The many faces of Zionism

The many faces of Zionism

Zionism is many things to many people.

For some, it is the great hope of the Jewish people and the guarantor of our survival. For others, including a noticeable number of Jews, it is the ruination of Jewish values and a form of racism, despite the U.N.’s long-overdue rejection of that equation in 1991. On one hand, for some Jews and Christian supporters it is a dream become reality. On the other hand, there are Jews and Christians-at least one group whose church organization voted to boycott some American companies doing business with Israel-who view Zionism as a nightmare composed of missed opportunities and worse. Why such disparate views about what appears to be a single ideology?

Writ large, classical Zionism was believed by all Zionists to be the national movement for the return of Jewry to its homeland and for the creation of a sovereign Jewish state. But Zionism never was a single ideology. There was socialist Zionism and revisionist Zionism, secular Zionism and religious Zionism. There was the Zionism that foresaw the disappearance of the diaspora and the Zionism that held Israel to be the center of the creation of a Jewish-Hebraic culture that would inform diaspora Jewish life and preserve it for generations to come.

Each of these Zionisms stood for certain principles and ideologies, and do till this day. Indeed, the ideological positions staked out by the various Zionisms are so central to them that often reality has little say in how they envision building Israel’s future. To complicate matters further, each of these Zionisms, despite clear ideological platforms, has violated its own tenets.

Today the dominant Zionist ideology, with government backing and power in the political sphere, is a form of revisionist Zionism. Basically, it is trying to revise Israel’s 1948 and subsequent 1967 borders of Israel. This is why this government and the earlier ones, going back to Begin, have supported the growth of settlements as a means of recovering the biblical borders of Israel.

But wait: did all this start with Begin? Absolutely not. The socialist, supposedly universalist, peace-loving Labor party, which held power from the State’s beginning until 1977, began the settlement program with the Allon plan. That plan, if executed, simply would have annexed the Jordan Valley and other areas of the West Bank in the name of Israeli security.

So, the supposedly peacenik, left-wing Labor had its own revisionist notions and acted on them. It has lived to rue them, because its voice is overwhelmingly silenced in the arena of today’s Israeli politics. Hypocrisy did not pay off.

So Israel now lives in a revisionist Zionist mode, and has since 1977, when Menachem Begin and his revisionist Zionist party, Herut, came to power. This has promoted settlement of what revisionists call Judaea and Samaria, names suffused with biblical associations. Many revisionists are secular, so their claims to biblical Israel supposedly are based on history. I say “supposedly” because, according to I Kings 9:11, none other than King Solomon gave his Lebanese partner in the building of the Temple, King Hiram the Tyrian, 20 cities in the Galilee to reward his neighborly cooperation.

Other revisionists, especially settlers, are religious. Some are messianists, who believe that reclaiming the whole Land of Israel would bring the yearned-for redeemer. At least that group never claimed to favor a two-state solution. Most of the revisionist Zionist governments have, however; either because they meant it or because it was a useful way to placate the world community, which overwhelmingly regards the settlements and the occupation of what could become Palestine as illegal, or at least illegitimate. For whatever reason, over and over again revisionist Likud governments have claimed to agree to a two-state solution. That agreement, as well as the return of Gaza to Palestinian control, were violations of their ideologies. (Begin’s return of the Sinai was ideologically pure. Sinai was not part of biblical Eretz Yisrael.) But revisionist Zionism in its present incarnation, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Knesset members Bennett and Lieberman, seems to be correcting its ideological errors.

Take, for instance, this month’s annexation of 1000 acres of land for the construction of Israeli settlements. Much of that land, in what is a densely Palestinian populated area, is clearly Palestinian-owned, but has been expropriated. That is good ideological revisionist practice. It is perfectly coherent with revisionist and present-day religious Zionist-settler ideology. From a revisionist perspective, it properly punishes the Palestinians for the kidnapping of the three teenagers whose safe return we prayed for, an event that ignited the tinder that became Operation Protective Shield.

By carrying out these actions, revisionist ideology trumps realpolitik. The parties responsible for them hold that Israel need not worry about world opinion. Nor do they seem to care whether this behavior will condemn Israeli young men and reservists to eternal war, with all the calamities it brings down on Israeli families. This is the same sort of messianism that led “liberal” Labor and its supporters down the road to where Israel is today. From my vantage point, the mashiach talk of my religious Zionist friends is particularly dangerous. According to them, there is no other way out of the impossible situation in which Israel finds itself today; therefore, the redeemer must be on his way. As I see it, the messiah is the deus ex machina when hope runs out. Others who don’t believe in the messiah’s return as a solution to Israel’s continued security problems are either desolate or prepared to battle it out to the end, whatever the end is.

There is a realistic solution that has never truly been tried. It’s the same one that’s been on the table since Oslo: the two-state solution. True, Yasser Arafat refused the Clinton-Barak offer, which was almost too good to resist. That was another fulfillment of Golda’s statement, “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” But now it is Bibi and company who, with a little tit-for-tat played by Abu Mazen and crew, forfeit peace for impossible goals. Why else do they hold onto their resistance to the obvious solution – separating these two peoples, who mix like oil and water?

First, as has been mentioned above, a purist revisionist ideology has prevailed that is oblivious to realism. What will Israel be when it becomes the master of 3.3 million more Arabs who will have to be subdued or given citizenship? If the former, Israel will be the apartheid state many call it today. If it turns the Palestinians into Israeli Arabs with a vote, Israel will become another Arab state a few years later.

Second, there is a reasonable fear that a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza could become Hamastan. If that would happen, every major city and small community in Israel could come under the kind of fire we witnessed this summer. This fear holds back serious efforts toward a settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This concern shows a shameful, un-Zionist lack of confidence in the strongest army in the Middle East, a kind of golus mentality that still seems to grip Israeli Jewry despite the fact that Zionism gave Jews the power to determine their own fate.

Failure to give the two-state solution a chance will put all Zionisms in the Land of Israel to a test of Israeli sumud. Sumud is an Arabic word describing a mixture of patience and obstinacy, especially as it relates to holding onto land. If Israel is condemned to eternal war by its past and present policies, policies espoused by the past’s left and the present’s right, its people better have the same or better sumud than the Palestinians for whom this is a national principle.

The reality is that we have been a Disapora people longer than we have been a people whose majority population is in the State of Israel. We have lived in many places, and many Israelis have left the place of their birth and made their homes elsewhere, for any of a variety of reasons. Does the present population of Medinat Yisrael have the sumud to live the lives they seem to have to live every two to four years when “the weeds have to be cut” again?

There is yet another Zionism, the one that is least likely to reemerge but might provide the most hope. That is Martin Buber’s Zionism. That Zionism recognized the need for a Jewish state but did not blind itself to a pre-existent Arab presence. Buber’s answer was coexistence, something that was thwarted in many ways by both Arabs and Jews in Mandate Palestine, with disastrous consequences for the future of both peoples.

It was a Zionism that stood for justice and equality for both Jews and for the “indweller in your midst,” just as it sought for Israel to be a seeker of peace even when others sought enmity. It is that Zionism that has a chance of reclaiming those of our youth in the diaspora who are disenchanted with Israel and steady those adult Jews who are presently wavering in their support for the State. And it is that Zionism that holds the greatest prospect of making Israel a Jewish state, not in terms of majority demography alone, which ultimately is meaningless, but in terms of the best values that Judaism espouses.

As for those “Zionists” who base their “Zionism” on nationalist jingoism, racism, hatred of the “Other” (even the Jewish “Other” with whom they disagree), and anti-democratic behavior: you besmirch the good name of a movement that has been one of the most significant preservatives of the Jewish people since the 19th century.

It is the season of penitence. Consider doing teshuvah.