On Zionism and Refusing Orders

Theodor Herzl's canonical statement after the First Zionist Congress, "In Basel I founded the Jewish state," has long been a cliche, so we sometimes lose sight of its profound significance. This is expressed in the sentences from Herzl's diary that follow, to the effect that the congress had become the national assembly of the Jewish people, and while it meant nothing then, eventually it would become everything.

In this analysis lies the historical achievement of the First Zionist Congress, which aimed to "restore the glory of yesteryear" and set up a representative body, one that would speak for those members of the Jewish people who aimed to establish a state. Before the birth of the Zionist movement there did exist institutions that represented Jewish communities and associations of communities, but nothing existed that represented the Jews as a whole. The absence of a Jewish state meant not only that a territorial basis was lacking, but also that there was no normative foundation accepted by everyone.

It was precisely in rabbinical sayings on Jewish tradition's pluralism and liberalism - "Make a rabbi for yourself" or "Both these and these are the words of the living God" - that the absence of a single binding authority was displayed. Zionism wanted to change this state of affairs.

Today, it is this historic achievement of Zionism that opponents of the settlement freeze are trying to undermine. They find justification for their resistance in certain rabbinical rulings. Indeed, the Diaspora made such rulings necessary in the absence of a sovereign Jewish authority that could maintain Jewish unity and survival. But once a Jewish commonwealth exists, the installation of a rabbinical authority - of course not of all rabbis, because they never agree with each other, but of one rabbi or another - is a rebellion against Zionism's greatest achievement.

This national authority was not attained easily. Ze'ev Jabotinsky's decision in 1935 to secede from the Zionist movement after his failure in the elections to the 19th Zionist Congress, as well as the establishment of separate underground organizations (the Irgun and Lehi), made waging a unified struggle while avoiding civil war a difficult test for the Jewish community in Palestine.

But after the establishment of the state, David Ben-Gurion's ruthless determination ensured that the nation would have only one army, the Israel Defense Forces. His decision on the Altalena affair, a decision that can justly be criticized in some respects, passed the test: The IDF achieved a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Similarly, his decision to dismantle the separate command of the Palmach, which was also controversial, ensured that the IDF's commanders would get their orders from the defense minister and not seek authorization for their actions from their mentor on Kibbutz Ein Harod. These were tough decisions, but they ensured that the State of Israel would have only one army and not a cluster of armed militias. Ireland is an example of what happens when such decisions are not made.

The pain and distress of those who support settlements throughout the historical Land Of Israel is understandable. But expressions of pain, however genuine, cannot be a substitute for acknowledging that in the Jewish state only one legitimate body is authorized to enforce political decisions. Failing to acknowledge this is to undermine Zionism's historic achievement, and the alternative is another Lebanon.