All Writings
July 11, 1989

Israel’s Inner Battle: Zionism

Zionism, as a political movement, was the catalyst behind the creation of the state of Israel. Zionism now must help insure the survival of that state. The land of Israel and the Jews' return to that land sustained Zionism, shaping its political agenda and its subsequent implementation. The Israeli-Palestinian crisis over the right to the West Bank and Gaza has so dangerously deteriorated that it now could explode into a full-scale civil war. Israeli leaders currently are asking the same question that faced Zionist elders when the United Nations offered its partition plan in 1947: Should Israel settle for less than the biblical promise? Should the Jews forgo the grand design of Israel for the sake of peace? The Arab nations flatly rejected the partition plan, which provided for a Jewish and a Palestinian state, and invaded Israel in 1948. As a result of the war, Israel expanded its landholdings and maintained them until 1967.

Since then, the majority of the international community, including Egypt, and more recently, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, has accepted these territorial boundaries as Israel's permanent borders. The Israeli Labor Party, then in power, was eager to accept the 1967 borders had the Jordanians heeded its pleas for peace and not entered the conflict in 1967. Israel's victory in the 1967 war, resulting in the capture of the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and the Sinai, had far-reaching psychological and emotional implications. Both secular and religious Zionists were intoxicated by the new "conquest." It was an incredible saga. For the religious Zionist, acquisition of the West Bank and Gaza, in particular, meant the biblical fulfillment, the realization of the covenant between God and his people. They asked, "Who are we to forsake what God has entrusted us?" Moreover, it validated their political program. For the secular Zionist, the new land offered an opportunity for expansion and restored national pride. Although they were not motivated by religious fervor, names like Beth Lechem, Jericho, and Hebron, brought biblical fantasy back to life. Those secular Zionists who support the Likud Party's politics refuse to withdraw from these territories for nationalistic reasons, whereas devout Zionists oppose it on religious grounds. Herein, then, lies the predicament of Zionism today.

Mainstream Zionism, led by Labor head Shimon Peres, supports a policy of territory for peace. Revisionist Zionists, led by Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, and vigorously backed by religious Zionists, want to retain all territories, even if it means perpetual conflict. Unfortunately, Zionists never looked realistically at Palestinian nationalism and the demand for self-determination. For religious Zionists, who have become the vanguard of the grand design, the present difficulties with the Arabs are mere inconveniences when compared to the horrors Jews have experienced throughout their exile. A popular slogan, "The land of Israel, for the people of Israel, according to the torah [Bible] of Israel," exemplifies Gush Emunim Bloc of the Faithful), an ultranationalist group of more than 10,000.

This group has made a life commitment to the permanent settlement of the West Bank and Gaza and views the current violence, as Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, head of Nir Yeshiva, puts it, as a part of the redemptive process of the land. Gush Enunim's late spiritual leader, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, warned the Palestinians by quoting the leading medieval rabbinical authority, Maimonides, when he spoke of the Canaanites. They had three choices: flee, accept Jewish rule, or fight. The Canaanites fought and perished. Revisionist Zionists cite the Jews' demographic disadvantage 40 years ago when less than 700,000 of them occupied the land, compared to 3.5 million Palestinians. Today, the demographic ratio is basically reversed. "Why should we be concerned?" they ask. "In time, we will overcome the demographic problem, should it arise!" Zionism must advocate a solution that will meet the needs of two peoples who are destined to live together under any circumstances. Zionism should reject any solution that could result in the suppression of other people in the name of God. Yes, historically Jews have a right to the land. But denying the Palestinians the same right is surely not on God's agenda. Ruling them against their will – Mr. Shamir's autonomy plan – is the antithesis of Judaism. Plus, the Palestinians will never accept it. Zionism must not lend a hand to those willing to abdicate Israel's moral essence in exchange for territorial gain. Zionism should now emerge as the healer, the mediator, and capture this historic setting to fashion a just solution. The survival of the state of Israel and of Zionism may depend on it.