Love involves challenges too

By Daniel Reisel, June 6, 2011
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I love Israel with all my heart and soul. My family's connection to Israel goes back to my great-grandfather's grandfather Mordechai Zvi, who, together with his wife Rachel, travelled from the depths of the diaspora to Ottoman Palestine. Rachel and Mordechai Zvi were part of the first aliyah of the 1880s and among the founders of Rishon LeZion. In 1889, they helped to establish the country's first Hebrew school. One of its young teachers was Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the father of modern Hebrew.

When I was 18, I went to Israel to learn the Hebrew of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. But, more than learning Hebrew, I wanted to be a Hebrew. I enlisted in the army and served in the Nahal brigade for 14 months. My grandma, whose family was cut down in the Holocaust, hugged me tight and said simply: "Israel - that's us". Finally, I felt I had come home.

It is thus with a deep sense of identification, a feeling that our fates are wrapped up together, that I - and many others - worry about Israel today. The task of Rachel and Mordechai's generation was to drain the swamps and create the conditions for building a Jewish homeland. The challenge for our generation is to safeguard the character of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

With the founding of Yachad, the new pro-Israel, pro-peace organisation in the UK, we seek to meet this challenge. We believe the way to advance Israel's security is to forge a courageous peace agreement with the Palestinians and to support a flourishing democracy for all of Israel's citizens. We believe that the two-state solution and an end to the occupation offers the best guarantee for Israel's future and long-term peace for the region.

Zionism needs to move beyond PR

It has long been the preferred path of both Israelis and Palestinians, the international community and, as recent polls reveal, of British Jewry, too. The continuing upheaval across the region shows the status-quo cannot hold. If Israel does not separate from the West Bank, the future holds two paths: a minority Jewish population ruling over a Palestinian majority, or a "one-state solution" in which the state will not be Jewish.

There are Palestinians who do not accept a negotiated solution. We categorically condemn the resort to terror and violence but also believe that most Palestinians want to live in dignity and security, just as we do. It is because we are passionate defenders of Jewish self-determination that we recognise the Palestinian right to peaceful, national expression. Of course, the responsibility to take steps towards peace does not lie entirely with Israel, but it is the country with which we are bound up.

Yachad will build a grassroots movement and galvanise large numbers of British Jews behind a positive vision for Israel. We will give those who have been looking for a way to express their support for Israel a vehicle to do so, and to reconnect to the Jewish state those that have long struggled with the question of what it means to support Israel.

Through Yachad's programme of activities, we will make it clear to our own community, to Israel and the wider world, that a large number of British Jews support Israel in taking steps towards peace. Yachad's education programme reflects that a healthy, positive Zionism needs to move beyond PR into policy. Our engagement with Israel needs to be less about hasbara -explaining or justifying - and more about havana - true understanding.

There is no Jewish value more foundational than belief in the future. It is not by chance that Israel's national anthem is called Hatikva - The Hope. The significance of that promise, of that stubborn Jewish hope, is contingent on our contribution to the present.

We all need to contribute to the task of safeguarding Israel's future. Only by rising to the challenge will we be able to realise the hope of generations and fulfil the meaning of the words of our stirring national anthem: lehiyot am chofshi be-artzeinu - finally to be a free people in our own land.

Daniel Reisel is chair of the board of Yachad

    Last updated: 10:06am, June 6 2011