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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/13/09

Tel Aviv, Then and Now

By Jeremy Ben-Ami  Posted by Marji Mendelsohn (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 2 pages)   7 comments
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Originally published in The International Herald Tribune:

One hundred years ago, my grandparents and 59 other families gathered on a sand dune outside Jaffa to draw lots for new homes in a garden suburb to be called Tel Aviv.


With their parents, my grandparents immigrated to Palestine - one in the 1880's, the other in the 1890's - fleeing oppression in Czarist Russia and dreaming of re-establishing a Jewish home in the ancient land of Israel.

Next week, I'll travel from the United States to help re-enact that lottery on the beach as part of Tel Aviv's centennial celebration. Little could my grandparents have imagined the course of history over these 100 years - not simply for their planned community but for the Jewish people and their homeland.

It's been a century filled with idealism, hope and joy in which their improbable dream was fulfilled. Tel Aviv today bustles with commerce and culture, a vibrant and proud standard-bearer for the modern Jewish people. Sadly, it's also been a century filled with war, suffering and oppression. At its end, much still remains in doubt, from Israel's long-term security to the nature of the country into which it is evolving.

As I fly to Israel next week, I can't help but wonder what will await my own grandchildren 100 years from now.

The challenges of the next 100 years are different but no less daunting than they were in 1909. Israel still faces real threats posed by those irretrievably opposed to its existence. It has yet to establish borders that its neighbors and the world recognize, and it remains an open question whether the Jewish people can reach peace with the descendants of those displaced by the arrival of my family and subsequent immigrants.

Perhaps most daunting of all the challenges facing Israel is whether its future can be secured while remaining true to the principles at the heart of the Jewish tradition and to the democratic vision of the country's founders.

Politics in both the United States and Israel will have much to do with how these challenges are answered.

In Israel, the Netanyahu/Lieberman government marks the return to power of a political outlook that sees the conflict between Israel and its neighbors in zero-sum terms. In the words of the new foreign minister, the very concept of trading land for peace - the essence of a win-win solution and the foundation of American policy for a generation - is a fatal mistake.

In America, reflexive support for Israel's every move - no matter how morally questionable or strategically counterproductive - continues to guide the established institutions and voices of the American Jewish community. Critics of Israeli policy are too often labeled enemies of the Jewish people, rather than engaged in open and intelligent debate over what is best for Israel and for U.S. interests in the region.

And American politics continues to constrain the United States from playing the active, constructive role it must if comprehensive peace in the region is to be achieved.

These trends together with the present state of Palestinian politics make the chances of peaceful conflict resolution more remote than they have been for a generation.

Jewish Americans - who remain deeply loyal to Israel and staunch defenders of its right to exist - now face conflicting winds blowing on two continents. An overwhelming majority share the politics and worldview of President Barack Obama and have rejected the Bush-Cheney neoconservatism that framed Middle East conflict in simplistic black and white. They recognize, as the new president said in Ankara this week, that security requires peace and that peace begins by "learning to stand in somebody else's shoes to see through their eyes."

Yet leaders of the American Jewish community demand unquestioning loyalty to an Israeli government that has made Avigdor Lieberman its face to the world. This is a man whose platform called for loyalty oaths, whose words verge on racism and whose worldview is based on the very "us-versus-them" mentality so thoroughly discredited over the past eight years.

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Marji Mendelsohn has been studying the effects of religion on politics and foreign policy with a secondary interest in election fraud.
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