Special Interview Labor’s Love Lost

Muki Tzur, an historian of the Kibbutz movement and the second and third aliyot, educator, writer and Zionist ideologue, expressed concern over the perpetuation of Israel’s social democratic system.

In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency here recently where he addressed the American Zionist Federation’s First Zionist Assembly, Tzur said modern Zionism is linked inextricably to democracy and criticized the Israeli Labor movement for losing track of its earlier social-democratic values in the constant struggle to maintain political power.

Zionism and democracy have become estranged and Israel today faces the problems of reconciling the dreams of early socialist and democratic Zionist thinkers with a difficult political reality, in Tzur’s view.

Even within his own Labor Party, in which Tzur has been active politically and ideologically for almost his entire life, the social-democratic principles on which it was founded have been compromised in the constant struggle to regain the political power it lost in 1977 to Likud, he said.

‘POLITICALLY … WE ARE VERY DULL’

“I don’t believe we should always be repeating A.D. Gordon or Berl Katznelson. There should be something original about the Labor movement, but politically speaking we are very dull,” he said. Tzur attributed this to years of challenges in war and peace and of compromises creating what he called a coalition mentality wherein retaining power in government was the primary goal.

“Even the times we were not in power, we still saw ourselves only in terms of getting back in power,” he said.

Tzur, 49, was born in Jerusalem in 1938, a first generation Israeli. His father Yaacov Tzur, a Russian immigrant, served as Israel’s Ambassador to Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay and France.

A father of four, Tzur has lived on Kibbutz Ein Gev on the shore of the Kinneret since 1956, where he now works in the children’s house.

He authored several books, including “The Seventh Day,” a series of interviews with soldiers following the 1967 war, and “Early Spring.” He is a professor of Kabbalah and the origins of the Kibbutz movement in Haifa University’s Department of Education. And in the tradition of his former teacher at Hebrew University, Gershom Sholem, Tzur is a philosopher of Labor Zionism.

THE NATURE OF MODERN ZIONISM

“I believe Zionism is the political expression of the Jewish people of this century which means, for the Jews, the possibility to express themselves in this world democratically. I don’t believe in a totalitarian Jewish state. This is not possible.”

Tzur defined modern Zionism as “a way of analyzing the Jewish condition, a discipline of thinking; looking deeply into the sociological conditions of the Jews and taking seriously the possibility of the destruction of the Jewish people.”

Although traditional Zionists thought the establishment of Israel would solve the Jewish problem, the persistence of the diaspora is a challenge to modern Zionism, Tzur said.

“Israel is the most important laboratory of the Jewish people. But it is not the happy ending of the Jewish people. It’s the beginning of a new phase of a very difficult self-searching,” Tzur said.

MAJOR PROBLEMS FACING ISRAEL

Among the major problems facing the State currently and throughout its short history is the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, a problem which mandates a democratic solution according to Tzur.

“I don’t believe that the conflict is eternal. I don’t believe peace is eternal,” he said. “I personally believe we should avoid any kind of false messianic ideas in the sense of believing we can make peace tomorrow morning.”

But Tzur has no easy solutions. “The important thing for me in the long run is that Israel must be a democratic society. If the West Bank will be Israel, we have to give (the Palestinians) full rights and pay the consequences or create an independent political entity with all the costs.”

The peace process should follow what Tzur called a natural sociological pattern in which the Palestinians in the West Bank would move closer to Jordan.

“I personally feel that we should prepare ourselves not to map out solutions but to try to see where we want to arrive and move towards peace with the Arabs.”

ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT

Tzur disclaimed any nation that the Arab-Israeli conflict is currently worse than ever. In the early years of the State, as today, there was always a debate about the realistic possibility of coexistence, Tzur said. “Some people felt the conflict was inevitable, others said it didn’t exist. Some felt we should do something about it.” But there was never a consensus, he said.

Arab-Israeli relations plunged to their lowest point in 1948 when five Arab states waged war against Israel and, as a result, many Arabs were thrown out of the country.

PROBLEM OF THE KIBBUTZIM

Tzur also addressed the problems plaguing kibbutzim, their economic crisis and the questions raised about hiring outside laborers.

Hired labor, especially Arab labor, to do many of the menial tasks, remains an ongoing dilemma in the kibbutz movements. Tzur explained this in party by saying many Jews simply will not do these types of jobs anymore.

“The kibbutz has an ethic of producers. In many cases, the kibbutz could not fulfill the demands on itself to produce all the things. So they hired Arab labor.”

Tzur also lauded a new phenomenon that has arisen in the kibbutz movement as a result of the present economic crisis, mutual aid among kibbutzim.

“We have to seriously rethink what our socialism means,” Tzur said. “We have to try new ways of living, new schools, communes in the city, new ways of spiritual and cultural dialogue. All these kinds of things are very urgent.”

In the meantime, Tzur said he will continue to seek the deeper meaning in washing 50 dirty dishes a day in Ein Gev’s children’s house.

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