Will Israel continue to pursue Herzl’s dream, becoming a liberal, individualistic, post-Zionist replica of the United States? Or will it find ways to deepen and strengthen its identity as a Jewish state? To be sure, secular and religious Zionists share a bedrock conviction. Unlike Herzl, they will not settle for Argentina. But galut, in the end, may be less a geographical location than a state of mind.
Answers are most likely to be found in the future of Jewish settlements in biblical Judea and Samaria. There is a widespread perception, indeed it is a staple of Jewish liberalism and secular Zionism alike, that settlements are the overriding obstruction to any prospect for peace and the primary source of internal conflict in Israeli society. But any attempt to uproot 300,000 Jews from their homes, in effect a brutal plan for ethnic cleansing, could bring Israel to the precipice of civil war.
Many settlers, like the Israelis who were evicted from Gaza in 2005, surely would obey government decisions and military orders for evacuation. But religious Zionists, clinging tenaciously to the ancient promised land on which their homes are built, are unlikely to surrender their dreams. What then? Will the Israel Defense Forces – with its growing proportion of religious soldiers and officers – obey orders to expel Jews, with force if necessary, from the biblical homeland of the Jewish people? No more chilling scenario is imaginable.
As long as tens of thousands of Israelis, despite the risks and dangers, remain committed to living in more than one hundred settlements, the convergence of Zionism and Judaism will retain its vitality. As I was once reminded by Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, one of the founders of the restored community in Hebron after the Six-Day War, the largest Jewish settlement in the Middle East is the State of Israel. In that sense, every Israeli Zionist is a settler.
To be sure, there are occasional excesses of zeal, always widely publicized as an attempt to undermine the entire settlement movement. Recently some young settlers were indicted for attacking an army base to protest the impending evacuation and demolition of their tiny outpost, consisting of two caravans and several families. But these young firebrands are hardly representative of the settlement movement, no matter how insistently their political enemies assert the contrary.
Far more consequential are the incessant demands, inside and outside Israel, for two states for two peoples, Jews and Palestinians, west of the Jordan River with Jerusalem once again divided. On the left fringe of Israeli politics, journalism, and academic life there are even those who advocate one state for two peoples, in effect sacrificing Jewish national sovereignty for the mirage of bi-national peace and harmony.
The obsessive, seemingly universal, preoccupation with a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict tends to obscure an even more urgent question: What kind of state will Israel become? The opening words of its Proclamation of Independence provide as good a reminder as any: “The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and national identity was formed.” But Jewish identity in the Zionist state remains a problematic work in progress.
One year ago UNESCO affirmed Hebron as “an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territories.” Now that “Palestine” has been voted into this anti-Zionist appendage of the United Nations, Me’arat HaMachpelah, along with other ancient Jewish holy sites (Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem and Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem) may become “World Heritage Sites” under Palestinian control. That, of course, means that they would also become Judenrein.
Zionism and Judaism are the essential twin components of Jewish statehood and survival. Judaism without Zionism met its tragic fate in Europe during World War II. Zionism without Judaism threatens to obliterate the historic distinction between homeland and exile. That is why the attempted removal of Jewish settlers from the biblical homeland of the Jewish people by the government and army of the State of Israel would convert the Zionist dream into a Jewish nightmare.
More than a century after the publication of Altneuland, Herzl’s vision of a Jewish state has been fulfilled. But Israelis still remain deeply conflicted over its Zionist identity and the terms of reconciliation between Zionism and Judaism.
Jerold S. Auerbach, a frequent contributor, blogs at www.jacobsvoice.tumblr.com.