My Zionism was born out of the dreams of my parents who survived the Holocaust.
For two years during the war my mother hid in a hole in the forest near her town. She was the only Jewish child to survive her village, and emerged out of the darkness a fervent Zionist.
My father spent his teens in Auschwitz and was liberated in Buchenwald. His name appears as an orphan in the Register of Survivors compiled in 1945 by the Jewish Agency of Palestine.
Both my parents intended to renew their lives in the fledgling Jewish state, but circumstance provided them with a visa to Australia, where they continued to sing their songs of yearning for Zion around Passover tables. To this day, my mother can recite the Hebrew poetry of Bialik, which she learned in the DP camps of postwar Germany.
I have continued to carry my parents dreams, clinging to their belief that the State of Israel is the most profound affirmation of Jewish life after death. As a child, I felt the trauma of the Six Day War and did the rounds in our suburban Jewish neighbourhood collecting money for Israeli soldiers. One of these soldiers was my cousin Max, who had volunteered for the war effort from Australia, and was killed in the Sinai desert.
In my teens, I lived and breathed the spirit of Israel from our distant Diaspora. I joined a Zionist youth movement, and spent my gap year in Israel, where I fantasised about enlisting in the Israel Defence Forces. In the end, I chose home over homeland, where I passed on the dream to each of my three children, who have all spent their own year after school on programs in Israel.
I still believe in the principles that have animated my Zionism: empowerment as a response to radical powerlessness; the right of Jews to national self-determination based on a compromise with Palestinian nationalism; the imperative of a Jewish homeland after centuries of homelessness; the challenge of building a diverse but cohesive society from the ingathering of Jews and the inclusion of non-Jewish minorities as equal citizens.
In recent years, I have watched the erosion of these values in the face of threats to Israel’s existence. The right to empowerment has led to a reliance on military solutions and the routinization of oppression. Democracy has been undermined by a state of permanent occupation. Jewish nationalism has spawned a credo of ethnic chauvinism, borrowing from the vocabulary of racist ideologies that historically targeted Jews. Conflict resolution has been replaced by conflict management, a cover for territorial expansion and demographic engineering. Jerusalem has forgotten itself, and become the unholy symbol of conquest and segregation.
The philosopher Gershom Scholem warned that one can’t revive a biblical language without unleashing its apocalyptic fury. But the problem also lies in more prosaic factors, stemming from the earliest encounter between Jews and Palestinians and the continuous wars that followed. The list of errors, crimes and missed opportunities is as long as the graves of the victims of this conflict. We can tip the scales of blame each way, but to what end? All sides are guilty of a failure of moral imagination.
Zionism was born on Herzl’s motto of dreams being transformed into reality. We are at the threshold of ending the Zionist dream if we leave it to the zealous patriots to bury the two-state solution. This is not the time for Jews in Israel and the Diaspora to be silent, or to be distracted by the sideshow of propaganda wars. If not Now, there will be no When.