Not Gush Emunim, but Zionism

The ideological roots driving Israel lie in Ein Harod and Nahalal, not in Elon Moreh. A response to Amos Schocken.

Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful ) dissolved 30 years ago, and each of its leaders went his own way. A few, such as the late Hanan Porat, turned to politics, and there - in a place that did not suit their character or values - they lost their momentum. And to a small degree their project's momentum was lost, too.

Menachem Begin promised "many Elon Morehs," but was the first prime minister to freeze settlement building in Judea and Samaria, and later uprooted the thriving settlements of northern Sinai. The man whom the media dubbed "the father of the settlements," Ariel Sharon, cruelly uprooted Gush Katif, the Jewish settlement bloc in the Gaza Strip (and also Yamit and its satellites in Sinai ). And the current prime minister, the leader of Likud, declared "two states for two nations" and thus threatened to uproot the entire settlement enterprise.

Eran Wolkowski - Zionism
Eran Wolkowski

Amos Schocken is well aware of these facts, yet argues (in his article "The necessary elimination of Israeli democracy," November 25 ) that no other body in the country wields the ideological might of Gush Emunim, and that its ideology has negatively influenced everything that has transpired here since the Six-Day War. Moreover, he writes, all Israeli governments have become "a tool of Gush Emunim."

Here are a few of Gush Emunim's exploits, according to Schocken: removing politicians; offering a perverted interpretation of Judaism; imposing apartheid; fomenting anti-democratic legislation; and slandering the Supreme Court, human rights organizations and the media. But it's not only Israeli governments that are putty in Gush Emunim's hands. So is the American presidency: "This ideology has enjoyed immense success in the United States," he writes. Furthermore, the Jewish lobby is "totally addicted to the Gush Emunim ideology [and therefore it] may be impossible for an American president to adopt an activist policy against Israeli apartheid."

Ben-Gurion, not Porat

Gush Emunim is also linked to Israel's gravest existential danger - the Iranian bomb - writes Schocken. Yitzhak Rabin, worried about Iran's nuclear project, sought to neutralize it by advancing peace, namely through the Oslo accords. Rabin could handle Iranian nuclear ideology and Palestinian terrorism, but he was helpless in the face of Gush Emunim: "As it turned out, the Oslo strategy collided with another, stronger ideology: the ideology of Gush Emunim." After Gush Emunim brought us apartheid and moral corruption, it added insult to injury and torpedoed Oslo (i.e., Gush Emunim did this - not the bloodbath unleashed by Oslo signatory Yasser Arafat ).

"Because of its inherent illegality" (terminology generally reserved for absolute evil ), Gush Emunim is trying to legitimize its illegal actions, either by amending laws or by changing the judicial interpretation of them. The Boycott Law is designed to ensure that Israeli apartheid cannot be done away with like South African apartheid, says Schocken. And now comes the de rigueur historical comparison: "Such things have occurred before, in other places and at other times." And if this insinuation is not enough, the article discusses another strategic conquest by Gush Emunim - the Supreme Court - "which permitted the settlement project and effectively collaborated with the Gush Emunim ideology."

Gush Emunim's zealotry is motivated by religion, writes Schocken. However, the historical fact is that secular Zionism was more zealous than religious Zionism. The latter entrusted the nation's fate to Heaven. And Heaven, it turns out, has endless patience. Until the Messiah comes. And everyone knows what the nation endured while passively waiting for redemption.

As every scholar of Zionism knows, the messianism of Gush Emunim was less intense than the messianism of secular Zionism. An extraordinary messianic vision was necessary to settle Gedera, Umm Juni and Hadera. Strength and burning faith in Zionism and socialism were needed to establish and survive in Degania, Tel Hai and Negba, and to spawn the belief that a Jewish state would spring from this small beginning. Selfless devotion and sacrifice were required from the pioneers of the Jezreel Valley, Galilee and the Negev, who clasped a plow in one hand and a dagger in the other - and not metaphorically, either. Holding on to Judea and Samaria, when we already have a state and the Israel Defense Forces requires minimal pioneering.

David Ben-Gurion - and not Hanan Porat - declared "the supreme aim of the State of Israel is the redemption of Israel [meaning the Jewish people]." He also said that the right to the Land of Israel is "the nation's right across the generations, a right that cannot be appropriated under any condition." (I once quoted these remarks - which Ben-Gurion made at the 20th Zionist Congress, in Zurich, in 1937 - to a forum of American lawmakers and journalists. Expectably, this primitive argument made a few of the Jewish participants uneasy. Most of the others, who were non-Jews, nodded in agreement. )

The roots of the ideology, which still drives the state, albeit less so, lie in Ein Harod and Nahalal, not Elon Moreh and Kedumim. Gush Emunim adopted these roots and tried, with its own additions, to proceed in their light. As we know, its success was only partial. Israel's governments established settlements in Judea and Samaria due to these roots - not because of Gush Emunim's magical power. And it was not in order to realize Gush Emunim's religious ideology that the Supreme Court validated the settlement enterprise. It did so because the justices still have Zionist feelings in their hearts.

One of the benchmarks of multiculturalism is acceptance of "the other," respecting his views despite his foreignness. But in enlightened Israel, the other is accepted as long as he is the enemy, the minority or the labor migrant. Another "other" - Gush Emunim, arouses a very different response in Amos Schocken. That "other" is demonic, frightening and evil, and has his hand in everything, just like the stereotypical Jew. He controls the government, corrupts the Supreme Court, fights press freedom, will enable Iran to get the bomb, will foment a third intifada and may destroy peace with Egypt. His very existence necessitates the "elimination of democracy." Indeed, as noted, there are associations from other places and other times.

I was in Sebastia, an early fountainhead of the movement, and I knew the leaders of Gush Emunim well. I followed the ideology that drove them and was amazed by their devotion and their readiness to dedicate their lives to the nation's future. They are innocent of Schocken's accusations. They wanted to restore the country to what they believed was the Zionist movement's finest hour: the era of pioneering and land settlement.

Their success, as I said, was only partial. Even the religious public split off, and left them to be the vanguard of the movement. They never espoused a general ideology, as a movement must do in order to impart its ideological doctrine to society as a whole. In addition, they lacked the desire to rule, to win honor or receive perks. In all innocence they believed that through passion, devotion and personal example they would sweep the people of Israel in their wake. And they were wrong.

Last Shabbat, the national-religious Bnei Akiva youth movement held its annual Shabbat Ha'Irgun celebration. Bnei Akiva, which may be the last organization to take the youth movements' classic ideology seriously - self-realization and putting the community before the individual - was also the original home of Gush Emunim's founders. When they marched to Sebastia, their primary goal, just like that of the first Jewish pioneers, was to settle patrimonial land. But it wasn't to be: They did not have a coherent ideology, certainly not as a movement, regarding any other sphere of life. That was one of the weaknesses of the movement, which disappeared shortly after striking out to settle the land.

Many of the founders of Ofra - the first Gush Emunim settlement - are from kibbutzim and moshavim. Others were members of Bnei Akiva, steeped in self-realization through settlement of the land. Hardly any were familiar with the doctrine of Rabbi Kook, the supposed source of Gush Emunim's ostensible messianism, and they had never seen the inside of Mercaz Harav Yeshiva. Their songs were from the classical youth movements and used adapted Russian melodies and marches, and they imitated (barely forging their own original style ) the customs of movements and political parties affiliated with Israel's Labor movement (which, unfortunately, are now all but extinct ).

To conclude, Schocken's article, taken with what he has written over the years, makes one wonder whether he is projecting things onto Gush Emunim. Schocken has a long account to settle with Zionism, secular and religious alike. It is Zionism, and not Gush Emunim, that is preventing Israel from becoming a state of all its citizens. And this is actually the article's true target. But the time is not yet ripe to confront the entire public - the overwhelming majority of which classifies itself as Jewish and Zionist - the way Schocken is reviling Gush Emunim, the salient representative of Zionism as a whole. When the public is persuaded to reject what Gush Emunim believes, it will be likewise rejecting what Zionism still represents: the State of Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state and the national home of the Jewish people.