Is the Right still Zionist?

Those who claim to have cornered Jewish nationalism have strayed from the visions of Herzl and the prophets.

herzl hertzl 88 (photo credit: )
herzl hertzl 88
(photo credit: )
In his book The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel's Soul, Yoram Hazony claims that the Left is undermining the Zionist essence of a Jewish state with a secularism that preaches Western democratic principles above Jewish values. But an examination of the newly constituted Likud Party makes it clear that Hazony has projected an errant thesis; for it is the Right that is bound to undermine the most basic Jewish values on which this country was founded. Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu has gone on record as saying the National Religious Party and his former bureau chief Avigdor Leiberman's Yisrael Beiteinu are his natural allies. Hazony might consider someone like Binyamin Netanyahu (for whom he has served as a ghostwriter) the leader most capable of implementing his understanding of "true" Zionism. But it is difficult to imagine any of the earliest Zionist thinkers accommodating the world view of today's Likud, NRP and National Union parties. In his defining work, The Jewish State, modern Zionism's founder Theodor Herzl argued that a Jewish state is not just an historical necessity for a beleaguered people, but the beginning of a process of redemption. He defines Zionism not merely as the "ingathering of the exiles," but primarily as a means to achieve "spiritual and moral wholeness." In his Altneuland (Old-New Land), Herzl describes what a Jewish state would look like after 20 years: a polity standing on three pillars - democracy, technological achievement, and full social and civil rights, including for the existing Arab population. THE PATHS of the Likud, the NRP and the National Union contradict every aspect of Herzl's dream. In these three parties we witness a chauvinistic theology in which the national ego is projected onto God, thus justifying any action or behavior in the name of the Almighty. Such a fusion of nationalism and religion contradicts a Zionism that embraces the social philosophy of equality and justice, as spoken by the prophets of old and on which Israel's Declaration of Independence is based. This theological nationalism was manifested by the anti-disengagement movement, which was supported not only by the NRP and the National Union Party but also by virtually all those who have been chosen to represent the Likud in the upcoming elections. The "hilltop" youth, as well as those battling the police in Hebron, clearly prefer a state based on their parochial understanding of Torah Judaism. Most certainly they do not embrace any semblance of the type of democracy Herzl envisioned or the prophets mandated. More so, Netanyahu's social and economic policies are based on protecting the privileges of the middle and upper classes. During his tenure as finance minister the gap between rich and poor grew dramatically, as did the number of those who now live under the poverty line - so much so that Israel, which once ranked lowest among Western countries regarding the polarization between the haves and have-nots, now ranks among the highest. THE ORIGINAL purpose of Zionism was to provide a national home for the Jewish people in the land of Israel. Its moral imperative was not just to serve as a refuge for a persecuted minority, but to guarantee, once Jews returned to their ancestral home, that a Jewish state would realize the ancient Jewish credo of being a "holy nation." This historic mandate, rooted in the wilderness of Sinai, where we committed ourselves to rejecting the ancient Egyptian model of power, was rooted in the biblical injunction "to leave a tithe for the poor and the stranger; to not dominate your neighbor by committing robbery [of his land]; to not oppress the stranger in your land, for he shall be like a citizen." Netanyahu's Likud remnant, combining extreme nationalism and religion with a disregard for economic and social equality, represents a brand of Zionism that is foreign to any of its historical definitions. It is therefore those on the Right, not those with liberal tendencies, whom Hazony should accuse of Zionist apostasy. It is the Right's ascendence, were it to happen, that threatens to bring an abrupt end to a Zionism defined by Herzl's "spiritual and moral wholeness," one in which democracy and Jewish values exist side by side. The writer, a rabbi, is the author of Jewish Schizophrenia in the Land of Israel.