THE POWER OF ZIONISM

By Jonathan Blass



(November 15) -- Contrary to conventional wisdom, ideas and faith are what make the world go around. Money just greases the axle. Idealism is the strength of the world's religions, the impetus for historical movements like the emergence of Communism and democracy, and the moral foundation of nations.

Ideas move men. Neither facts nor pragmatic considerations have the same power. Man seeks a link to eternity through what he perceives as truths that transcend the limits of his own finiteness.

Peace is such an ideal.

The inspirational force generated by the idea of peace was demonstrated once again at the mass rally in memory of Yitzhak Rabin on the anniversary of his assassination. Cynically manipulated into a partisan show of support for Labor party policies that were repudiated at the polls, the event still succeeded in drawing tens of thousands of Israelis, moving them with songs of peace.

People cannot be inspired by "security" in the same way as they are by "peace." There are odes to peace in almost every language. Has anyone ever heard a song about security? Security considerations are a brake that reality applies to a dream's momentum.

They cannot move people to endure the hardships of standing up to a world hostile to Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or to an armed PLO ready to open fire on soldiers and civilians whenever its demands are rejected by Israeli negotiators.

If Israel continues to be threatened - as it was last week by American Undersecretary of Commerce Stuart Eisenstadt - with economic retribution if it does not alter its policies, can security needs as understood by the Netanyahu government and disputed by the opposition provide Israel with the backbone to deflect American pressures and say no?

According to Israel Radio the US told Israel last month that it would not oppose European condemnation of Israel if "progress" were not made with the Palestinians on Hebron. Implied was a threat of American acquiescence in European recognition of a Palestinian state. Will the government be able to stick to its principles on settlements, on "further redeployment" or even on Jerusalem when threatened with a Palestinian state backed by world powers?

And a more immediate problem: Arab terrorist organizations in Hebron are stockpiling hundreds of automatic weapons. Security sources have termed "inevitable" an outbreak of violence upon Israeli withdrawal from the city. A malicious campaign in the media is preparing public opinion to blame any

assault on the Jews of Hebron on the Jews themselves.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has promised settlement leaders that if necessary he will deploy tanks and helicopters in their defense. But attacked by the left and by world opinion, will he be able to justify to the Israeli public the cost in both men and materials?

Only by an unabashed, idealistic appeal to Zionism.

ZIONISM, like peace, has within it the power of an idea. It can mold reality. It elicits heroism. It has already proved itself, changing the life of the Jewish people over the last 100 years beyond recognition, motivating millions of Jews throughout the world to leave their homes and seek their future in a Jewish homeland.

More powerful than any argument based on pragmatism alone or on legitimate insistence on "reciprocity" and "security," Zionism can inspire Jews to endure the consequences of Israel's assertion of its rights to Hebron and Jerusalem.

But can Zionism be reinvigorated as a force that openly influences Israelis' lives and thinking? Much depends on the stress Netanyahu and his cabinet place on Zionist ideals when addressing the public. One cannot expect government ministers to become philosophers of Zionism.

But prime ministers Peres and Rabin weren't philosophers either. They promoted their vision of peace by emphasizing it repeatedly and unreservedly. Similarly Prime Minister Netanyahu, by consistently and publicly articulating his own ideological commitment to the Land of Israel, can create, more effectively than any lecturer, settler or rabbi, a climate in favor of standing firm in defense of the Land, and a depth of support that will enable him to remain loyal to his beliefs in the face of outside pressures.

The Jewish people have given the world its most challenging and moral ideals. It is a people that has always been motivated by ideas.

The prime minister's considerable powers of persuasion should be directed toward inspiring the nation to an idealistic love of the land that does not fear self-sacrifice. Educating through leadership and example to a renewed Zionist commitment is an important part of his job.

========

Jonathan Blass is the rabbi of Neveh Tzuf in Samaria, heads Ratzon Yehuda, a rabbinical training program for graduates of Yeshivot Hesder.)A Voice From Hebron -- November 25, 1996