The World Zionist Congress opens on the seventeenth of June, 2002… and there is no way of predicting what the situation will be in either the Middle East or in the World. What is clear, is that if the Congress does not involve serious ideological debate on relevant Zionism, those who claim the World Zionist Organisation and our National Zionist Institutions are obselete will gain the upper hand by default. There is a vital need to re-examine our expressions of Zionism and ensure that our ongoing Zionist goals, actions and ideals are meeting the demands and challenges of the 21st Century. A vital need to rejuvenate and revitalize the Zionist Movement.
It would be a shame indeed if the Zionist National Liberation Movement of the Jewish People becomes extinct due to a lack of vision and leadership. This Movement engendered a revolution among a dispersed nation. It created the State of Israel, by far our most laudable undertaking, and did not fail in its objectives. But the task is far from complete, for Israeli society leaves a great deal to be desired. We are not yet entirely free, since no people who dominates another can really be itself “liberated.” These are not easy times. The world is in a state of shock. One tragedy after another has occurred, and we in Israel, who, just a year ago, believed that we were but a short distance away from the long desired peace, are once again submerged in a cycle of violence that is bleeding both peoples. It leads to no solution; it merely makes the hatred more deeply rooted. And it fosters religious fundamentalism, put simply, fanaticism, on both sides.
Last Saturday night I attended a mass demonstration in Yitzhak Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, in commemoration the sixth anniversary of Prime Minister Rabin's assassination. Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by bullets fired by an extremist, fundamentalist Jewish terrorist, who was inspired by the inciteful speeches of various political, spiritual and religious leaders. The assassination cut short the processes that were designed to transform the concept of peace from an idealized vision to a tangible reality.
The tens of thousands of people, including the outstanding presence of Israeli youth, who came together in Rabin Square, did not unite to merely cry over our losses, to condemn this horrendous crime -and its instigators -, or merely to canonize the image of Rabin. Rather, we were all there to reaffirm the will of a significant number of the Israeli people to return to peace negotiations, and to discover a way out of a dead-end situation. We want to terminate the ever-expanding and deepening feelings of hatred, of suffering and of a vicious cycle of violence, bloodshed and death. And we must accomplish this before the tide becomes too great to reverse, and before the horrible consequences for both peoples.
All of us yearn for peace – this is the relevance of Zionism today. Real Peace is the prime strategic goal, and the indisputable interest of, the State of Israel. Peace must be seen as one of the basic challenges facing today's Jewish and Zionist world. Only peace with our neighbors will allow us to create a genuinely free society in Israel. The conflict, with its accompanying violence, intolerance, distrust, and including our domination of another people, the occupation of the territories, is what is diminishing our strength, and corrupting our essence. The conflict is endangering the continuity of the entire Zionist enterprise.
The Zionism of Herzl, Nordau, Borochov and our other founding fathers envisioned the creation of a Jewish National Home in which national redemption went hand in hand with the issues of social and economic justice. Those thinkers saw Zionism not only as an ideology that hoped to improve the political plight of the Jewish people, but also as an attempt to forge, in Eretz Israel, an exemplary society firmly rooted on principles of justice and social equality. Herzl, who was neither a socialist nor a socialist sympathizer, describes this precisely in his utopian novel “Altneuland”, the old-new land, in which the protagonists are both Arabs and Jews. If the conflict continues and absorbs most of our resources, it will overwhelm Israel's economy. Such a scenario will not leave us any possibility of narrowing Israel's enormous socio-economic gap, which is, by the way, the largest in the Western world. And if we cannot resolve our social ills, if we cannot become an exemplary society, then the Zionism which has in one sense already triumphed, will be seen as not really having finished the task which it set out to do. And Zionism will run the risk of having its continuity questioned.
Part of maintaining the ongoing relevance of our Zionism is to ensure, it answers to the demands and challenges we face today. As I have stated previously, all of us want peace. The question lies in how we go about achieving it. From my vantage point, there are a number of steps that must be taken on the road to achieving peace.
I believe the solution is to end our occupation of Judea and Samaria. Although we must assure a solid Jewish majority in the State of Israel, it is in our best interests to establish a Palestinian state.
The vast majority of the Israeli people would in no way accept the right to return of Palestinian refugees to Israel proper. This would be a negation of the Jewish People's right to self-determination and their right to a nation state.
The thorny matter of Jerusalem must be left for a future time, perhaps till the final stage, when we have somewhat advanced in our political relations, and after we have begun to surmount the barriers of hate, suspicion, fear, and mourning.
Obviously things do not depend solely upon us….there are two actors in this play, remember. Peace is also in the Palestinians' strategic interest.
Arafat must return to the route of peaceful negotiations, and reject violence. The second Intifada, more than a year of uprising, has not led to any tangible benefits for the Palestinian people. It has, however, undermined the foundations of the stance of the Israeli left, and weakened the Palestinians' legitimate demands for self-determination.
Terrorism, deaths and repression do not, in and of themselves, bring solutions. They only bring about more deaths, more reprisals, more war and more sorrow.
Since the outset of the Oslo Peace Process, both sides have committed major errors. It is conceivable that today, neither one of us, Israelis or Palestinians, are politically mature enough to solve our problems on our own. We need the active aid of our friends: both sides have got to be led, with no equivocations, by the United States and Europe to a cessation of hostilities, to cease the mutual killing and to reinitiate a dialogue based in the Clinton initiative. Peace in the Middle East is in the strategic interest of the Western World.
It is my hope that, by the time of the next World Zionist Congress, we may alter our discourse and speak about Israeli society, about co-operation between ourselves and our neighbors, of human solidarity and comraderie and friendship.
A thinking Zionism, one which all World Jewry has a stake in, continues to be a vibrant and relevant concept. Amongst its many achievements, the establishment of the State of Israel and the building up of the State of Israel – including the establishment of a strong economy, a strong army, social supports, and Israeli culture – are feathers in the Zionist Movement's cap. We need to continue to envision, and to realize Zionist ideals, and we must continue to find dynamic expressions of Zionism. The next step is to ensure that the State of Israel is an exemplary society… a strong and just society with liberty for all. Israel has always occupied a central role in the heart's and actions of World Jewry – let us ensure that her centrality is because of her actions and not the centrality of rhetoric and slogans. Everyone is involved in the process of making Israel a “light unto the nations”.
The final point I wish to raise is the concept of Jewish Continuity: Education, Culture, and Language: The Jewish people must again have one common language and this should be, not precisely English, but Hebrew. The current economic crisis, the result of globalization, in regions like Latin America has caused a severe impoverishment of so many of our Jewish communities, has left Jewish education and cultural creation terribly damaged. It is our responsibility in the Zionist movement to aid the communities of the Jewish world in these all-important areas, together with the co-operation of the government of Israel. Your very presence here today is an indication of your ongoing commitment to Israel and to Jewry… Israeli's cherish this connection, and in particular, cherish the most personal of contributions, Aliyah. Whether it is you or members of your families and communities, aliyah is the crowning movement of a process that has fostered in the individual the desire to be part of the daily reality of the State of Israel. I urge you all to continue your commitment to Israel and to Zionism actively in whichever spheres are the most relevant for you as individuals. And I challenge you to create relevance where you think vision is lacking.
Hatikvah, the Hope, our national anthem, is the theme of the Zionist Movement. It is the hope that we must renew and innovate, we must not consign ourselves to a dark tunnel with no light at the end…because peace can, and will be, realized. To be a free people in our land – li'hyot am chofshi beartzenu - in our land, in our Jewish State, a state that should be an example of social justice, equality, and peace for all its citizens.
Todah Rabah….I thank you all very much.