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The Demise of Zionism: What is to Be Done?

Edited transcript of “The Eidelberg Report”, Israel National Radio, May 1, 2006.

The March 2006 election witnessed the collapse of the Likud and the National Religious Party. This collapse is symptomatic of the demise of twentieth-century Zionism—secular as well as religious. Israel no longer has even the illusion of an ideology. It has become a Kadima society, a chance aggregation of individuals and groups without any ideological bonds.

Jews in Israel are in despair. More than a third did not vote in the March election, and those that did have little confidence in the ruling elites. The government is headed by defeatists, devoid of constructive, Jewish ideas. What can possibly fill this ideological void? To answer this question, we must first understand what has brought us to this miserable condition.

The State of Israel was founded as an instrument of secular Zionism. This Zionism was based not on the Torah but on the territorial nationalism of nineteenth-century Europe. The Zionism of the Likud, for example, has nothing to do with the “Zion” of the prophets or with Torah Judaism. No secular party ever declared that “from Zion the word of God—the Truth—shall come forth.”

As for religious Zionism, it sought to infuse Jewish principles into the laws of the state. But the modern concept of the sovereign state makes the laws of the state paramount to the laws of the Torah. This is why religious Zionists could not resist the Evacuation Law, which violated basic Jewish principles. Clearly, there is a contradiction here between the laws of the state and the laws of the Torah.

Every religious party has succumbed to this contradiction. Nothing so clearly reveals the National Religious Party’s betrayal of its Zionist principles than its signing (along with National Union) the Sharon government’s March 2003 coalition agreement. That coalition agreement bound the signatories to Oslo, which entails the abandonment of Judea and Samaria and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The anti-Zionist Heredi parties, United Torah Judaism and Shas, are no better. UTJ doomed Gush Katif when it joined the Likud-Labor coalition government—the government that implemented the Evacuation Law. It received 290 million shekels (about $63 million) for this betrayal of Torah principles against yielding Jewish land to non-Jews and expelling Jews from their homes.

Now this short-sighted party has no solid grounds for opposing Ehud Olmert’s “convergence plan,” which involves the deportation of some 100,000 Jews from their homes in Judea and Samaria. Left-wing journalist, Yaron London, commenting on the hidden costs of this plan, writes in Yedioth Ahronoth (April 4, 2006):

Based on the justified precedent that was set in the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, convergence will cost approximately $50 billion, and there are some people who estimate that even that will not be enough … [in view of the cost of relocating military] bases and installations. That is a sheer fortune, and it is going to have to be paid by the citizens of Israel. We do not know at what pace convergence is going to be carried out, but even if it takes a number of years … there can be no doubt that … years payments for welfare will be cut, investments in the economy will decline, taxes will be raised, and the state’s debts will increase.

Obviously, the convergence plan will require the State to slash funding for religious services, and no sector will suffer more than the Haredim.

As for Shas: Recall the June 1992 election, when Labor and Meretz had only 56 seats, while the Likud and the religious parties had 59. By joining Labor and Meretz—and it was paid to join this anti-religious coalition—Shas became a party to the Oslo or Israel-PLO Agreement. Some 6,000 Jewish casualties and the loss of Jewish land have resulted from that agreement.

The religious parties have thus been a national disaster. Their wheeling and dealing with the secular parties before, during, and after elections is disgraceful. And since they are opposed to electoral reform, which is a necessary precondition of changing the suicidal course of this country, it seems to me that the religious community should seek other means of fulfilling its needs.

Be this as it may, it’s clear that with the demise of Zionism, Israel needs an alternative ideology. Indeed, urgently needed is nothing less than a Renascent and Uncompromising Judaism to preserve Israel’s territorial integrity and Jewish identity. This will require, first, a new Conception of Democracy, one that does not clash with Torah Judaism, and second, a “Movement for a Jewish Democracy” spearheaded by Torah-oriented young adults.

To begin with, let us distinguish between two types of democracy, secular or normless democracy, and Jewish or normative democracy.*

As everyone knows, freedom and equality are the two basic principles of democracy. However, in today’s secular democracies, freedom and equality are derived from the abstract concept of “humanism.” This is not the case of Jewish democracy, where freedom and equality are derived from the Torah’s concept of man’s creation in the image of God. This concept endows freedom and equality with ethical and rational constraints absent from secular or normless democracy.

Moreover, the logic of man’s creation in the image of God places freedom above equality in the hierarchy of values, because it is precisely freedom or free will, and not equality, that distinguishes the human from the subhuman. This Torah-oriented freedom makes possible an elevating equality rather than a leveling equality.

It’s this leveling equality or egalitarianism that dominates Israel’s ruling elites. They want only to be accepted as an equal in the family of nations. Hence, the title of Bibi Netanyahu’s book, A Place Among the Nations. The education of Israeli youth is permeated by egalitarianism; it is utterly is devoid of Jewish national pride. The idea of the Chosen People has been erased from the consciousness of Israel’s ruling elites. These elites are so tainted by egalitarianism that there is not a single party in the Knesset that denies the right of Arabs to another sovereign state on the only homeland of the Jewish people. Here again we see the collapse of both secular and religious Zionism.

A Renascent and Uncompromising Judaism requires, as mentioned, a “Movement for a Jewish Democracy” spearheaded by Torah-oriented young adults. This Movement must have a comprehensive program that relates institutional reform to specific socio-economic and security issues that transcend the mind-stultifying Right-Left jargon of contemporary democratic politics.

All sectors of Israeli society are concerned about employment, education, health, housing, security, honest government, etc. The “Movement for a Jewish Democracy” must show that these issues cannot be effectively addressed unless Israel thoroughly reforms its dysfunctional and corrupt system of government. This is the path Israel must take if it is to overcome its present malaise and fulfill its mission as an example to mankind.**

* I will be clarifying the concepts of “normless” and “normative” democracy in future reports and articles. Here, suffice to say the following:

Normless democracy is the primary generator of moral relativism. Relativism denies objective standards by which to determine whether the way of life of one individual or group is intrinsically preferable to that of another. Hence, homosexuality and gay marriages are just as “valid” as their opposites. In the domain of aesthetics, relativism denies any objective distinction between art and pornography. Accordingly, while normless freedom leads to permissiveness or self-indulgence and even shamelessness, normless equality leads not only to lack of deference and contempt for the past, but also a leveling between loyal and disloyal citizens, endowing both with equal political rights.

In contrast, normative democracy promotes family values, respect for teachers and tradition, truthfulness, charity, etc. Normative freedom and equality therefore involve self-restraint and responsibility on the one hand, and respect for others as well as striving for excellence on the other.

Stated another way: Whereas normless democracy emphasizes rights to the exclusion of duties, normative democracy emphasizes duties as the correlative of rights. However, the only solid and rational foundation for human rights—or for human dignity—is Man’s creation in the image of God. Clearly, normative democracy, as here defined, is consistent with Jewish democracy.

** The Movement for a Jewish Democracy will be very much based on the Jewish ideas and political philosophy embodied in my book Jewish Statesmanship: Lest Israel Fall. The Yamin Israel Party has adopted, expanded, and solidified the ideas and institutional proposals contained in that book. Therefore, to fill the ideological void now evident in Israel, and to correct its dysfunctional system of governance, Yamin Israel may now be called “The Movement for a Jewish Democracy.” A formal statement to this effect will be issued in due course.

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