Friday, April 1, 2016

The State of Israel needs to declare the end of Zionism

Many people think that until the advent of Zionism, sometime in the nineteenth century, Jews saw themselves in an exile ordained by God, an exile that only God could bring to an end, and the only way of moving God to bring about the end was a pious life of mitzvot and devotion. It is true that this opinion existed. It was to some extent an inevitable religious "party-line" of those who wanted to turn the negative experience of Jewish powerlessness into a motivation for religious cohesion and greater observance. Personal piety and communal conformity were important values, and if the exile could be enlisted to strengthen individual and collective resolve to maintain personal piety and communal conformity, so much the better. And of course, there was a lot of truth in this perspective. In the end, it is really only God who can bring the exile to an end. The question was, however, whether he intended to use human means to do so. Rav Amram Blau's Neturei Karta, for example, are of the opinion that only God can end the exile, and they regard the Zionist regime as blasphemous.

But it may be more accurate to say that Zionism, the political movement to establish a modern Jewish commonwealth in Palestine, is merely the most recent iteration of another time-honored Jewish position that believes that exile is not a metaphor for spiritual distance from God but literally a state of political powerlessness and distance from the Land of Israel. When the powers that be prevented Jews from living in their land, the Jews made accommodations and waited, but when the powers that be permitted or even encouraged and promoted Jewish presence in their land, there was no reason other than indolence to not pick up and move and even seek to reestablish a Jewish commonwealth. Spinoza knew this very well. He wrote of it in his Theological Political Treatise, and he did not think it extraordinary. The early nineteenth-century European parliamentarians who argued against Jewish emancipation considered it self-evident that the Jews, at the first opportunity, would seek to return to their ancient homeland and reestablish themselves as a nation. They were right.

Throughout the last two-thousand years, whenever Jews perceived that the end of the exile was near, as they periodically did, they were not too shy to act on the expectation of an imminent reversal of their collective fortune. This was as true in the days of Bar Kokhba as it was in the days of Shabtai Tzvi. Exile was not just a mystical state of affairs but a very real condition that permeated every-day Jewish life; not just because it was mentioned in every-day prayers but because Jewish every-day life was a series of indignities caused by statelessness, foreignness, and the vulnerability of a national-religious minority marked by the majority as rightly deprived of their erstwhile fortunes because of their disbelief or stubbornness. If the Jews could for a moment forget that they were in exile, their hosts would remind them in no uncertain terms.

The question is now, when is enough enough. When will the first successful Zionist movement, i.e. the present one, say dayyenu? Is it enough to have accomplished the Jewish return to the ancient homeland? Is it enough to have established a Jewish state? Is it enough for that state to be militarily and economically not just viable but of admirable prowess? Is it enough to have made the desert bloom and to have drained the swamps? Is it enough to have revived the Hebrew language as a modern idiom? Is it enough to have established cutting edge research institutions and a high-tech industry on par with the best? Is it enough to have made peace with Egypt and Jordan? Is it enough to have established a society that, despite all flaws, is based on the rule of law, where non-Jewish minorities enjoy the rights of citizens? What else does this movement need to fulfill itself? What is the endgame?

There are people who believe that "secular Zionism" (as if Z. was ever completely secular) was merely the human instrument to hasten divine redemption. Divine redemption is incomplete. In order for divine redemption to be complete, some people think that the Temple needs to be rebuilt (speedily, in our days). This will either be accomplished by the Messiah or it will need to be done by the Jews themselves so as to hasten the coming of King Messiah who will then abolish the secular Jewish state and rule forever.

This may sound absurd and "fringe-y." But it is not absurd to those who believe it. For those who believe that the State of Israel is merely an unwitting instrument of divine redemption, Zionism's mission is incomplete. It is not enough to have a sovereign Jewish state. It is not enough for Jews to live in an internationally recognized commonwealth of their own. It is not enough to have conquered Judea and Samaria and to have held on to united Jerusalem for nearly half a century. After forty years of settling Judea and Samaria, the goal is to hold on to Judea and Samaria and not to let it slip away. And after attaining de facto sovereignty over Jerusalem (something not officially recognized by the international community), the goal of this post-Zionist Zionism or romantic neo-Zionism or religious Zionism is to hold on to Jerusalem, including the Old City, including the Temple Mount, forever. This much is actually a broad consensus for many, not just on the right but at the center of Israeli society and certainly many Jews abroad.

But the pressure for complete redemption is building for a further status-quo-rectification: either to allow Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount (i.e., the holy mosque of Al-Aqsa) in the name of democratic values and the freedom of religion, or in form of a final messianic push to build the Third Temple. What presently stands in the way of the completion of this messianic project is not the Muslim buildings or world opinion, but the State of Israel and its interest in self-preservation. The state is obliged to resist Jewish pressures to hasten the end. This turns the state into the enemy of a potent messianic movement. Right now it looks as if the state is strong enough to resist these pressures and to prevent them from acting on their beliefs. But support is building for the idea of allowing Jewish prayer on the Haram al-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary. Right wing politicians willing to support this, in the name of the freedom of religion or in whatever other name, are playing with fire. Israel owes it to its citizens, to its neighbors, and to the world to declare its intentions. Israel needs to declare the end of Zionism: mission accomplished. No more forced demographic corrections; no more territorial expansion; no status quo rectification on the Temple Mount. Take the Temple Mount out of the political discourse. Leave the Temple to the Messiah, and end all support to people who undermine the status quo. Jews may pray for the rebuilding of the temple, but they may not act on it. Not until Messiah comes. Not as long as the State of Israel exists.

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