By: Phillip Nagler | Opinions  | 

The Challenges of Right-Wing Zionism

Ever since I can remember, perhaps as early as nursery or kindergarten, I was taught the concept that there is a Jewish homeland. Educators, grandparents, parents, rabbis, camp counselors and friends would teach me about the greatness of Israel, its history, and its significance to the Jewish people. Around middle school, I first heard the term Zionism, but I was still too young to fully understand what the word meant. In high school, a visiting scholar spoke to us about Israel and Zionism, but the only specific detail I remember of that presentation is that he defined Zionism as Jewish nationalism.

It wasn’t until my year in Israel that I developed a personal understanding of Zionism. Zionism to me was a sense of Jewish unity in our own land. It is never feeling scared or embarrassed to express my Jewish identity or religion. I never had to think about taking off my kippah when going somewhere. I felt a special connection to the people of Israel, even the strangers that I met. Whether it was the man or woman I got a hitchhike with, the families I went to for Shabbos through anywhere in Israel, or a friendly stranger on the bus, I experienced this unique emotional bond with my Jewish brethren. Even as I developed an understanding of Zionism during my gap year, I never put much thought into Israel’s relation with Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority. I didn’t have any strong views on the matter.

A few months ago, I started to think more about Zionism and Israeli-Palestinian relations and question my previous beliefs.The account of Ahed Tamimi is one of the main factors that sparked this line of thought. Tamimi at the time was a 16-year-old Palestinian girl who was arrested and sentenced to 8 months in prison for slapping and kicking Israeli soldiers who were standing outside her house in the West Bank.

During Tamimi’s interrogation she allegedly was sexually harassed by her interrogators. Some of the interrogation methods were also against standard Israeli law procedure. For example, she was interrogated alone by two men, was not granted access to her family during the interrogation, and was not given the option of having a female interrogator.

What bothered me about Tamimi’s story is that it didn’t fit into what I expected Israel’s military policies were regarding the Palestinian people. I thought that the purpose of their forceful military strategy is to ensure the safety and security of the Israeli people. This account seems to contradict that. Firstly, the soldiers were standing directly on Tamimi’s doorstep, as if the existence of her family living in their own house poses a threat to Israel. Secondly, does Tamimi, a petit 16-year-old girl, cause any type of true security threat to the soldiers? Even if you can somehow argue that there was a necessary security tactic involved in this, the sentence she received is outrageous.  Yes, she was an angry teen who kicked some soldiers, but does that justify locking her up in prison for eight months? To put things into perspective, Elor Azaria, an Israeli soldier who shot an injured Palestinian in Hebron in 2016, only served ten months in prison — only two more than her.

The interrogation made me wonder whether Tamimi was treated harshly because she is a Palestinian woman. Left-wing media likes to convey the idea that there is a type of prejudice Israelis have towards Palestinians and that Palestinians are harshly subjugated and oppressed by Israeli law. I started to think more about the legitimacy of the media’s assertions when the Nation State Law was passed in Israel this past summer.

In short, the Nation State Law declared that “Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people” and that “the fulfillment of the right of national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.” While this seems to be a benign truism, it was viewed as controversial by many because it contradicts what was written in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. In the declaration, “complete equality of social and political rights” was granted to all of the inhabitants in Israel.

The main criticism of the Nation State Law is that it undermines the democratic nature of Israel. Some critics went as far as calling the law racist, because it gives Jews special rights that are not endowed to Arabs, who make up 21% of Israel’s population. I think the true implications of the law will be revealed with future legislation. The assertions against the law will be proved or disproved based on how this law is used to affect the rights of Arabs and Palestinian land. As of now, I think that the law symbolizes a push to slowly minimize the political rights of its Arab inhabitants.

In more recent news, the Trump Administration announced that they are cutting 200 million dollars from humanitarian aid that goes to Palestinians. About a week after this announcement, 25 million dollars in aid for Palestinian hospitals was frozen by the US. On top of all of this, the Trump Administration shut down the Palestinian Liberation Organization office in Washington D.C. All of These actions are for the purpose of retaliation against the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to negotiate peace terms when the U.S moved their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Israeli security officials have been concerned that the recent U.S actions will only lead to more tensions with Palestinians and Israelis.

What bothers me about these U.S foreign actions is that they are giving in to exactly what the PA wants. They are a government that likes to victimize its people in order to bolster their support from the media. By cutting aid, the Trump Administration is causing innocent and poor civilians to suffer on the account of their stubborn leaders who refuse to negotiate. It also further angers Palestinians, who feel that the western world does not care about them and that it derives enjoyment from their poor treatment.

Regarding the recent U.S foreign policy on Israel, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu seems to be fully on board. In a recent tweet, Netanyahu stated: “The US made the correct decision regarding the PLO mission in Washington. Israel supports American actions that are designed to make it clear to the Palestinians that refusing to negotiate and attempts to attack Israel in international forums will not advance peace.”

I disagree with Netanyahu that these US actions are giving clear signs to Palestinians. While some may see it as an attempt to push for negotiations, others see it as a further threat to the security and safety of Israelis. These aggressive and punitive tactics are not the correct solution if we want the Palestinians to negotiate terms with the U.S. Cutting away their aid and shutting down the PLO office will only lead to more strife and disconnect between them.

I am a strong believer in the establishment of a Jewish state and a right to Jewish self-determination. For the longest time Jews have faced persecution and they deserve to have sovereignty in their homeland. With that said, this sovereignty should not be at the cost of the mistreatment and subjugation of the Palestinian people who are also inhabitants of the land. I’m appalled with the recent policies that have been made by Netanyahu and the Trump Administration. These policies are not what I see in my own vision of Zionism.


Photo Caption: Prime Minister Netanyahu applauded President Trump’s initiatives to reduce aid to Palestinians

Photo Credit: The Associated Press