The War That Divided Judaism

The war that may have prevented a second Holocaust may have changed Judaism more than any event since the Shoah itself.

It is Independence Day 2006 and here we are, still fighting the 1967 war. Next month, the war that took only 100 hours, the war that decided everything and nothing, will have lasted for 39 years. As time has passed the theaters of war have changed, as have the adversaries.

At this point, after peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and a brittle truce with Syria and Lebanon, we in Israel now spend as much time fighting with each other as we do with the Arabs.

In setting battle lines over the eventual borderlines of Israel, the war that may have prevented a second Holocaust may have changed Judaism more than any event since the Shoah itself.

The zeal with which Orthodoxy - up to and including large segments of nominally non-Zionist ultra-Orthodoxy - embraced Judea, Samaria and Gaza as its own, enshrined the concept of territorial non-compromise as a cardinal commandment of Judaism.

Consciously the settlement movement appropriated the symbols and - no less - the arrogance and the disproportionate political clout of the former lords of the land, the secular socialist Labor Zionists. In the process, a de facto civil war began within global Jewry. The right wing, viewing itself as the heir to all that is pure and Zionist, progressively demeaned, delegitimized and demonized the left. Leftists and moderates who favored understanding for the Palestinians, dialogue over our common fate, and concern for the human rights of the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza have come to be routinely dismissed, often via religious instructions and negative examples, as self-hating Jews.

Even as the right enjoys its status as Hated By The Goyim, there was - and remains to this day - an element of triumphal glee in its name-calling of moderates and leftists. The left, the party line goes, is composed of defeatists, Arab-loving collaborators. We are, at best, assimilationists, decadents, hedonists, worshipers of the world's golden calves, Eastern religion-dabblers, dilettantes, mixed-marriers. At worst we are cringing ghetto Yidn, anti-Jewish, appeasers, kowtowers, nay-sayers, doom-sayers, traitors, destroyers of Israel.

Enough. It is Independence Day. It is the first Independence Day of the Next Israel - the Israel where we are, all of us, little by little, forcibly being drained of our oh so righteous dreams, bled of our bloated fantasies. It is that much more painful for you on the right, because you've had 38 years, generations, in fact, to get used to the idea that the day would never come when settlements would be uprooted and settlers loaded onto buses. We on the left are inured to it, having been disabused long, long ago of the idea that collectivism and social democracy were to be the pillars of Israeli governance and daily life.

Enough. It is Independence Day. We have spent years and years punishing each other. It is time to begin the next Israel. For those on the right who have felt themselves disengaging from an Israel they feel has betrayed them, it may be time to recall that unconditional love is by no means uncritical love. For those on the left who have turned cynicism into catechism, criticism into sacrament, it may be time to take a step past the darkness and to look closely, as though for the first time, at what we least allow ourselves to see: the reasons we love this place every bit as much as the right does, care about it no less, are every bit as concerned for its future.

At the same time, we on the left who love Israel, but have come to feel bitter estrangement from many here, should reexamine the longstanding tradition of treating the religious as a different species, the dus, a kind of curiousity or cripple whose religion is a kind of affliction or communicable plague to which we dare not come too close.

One day, probably too long from now, there will be a further withdrawal, and the Next Israel will finally take shape. Not because Ehud Olmert willed it, certainly not because the Palestinians fostered or forced it. It will be because Israelis want it, the amorphous consensus that, in the final analysis, is stronger and more populous by far than any ideology, the consensus that quietly loves the country it so vocally loves to slam.

Let the right be warned. It won't be the big West Bank that Jews in Brooklyn demand. Let the left be resigned. It won't be the Jew-free West Bank that Jews in Berkeley would like to see. But it will mean our independence, at long last, from the war that began in June 1967 and from the chasm that has kept Jews at each other's throats ever since. On that day, the war between the Jews will begin to end, followed by mourning, followed by healing, followed by independence.

In the final analysis, a big part of independence is discovering what side you're on and who's there with you. One day, the war will be over. Not because one adversary lost and the other won. Rather, because at long last both will have come to realize - perhaps to their horror - that they are in fact on the same side.