The Jerusalem Post, May 28, 2003


By Michael Freund

As a result of this past Sunday's vote in the Israeli cabinet, Zionism now finds itself confronting the gravest identity crisis it has known in the past century.

Not since 1903, when the Sixth Zionist Congress indicated a willingness to consider Great Britain's proposal to create a Jewish national home in Uganda, has the movement come so perilously close to abandoning its ideological moorings.

Indeed, there is a lot of similarity between the Ugandan roadmap and its Palestinian equivalent, and the look at the former provides an intriguing clue as to how best to defeat the latter.

The Uganda plan was born precisely 100 years ago this past summer, when Theodor Herzl, father of political Zionism, was summoned to London for a meeting with British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain.

Chamberlain had just returned from a visit to Africa, and told Herzl that while he was there, "I saw a country for you: Uganda. On the coast it is hot, but in the interior, the climate is excellent for Europeans... I thought to myself: that's just the country for Dr. Herzl."

Herzl, of course, was less than enthused by the idea. After all, Jews throughout the generations had spent the previous 2000 years longing for the hills of Zion, not the jungles of Kampala.

But after the British Foreign Office officially presented the proposal to him in August 1903, Herzl decided to bring the "Uganda Project" to a vote at the upcoming Zionist Congress, which was set to meet in Basel.

Herzl and his allies portrayed the plan as a temporary solution and an "emergency measure", but many of the delegates were outraged, labeling it a betrayal, and a storm of protest quickly ensued.

Eyewitnesses described "tumultuous scenes" which "continued into the small hours of the morning". In the end, it was only due to the personal prestige which Herzl commanded that the Congress voted to send a committee to Uganda to investigate its viability as a possible Jewish national sanctuary.

In both instances, then, we find a superpower putting a plan on the table whose underlying principles run counter to everything Zionism stands for. In 1903, the idea would have meant forgoing the Land of Israel, while in 2003, it means dividing it.

And in both instances, Zionism's ultimate leader, acting under foreign pressure, reluctantly agreed to accept the proposal, although he insisted on attaching conditions to it in the hopes of easing its passage.

Fortunately, in the case of Uganda, the idea went nowhere, but no thanks to the Zionist leadership of the time. As historian Howard Morley Sachar notes in his book, The Course of Modern Jewish History, the plan quickly became "academic", since "public opinion in England was running strong against turning 'rich' Uganda over to the Jews." As a result, the British government quietly dropped the proposal.

And therein lies the clue to defeating its modern-day US-backed equivalent: arousing American public opinion against the plan to the point where the Bush Administration has no choice but to drop it.

Make no mistake - by formally approving the road map to establish a Palestinian state in the Land of Israel, the sovereign government of the State of Israel has effectively turned its back on the central tenets of Zionism, making a mockery of the Jewish people's millennial-old yearnings to return to its land.

Look through the writings of Zionism's great modern-day thinkers and proponents, from Moses Hess to Ahad Ha'am to Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai. Read the Biblical prophets' accounts of the ingathering of the exiles and the final redemption of the Jewish people. Open a prayer book and glance at the daily pleas to restore us to our national patrimony.

None of them speak of dividing the Land, or making "painful concessions", or yielding to international pressure or creating a foreign entity in the heart of our ancestral home. Not a single one. They spoke of building Jewish homes, not uprooting them, of settling the Land rather than withdrawing from it. Of creating a Jewish state, not a Palestinian terrorist enclave.

Like the idea of settling Uganda a century ago, adopting the road map is a slap in the face both to Jewish history and to Jewish destiny.

And don't be fooled - the danger is very real. Whatever one thinks of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's intentions, or whether he is serious about implementing the plan, the pressure from America has already yielded enormous results for the Palestinians, even as they continue to engage in terror. And that pressure will only mount as time goes on.

It is therefore time to take off the kid gloves and mobilize now against the road map. Every day that passes brings the danger closer, with the inevitable bloodshed that will almost surely result.

If the writing was on the wall prior to Sunday's vote, it is now on the table, one giant step closer to being implemented on the ground. This cannot be allowed to happen.

To stop the road map, and to save Israel, we must focus our energies and our efforts on staving off American pressure, for that is the driving force behind this dangerous predicament. The address for this campaign is neither Jerusalem nor Ramallah, but 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington.

US President George W. Bush must be made to understand that he will pay a heavy political price for pushing to create Palestine. The road map is a natural consequence of his June 24 speech last year, when he outlined his "vision" of two states, one for Israelis and one for Palestinians.

American Jews and the Christian right must cry out in protest, then, not only against the road map itself, but against the very vision which lay behind it. In retrospect, the June 24 speech was Bush's "original sin", and its embodiment in the form of the road map threatens the future and security of Israel.

Only by putting the President on notice that in the 2004 campaign, American Christians and Jews will forge a direct linkage between how they vote and how he acts in the Middle East, can we hope to thwart this devious plan.

Like anyone else, George W. Bush is a human being endowed by his Creator with the gift of free will. He can choose to do the right thing, and stand by the people of Israel as they seek to preserve their ancestral homeland.

Or, he can choose to do wrong, and accommodate Palestinian terror by pushing to create yet another hostile Arab state alongside a truncated Israel.

If Bush chooses the latter, he will be defying the Divine will, an act unbecoming of a man of faith. Over that, we as people obviously have no control.

But where we do have control is at the ballot box. Our task, then, is to let Bush know that by pressing forward with the road map, he will be doing more than just dividing up G-d's Holy Land. In November 2004, he will be dividing up his electorate, too.

So, like the Uganda plan which fizzled out a century ago, here's hoping that in the case of the road map, history will indeed repeat itself.


The writer served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister's Office.

(c) The Jerusalem Post

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