Having read with interest David Habakkuk's article,I am motivated to write a brief comment on Zionism. (I may post another comment at another time about the advocacy of a two state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.)
Habakkuk opines categorically that "the whole Zionist enterprise was hopeless from the start." The growth and development since 1948 and the present strength of Israel, even with its internal and external problems and its oppressive policies and actions, make Habakkuk's statement wishful thinking rather than proven fact.
I am personally inclined to think (or perhaps guess) that the Zionist state will ultimately fail. As an historian , not a prophet,however,I neither believe failure is imminent nor absolutely certain to occur in the foreseeable future. I realize that United States backing and support has been essential for Israel's survival to date and will almost certainly be necessary for continued survival of that state. Although changes have occurred and are continuing to occur in United States public opinion concerning Israel, the United States government remains overwhelmingly supportive and protective of the Zionist state.
(As a person who has for half a century opposed Zionism and the almost blind support by the United States government for oppressive policies of the state of Israel, I continually remind myself that I need to be as realistic as possible as I continue to be cause committed and to work for positive change.) I contend, as do some other commentators, that Zionism is the fundamental cause of this conflict. Habakkuk seems to suggest this, but I want to attempt to be a bit more specific and precise.
I need not and cannot in this one comment review the entire historical development of Zionism. It is enough to state that the essence of political Zionism rests upon the following absolute theory of anti-Semitism: Jews have been in the past and/or are being in the present and/or will be in the future persecuted by non-Jews in all nation-states in which they are a minority. In Zionist logic it follows that Jews will only be safe in a nation-state in which they begin as the majority of the residents of the state (or at least of the citizens who control the state) and thereafter remain the majority.
The state of Israel was created in the Zionist image and has since its creation maintained its Zionist foundation. Thus it is that the state of Israel denies by law to non-Jews,even to non-Jewish citizens of the state, certain rights and privileges, given to Jewish citizens. Thus it is that the indigenous population of about four million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have been occupied and oppressed since 1967 but not been given the opportunity to become citizens of the state. All of this (and more) is Zionism in action.
The primary cause of conflict is obvious. The Zionist state has existed for nearly sixty-three years. Only a small percentage of Jews from the United States, Britain and France have emigrated to Israel. These Jews, most of whom support Zionism, have opted to remain in the diaspora. They do not believe wholeheartedly in the absolute theory of anti-Semitism; they obviously do not think they would be safe only in the Zionist, Jewish state. They attempt to garner financial and other support for Israel by emphasizing the Holocaust and then maintaining that the Jews in Israel are living in the most unsafe place for Jews in the world. Zionists appear to pay no heed to their convoluted logic.
Zionists are not a monolithic group. The left-wing Zionists, who in varied ways oppose Jewish settlements in the West Bank and advocate a Palestinian state, still favor a Zionist state behind or slightly beyond the green line. They, therefore, with but few exceptions want a Jewish exclusive state that would continue to grant certain rights and privileges to Jews not granted to non-Jews. Such a position maintains the basis, even if lessened, of conflict.
A Jewish, exclusive state, consisting to a great extent of land taken from the non-Jewish indigenous population, will probably have steadily increasing difficulty remaining viable in the Arab Middle East.
Jewish religious Zionism adds another problematic dimension to the conflict. The great majority of Orthodox rabbis and groups opposed Zionism before the Holocaust. They adhered to Talmudic dictates that the Jewish state would not be restored until the Messiah came and that it would be a sin for Jews to attempt to have a state before then. These Orthodox Jews also opposed the secularism of most early Zionist leaders. A minority of Orthodox rabbis and their followers in the early twentieth century, however, became religious Zionists. and followed the leadership of Rabbi Kook, the elder. Rabbi Kook maintained that the Messianic age had arrived, and, therefore, Jews could and should work for the creation of a Jewish state. The Jewish state, envisioned by Rabbi Kook and his followers, was different in many ways from the kind of state sought by secular, Zionist leaders. During the time of the Holocaust and clearly by 1948, when the state of Israel came into existence, the overwhelming majority of Orthodox Jews, including rabbis, who had been anti-Zionist, became ardent supporters of the Zionist state in many ways, even though they continued to oppose certain specific policies and practices of the state's largely secular leadership. Orthodox religious parties took their place in the political system of the state and became for the most part fiercely anti-Palestinian. A small minority of Orthodox Jews and rabbis, the most notable being the Chassidic group called Naturei Karta, remained anti-Zionist and have continued to oppose the state and its oppressive policies. Some of the Orthodox groups, most noteworthy being the Lubavitch Chabad Chassidic group, refused to be identified as Zionist but still supported some of the most extreme Zionist policies and practices.
In our book, Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel, Israel Shahak and I discuss this Jewish religious Zionist dimension in some depth. We pinpoint in our book reasons why these religious Jews have exerted influence far beyond their numbers. In my work since the publication of the book I have supplied more explanation. These religious Jews, including those who do not call themselves Zionists but who support the state of Israel and many of its extreme Zionist policies, believe and maintain that God gave Jews an eternal deed to the Holy Land. They specify those passages of the Bible that clearly express this promise of land. The Holy Land includes at least the Israel of pre-June, 1967 borders and the West Bank. According to these Jews giving any of this land to Palestinians or to other non-Jews would be committing a sin.
Perhaps, the best advocacy of this position is the Lubavitch Chassidic tract, Eyes Upon the Land, put on the lubavitch.org website in 1997. Eyes Upon the Land is taken from the teachings of the late, revered (by his followers) Lubavitch "Rebbe," Menahem Mendel Schneerson, who stated that the giving back to Egypt of the Sinai in 1979 was a major sin, committed by then Prime Minister Begin and the Israeli government. (Schneerson died in 1994, although some of his followers who to this day consider him to be the Messiah believe he will soon be resurrected.) It is a mistake to discount, as some commentators have, the importance of Jewish religious Zionism. It is an influential factor in the conflict. It has influenced and is continuing to influence not only Jews and the state of Israel but also many non-Jews, most especially the Christian Zionists.
I emphasize in conclusion that a sophisticated understanding of Zionism and its complexities is necessary if we wish to deal adequately with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.