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Muki Tsur

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Our Responsibility to Promote Justice: Liberal Zionists Speak Out

Posted: 04/24/2012 7:05 am

The following column is part of a series. For more, go to Liberal Zionists Speak Out.

I am a Zionist.

I am a Jew who believes that the Jews, like other nations, must take historical responsibility for themselves. As a human public pursuing its destiny in partnership, conscious of its past, facing its future, we carry a responsibility. Zionism, as I see it, is a decision of the Jews to take upon themselves that responsibility.

I am a Zionist not only because Zionism was the midwife to the State of Israel but because Zionism is a court that requires that the State of Israel, in its maturity, be true to its mission.

Zionism sought to bring the Jews as a people into the family of nations. This was a turning
point; previously the Jews had sought to be involved in that family by other political means. The Zionist decision was taken with the awareness that the family of nations does not always display morality. Zionism assumes that the family of nations is the family of mankind. Every person who belongs to his own nation takes political responsibility toward the entire family. He has the ability either to advance or retard its progress, to share in its victories or in its moral failures.

As a Zionist I believe that a Jew in modern times can only exist in a democratic society. In totalitarian societies, the Jew immediately becomes the victim. Even Orthodox Jews who do not wish to take political responsibility as Jews must be aware of this. The connection between Judaism and democracy derives not only from the many Jewish religious and cultural sources that are imbued with democratic values. The connection comes from the fact that in our day the fate of the Jews and their ability to choose their Judaism depends on their support for democratic life in the world. Zionism chose to be faithful to the bond between Judaism and democracy, and is committed to this connection in its relationship toward the government it creates. The form of its political life will be tested by its implementation. This fact obligates us as Zionists to evaluate the State of Israel according to its ability to advance the rights of its citizens, its recognition of the political wishes of other nations, its striving for peace. As Zionists we need to criticize state power, and promote the social justice and equal human rights that must always guide it.

Many of the creations of Zionism have stood up to this test. Zionism has promoted voluntary associations, established egalitarian democratic communities, developed culture and the life of the mind, and, not least, provided uplifting and productive work.

Zionism sought to establish a national home for the Jewish people. The State of Israel did not supplant the desire to establish a home, to create human connections, to take responsibility for nature, to foster cultural creativity; it is the instrument for achieving all these.

In 1942, at a time of the greatest disaster for the Jewish people, when a real danger existed that the Jewish community in the land of Israel might be conquered by the Nazis, the Labor Zionist movement in Palestine published a book called "The Book of Heroism." Its editor was Berl Katznelson. The book recounted historical episodes in which Jews defended themselves and their communities against murder and humiliation. In his introduction, Katznelson argued that Zionism had not reacted in traditional ways to situations of crisis. It did not indulge in acts of martyrdom to achieve inner peace, nor in false messianism that finds expression in fantasy or violence. Zionism, he claimed, seeks victory -- that is to say, results. How is "victory" defined? Is it the proper use of force? Economic prosperity? Katznelson did not specify in that article. The answer is to be found in his notebooks. Under the heading of "victory" he quotes verses from the Bible whose meaning is very clear: Victory is gained by achieving human justice.

Therefore, by creating a national home and political sovereignty, the Jewish people took on the responsibility for promoting justice. Zionism obliges me to forgo the personal and public privilege of total apology or the luxury of self-hatred. It obliges me to free myself from a sense of approaching apocalypse as well as of the inevitability of utopia. Instead, Zionism demands this: establish the political body, the economy, the local culture, pursue justice. This is a challenge that enables and requires critical prophetic expression, rebellion and a readiness to offer alternatives.

Muki Tsur has been a member of Kibbutz Ein Gev since 1956. He studied Jewish Philosophy and Kabbala at the Hebrew University and researched early Zionist movements in Eretz Yisrael. He served as the secretary of the Kibbutz Movement for seven years. He was among the founders of Hamidrasha in Oranim as well as BINA, a secular yeshiva in Tel Aviv. Tsur continues to guide and teach in both organizations and in many others, working with groups of young people who seek to build a democratic Jewish culture that is based on Jewish sources and on socialist Zionism.

 
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