Symposium Commemorating Three Years after the Abduction and Murder:

The Challenges of Zionism in the Coming Decade

Settlement, security, identity, unity, Aliyah, society. All of these were topics were that arose during the special panel discussion on the challenges of Zionism in the coming decade, which was held at the Oz veGaon Preserve to commemorate the fulfillment of three years since the murder of the three youths.

One of the events that were held to commemorate three years since the murder of the three youths and the holding at the Oz veGaon Preserve, was an ideological symposium, held at the preserve in the beginning of last week, entitled “Challenges of Zionism in the Coming Decade”.

On the panel, which was moderated by the publicist and journalist Dr. Dror Eydar, were publicist and former head of the YESHA Council Israel Harel; former head of the Public Relations Department Dr. Dan Baratz; journalist Itamar Eichner; Gusti Yehoshua Braverman, head of the Department for Diaspora Activities at the World Zionist Organization; Raheli Frenkel mother of Naftali hy”d; Matan Peleg from Im Tirzu and Rav Sarel Rosenblatt.

The event began with words of praise by Israel Harel about the importance of the Sovereignty Campaign which is led by the Women in Green movement and its heads, Yehudit Katsover and Nadia Matar. Harel noted that it would also be appropriate for leaders, intellectuals and rabbis to lead the process, but this is not the situation.

Harel named the main purposes and goals of Zionism – settlement, Aliyah and security – and noted that there has been a question mark alongside each one of them in recent years. Harel believes that aliyah did not achieve the completion of its goals since the most significant periods of immigration to the Land of Israel were mainly done under duress, whereas the Jews of wealthier countries remained in the diaspora, and as a result, assimilation in those places is increasing. “Zionism can be considered successful when we can convince the Jews to save themselves from spiritual destruction and assimilation by immigrating to Israel”, claimed Harel.

According to him, the definition of Zionism became vague and over the years and instead of aliyah, settlement and security, the term “Zionist venture” was attached to any volunteer activity, even hi-tech initiatives, many of which are scattered throughout the world.

Regarding the principle of settlement, Harel mentioned the dispute in which he is involved today, a dispute that began as a result of the Kibbutz Movement’s refusal of the proposal to establish a hundred kibbutzim in Judea and Samaria immediately after the Six Day War.

Regarding  the matter of security, Harel stated that indeed, “We seem to be in a better situation than we have ever had since the establishment of the state”, however, the IDF’s considerations have become purely professional and the Zionist motives that drove the army in the first days of the state, as in the days of the underground militias, no longer exist. This is the reason that settlement activities of NAHAL nuclei no longer exist within the army. In Harel’s opinion, the army’s activities are conducted in a neutral manner regarding ideological Zionism, and moreover, “the goal of the IDF should not to be neutral but should be a Jewish Zionist militia, as were the IDF’s underground organizations at its establishment”. And this is aside from radical concepts that have made their way into the heart of the army and its commanding echelon.

After Harel, Gusti Yehoshua Braverman, head of the Department for Diaspora Activities in the World Zionist Organization, spoke, noting, as she began, that she is a member of a Reform congregation. “The World Zionist Organization is the representative of the Jewish world in all of its variations, and I was chosen to represent the Reform movement”, she said, noting the sense of unity during the days of searching for the three youths three years ago. “Every place in the world there were pictures of the three young men and the power of unity was everywhere. I was in Romania when we learned of the murder. The shared grief is an expression of commitment and the statement that all Jews are responsible for each other”.

Later on, she related to the fact that it is difficult for the diaspora Jew to identify with Israel, which is criticized from all sides, and as a result, many people cut themselves off and become apathetic toward Israel. In Yehoshua’s eyes, acceptance of the other is a Zionist value and this value is being tested.

Yehoshua sees turning Israel into a safe place for the Jewish People as the primary Zionist goal. Regarding aliyah, she believes that indeed, “It would be good if everyone thought about aliyah but this is far from the reality. In some communities when you speak of aliyah they become distant”.

Dr. Ran Baratz, former head of the Public Relations Department, spoke mainly about the claims made by Israel Harel, stating that contrary to the sense arising from Harel’s words, “Zionism is a huge success. Aliyah has always come as a result of distress. It is more difficult for Jews who are living well to make aliyah, so our job is to make it better here so that they will want to make aliyah. Since we have achieved the maximum with those people who were in distress, the time has come to make greater efforts to bring the rest. No other people has done such amazing things as the State of Israel has done”.

In the area of security as well, Baratz refuses to accept the criticism that the situation is grim. According to him, “indeed, there are things that are concerning in the IDF, but the fact is that Israel’s situation has never been so good. We suffer, in a way, from this success. We have generals who have never served in any existential war, but this is a good problem. These are troubles of the well-to-do”.

Dr. Baratz sees the matter of settlement in Zionism as “the most painful point”, but immediately adds that we must “recognize that from its beginning, settlement was not carried out strategically. In Judea and Samaria it will always be classic Zionism, Zionism of one acre after another; this is how we must act in the coming years, to take another hill and one more hill, another community and one more community, without major revolutions. This is how it was from the beginning and this is how it will continue to be. However, the settlement enterprise continues to grow and flourish”.

There is no Zionist leader who, if we could bring him back to life to see how far we have come, would not be elated by the real achievements of Zionism. There is room for improvement but it is also important to see the successes of Zionism”, Baratz said in conclusion.

Journalist Elyashiv Reichner sought to present the voice from the periphery, which he expresses again and again in the pages of the press and in many other forums. He says that a glance at data about the periphery show that there, in the areas of the Galilee and the Negev, is where the next tasks for Zionism will be located during the next decade.

“When we way ‘settlement’, we immediately think of settlement in Judea and Samaria, but I would like to shine a spotlight on settlement that is no less Zionist, the settlement in the Negev and the Galilee”, said Reichner, presenting the city of Arad in the Negev and the city of Nazareth in the Galilee as two cities where dozens of families have been leaving every year; with the scope of entire communities leaving, Reichner emphasized, noting the significant security aspect of the weakening of these cities and communities.

Raheli Frenkel, mother of Naftali Frenkel, Hy”d, also related to Israel Harel’s claims, noting that an integral part of Zionist values is to establish an exemplary society, and since this is so, then the volunteer in the hospital in Israel is unlike every other volunteer in any other place in the world and he is indeed realizing a Zionist goal, seeing that this is part of building an exemplary society. “Acting toward ‘Tikun Olam’ [perfecting the world] is Zionism in my opinion”.

The unity that prevailed during the days of the search for the three boys three years ago was also mentioned by Frenkel, who defined the scenes of unity that she saw as a miracle. Frenkel told of a visit to the US when she saw how all of the streams of Judaism gathered in one place and sat together, prayed together and demonstrated together. None of the elders of the community could remember such a thing happening since the Six Day War”, she said, and found another link between these days and the days of the Six Day War – letting go of cynicism: “the Six Day War, which eventually became a source of dispute, was experienced as an open miracle which caused people to lose their cynicism. I personally had an ironic experience. My son was a cynical and critical person. He learned this at home, and when we had that experience, including the embrace from the entire Jewish world, we could no longer be cynical ”.

Regarding the Zionist challenge in the coming decade, Frenkel said: “in the coming decade none of the various sectors will have disappeared. The religious will remain here, the secular will remain, the leftists will remain here and settlers will also remain here. And we must act together, look each other in the eye and live together, and establish this fabric responsibly, and then we will be able to continue and win as much as we desire”.

Matan Peleg, head of Im Tirzu, wished to repeat the basic principles of Zionism as they are expressed in the Basel Plan, principles that today, some people would prefer to fight against, and it seems that insisting on those principles is still relevant and necessary even today, beginning with the very establishment of a legal homeland for the People of Israel – a matter that is given to dispute in almost every location where there is settlement – in the Golan, through Judea and Samaria, the Jordan Valley and the Negev, the main concentrations of the Jewish People in the Land of Israel and the strengthening sense of nationhood and the Jews’ national awareness. “I would like for the head of the Department of Diaspora  of the World Zionist Organization to speak about the sense of nationhood and the call to the Land of Israel”, said Peleg, addressing himself to Gusti Yehoshua. “The pitfalls of the Basel declaration still exist and we must strengthen it”.

The final speaker of the Panel was Rav Sarel Rosenblatt, who also related to the meeting of Orthodox Judaism with the Reform and Conservative. Rav Rosenblatt told of a meeting that he was asked to attend, to hold a discussion with a group of Conservative and Reform Jews from Los Angeles who were aware of an assimilation problem that they were experiencing. According to him, during this discussion, he heard moving statements and insights that are permeating the Reform society in the US, among which is the insight that without the State of Israel and the Land of Israel, they would have no chance to survive as Jews. This indeed goes against the historical roots of the Reform movement, but it is happening and anyone who misses this is missing something big”.

Rav Rosenblatt emphasized that there was a large gap and great disparity between him and the Reform society, but nevertheless, there was no ignoring the fact that there is among them a great need for the Land of Israel.

He claims that the problem of Zionism is neither settlement nor security. In his opinion, these are problems that can be solved by professional people, but “the key problem is identity. The more sectors of the People that have a problem with Zionist and Jewish identity, the more everything falls apart, even if they refer to the state or the army as a tool. Without the content there is a gap that causes things to fall apart from within”.

The event was held in the central tent at the Oz veGaon Preserve, which was established on the night that we learned of the murder of the three youths, three years ago. Since then, the preserve has become a flourishing site for tourism where are held, among other things, cultural activities, lectures, educational and agricultural activities and more. Since the preserve was established by Women in Green members, tens of thousands of youths have come from throughout the Land to take part in experiential, Zionist activities.

As part of the events commemorating three years since the murder of the youths, the Zionist Boulevard was dedicated at the preserve, where there are signs  with citations from Zionist leaders throughout the generations. The dedication of the path was held jointly with the participation of the World Zionist Organization, the Zionist Council of Israel, the JNF, Gush Etzion Council and Women in Green.

Still Photography: Elad Pesach. Women in Green

Dr. Dror Eydar

Israel Harel

Gusti Yehoshua Braverman

Raheli Frenkel

Dr. Ran Baratz

Matan Peleg

Elyashiv Eichner

Rav Sarel Rosenblatt