Goodbye to Political Zionism, Hello to Religious Zionism

The meteoric rise of the Religious Zionists, a sleight of hand that outdoes master Netanyahu, surprises everyone and delights few. How did this happen, who let it happen, and what can be done after the entrenchment of those who hold a prayer book in one hand and a rifle in the other hand? What happened to Theodore Herzl’s Political Zionism and its successor, David Ben Gurion’s Labor Zionism?

Political Zionism traded destruction, oppression, and decades of suffering of the Palestinian community for a contrived state, an ideal nation where all Jews safely coalesced, free from persecution and physical danger. Several wars, continuous battles in Gaza and the West Bank, threats from Hezbollah and Iran, and conflicts between Israel’s religious and secular populations reveal that the aspirations have not been fulfilled. Political Zionism erred in its judgments of what all the Jewish people wanted and in its relations with Mizrahi and Orthodox Jews. Its failures have forced the passage of leadership to Religious and Cultural Zionism.

The Failures of Political Zionism

Casual observance of the growth of the state of Israel leads to the belief that Political Zionism appealed to the Jewish public, that it cleverly organized resources to gain adherents, and succeeded, by its own volition. Closer examination spotlights an illusion; fortuitous circumstances benefitted the Zionists and enabled them to create a state in a zero-sum game by which they won control of the Jewish community and the community almost lost its ancient heritage. Relating the history is worth a brief examination.

From its beginnings in 1890 to the start of World War I, Zionism proved a stagnant adventure. During that period, about 70,000 Jews came to Palestine, not all of whom were Zionists, some being adventurists, utopian Socialists, and seeking new opportunities. By 1918, only about 40,000, of those who immigrated to Palestine remained and they added to the approximate 30,000 who had been born in the Levant. Meanwhile, more than 2,500,000 Jews ventured to other places, mostly to the United States.

Destruction of the Ottoman Empire and issuance of the Balfour Declaration revived the comatose Zionist adventure. In addition, the League of Nations’ certification of the British Mandate in Palestine prevented the formation of a national Palestinian governing body and provided opportunities for English-speaking European Jews to work in the British administration. They came with the blessings of a Balfour Declaration that certified their validity, and with protection of His Majesty’s forces. From 1918-1922, approximately 24,000 Jews arrived in Palestine.

The year 1924 was fortuitous for the Zionists. The US Immigration Act closed the doors to mass Jewish immigration from East European nations and the Act steered Jews to migrate to PalestineBy 1931, Palestine housed 175,000 Jews.  

During the 1930s and until the entrance of the United States into World War II, Nazi persecution of the Jews drove more than 60,000 German Jews to immigrate to Palestine. About 280,000 German and Austrian Jews migrated to other places, with about 125,000 refugees coming to the United States

By the Ha’avara Transfer Agreement with Nazi Germany, the Zionists used German Jewish assets, including bank deposits, for purchases of German products that were exported to the Jewish-owned Ha’avara Company in Tel-Aviv. A portion of the money from the sales of the goods went to the emigrants upon their arrival in Palestine in an amount corresponding to their deposits in German banks.

Revelations of the Holocaust and the plight of Jewish refugees after World War II gained worldwide sympathy for the Zionist cause.  About 136,000 displaced Jews came to Palestine, many out of desperation and without intention to remain. The Cold War provided the most decisive benefit for Zionism ─ Soviet Union support for an Israeli state drove the United States to compete for Zionist attention. Votes from both nations, bribes, and arm twisting provided a narrow victory for United Nations Declaration 181 and the Zionists established their state.

The 1948 war between Israel and Arab states led Arab leaders to question the loyalty of their Arab Jews and placed the Jews living in Arab nations in a difficult position. Arabs by ethnicity and Jews by heritage, having lived in their surroundings for generations, these Jews were now regarded with suspicion. Zionist operations within their nations, military conflicts, and oppression of the Palestinians, provoked the Arab governments into hostile actions against their Jewish citizens who had no recourse but to find safety with those who had caused their plight. Opposing narratives describe the Iraqi Jews as either eager to emigrate to Palestine or having little awareness of Zionism. One source quotes a communication that contends that “rest assured that if a plebiscite is made among the Iraqi Jews, you will find that 100 percent of them are anxious to emigrate from Iraq to Palestine.“ Another commentator alleges that before 1941, “There was no local Zionist movement in Iraq. The Jews had not experienced a Zionist ‘awakening’ and did not consider Palestine an attractive option.” In one decade, about 800,000 Mizrahi immigrated to Israel. Iraqi-Jewish poet, Me’ir Basri, claims. “If Israel had not been established, nothing would’ve happened to the Iraqi Jews.”

The last two great waves of immigration came from the Soviet Union. From 1970 to 1988, 291,000 Soviet Jews were granted exit visas, of whom 165,000 migrated to Israel, and 126,000 migrated to the United States. The Kremlin granted visas to Soviet Jews who had relatives in Israel, but the Washington Post, February 19, 1989, reports, “Most of the newcomers leave the Soviet Union on Israeli visas, but once they get to the halfway stop in Vienna, more than 90 percent jump ship and opt for the United States.” Arrangements between Israel and the United States steered the recalcitrant back to Israel.

The desperate economic and social situation after the fall of the Soviet Union prompted its citizens to seek more comfortable surroundings. Additional opportunities for Soviet Jews to migrate arose and 810,727 came to Israel during the last decade of the 20th century. Did these Jews come to Israel as Zionists or as refugees who had no better place to go? A report from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) leans to the latter conviction.

The exodus of Soviet Jews increased in 1989 with almost 90 percent wanting to resettle in the United States. Some estimated that as many as 50,000 to 60,000 would leave in 1989. There would be a dual-track system for Soviet Jews to leave the Soviet Union. They could either apply to go to Israel or apply for refugee status at the American Embassy in Moscow….This arrangement of a two-track system in Moscow resulted in Israel becoming, “by default, the destination for the vast majority of Jews seeking refuge.”

The CIS report indicates that due to Israel granting Jews “the right of return,” Israel became a readily available and easily facilitated option to where the Soviet Jews could emigrate.

Unusual events accompanied and benefitted the Zionist adventure; a guiding hand that caused calamities and provided new Jewish immigrants to the British Mandate and to the state of Israel. Most Jews came for other reasons than their attraction to Zionism — as a temporary station while escaping repression and displacement (Germans, Soviets, post WWII DPs), social and economic (Soviets, East Europeans after the United States imposed severe quotas), and insecurity due to Zionist actions (Mizrahim). Zionism as a homeland for the Jewish people did not attract a preponderance of Jews to Palestine and Israel; economic and political circumstances forced Jews to seek another home, and the Zionists provided the only welcoming opportunity.

The Zionist agenda committed to giving the Jewish people a safe and secure home and free of discrimination. It has given the ingathering Jews years of constant wars, terrorism, worldwide enmity from hostile nations, and an internal prejudice of Jews against Jews that exceeds all prejudice against Jews during contemporary times.

Statistics on casualties of Israeli Jews demonstrate that the gathering of the Jews has not made them more secure or safe. From the start of the British mandate in 1919 until the year 2021, 23,928 Jews have been killed and 36,260 have been wounded in the Levant. Due to identification of the Jews with Israel, attacks on Jews in the Western world have increased. Sheltered by high walls and a strong military, Israeli Jews have been able to defend themselves against embittered enemies. If ballistic missiles make the walls superfluous and Israel’s adversaries become militarily strong, the Zionist mission will turn into a modern Sicarii operation, repeating those who claim to speak for the Jewish people and bring them to eventual decline.

Want to find hatred of Jews ─ go to Israel, where the secular Jews despise the Orthodox Jews, the European Ashkenazi Jews are contemptuous of the Arab Mizrahi Jews, and all discriminate against the Ethiopian Falasha Jews. Maybe, there is less discrimination in 2023, but twenty years after being airlifted to Israel, the Falasha endured much hate.

TEL AVIV, 9 February 2012 (IRIN) – Growing up in Israel, Shay Sium became accustomed to being called a “nigger”.  Sium, 32, has lived in Israel most of his life, but says he and other Ethiopian Jews are treated differently from other Israelis: factories do not want to employ them; landlords refuse them; and certain schools turn away their children. “The word discrimination doesn’t describe what we experience. There is another word for it: racism. It is a shame that we still have to use this word today,” he told IRIN. An estimated 125,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel, but while they are supposed to be full citizens with equal rights, their community has continued to face widespread discrimination and socio-economic difficulties, according to its leaders. A recent decision – as reported by local media – by 120 homeowners not to sell or rent their apartments to Israeli-Ethiopian families has brought discrimination against Ethiopian Jews in Israel back into the spotlight.

After perceiving a hostile Arab world, the destitute Mizrahim left their homes and belongings and arrived in Zionist Israel, where they suffered decades of discrimination. From Post-Zionism and the Sephardi Question by Meyrav Wurmser Middle East Quarterly Spring 2005.

The post-Zionist Mizrahi writers continue to live their parents’ insults and humiliations at the hands of the European Ashkenazi Jewish establishment that absorbed them in Israel after immigration. Discriminatory policies created a continuing social and economic gap between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim. These academics promote the view held by many young Mizrahim that discrimination did not end with their parent’s generation. The children — who, in large part, were born in Israel — continue to face discrimination and cope with social and economic handicaps. The radical Mizrahim who turned to post-Zionism tap into anger beyond the well-known complaints of past ill-treatment, including the maabarot, the squalid tent cities into which Mizrahim were placed upon arrival in Israel; the humiliation of Moroccan and other Mizrahi Jews when Israeli immigration authorities shaved their heads and sprayed their bodies with the pesticide DDT; the socialist elite’s enforced secularization; the destruction of traditional family structure, and the reduced status of the patriarch by years of poverty and sporadic unemployment. These Mizrahi intellectuals’ fury extends beyond even the state sponsored kidnapping of Yemeni infants for adoption by Ashkenazi families who lost their children in the Holocaust. The real anger Sephardim feel nowadays, and upon which these Mizrahi post-Zionists seize, comes from the extent to which, in their view, the Zionist narrative denied, erased, and excluded their historical identity.

ALBERT T. CLAY, writing in the Atlantic in 1921, as an observer of POLITICAL ZIONISM’s incursion into the British Mandate, predicted the outcome of the bigotry perpetrated by Herzl’s followers.

Those who are familiar with life in Palestine, where the feeling between Moslem and Christian and Jew is perhaps more intense than in any other land, are fully cognizant that this scheme for a Jewish state not only accentuates and increases the animosities that have always existed, but invites another tragic chapter in the history of the Hebrews. The Political Zionists are simply intensifying this feeling, as well as the bigotry and fanaticism of the masses, by their efforts to force themselves into a sovereign position. And there can be no question that anti-Semitism, not only in Palestine but throughout the world, will increase more and more as the world, Christian and Moslem, becomes familiar with the situation.

The  Zionists proudly show a state that is economically prosperous. Even that is suspect —all Western nations prospered after World War II, the Zionists received vast military and economic aid from Germany and the United States, and they had the benefit of a Soviet brain drain that scientifically and intellectually enriched the nation. Ignored from Israel’s overstated miracle and progress is that in The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an international organization of 39 countries, that works to build better policies for better lives, Israel has the third highest poverty rate (17%), just below Romania (17.6%) and Costa Rica(20.3%). The reasons for this anomaly — economic discrimination of Palestinians and Falasha and economic deprivation of the ultra-orthodox Jews.

Moment of Truth

At the moment of their greatest success, winning the 1967 war and conquering Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank, the Zionists realized they had not completely succeeded. What would they do with Jerusalem, Gaza, the West Bank, and the Palestinians who occupied these areas? Standing at the Western wall and looking up at their Temple Mount, completely empty of Jewish expression, the Zionists stood triumphant and in a dilemma.

The Jews sanctify Jerusalem with a negative memory ─ the destruction of a biblical Temple. Physical remains that describe Jewish heritage and previous control in Jerusalem are scarce. The Western Wall, a part of the bearing wall of the platform constructed by King Herod under Roman rule, is supposedly revered by Jews as the most existing spiritual construction of their heritage. According to Karen Armstrong, well-received author on religious affairs, Jerusalem’s Jews did not pray at the Western Wall until the Mamelukes in the 15th century allowed them to move their congregations from a dangerous Mount of Olives and pray daily at the Wall. At that time, she estimates that there may have been no more than 70 Jewish families in Jerusalem. Do 70 families determine the “most existing spiritual construction of Jewish heritage?”

After examining excavations that contain pottery shards and buildings, well-known archaeologists have concluded that the findings do not substantiate the biblical history of Jerusalem and its importance during the eras of a united Jewish kingdom under David and Solomon. Near Eastern archaeologist Margreet Steiner, in an article titled It’s Not There: Archaeology Proves a Negative, Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 1998, states:

…from the tenth century B.C.E., there is no archaeological evidence that many people actually lived in Jerusalem, only that it was some kind of public administrative center…We are left with nothing that indicates a city was here during their supposed reigns (of David and Solomon)…It seems unlikely, however, that this Jerusalem was the capital of a large state, the United monarchy, as described in Biblical texts.

With Jerusalem identified as a holy city and Israel administered by a secular government, how could Israel assert authority and expand its presence in Jerusalem? The answer: Exaggerate the importance of the Western Wall to Judaism, bring in the Orthodox Jews to pray at the wall, permit them to claim various neighborhoods, and incite them to harass the Palestinian inhabitants. A similar and more murderous pattern has occurred in the West Bank where the Orthodox Jews have become the shock troops for the government — occupying hilltops that become outposts, and eventually become settlements from where the nearby Palestinian villages are harassed.

Establishment of a state for Jews and security of that state have been the Israeli government’s concerns. It needed land to expand the state to more secure borders. The problem with the Palestinians was not the land, the problem was the possible security risk they imposed. Having the Orthodox Jews settle the land and expand settlements in the West Bank solved that and other problems for the Israeli government.

  • The nation would expand and military reasons for confronting the Palestinians would emerge.
  • The practicing and devoted Orthodox Jews, who contributed little to national prosperity, would serve a national purpose.
  • The practicing and devoted Orthodox Jews marginal economic life would improve by providing them with housing and healthier surroundings.
  • The bothersome religious demands by the practicing and devoted Orthodox Jews would be less voiced in Israel and be transferred to isolated locations in the West Bank.

Labor’s arrogance and contempt for the Mizrahim brought its downfall. Being Arabs and not victims of the World War II Holocaust, the Mizrahim were approached with disdain by the Ashkenazi who felt that their European origins and Holocaust identification gave them a superior position in the Jewish hierarchy.

Because Menachem Begin addressed them with respect and appreciation, beginning in the 1970s, Mizrahi Israelis started to vote for the Likud in large numbers.  According to Nissim Mizrahi, a sociologist from Tel Aviv University whose name identifies his origins, “politics of universality, seen from a liberal point of view as key to correcting society’s ills, are experienced by the Mizrahim as an identity threat, a problem rather than a solution. ‘We vote according to our culture, we vote for those who do not underestimate our faith, our traditions.”

The Political Zionists came from Western nations where their citizenship described their status and their religious convictions were arbitrary. They placed Israeli identification before Jewishness. The latter identification is attached to nationality, one of several available for Israeli citizens. The Mizrahim came from nations where their religious convictions described their status. It was this conviction that gave them identity and the religious attachment to each held them together in Muslim lands. They desire to be identified as Jews before being Israelis.

The Political Zionists brought Jews together in a common land. Rather than exalting Judaism, they diminished its role, reducing themselves to being observant rather than engaged. After shedding their attachment to the Arab world, the Mizrahim began to follow the doctrines of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, considered the founder of Religious Zionism, who looked at Zionism and the creation of the State of Israel as “bringing the Jewish people back into a full dialogue with God.”

The superiority position moved the Europeans to establish a state that framed the Jews with a new identity, a new vision, and a new direction. It took time, and the Mizrahi and Orthodox Jews seized the opportunity to reject the original Zionist vision and take control of their own destiny.

The competing visions of Jewish identity are described by Laly Derai, “born in Paris to parents who immigrated from Tunisia to France before moving to Israel and a Likud activist known for her right-wing and traditional positions.” In an interview with the Middle East Eye, Ms. Derai relates:

Living in Israel is for us, coming from Arab countries, the continuation of our Jewish identity. Whereas the programme presented by the left is cosmopolitan ─ in which nationalism is overcome ─ we, Mizrahi Jews, do not relate at all to this discourse, in which human and civil rights come before our Jewish identity.

Choosing Netanyahu has nothing to do with the halaha [Jewish law] but depends on one’s self-definition. The question Netanyahu and all of us ask ourselves is: how do you define yourself? Are you first Jewish or first Israeli? If you define yourself firstly as Jewish, then we are in an identity story and not a religious one, and Netanyahu being religious or not doesn’t matter at all.

You have to understand that for us, the natives of the Arab countries, the state of Israel was not created because of the Shoah [Holocaust], but because we wanted to realise a millennial dream.

Conclusion

A hypocritical Labor Party paid a severe price for its neglect of the rights and needs of the Mizrahi immigrants — almost total dissolution. From the ashes of Political Zionism, the Religious and cultural Zionists reignited the Zionist embers and gave it a new direction. Led by the Mizrahi and Orthodox Jews, Religious Zionists have taken over the Zionist agenda and might intend to fulfill the boundary proposals expressed at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, which is shown on the following map.

Israel Palestine

The New Israel

Israel enters a new and unpredictable phase with new questions:

(1)    Will the secular Jews leave?
Considering their skills and available options, many may take advantage.

(2)    Will the Israeli economy deteriorate?
LONDON, July 31 (Reuters) – “Israel’s economy may face ratings downgrades, falling foreign investment and a weaker tech sector if turmoil arising from the government’s contentious judicial reforms continue, investors and analysts warn.”

(3)    Will events divide World Jewry?
AP, PETER SMITH, February 23, 2023 ─ “An array of U.S. Jewish leaders are sounding alarms about what they see as a threat to Israel’s democracy posed by its new government, fearing it will erode the independence of its judiciary and legal protections for minority groups.”

(4)    Will Israel’s intelligence and military exercise more or less control?
Times of Israel, By EMANUEL FABIAN, January 15, 2023 ─ “On Monday, Herzi Halevi will enter office as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Force, as it marches into a political battleground, with members of Israel’s new right-religious government taking aim at the army’s chain of command. Under coalition agreements signed between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the leaders of the far-right Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism parties, control over the appointment of several generals and authority over some military units will be taken away from the IDF.”

(5)    Can Israel exist as a Jewish state with the Palestinian population in the territories at 5.3M in 2023? Israel claims 7.1M Jews but about 1M live outside the country and the nation has 2.1 M Arab citizens. Nowhere in the world does a minority oppress a majority under its control and few oppressions are as severe as that inflicted upon the Palestinians.

The age of Political Zionism is coming to a close. Israel embarks in a new direction, which can be defined as another Conquest. The Political Zionists conquered much of Palestine and established the state of Israel. The Religious Zionists are prepared to solidify the conquest of Judah and Samara and unite all Jews in a revival of the biblical kingdom.

The more than 100 years of unnecessary mayhem and destruction of the Palestinians could have been predicted and prevented but who listened? The same Albert T. CLAY, who predicted an increase in bigotry against Jews, due to Herzl’s followers, clearly outlined the fallacy of the Zionist agenda. Writing in the Atlantic in 1921, as an observer of POLITICAL ZIONISM’s incursion into the British Mandate, Albert Clay noted.

A traveler returning from the Near East is at once struck by the utter ignorance of Europeans and Americans  concerning the true situation in Palestine — an ignorance due largely to the fact that in London there is, practically, only one of the important daily papers that will print anything detrimental to the schemes of the Political Zionists. Besides the English press, the other sources of information upon which America has been dependent for its news of Palestine have been the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and the Zionist propaganda. The latter, with its harrowing stories of pogroms in Europe, and its misrepresentations of the situation in the Near East, has been able to awaken not a little sympathy for the Zionist programme. But there certainly are reasons why Americans should endeavor to realize fully what is happening in Syria, and this quite promptly.

More than 100 years of unnecessary mayhem in Palestine and destruction of the Palestinians — predictable and preventable. Too few listening and too few with the capacity to exercise a change.

Dan Lieberman publishes commentaries on foreign policy, economics, and politics at https://dlieb10gmailcom.substack.com/. He is author of the non-fiction books A Third Party Can Succeed in America, Not until They Were Gone, Think Tanks of DC, The Artistry of a Dog, and a novel: The Victory (under a pen name, David L. McWellan)

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