of Jewish statehood and relentlessly critical of Israel.
Along the way, successive Jerusalem bureau chiefs, whether or not they were Jewish (but especially if they were), have measured Israel and found it wanting, by their hallowed liberal standards. From Thomas Friedman to Jodi Rudoren, Israel has been subjected to critical scrutiny — and negative judgmental conclusions — that no other nation has endured.
Those who were not Jewish, from David Shipler to Erlanger, absorbed the relentless castigation of Israel that is deeply embedded in Times culture. When it comes to Israel, “All the News That’s Fit to Print” has become all the news that’s fit for criticism. In the pages of the Times, even a solitary Jewish settler, standing on a hilltop overlooking the biblical Land of Israel, becomes the personification of Zionist malevolence.
Jerold S. Auerbach is a frequent contributor to The Algemeiner.