Toward a Zionist Social Action Agenda

"Social action" is not just about the price of cottage cheese: Zionist NGOs must mobilize to protect Israel's Jewish and Zionist character.

Douglas Altabef

OpEds הפגנה ציונית מול פרו-פלסטינית
הפגנה ציונית מול פרו-פלסטינית

Intermittently over the past five years, the Nation has focused on social action initiatives focusing primarily on the increasingly burdensome economic impact to the Israeli middle class of the cost of apartments, food and the cost of pre-school.

While these are important issues that need to be addressed, I would suggest that they are nevertheless not existential issues, issues that go to the heart of the viability and sustainability of the Zionist vision of a sovereign Jewish People in its historic Homeland.

However, there ARE existential issues that I would suggest require an immediate social action focus, at least as intense as that given to the economic issues.

First among these is the continued recognition, commitment and devotion to the reality that Israel is the unique Jewish State in the world. Our State is a homeland for every Jew, resident or not, and for those here, offers the opportunity to live a Jewish life – however one that defines that – in freedom and dignity.

The recent election revealed the vulnerability of this seemingly consensual and incontrovertible notion. Even in the so-called Zionist Union there were prominent candidates who either explicitly or implicitly were ready to disparage and to move away from this pillar of our society.

Moving away from this basic, fundamental tenet of Israel would be disastrous: why would we take the risks of military service, endure the many difficulties of daily living, such as mentioned above, if we were just another place offering nothing unique or special, let alone elevated, to our citizens?

Israel as a Jewish State is the “yes, but” that makes all of our problems and our challenges more manageable and lighter to bear.

The issue of the cherishing of the Jewish State is not just symbolic; rather, it is emblematic and points the way to a whole host of sensibilities that embody a social action plan for Zionism.

These might be as pervasive as making sure that Jewish content is enhanced in secular schools, or that the Start Up Nation recognizes that it is flowering in Israel, and not in Silicon Valley, or that quasi-governmental organizations such as Bar or Medical groups maintain a strong Jewish State priority and perspective.

Besides particular policies that need to be supported, there are parts of the citizenry that need to be strengthened. We at Im Tirtzu encountered this issue head on during the election by seeking to raise the voter turnout level in peripheral communities that, while traditionally Zionistic in their voting, were equally traditionally non-participatory in their voting.

Our literally door to door effort paid off with much higher turnouts from these communities. This favorable outcome now simultaneously poses a challenge and offers an opportunity. The challenge is to maintain a level of attention, of solicitude, of interest in hearing and responding to the interests of these communities.

A Zionist social action plan would seek to educate, include and give voice to these communities, reflecting their intrinsic love of Am Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael, while making them feel that their voices are being heard at the highest levels of government and society.

The payoff, as it were, of this effort, will be an energized, and more vocal Zionist citizenry insistent that Israel’s leadership reflects the strong Zionist sensibilities of its citizens.

Similarly, we need to give respect and voice to the non-Jewish minorities who seek to embrace Zionism as their best path to a life of freedom and dignity. The stark contrast between the lot of Christians and the Druze in Israel and in surrounding lands has not been lost on our minority citizens.

Whether it is Father Gabriel Nadaf advocating for Christian Aramean participation in the IDF or Anett Haskia seeking the same from Muslim Israelis, there is a growing awareness that the full flowering of Jewish sovereignty can elevate our non-Jewish citizens as well.

Much of the effort to assure that a Zionist social action plan is realized will lie with NGOs. There need not be a Left/Right nor Religious/Secular divide on this issue. The same people and passion that energized the social protests of 2011 should be reprised now on behalf of Zionism.

For without Israel as a Jewish State, the price of cottage, and the cost of a Gan will seem trivial and unimportant.

A bottom-up grassroots embrace of Zionism will not only strengthen Israel - its Government, social and cultural institutions – but also will show the world that we, little Israel, are indeed the Light unto the Nations.