Settlements and the future of Zionism

Deeply rooted in the fear that Israel will be wiped out, suggestions to abandon traditional Zionist ideals reflect a survivalist mentality.

Amona outpost 370 (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff )
Amona outpost 370
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff )
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 Europe.
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 culture.
Deeply rooted in the fear that Israel will be wiped out, suggestions to abandon traditional Zionist ideals reflect a survivalist mentality.
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 exist.
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 Temple Mount.
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 state.
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 survive.
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.
The Rav (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.
Confronted by enemies, we attempt to weave practical solutions with a transcendent vision.
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 uncertainty.
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.
Their authoritative and comprehensive report, however, has not yet been adopted by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Asserting the rights of the Jewish people in its homeland demonstrates integrity and clarity of purpose.
Accepting the Levy report would be an appropriate Zionist response; it is long overdue.
The author is a PhD historian, writer and journalist living in Jerusalem.