Religious Zionism? The Secular Zionist Left Is the Mother of the Occupation

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Satmar Hasidic Jews, who are known for their anti-Zionist views, protest on the sidelines of the march in New York, June 2, 2019.
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

My Haaretz colleague Uri Misgav corrected the novelist Haim Be’er, who called religious Zionism a “cancerous growth.” Misgav said it wasn’t right to call religious Zionism a cancerous growth, but neither should it be called Zionism. Rather, it should be called “religious anti-Zionism.” The essence of Zionism was lofty, so moral until the religious settlers came and ruined everything. We, “the sane Israel,” as Misgav put it, are the opposite of them, the insane. How beautiful we are.

The Zionist left is at it again. It washes its hands, as is its wont, and blames the other. Once it was the Arabs, now it’s the religious Jews. If it weren’t for that “religious anti-Zionism,” we would be in a different place now. If we only could have gotten the religious anti-Zionists out of the way, we would have a just, moral and egalitarian Israel that didn’t occupy the territories and wasn’t colonialist. It’s so easy, and such a lie.

The secular Zionist left established Zionism, as well as the occupation and the settlements. It’s the founding father of the country and the founding mother of the occupation. Religious Zionism ran amok to the place the Zionist left opened up for it. It grabbed what it could. Leftist governments didn’t do anything to prevent this. The blame is shouldered by those who allowed it, sometimes by closing their eyes, sometimes by shying away, and in most cases with enthusiasm and admiration.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 56

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Yes, the settler enterprise has cancerous traits; Be’er was right about that, but it’s not to blame. It has cursed Israel with the settlements, but most of the responsibility falls on those who let the enterprise happen.

“Sane” Zionism wasn’t an innocent movement going back well before the occupation of 1967. “The conquest of labor,” the replacement of Palestinian workers, started already in the 1920s. It wasn’t the idea of the religious Zionists. The Bnei Akiva youth movement didn’t lead the way in the “redemption of land.”

What started then continues today unabated. It’s the same policy, the same values, the same operational principles with the same worldview, which is mainly that this land was designated for the Jewish people only. The Zionist left always knew to package this chauvinism in attractive terms of coexistence and brotherhood, without doing much to realize them. The nationalist Zionists despised those terms.

The difference was style. But nothing practical stemming from 1967 started in 1967. The year 1967 is the direct continuation of 1948, when religious Zionism played a marginal role, if any. The year 2020 continues 1948 and 1967. The left hasn’t led the country for years, but it still operates within the physical and ethical borders it inherited. The right was actually the only side that corrected anything, by getting out of Sinai and Gaza.

The settlers and their helpers have become the strongest lobby, one that knows how to extort the government. You can understand the recoiling of the Zionist left in the face of the settlers’ modus operandi and stunning success.

While most of Israel doesn’t take an interest in the occupation, the settlers have achieved their main goal, the permanent removal of the two-state solution from the agenda. The supporter of the occupation indeed destroyed the Zionist idea of a Jewish state, but the Zionist left never really objected to the occupation beyond lip service. Its governments also never granted equal rights to all citizens, as Misgav sanctimoniously states.

Shaking off Zionism’s original sins and portraying one form of Zionism as beautiful and the other as insane is hypocritical and self-righteous. The settler group Gush Emunim didn’t invent anything, nor did Bezalel Smotrich or Israel Harel. They studied in the college of alienation and expulsion established by the Mapai party, Hashomer Hatzair, the Ahdut Ha’avodah party, the Palmach and David Ben-Gurion.

There is no good Zionism and no bad Zionism. There is one Zionism, which established the Jewish state by forcibly expelling the Palestinians. It did this in 1948 and in 1967, and it has been doing so to this day. It feels so good to blame the settlers, and it’s so typical of the Zionist left.

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