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The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

IT WAS sub­con­scious, at first. Asked where I was off on hol­i­day, I found my­self say­ing Tel Aviv, rather than Is­rael. The for­mer car­ried with it sug­ges­tions of a mod­ern, out­ward­look­ing des­ti­na­tion — a place of late-night din­ing, gay rights, hi-tech in­no­va­tion and cos­mopoli­tanism. The lat­ter — the na­tion — with its con­no­ta­tions of re­li­gious and na­tion­al­ist strife and an aban­doned peace process, risked start­ing a con­ver­sa­tion. And frankly, I found my­self lack­ing the will to get into it.

I am a proud Zion­ist. Hav­ing come through the youth move­ment pro­duc­tion line, spent a gap year in Is­rael and a sum­mer as a tour madricha, the re­al­i­sa­tion of the Zion­ist dream has al­ways been close to my heart. At univer­sity and beyond, I was moved to talk about it pub­licly; rush to Is­rael’s de­fence in sem­i­nars, at­tend pro-Is­rael ral­lies and Yom Ha’atz­maut cel­e­bra­tions.

Yet, lately, I’ve found my­self dis­tant from this, want­ing to talk less and less about Is­rael and why it mat­ters. Not be­cause I don’t think it does, or be­cause I be­lieve any less in its le­git­i­macy and ne­ces­sity, but be­cause of the trends within Is­raeli pol­i­tics, and a feel­ing that I don’t want to have to de­fend them.

I’m talk­ing about the in­tran­si­gence of so many Is­raeli politi­cians when it comes to striv­ing for peace, or the un­wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to set­tle­ment build­ing. I’m talk­ing about de­vel­op­ments that come across as pro­foundly in­tol­er­ant, from ac­cess to the West­ern Wall to the Anti-Boy­cott Law or re­cent rev­e­la­tions about Be­douins los­ing their cit­i­zen­ship. And I’m talk­ing about the hawk­ish Ne­tanyahu Govern­ment, with its gen­u­flect­ing to the re­li­gious right, and its will­ing­ness to em­brace Pres­i­dent Trump even as neo-Nazism flared (it took Bibi days to is­sue even the most lack­lus­tre con­dem­na­tion).

Of late, Is­rael has oc­ca­sion­ally felt like an em­bar­rass­ing rel­a­tive; some­one you love but whose views you’d rather they keep to them- selves. And be­cause ev­ery­thing about Is­rael is so black and white, it’s eas­ier to look away; eas­ier to keep sh­tum than voice dis­agree­ment. And I sus­pect I am not alone; many of us in the An­gloJewish com­mu­nity are keen to de­fend Is­rael but ner­vous to point out its flaws. We are happy to visit Ne­tanya or Her­zliya, but less will­ing to think about what’s hap­pen­ing else­where.

I am that hyp­ocrite, any­way, be­cause I jet­ted off to Tel Aviv last month for a serv­ing of sun, sea and sand. How­ever, keen to do more than eat our weight in ice cream, we drove up north. Un­in­ten­tion­ally, it be­came some­thing of a whirl­wind tour of Zion­ist land­marks, in­clud­ing De­ga­nia, the first kib­butz, and sev­eral oth­ers, and Zichron Ya’akov founded by first aliyah pi­o­neers in 1882.

We en­joyed that par­tic­u­larly Is­raeli pas­time of go­ing on tiyul, and slept in a Kin­neret camp-site I started to re­mem­ber what Is­rael stands for and why it mat­ters so much pop­u­lated by scores of bet­ter-pre­pared fam­i­lies (both Jewish and non, hol­i­day­ing side by side) who watched our tent-con­struc­tion ef­forts with amuse­ment.

We fin­ished our trip at the ceme­tery in Ne­tanya, where my pa­ter­nal grand­par­ents are buried, be­fore driv­ing to Ra­mat Gan to visit a very new Is­raeli — our six-week-old niece.

Maybe it was the heat, but I started to re­mem­ber what Is­rael stands for, and why it still mat­ters so much. The trip, short as it was, re­minded me how as­ton­ish­ing the story of the “first in Zion” was, how re­mark­able the state’s ex­is­tence was — and re­mains.

Roam­ing land that con­nects the orig­i­nal cha­lutzim with the gen­er­a­tions since, walk­ing in the foot­steps of those who moved across the world be­cause they be­lieved in some­thing, and con­sid­er­ing a coun­try that was a pipe dream when my grand­par­ents were teenagers, made me feel a re­newed sense of pride. And not just pride, but hope, too.

That’s not to gloss over the is­sues around Is­rael’s cre­ation, or the ex­trem­ism on both sides, nor to ig­nore the trends I men­tioned above. It’s to say that there is still an ideal to fight for, a dream to keep alive. And it’s to say that those of us in the di­as­pora who value that dream need to keep our eyes open; en­gage rather than look away when Is­rael fails to live up to it.

With the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion cen­te­nary and Is­rael’s 70th on the hori­zon, Zion­ism — both the his­tor­i­cal and the con­tem­po­rary — will be in the spotlight. While it might be eas­ier to sigh at the lat­est Ne­tanyahu de­ci­sion than turn the page, it’s not enough.

If we still be­lieve in Is­rael, if we are still in­spired by Zion­ism, we need to pay at­ten­tion, to reen­gage. And, when nec­es­sary, we need to cam­paign for its lead­ers to do bet­ter just as vig­or­ously as we would de­fend its ex­is­tence.

That’s my New Year’s res­o­lu­tion, any­way.

Tel Aviv Beach

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