Controversy over “Israeli
occupation,” “unilateral withdrawal” and the destruction of Jewish communities
is not just about territory and the rights of Jews. It exposes a basic struggle
between Zionism and post-/anti-Zionism.
Jews who live in Judea and
Samaria, like those who lived in the Gaza Strip, represent an ideology whose
roots are not only in modern Zionism, but in a deep attachment to Jewish
history, Judaism and the Land of Israel. This ideology opposes the concept of
Israel as a pluralistic, secular “nation of its citizens” like those in
This clash is inevitable and raises fundamental questions: What
is Zionism? To whom does the Land of Israel belong, legally and historically? Do
Jews need a state at all? Does Israel’s survival depend on establishing another
Arab Palestinian state? It is not only a dispute about sovereignty and who
controls land, but about what Israel represents as a society and a
Deeply rooted in the fear that Israel will be wiped out,
suggestions to abandon traditional Zionist ideals reflect a survivalist
Campaigns to boycott and delegitimize Israel are increasing
fueled by Jew-hatred and Arab funding. In the face of this onslaught, calls to
abandon the settlement movement and promoting the “inevitability” of another
Palestinian state hardly seem irrational.
But it’s neither “the
occupation” nor “Israeli apartheid” (Jewish racism) that makes Jew-haters so
angry; it’s whether Israel as a country that defines itself as Jewish should
Changing the fundamental nature of the state, as some propose,
therefore, is understandable.
If the international community refuses to
accept Israel because of its Jewishness, then once rid of that stigma, Israel
would presumably be a safer place to live. Their solution: Israelism, a
non-Zionist, non-Jewish nationalism. We’ll keep Yad Vashem and give up the
If Israel’s raison d’etre is only to be a country with a
Jewish majority and one ruled by Jews, however, who needs it? Wouldn’t Jews be
better off living in more protected communities in host countries, especially
those that not only allow but encourage living as Jews? Why is a Jew’s physical
connection to Eretz Yisrael so important? Two major events during the past 20
years have complicated this debate: (1) The rehabilitation of Yasser Arafat and
Palestinian terrorist movements in the Oslo Accords and acceptance of another
Palestinian state west of the Jordan River; and (2) The destruction of 25 Jewish
communities in the Gaza Strip and Samaria, and building a barrier/wall as part
of a plan for unilateral withdrawal intended to create a second Palestinian
Their supporters hoped to kill two birds with one stone: ending
Jewish-Zionist efforts in Judea, Samaria and Gaza would break the back of the
growing social and political influence of religious Zionism, and, perhaps, get
the international community off our backs. It would also reassert the political,
social and economic hegemony of those who promote Israelism first, and Judaism
and Zionism secondarily. Casting off the anchor of religious Zionism, especially
those parts based in the settlement movement, Israel could sail out freely – and
Changing Israel’s Jewish character and content resonates with
liberal egalitarianism and democracy.
It would create the basis of a
modern, secular state that would be accepted among the community of nations –
and, one hopes, survive.
Opposition to Jewish “settlements,” therefore,
strikes at the heart of Zionist ethos, the nature and sovereignty of the state.
Boycotts, diplomatic threats of isolation because of settlements are only the
first stages of a war to destroy Israel.
Israel’s constant fight for
survival against Arab terrorism and increasing anti-Semitism, however, although
worrying and perhaps inevitable, should not lead to despair.
(Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik) wrote: “Israel is an affirmation of separatism and
reflects the refusal of the Jewish people to be submerged into anonymity among
the nations. Thus does Israel find itself today alone, an historical role
indigenous to its very identity.”
In a sense, our vilification is part
our existence; it defines us as a people on the verge of geula (“redemption”)
while embedded in galut (“exile”). Our Jewishness gets us into trouble with the
world just as we seek their approval and acceptance.
enemies, we attempt to weave practical solutions with a transcendent
These issues are played out in the struggle over Jewish
communities in Judea and Samaria. Lightning rods for hatred of Jews and things
Jewish, “settlements” are our Zionist markers in a sea of
More than two years ago, in an attempt to resolve the
controversy, the government appointed former justice Edmund Levy and a committee
of jurists and legal experts to examine issues of legal rights in areas of Judea
and Samaria currently under military administration.
and comprehensive report, however, has not yet been adopted by Prime Minister
Asserting the rights of the Jewish people in its
homeland demonstrates integrity and clarity of purpose.
Levy report would be an appropriate Zionist response; it is long
The author is a PhD historian, writer and journalist living in