Opinion

The Wind Would Have Yellowed Anyway

We shouldn't kid ourselves that the occupation was the only reason for the corruption of the Jewish state

A rainbow is seen over the Israeli settler outpost of Amona in the West Bank, January 2017.
RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

Not only has the Six-Day War turned 50, but the talk about it, and the "territories" and the “occupation,” has also turned 50: a binary recitation of for and against, which has been repeating itself for a generation without any respite. It’s a recitation that all of us could make automatically, according to his own political colors, even if awoken with a kick in the middle of the night.

In the course of all this talk, an axiom was established that proved acceptable to both right and left: In June 1967, we were hurled – as through a black hole – into another universe, parallel or perhaps opposite to the Israeli reality we had known until then. Many good people – i.e. “leftists” – believe that if we could just by some miracle return from that black hole, we would emerge into that same reality we abandoned on June 4, 1967. Once more, we’d be in that secular, sane, small state with its vivacious Hebraism – more “Israeli” than “Jewish” – free of the territories hump and the weeds of exile, messianism, ethnocentricity, self-victimization, oppression of minorities and the rest of the ailments listed by our prophet Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz.

For added convenience, the axiom also has a geographical appendix, as though the Jewish-Israeli rift had occurred in June ‘67: the earth suddenly shook and a deep chasm opened along the entire length of the Green Line, and since then an abyss separates secular, normal Israeliness from messianic, ghetto Jewishness.

This is a convenient parceling of time and place, but it naively ignores the power of the dynamic, “de-Israeli” forces – those “normalcy antibodies” that had already been bubbling in the arteries of secular Israeliness. It was there even when that Israeliness erred in thinking it had subdued “Jewish fate,” or at least its traumatic reflection in our soul.

It’s easy to forget that even before the territories, Israel was – beneath the secular mannerisms – a sort of theocratic ghetto; an unfinished national structure. It’s easy to forget that even the secular, open-collared among our leaders had been carrying from the start the seeds of messianism – a term David Ben-Gurion himself liked to coin. Even the Mapai members [the forerunner to the Labor Party] liked to stress repeatedly that “we don’t want to be like Albania” – not because of the latter’s isolation and dictatorial regime, but because it was a secular, insignificant state, somewhere among other states. We were too big for being “like all other nations”; the minimum for us was being “a light unto the nations.”

In other words, the volatile mixture of arrogance, self-victimization, grandiose airs and occult thinking had always been there. It’s convenient for us to think it all came from beyond the 1967 lines. But the territories and settlers are merely a parable, a sort of tool for internal use, intended to create a sense of setting limits within dynamics that actually had no borders – much like the state itself.

Without a solid, secular identity, without separating between religion and the nation’s definition, without updating the Zionist inertia – those uncontrollable forces embodied by religious Zionism would push retreating secularism back anyway. That secularism from its very definition as “Zionist” rather than “Israeli” is in self-dissonance and on the defense.

As long as Israeliness isn’t rising and demanding its independent self-determination as a nation – not as a religion, not as a community and not as an armed ghetto – the Israeli wind would have yellowed even without the territories (to paraphrase David Grossman's 1988 book on his observations in the West Bank). Perhaps in a different way, but still yellowed and faded away.