A House Divided: Two Zionisms

Outside Israel it is generally assumed that there is a consensus about what Zionism is. On this view the religious settlers are only an extreme version of the same Zionism, since settlers have added a religious ingredient to it. The assumption is, however, fundamentally misguided. The problem merits more than a short remark, but since many of the emails I get take it for granted that there is one Zionism, undivided, a short remark is, I think, in order.

No one put the problem more succinctly than settler leader Hanan Porat, when he said that “the mitzva [religious commandment] of settling the Land of Israel has many aspects, one of which is sovereignty.” On the premises of mainstream Zionism the case is the exact opposite: Sovereignty has many aspects to it, one of which is settling the land.

Why is the difference so important and the controversy so fierce? Because on the premises of secular Zionism self-determination is the over arching principle, and a Jewish democratic state is the goal. On the premises of religious Zionism redeeming the land is the overruling imperative. The logic of each thus negates that of the other.

Mainstream secular Zionism is doubly undermined by the settlers’ creed: morally, and politically. On the moral plain extending the territory in such a way as to undermine the self-determination of another people, pulls the rug from under Zionism’s moral basis. On the political plain, secular Zionism can only be realized in a national state. By extendingn the territory beyond the 1949 international borders, within which the Jewish majority is decisive (and, contrary to facile declarations in the popular press, stable), is creating a de-facto by-national state.

The recent war may have blocked the way to further unilateral withdrawal. But the controversy over the settlements would not disappear. Zionism would have to decided (in the terms coined by Amos Oz some in August of 1967) if it is about redeeming land, or about liberating people. If it is about liberating people, Oz said, it would have to give up the occupied territories. If it is about redeeming land, it would end up enslaving people. This is the basic algebra of the controversy, and it points to an irrepressible conflict. The conflict is not about policy. It is about the very identity of the Jewish State.

Gadi Taub

For more elaborate remarks on the topic try here and here.