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A shot at Zionism

Ariel Sharon has shot an arrow right into the heart of Zionism, writes Grete Gaulin.


The year is 1894. The place is Paris. Journalist Theodor Herzl covers trial against alleged traitor Alfred Dreyfus for the newspaper New Free Press. Anti-Semitism rides the country like a pomp. The accused and the emissary are both Jews.

Only two years later comes the book The Jewish state – a kind of socialist utopia about a separate homeland for the Jews. Herzl has given up Europe. The dream of liberation and acceptance within old and new nation states lies in ruins.

That was the starting point, according to the myth. But whether it was the Dreyfus case that created Zionism, or whether Herzl merely brought forward ideas that had already been formulated further east, this ideology should be a formidable legacy to the Jews. Flexible and adaptable, it eventually ended with (parts of) Jewish Orthodoxy, which thought state formation was a violation of God's laws. Tactically and politically, it became a legitimate weapon in the hands of increasingly aggressive settlers.

Until now. For what Sharon does is nothing short of throwing wrecks on the part of Zionism that is about full Jewish sovereignty in whole the biblical Israel.

Sharon's dream

Analogies can be dangerous. But Ariel Sharon definitely has a dream. It is a dream that is about boundaries. Sharon wants to be the man hammering out the final Israel. It is a policy based on erroneous expectations. But it is also a policy that gives the Israelis back a nation-state that is Jewish in content and democratic in form.

It's a new realization. For the Jewish national home, it never became the sanctuary of the diaspora that the founders of Zionism had envisioned. To the extent that Jews had a choice, they went to Western Europe – or rather to the United States. There are still more Jews outside of Israel than there are inside. And neither French nor American Jews have shown particular signs of wanting to sacrifice their own luxury lives in favor of a vulnerable life as warriors in the service of Zionism.

The withdrawal from Gaza was a result of this bankruptcy declaration. Only eight thousand Jews lived there. It was not enough to act as a tool for Israeli expansionism. Instead, they became a security risk that put too much pressure on the state's budgets. Commanding them back was a recognition of demographic truths on two levels: the Jews were too few in Gaza, and the Palestinians were too many in expanded Israel. Thus, Gaza was cut away, hard and brutal.

The same pragmatism applies only partially to the West Bank. Here are hundreds of thousands of settlers, and to put it simply: they have done their job. Jerusalem no longer has common, open borders to the West Bank. Any map of the entire area shows a kaleidoscope of different patterns and colors that on the ground means only one thing: that Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank, even though physically separated, live so intertwined that separating one group from the other has become completely impossible.

If the settlers in Gaza became a security risk because they were too few and too ineffective in the service of Zionism, the problem in the West Bank is almost the opposite. The settlers here are a risk because they have been too good at infiltrating Palestinian territories. It would not have been a problem if the demographic basis had been sound. But it is not. In a few years, the Palestinians – the Arabs in the eyes of the Israelis – will be in the majority in the emerging common state. So something has to give way: either the Jewish state, democracy – or the occupied territories.

Sharon wants a Jewish state. He wants formal democracy. This means that the occupied areas must give way. In practice, Sharon sacrificed ideology in favor of security. Because when Jews are in the minority, then they are threatened. It shows their entire history.

Secured the nation state

Zionism secured the Jews a separate nation-state. Through wars, this state was expanded to include the West Bank and Gaza. But the offensive settler ideology, which was initially secular, never became strong enough to put all of Biblical Israel under the Jews. And what is worse; seen with the eyes of the ultranationalists: it will never be.

The last major immigration took place as late as the 1990s. Then about a million Jews came from the collapsed Soviet empire. It was probably the end of the great migrations towards Israel. When Ariel Sharon proposed to the seven hundred thousand French Jews a few years ago – in a climate where Muslims burned down synagogues across France – he faced a cold shoulder. Only a few thousand left.

Ariel Sharon has seen this writing on the wall. There will never be millions of settlers in the West Bank. The dream of biblical Israel has crashed against demographic realities. Continued expanding Zionism must give way to an Israel where Jews are majority and the borders are secured.

What Sharon is looking for is thus saving the state from itself. And especially; save it from the many who have not yet realized that the Arab population increase combined with lower Jewish immigration has removed the sustainability of a Greater Israel. Many of these old ideologues are in the Likud party that Sharon has left. Whether the opposition to the incumbent prime minister, not least from the wing around Benjamin Netanyahu, had in many ways drained into the sand, was the war of position in no way over. And Sharon was simply tired of fighting hardline politicians with religious-ideological goals that are no longer achievable.

And that is also directly dangerous to the state.

The catalyst for the layoffs was the election of Amir Peretz as new leader in the Labor Party. That led the party to the left, and also out of the government. It also dug a gap in the Israeli political landscape and made cooperation across the block borders impossible. A center lot was needed to avoid downtime. Inside Likud, the gap between pragmatists and ideologues had also become too great.

Now Ariel Sharon and Shimon Peres will make one last effort for their country before they die. They will – as they see it – lead Israel into the path that secures the Jewish nation.

Life or death

The Israelis are not so concerned with Zionist ideology anymore. They are more concerned with living their small and good lives. But history has been brutal to Jews who have lost vigilance. And Sharon and Peres are just in that age group where this kind of fear is almost pathological.

For Sharon, therefore, it is more about security than about ideology. Safety; not just against suicide bombs, but against annihilation, nothing less. The whole question related to disengagement, the wall and the new boundaries lie beyond the moral dichotomy just and wrong as the two old warriors see it. For them it is simply a matter of life or death for the state, and thus also for the Jews.

The is the grandiose project. If they get the trust of the voters, and a few years to do it.

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