November 20, 2018

What do we mean when we say ‘Zionism,’ ‘Allies,’ and ‘Jerusalem’?

The Pew Research Center just released its study of “political typology” in the United States. The study, as they describe it, “divides the public into eight political groups, along with a ninth group of less politically-engaged Bystanders.” The purpose of this division is to better understand American politics and the internal values of groups that have similar political views.

A lot of it concerns the power of words and terms. Liberals want to “Take into account allies’ interests, even if it means compromising” — because they like “compromise.” Among the groups defined by Pew as Disaffected Dems, Opportunity Dems and Solid Liberals, the call for being considerate of allies is significant (64%, 94%, 97%). Among Core Conservatives and Country First Conservs there is less interest in the needs of allies (30%, 9%) and more inclination to “Follow own national interests, even when allies disagree” (64%, 76%).

Looking at the way people use words and understand their meaning is always revealing, and this is true for the political field as well. For example, 68% of the so-called Country First Conservatives (unhappy with the nation’s course, highly critical of immigrants and deeply wary of U.S. global involvement) say that it’s necessary to believe in God in order to be moral. They see an inseparable link between morality and God. But this is not true for Solid Liberals. The people who belong to these group (but not all Democratic voters) “stake out a distinctly secular point of view: Large majorities reject belief in God as a prerequisite for being a moral person.”

What is “God”? What is a “moral person”? Does the US need to speak the language of “compromise” in international affairs? In Israel, there are similar questions that have come to the fore in recent days. For example, there is now a debate about the meaning of “Zionism,” in particular in reference to the question: Is the leftist Meretz party a “Zionist” party?

Well, is it? Some of its leaders unequivocally said “no.” The right-leaning newspaper Makor Rishon investigated Meretz’s Zionism and concluded, based on some evidence, that the party is no longer Zionist. Part of this evidence was straight forward: Meretz MK’s admitted as much. Mossi Raz tweeted, “Meretz never defined itself as a Zionist party. I am a Zionist, most of the Jews in Meretz are Zionists, but a party which includes Arabs by definition cannot be a Zionist party.”

But other Meretz members disagreed. They argued that they are “Zionist” in their own way. Since there is no mandatory definition of what Zionism means, everybody can call themselves Zionist (the same way everyone in the US can call themselves “pro-Israel”). Zehava Galon, the head of the party, explained that “Meretz’s platform … never said that Meretz is a Zionist party, because we didn’t see a point in writing what is obvious.”

If defining “Zionism” is not easy for you, try defining “Jerusalem.” In recent days, two competing policy proposals came to the fore, both of which originated in cabinet members, both of which aim to strengthen Jerusalem and its Jewish majority, both of which could completely alter the meaning of “Jerusalem.”

Minister Israel Katz proposes to expand Jerusalem and add to it many of the currently-not-Jerusalem settlements nearby: If Gush Etzion and Maale Adumim are added to the city, Jerusalem will become a much larger conglomerate of neighborhoods and will include a much higher percentage of Jewish residents (currently, about a third of all Jerusalemites are Arab). Minister Zeev Elkin, a member of the same party, and a no-less hawkish politician, proposes the opposite: Shrink Jerusalem by making “several Arab neighborhoods beyond the West Bank separation barrier split off from the Jerusalem municipality and be placed under the jurisdiction of one or more new council administrations.” The demographic result would be similar: less Arabs, higher percentage of Jews in “Jerusalem.”

This is all about words: No Jew is going to move to a different apartment, and no Arab is going to leave his home. The boundaries of Jerusalem — the municipality — will change, but what we understand as “Jerusalem” does not necessarily correspond with the municipal boundaries that politicians who come and go decide to change for this or that political reason.

But the battle for or against the Katz and Elkin plans will focus on “Jerusalem” — the perception of the city. Is moving the municipal boundary a “division” of “Jerusalem”? This will be the argument against Elkin, and as we all know, the right is highly sensitive to any suggestion that could mean a “division” of the “undivided” “Jerusalem.” And what about the other plan? Currently, the US administration opposes it, because the left and the Palestinians (and thus the administration) believe that any move to strengthen “Jerusalem” — a city at the core of a “conflict” — reduces the chances for “peace.”

In this case, Israel is trapped: Since the voters of the Trump administration have less inclination to take the views of allies into account, the administration will have no problem in forcing Israel’s hand if it wants to expand the city. On the other hand, don’t expect the voters on the far left — who are inclined to be considerate of allies — to be on Israel’s side if it decides to expand the city. These voters want “compromise,” especially so when it comes to “Jerusalem.”