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An open letter to Philip Chester that the AJN declined to publish

July 12, 2011 – 11:25 pm39 Comments

By Nathan Cherny

Dear Philip

From my office in Jerusalem I make it a habit of touching base with the community where I grew up, nurtured by the Zionist values of my family home and my involvement in Habonim. Through the advent of the internet I peruse the Jewish News each week and generally pleasure at the vibrancy and pluralism of Jewish life of the community I left behind.

As you point out in your op-ed about the New Israel Fund, my life and the lives of so many other youth movement graduates of Australia are the beneficiaries of the work and support of the Jewish Agency. My skin still tingles when I sing Hatikvah, I savor the JNF parks where I celebrate and share a love of Israel with my nuclear and extended family here in Israel.

It is out of my love for Israel that I, and many others like me, am so committed to the pursuit of justice and the protection of democratic values in Israel through support of the vital work of the New Israel Fund.

I care that Israel be secure, safe and just and as a lover of Israel, I am not afraid of internal dissent or criticism. I am not afraid of organizations that criticize the JNF for its failure to recognize the rights of Israel’s Bedouin citizens, or when it uses its resources to build in the West Bank or when it obliterates all traces and memory of Palestinian villages destroyed in the war of Independence and the six-Day War. Personally, I side with the Supreme Court of the State of Israel when I speak out against the JNF’s refusal to allow Israeli Arabs to buy property in Jewish towns and neighborhoods.

I care deeply about my adopted country and it shames me to see the plight of the Arab population of the mixed city of Lod,12 kilometers from my home. The neglect caused by the refusal to grant building permits for the Arab population leaving them no option but to build what is a shanty town by the railroad tracks (where several children are killed by trains each year). I am distressed by the discrepancy of educational resources afforded the Arab minority in Israel. I am appalled by the neglect of their needs for opportunity, housing, childcare, parks and playgrounds.

Its not only your so called anti Zionists, like the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, who think that the settlement of Jews and eviction of Arab families in East Jerusalem is imprudent; Teddy Kollek also rejected that approach, despite it being “legal”. He recognized the dangerous asymmetry that allowed Jewish property claims from the wartime periods but that precluded recognition of Arab claims based on similar titles in Jewish Neighborhoods. These concerns are the basis of the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement’s agenda. Do you also want to question Teddy Kollek’s Zionist credentials?

When you label Adalah as an organization which is “an anathema to the core principles of Zionism” you give no credit for the work that they do to protect and promote the rights of Arab citizens in order to counter the very real discrimination and neglect that this population encounters.  This indisputable reality has been acknowledged and even documented by the State (see Or Commission Report) and successive Israeli governments.

As a Zionist, I care about living up to the promise of equality that is a central part of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. I am not afraid of that dialogue and, indeed, I see it as a Zionist imperative.

There is whole world of mindful, constructively introspective Zionists who are quite comfortable in discussing problem issues associated with the touchstones that you seem to regard as the “sacred cows of Zionism”.  Suggesting that unquestioning loyalty to these sacred cows, such as the JNF, the Jewish Agency, the lyrics of Hatikva or a united Jerusalem are a litmus test for ones Zionist commitment is audacious and facile. Constructive introspection, pursuit of justice, promotion of democracy, open vibrant dialogue, and transparency: these are among things that make Israel stronger. These are the core values of the Zionist vision of the New Israel Fund, of which I am a proud supporter.

I refuse to believe that Zionism in Australia has atrophied to a siege mentality unable to see the important place of these issues within the spectrum of Zionist endeavor. The New Israel Fund, which proudly champions the promotion of justice and civil society in Israel does not need your “hechsher” to assert its Zionist credentials.

I respect that you have a different Zionist perspective than I. Indeed, we have known one other since your days leading Betar (The revisionist Zionist youth movement) in Melbourne, and we have always had different perspectives. If there are projects that you, or likeminded supporters of Israel, don’t feel comfortable with, that is your prerogative, and you can have the opportunity to selectively support other NIF projects that do wholeheartedly support, or you can chose to support Israel in other ways. In the broad social agenda of the New Israel Fund that includes environmental concerns, Ethiopian immigrant education, battered women, religious freedom, reducing violence and corruption in Israeli society, promoting affordable housing, and so much more, I am sure that there is much you and other concerned Zionists, could want to support and be proud to be a part of.

I am sure that there will be a great many Australian Zionists and friends of Israel who will celebrate in the opportunity to be a part of this new way to support Israel that focuses on issues of social justice and I would hope that the umbrella organization of Australian Zionists that you lead will have the wisdom to be inclusive.

With regards,

Nathan

This letter was in response to Philip Chester, President of the Zionist Federation of Australia, questioning the Zionist credentials of the NIF in the AJN.

Nathan Cherny is an Australian oleh living in Israel. He is professor of Humanistic Medicine and Chief of Palliative Care at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. He is a former member of Habonim in Melbourne. He holds no official office in the New Israel Fund.

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