Help us keep Herzl's dream alive

By Dan Levene and Dan Arenson, February 27, 2012

'I will not concede that the Jewish commonwealth I wish to found will be small, orthodox and illiberal", wrote Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, in a letter to Lord Rothschild. "After all, we don't want a Boer state, but a Venice". Herzl attempted to exorcise these misgivings in his 1902 novel, Old New Land, which depicted a liberal, egalitarian Jewish commonwealth, where Jews and Arabs coexisted peacefully. These hopes, however, were tested over the course of the novel by a demagogue, named Dr Geyer, who demanded exclusivity of rights and, in particular, land, for Jews.

More than a century later, Herzl's vision is found wanting in the country he helped conceive. Benjamin Netanyahu's government, containing many of Geyer's ideological descendants, is introducing a raft of anti-democratic legislation that would slap punitive taxes on NGOs that received financial contributions from foreign governments, effectively crippling groups promoting peace and human rights, while providing tax exemptions for donations to NGOs encouraging settlement activity. Other laws would enable the filing of civil lawsuits against any NGO or individual who refuse to purchase settlement goods without proof of financial damage; and would retroactively legalise some of the "unauthorised outposts", thereby creating the first new settlements in the West Bank since the Oslo Accords. In short, Israel is run by a government of the settlers, by the settlers, for the settlers.

Under this government, the Jewish, democratic country that we know and love faces an existential threat. Based on current demographic trends, the failure to withdraw from the territories and grant the Palestinians self-determination will leave Jews in Israel as a minority within two decades, ruling over a restless majority who rightly refuse to acquiesce to Jewish rule without equal rights. No obligatory "loyalty oath" would make Israel either Jewish or democratic.

For 30 years, Peace Now has led the battle to secure Israel's future by seeking to monitor and halt settlement expansion. Run by patriots, Peace Now understands what Ben Gurion meant by "the choice between the entire land of Israel without a Jewish state, or a Jewish state without the entire land of Israel". The recklessness of Israel's leaders, however, has made the latter unlikely, condemning Israel to eternal conflict with the Palestinians. Yet the settlements expand and flourish, paid for by the Israeli taxpayer to the estimated tune of 2.5 billion shekels a year - money which could instead cover free higher education or reverse the costs of housing for Israel's struggling middle class.

As Peace Now activists come under sustained pressure from legislators who seek to silence them, and extremists who seek to intimidate them through"price tag" attacks, it has never been more important for British supporters of Israel to unite behind their work. That is why we have founded Brits for Peace Now. Our goal is to work within the community and beyond to raise awareness of the dangers posed by settlements, combat demands for boycott, and, above all, convince of the urgency of a peace deal based on two states for two peoples - challenging delusions from the left that a bi-national state is either feasible or desirable, and from the right that the status quo is sustainable.

It has never been more important to unite

In the Bible, Daniel interprets the writing on the wall for the King of Babylon: "God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting." The writing is again on the wall for all who choose to see it. The question is, will we too be found wanting or will we stand with Peace Now and help continue building the Israel for which Herzl yearned?

Dan Levene and Dan Arenson are co-chairs of Brits for Peace Now

Last updated: 11:17am, February 27 2012