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Two Assaults On Religious Zionism
This was the pretext of Israel’s withdrawal. But it wasn’t the subtext. The subtext of the withdrawal – telegraphed to both Israelis and the international community – was that the withdrawal was cause the demise of Religious Zionism at the hands of the leftist progeny of Labor Zionists. That is, the operation wasn’t about peace with the Arabs. It was about cultural supremacy within Israel.
In the countdown to the withdrawal, the Palestinians did everything they could to make clear the move would not enhance the chances for peace. They triumphantly declared that then-prime minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to expel Gaza’s Jews was an admission that Israel had been defeated by the Palestinians. Hamas was ascendant and both Hamas and Fatah declared repeatedly that they would continue their terror war until all of Israel was destroyed. And as the pretext crumbled, the subtext became more prominent.
Haaretz editorialized six weeks before the expulsion of Gaza’s 8,000 Jews, “The disengagement of Israeli policy from its religious fuel is the real disengagement currently on the agenda. On the day after the disengagement, religious Zionism’s status will be different. The real question is not how many mortar shells will fall, or who will guard the Philadelphi route [connecting Gaza with Egypt], or whether the Palestinians will dance of the roofs of Ganei Tal. The real question is who sets the national agenda.”
Religious Zionist leaders were in a horrible bind. If they responded to the demands of their own people and fought fire with fire, they knew – given the Left’s control of the media – they would be demonized for years to come. And they knew that if the Left succeeded in destroying their reputation among rank and file Israelis, they would be powerless to defend Judea and Samaria.
So in the end, Religious Zionist leaders disappointed their followers, making do with mass protests in the countdown to the expulsions and then allowing the IDF to carry out the expulsions largely unchallenged. While they failed to save Gaza’s Jews from internal exile, they at least succeeded in preventing the demise of Religious Zionism as a political and social force in Israel.
Their success was acknowledged by Haaretz. In the weeks that followed the expulsions, Haaretz columnist Orit Shochat bemoaned the fact that the campaign against Religious Zionism had not succeeded. As she put it, “Soldiers who experienced the evacuation won’t travel to an ashram in India because they discovered that there is an ashram next door. The same Jewish religion that they hadn’t seen up close for a long time embraces them into its fold with a song and a tear for a common fate. They have now sat arm-in-arm at the synagogues in Gush Katif, they have now felt the holiness mixed in sweat, they have now moved rhythmically and sung songs. They have stood in line to kiss the Torah scrolls. They are now half-inside.”
Zionism’s revolutionary message to Jewry was that after 2,000 years of powerlessness, Jews would again become actors on the global stage. But Zionism has many movements and not all of them are equally revolutionary. The two most significant Zionist movements today are Labor Zionism and Religious Zionism.
The inherent weakness of Labor Zionism is that it was never aimed specifically at enabling Jews to be Jews. Rather, its purpose was to enable Jews to be socialists. Understanding that the anti-Semitic climate in Europe in the early 20th century rendered Jewish assimilation into a larger socialist sea impossible, Labor Zionists argued that by establishing a Jewish state Jews would be “normalized” and accepted as regular people and socialists by the nations of the world. That is, Labor Zionism’s message was assimilation on a national rather than on an individual one since conditions in Europe precluded individual assimilation.
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