Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What Real Zionism is All About

Israel's cruder enemies like to define Zionism as being about  controlling the media, controlling banks, colonizing vast areas of Arabia and so on. This is a blatant distortion, indeed blatant antisemitism, that shares little with actual Zionism. Israel's more intellectual enemies often seem to confuse the work and policies of the democratically elected governments of the State of Israel with Zionism in general, which is unfair as the two are by and large unrelated - this explains how  a passionate Zionist can be for or against  settlement in Judea and Samaria, and other policies of Israel. This should not be difficult to understand: There are many Republican Americans, who deeply love their country and the principles for which it stands, whilst been strongly antithetical to the current incumbent of the White House, Democrat Barak Obama.

What Zionism always was, and still is truly about is the in-gathering of the Jewish people in our ancient homeland of Israel. In today's world its also about connecting the Jewish diaspora with Israel, so that for Jews who don't live in Israel, they feel a deep, intimate and lasting connection with this country. While Zionists, as part of their passion for Israel, may argue current affairs connected to Israel, as part of their Zionism, many others will have little interest in these issues, focusing instead on social welfare, or education.

As I've written previously, I am a passionate Zionist, someone who believes strongly in the idea of a Jewish Israel  as being the only option for long term Jewish survival and growth. My Zionism has and does express itself in various ways - this blog is an example of the political side of my Zionism, but in truth I have always been at heart a Jewish educator, wanting to encourage young Jewish people to learn our ancient language, and walk in the footsteps of our ancestors. The other  most obvious expression of my personal Zionism is my decision to "make aliyah" - move to Israel - and become an Israeli myself. 

My work in Israel has always been involved in furthering Zionism in some way - I presented a daily radio show aimed at supporting English speakers in Israel and to encourage Jews overseas to connect with the community here; I worked for The Jewish Agency for Israel, helping raise funds for various Jewish communal projects, in Israel and overseas; and more recently I took up  my current post as social media manager for one of the largest Birthright organizers in Israel. Taglit-Birthright Israel is as pure an expression of Zionism as exists: A partnership between the Jewish Agency,  the State of Israel and Jewish philanthropists, Birthright brings 10,000s of young Jewish adults who have never been to Israel on an organised program, to Israel on a 10 day free trip. Its an astonishing gift, which is succeeding in ensuring an entire generation of Jews from American and around the world will come to this country, travel it, hang out with Israelis of their own age, eat its food and be surrounded by its music, language and culture. Its aims are simply to make that connection - to understand the country beyond the CNN reports, their temple's history lessons and the Pallywood propaganda.

This summer once again 40,000+ young Jews will travel the length & breadth of Israel, recognizing the achievement of Zionism in taming what was a barren, unproductive wilderness, and the success of the Israeli people in building a vibrant open democracy in a region where the rights ordinary Israelis enjoy, where Jew or Arab, are rarities. Israel's population is not even 8,000,000, surrounded by 350,000,000 arabs, yet it leads the Middle East in hi tech development, medical research, entrepreneurship, university graduation,  patent application and even basic literacy. Walk the land is all Birthright is saying - see what Jews have built here, and you will forever be connected to this place and the people who built it.

Thats what Zionism is about - having young Jews stand in Israel, connect to its people and understand their place in the Jewish people.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Iran - Destabilizing the Arab World, Threatening The World

Ever listen to a TV debate that gets out of hand? All the argument, logic, ideas etc get lost in the noise. People watching feel a surge of emotion toward the 'side' they favor and the result may be a polarization of ideas that might not have existed had their been an open honest debate instead of an angry argument.

In the hysterical ravings of the Iranian state, the 'reasoning' of the situation seems to have been lost in fears of the building of Iran's nuclear capability and its egregious antisemitism. When did anyone on the media stop and consider context in all of this? Why exactly is Iran saber rattling and provoking conflict with Israel? The two countries do not share a border, and Iran is not even an Arab state, so what is in it for them?

I don't claim to be an expert on Iranian politics, but living in Israel  I have tried to understand why Iran has such a need to provoke Israel. It has long been known that the Islamic regime wants to spread its influence as far as it can, but it has had to overcome some serious barriers to that ambition: The traditional distrust, even racism, between the Persian and Arab world was a a huge wall the ayatollahs have had to get passed; In addition Saddam's Iraq was the cork in Iran's bottle, keeping a lot of resources of the Iranian genie trapped and focused on their dangerous foe. Once George Bush had removed that enemy, Iran was freed from imminent danger, and really begun to spread its influence.

The Islamic world is deeply divided, full of hatred, violence even war, but there are certain areas of agreement - hatred of the US & the West and hatred of the only western state in the Middle East, Israel. As I said above, Iran share's no border with Israel  so instead it has slowly gained influence in those countries that do: Its primary ally in that regard has been Assad in Syria (obviously of diminished use these days). Additionally Iran funded the Hezbollah terror army, who have virtually taken over Lebanon, creating their own private, superbly equipped army in that country, even replacing the legitimate Lebanese army along Lebanon's long border with Israel! Iran has also supported and armed Hamas, who control the independent Palestinian enclave in Gaza. 

This Hamas takeover of Gaza, funded by Iran,  essentially stole from the Palestinians the opportunity that Israel's unilateral withdrawal had presented: A stable Gaza producing economic growth and improved standard of living would have shown the world what a Palestinian state might look like. It would have put Israel & the Palestinians  under enormous pressure to negotiate a settlement in the West Bank, that might well have led to full Palestinian independence. That scenario did not fit with Iran's policy of gaining influence in the Arab world - after all the western interests would have been for any peace between Israel & Palestinians to last, which means that Hezbollah destabilizing the situation would not have been tolerated. So instead, funded by Iran, Hamas made a grab for power, throwing out the PA from Gaza, and essentially declaring genocidal war on Israel. Not good for Israel, not good for Palestinians or the region, but definitely good for Iran!

However, a pan Arab agreement that 'Israel is bad' is not enough of a platform for Iran to become a dominant influence in the Arab world - that would take hatred of western values: democracy, education, gender equality, freedom of speech and so on. Iran invested years in taking over and developing the Islamic Brotherhood, creating infrastructure and grassroots support in several Arab states, waiting for, or even creating the catalyst for the inevitable overthrow of Arab  dictators. The power vacuum the Arab Spring created opened the door for Islamists to gain legitimacy and power - the greatest example of the success of this policy is of course Pres. Morsi in Egypt, which this week pays host to Iran's Pres. Ahmadinejad. The influence of Iranian backed Islamists can be seen a cross the Middle East. remaining Arab heads of states stare nervously at the Islamists, alternately  appeasing or oppressing in what is more often than not a futile effort to stamp out Iran's influence in their country.

Iran is a state staking its future on standing as the leader of the Arab world, creating an international block the west will find it hard to ignore. We need to remember that the Ayatollah's founded their country in hatred of the west, (you only have to watch Argo to be reminded of how this country felt about the US at its outset), and that feeling has deepened into the country's psyche. I don't believe that Israel matters to Iran in any meaningful way aside from deep rooted antisemitism - what threat would Israel present to that country? - no, Israel is a tool for Iranian ambition, and of course an outlet for the anger that suppression of the Iranian people has created. The US & its allies must block these decisively, because make no mistake, if Iran is successful, the repercussions worldwide will be no less significant than the communist takeover of Russia or Hitler's becoming chancellor of Germany.