Israeli children signing missiles to be drop on Lebanon. Akiva Orr: “Israel is now the most dangerous place for Jews to live” There were a couple of things that happened in the recent Israeli elections. One, there was a general shift to the Right of the political spectrum, and two, there was the almost complete collapse of the Zionist Left. Why do you suppose that happened?
It was a riddle for me too. Why amongst traditional voters from the Left, from kibbutzim and from moshavim, who for 50 years or 60 years always voted for Labor or for Meretz, did we suddenly find votes for Lieberman or for Livni? It was a puzzle for me too. And then some journalists went to talk to these people to find out why they voted the way they did, and I got the answer for my questions.
When Sharon evacuated the Gaza Strip and pulled out the settlers, most Israelis, I would say 70 percent, supported it. They said, "Look, separation is good, they will be there, we will be here, and if we give them territories, they will give us peace in return." This was supposed to be the beginning of the evacuation, the next step was supposed to be the West Bank. But then what happened? There were Palestinian elections and Hamas won. Hamas of course doesn’t want to recognize Israel, and Israel doesn't want to recognize Hamas. So they decided to teach the Palestinians a lesson for voting the way they did. They tightened the blockade on the Gaza Strip… and after the conflict with Fatah [in June 2006], they tightened it even further.
Hamas responded by sending rockets into Israel. Hamas said many times, lift the blockade and we shall stop the rockets. But the Israeli press did not report that the blockade was tightened and that Hamas had said "lift the blockade and we shall stop the rockets." People didn't know about this in Israel. Nobody knew that Hamas said they would stop the rockets if Israel lifted the blockade. Nobody knew that Israel tightened the blockade in order to tell the Palestinians "look, you voted for Hamas, your situation got worse." Most Israel's don't know this.
Most of these Israelis who aren't aware of these things behind the scenes then said, "We thought the formula of ‘territories for peace’ would work, but for the territories we got rockets, not peace." So they abandoned this formula, which of course is the policy of the Zionist Left. The policy of the Zionist Right on the other hand is to hit them hard until they scream, and then they will behave. So they voted for the Right, for Lieberman, etc, [based on the logic of] the harder you hit them, the quieter they will sit.
Given that many Israelis have abandoned the formula of "land for peace" and that there are nearly a half a million settlers in the Occupied West Bank, do you still think a two-state solution is possible?
I think the US will pressure Israel to establish a Palestinian state, and to accept something like the Saudi Plan, which offers peace and acceptance for Israel in the Middle East in exchange basically for returning to1967 borders…
But I don't like the two-state solution. I want a one-state solution: everybody in the country with the same rights, irrespective of his or her ethnic origin. As far as I'm concerned the Prime Minister can be an Arab. What I care about are his policies, not his origin...
The main problem with the two-state solution is that it makes statehood based on ethnic belonging. A state is an administrative unit of a population, in which people can retain their cultural identity by having separate institutions. The state should not embody a particular identity; it should support different cultural identities.
This of course would de-Zionize Israel.
Over the last number of years in particular, many Jews around the world have become much more critical of Zionism and of the idea of a "Jewish state." Considering the influence that world Jewry has on Israel, what do you suppose this rising number of anti and post-Zionist Jews can do to push things in the direction you're talking about?
By criticism of Zionism, that is quite adequate. Just look what it created! Israel is now the most dangerous place for Jews to live. [Israel] was supposed to create a shelter but what was created was a country in constant warfare and constantly on the brink of extinction… [They] create this tiny country, that is vulnerable to long-range rockets, and then they ask all the Jews of the world to come and live here. Why should they endanger themselves?
And [they] say it's a Jewish state and [that its purpose is to] preserve the Jewish identity. How? By writing in Hebrew? By having Hebrew literature? Hebrew was never the unifying element of Judaism. Jews all over the world spoke various languages and they remained a coherent entity because of their religious belief, not because of the language. They didn’t' know the language. It was a dead language. They pronounced the words without understanding what they mean, in their prayers. But they weren't bound together by anything biological. There is nothing in the DNA which qualifies you as a Jew. They were bound together mainly by the daily religious practice of 613 religious rules. If the rules are gone than Jewish identity is in a state of disintegration and the state of Israel, which is not a religious state, it's a secular state, does not solve the problem.
In the end, the Zionist thing is basically, from a Jewish point of view, a failure. It's not safe and it doesn't preserve the Jewish identity. Instead, it created a new identity: "Israeliness" – which is not Jewish identity… As someone once said, the Israeli is more like a Hebrew speaking gentile, with very little in common with Diaspora Jewry.
Actually in Israel, most Israelis are not Zionist, because Zionism says immigrate to Israel. Suppose you're born here; Zionism means nothing. Zionism is essentially the nationalism of world Jewry, but as far as Israelis are concerned, American Jews are lucky that they live in America. According to Zionism all the Jews of the world must come to Israel. According to most Israelis, give me a chance to go to America today and I'll go… So the Zionism thing in Israel is dead. Most Israelis are not Zionist.
Where Zionism is alive is outside Israel... Many Jews outside Israel want to have their identity linked with Israel. But then what happens when Israel creates atrocities? They feel implicated. A lot of these people feel very uneasy about the pictures we saw from Gaza a few weeks ago. Now why should they suffer because of a policy and acts for which they are not responsible? Why this burden? Sever your emotional link to this place… Don't bother about this crazy state, colonial enterprise; it just makes the situation worse.
In Hebrew we have an expression: nisu, nichshalu. Tried, failed. Zionism: nisu, nichshalu.
Akiva Orr has written several books including “The Un-Jewish State: The Politics of Jewish Identity in Israel,” “The Other Israel: The Radical Case against Zionism,” and the “Direct Democracy Manifesto.” You can read and download his books on his website akiorrbooks.org.