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Has Zionism Betrayed Its Ideals — Or Was It Flawed at Its Inception?

Allan C. Brownfeld
Spring - Summer 2012

In the book, The Crisis of Zionism, Peter Beinart, a prominent liberal, former editor of The New Republic, Orthodox Jew and self-declared Zionist, argues that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank poses a serious threat to that country’s liberal democratic ideals. He argues that the American Jewish establishment has closed its eyes to the disintegration of Israel’s higher ideals while lobbying Congress and the administration for whatever the Israeli government of the moment desires.  
Writing in The New York Times, Beinart argues that, “... we should call the West Bank ‘undemocratic Israel.’ The phrase suggests that there are today two Israels: a flawed but genuine democracy within the green line and an ethnically-based non-democracy beyond it. It counters efforts by Israel’s leaders to use the legitimacy of democratic Israel to legitimize the occupation and by Israel’s adversaries to use the illegitimacy of the occupation to delegitimize democratic Israel.”  
In Beinart’s view, “When Israel’s founders wrote the country’s declaration of independence, which calls for a Jewish state that ‘ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex’ they understood that Zionism and democracy were not only compatible, the two were inseparable.”  
“Undemocratic” Israel  
Many others have joined Beinart’s campaign against “undemocratic” Israel. New Yorker editor David Remnick writes that, “Herzl envisioned a pluralist Zionism in which rabbis would enjoy ‘no privileged voice in the state.’ These days, emboldened fundamentalists flaunt an increasingly aggressive medievalism. There are sickening reports of ultra-Orthodox men spitting on schoolgirls whose attire they consider insufficiently demure, and demanding that women sit at the back of public buses ... Dov Lior, the head of an important West Bank rabbinical council, has called Baruch Goldstein — who, in 1994, machine-gunned 29 Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron — ‘holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust.’ Lior endorsed a book that discussed when it is right and proper to murder an Arab, and he and a group of kindred rabbis issued a proclamation proscribing Jews from selling or renting land to non-Jews.”  
Peter Beinart calls himself a “liberal Zionist,” and argues that “there is a legitimacy to the idea of the Jewish state because the history of the Jewish experience in exile suggests that Jews have a right to a state as a refuge and in order to create a fully Jewish culture. But it’s also that the creation of the state is not an end in itself, that the state was meant to reflect certain liberal ideals based on Jewish tradition ... To me being a liberal Zionist is the effort to help Israel be a Jewish state that lives out its own liberal democratic founding ideals.”  
In Beinart’s view, “Jewish tradition offers no simple lessons on how to wield power, and the lessons it does teach can sometimes be hard for modern liberals to stomach. But it is striking that when describing the previous two times that Jewish sovereignty failed — the Kingdom of Judah’s destruction by the Babylonian empire around 586 BCE and the Hasmonean Dynasty’s destruction by the Romans more than 500 years later — our tradition insists that physical collapse was preceded by ethical collapse. Again and again, Jewish texts connect the right to Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel to Jewish behavior in the Land of Israel. In the words of Jeremiah, ‘If ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: Then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave your fathers, for ever and ever.’”  
Jews as “Victims”  
While the American Jewish establishment persists in viewing, Jews as “victims” and in defending whatever Israel does as necessary for its “survival,” Beinart views the modern world in entirely different terms.  
“At the core of the tragedy,” he writes, “lies the refusal to accept that in both America and Israel we live in an age not of Jewish weakness, but of Jewish power, and that without moral vigilance, Jews will abuse power just as hideously as anyone else. By discussing power only as a means of survival, the American Jewish establishment implicitly denies that Jews can use power for anything but survival. They deny that Jews, like all human beings, can use power not merely to survive but to destroy. A few years ago, a journalist reported that Malcolm Hoenlein, the influential executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, had a photo in his conference room of Israeli F-15s flying over Auschwitz. It is a photo of a fantasy. Israeli jets have never bombed Auschwitz and never will. What they have bombed, in recent years, is the Gaza Strip, a fenced-in, hideously overcrowded, desperately poor slum from which terrorist groups sometimes shell Israel. Hoenlein, in other words, has decorated his conference room not with an image of the reality that he helps perpetuate, but with an image of the fantasy he superimposes on that reality. In this way, he embodies the American Jewish establishment, which, by superimposing the Jewish past on the Jewish present, is failing the challenge of a new age.” (A review of The Crisis in Zionism by Peter Beinart will appear in the Fall 2012 Issues.)  
Peter Beinart is, of course correct in his analysis of what he calls “undemocratic Israel.” That he wishes Israel to adhere to democratic principles is a welcome departure from those strident voices that see fit to defend Israeli actions, whatever they may be. Still, those who have embraced Beinart’s thesis are, it seems, animated by a belief in their own kind of Zionism, Jewish nationalism, the idea that Jews are an ethnic group rather than adherents of a religion of universal values, and that Israel is the “homeland” of all Jews.  
Genuine Democracy  
They believe that the original Zionists were believers in genuine democracy and that the current State of Israel has departed from their idealism. They have not properly confronted a contrary thesis — for which there is abundant evidence — that Zionism was flawed from the beginning, not only ignoring the existing population of Palestine, but rejecting the dominant spiritual history and essence of Judaism.  
From the beginning, Zionists referred to Palestine as “empty,” as a “land without people for a people without a land.”  
Max Nordau, co-founder of the World Zionist Organization, wrote in 1902 how the Zionists “desire to irrigate it with their sweat and to till with their hands a country that is today a desert, until it again becomes the blooming garden it once was.”  
As Anton La Guardia put it, seeing the land as “empty” was not a matter of ignorance of the Arab population but a question of “European chauvinism”: “The invisibility of the Arabs was self-serving. Palestine at the time of the first Zionist settlement was not empty of people, but of people deemed worthy by Europeans of controlling their own country.”  
David Gordon, an influential member of the Zionist labor movement, asked in 1921: “And what did the Arabs produce in all the years they lived in the country? ... Even the creation of the Bible alone, gives us (Jews) a perpetual right over the land in which we were so creative, especially since the people that came after us ... did not create anything at all.”  
Gordon, and the other early Zionist leaders, did not recognize the principle of majority rule. Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, told the Peel Commission in 1937 that aside from the Jews, “there is no other race or nation as a whole which regards this country as its only homeland.”  
Winston Churchill  
The intrinsic superiority of the Jewish claim to land was a belief shared by prominent British politicians, including the former Secretary of State for the Colonies, Winston Churchill. Testifying before the Peel Commission, he declared: “I do not admit that the dog in the manger has the final right to the manger, even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit, for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race, or, at any rate, a more worldly-wise race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”  
Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, told Jewish Agency official Arthur Ruppin in 1936 that “the British told us that there are some hundred thousand negroes (in Palestine) and for those there is no value.”  
In the book Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy (Pluto Press), Ben White notes that, “The logical outcome of believing in the natives’ inferiority was resistance to the application of democracy, and so both the Zionist leadership and their Western allies explicitly opposed the implementation of self-determination in Palestine. When, in 1935, the high Commissioner for the British Mandate proposed the establishment of a Legislative Council, the Zionists ‘attacked the project’ because the Jews were ‘to be allowed in proportion of their actual population.’ Much earlier, the Zionist organization in London had warned that the problem with democracy is that it ‘too commonly means majority rule without regard to diversities of types or stages of civilization of differences of quality.’”  
Seven Percent of the Population  
In Popular Resistance in Palestine (Pluto Press), Mazin B. Qumsiye, professor at Bethlehem and Bir Zeit Universities, reports that, “Jews in Palestine in 1917 represented less than 7 percent of the population, most of them were not Zionists and they owned less than 2 percent of the privately owned land. By the end of British rule, they represented nearly a third of the population and owned nearly 7 percent of the land. The success must be credited not only to the Zionist movement but to the British elite’s interests. Many British were far more comfortable working with English-speaking European Jews than trying to understand and deal with the local inhabitants. ... Tellingly, when Allenby delivered his first speech in Jerusalem, he mentioned completion of the cycle of the Crusades.”  
The U.S. administration was initially reluctant to support British policy in Palestine. President Woodrow Wilson stated as early as 1918, “The settlement of every question, whether of territory, of sovereignty, of economic arrangements, or political relationships, rests upon the basis of the free acceptance of that settlement by the people immediately concerned, and not upon the basis of the material interest or advantage of any other nation or people ... which may desire a different settlement for the sake of its own exterior influence or mastery. If that principle is to rule, and so the wishes of Palestine’s population are to be decisive as to what is or is not to be done with Palestine, then it is to be remembered that the non-Jewish population of Palestine — nearly nine-tenths of the whole — are emphatically against the entire Zionist program. ... To subject a people so minded to unlimited Jewish immigration, and to steady financial and social pressure to surrender the land, would be gross violation of the principle just quoted, and of the people’s rights, though it be kept within the forms of law.”  
Accordingly, Wilson’s delegates to the 1919 conference were instructed to propose self-determination for the Palestinians, but they were willing to compromise and make an exception by setting up a commission of inquiry formed of two delegates from each interested country to study the situation. Only the U.S. proceeded to send its two delegates (Henry C. King and Charles R. Crane) on a fact-finding trip to Palestine. Two months before the King-Crane Commission was to visit Palestine, the Muslim-Christian Society held a meeting to submit demands for the U.S. to follow Wilson’s stated goal of Palestinian self-determination. They declared their opposition to Zionism, but affirmed their kinship with Jews: “Local Jews are nationals who will have what we have and endure what we endure.”  
Contradicts Self-Determination  
The commission concluded that local Palestinians, representing 90 percent of the population, were unanimous in their desires and aspirations. So while they were initially sympathetic to Zionism, King and Crane showed their objectivity in explaining why the Balfour Declaration was wrong and contradicted the notion of self-determination. The commission issued a lengthy report, but this was suppressed. The full report was published only in 1947.  
Many early Jewish advocates of Zionism rejected the idea of a Jewish state but, instead, sought to make Palestine a spiritual center. Judah Magnes, the first president of the Hebrew University, advocated cultural rather than political Zionism, as did the philosopher Martin Buber. During the 1880s, Ahad Ha-Am, a Russian Jewish intellectual, was a leading member of Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) but subsequently became an ardent critic. He believed that the Zionist movement should focus more on the cultural regeneration of the Jewish people rather than settlement in Palestine.  
After a visit to Palestine in 1891, Ahad Ha-Am expressed his concerns about Jewish settlement in light of the Arab population of Palestine. Criticizing Jewish settlers for their treatment of the Arab population, he was one of the first Zionists to understand the potential for continued conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. In his essay Truth from Eretz Yisrael, written after his 1891 trip, he declared that, far from departing in a state of euphoria, he was demoralized by what he saw on the part of his fellow Jews, particularly their attitude toward the local Arab population. He enjoined them to learn from both past and present experience: “How much we must be cautious in our conduct toward a gentile people in whose midst we now live, how we must walk together with that people in love and honor and, needless to say, in justice and righteousness. And what do our brothers in Eretz Yisrael do? Exactly the opposite. They were slaves in Exile and suddenly they find themselves in a state of unrestrained freedom ... This sudden change had planted in their hearts a tendency toward despotism, as always happens ‘when a servant comes to reign.’”  
First Aliyah  
He was referring to the Jewish settlers of the First Aliyah, the first wave of modern Jewish immigrants who began to move to Palestine in 1882. Ahad Ha-Am took aim at those who assumed a position of economic and cultural superiority vis-a-vis the indigenous population. He condemned the widespread perception that “Arabs are wild desert beasts, a people resembling a donkey, who neither see nor understand what is going on around them.”  
In a prophetic critique of Zionism published in 1929, Rabbi Aaron Samuel Tamarat writes in Three Unsuitable Unions, that the very notion of a sovereign Jewish state as a “spiritual center” was a contradiction to Judaism’s ultimate purpose.  
He writes: “As for building a ‘spiritual center’ for Judaism, such advocates reveal a failure to grasp the nature of Judaism. For Judaism at root is not some religious concentration which can be localized or situated in a single territory ... Neither is Judaism a matter of ‘nationality’ in the sense of modern nationalism, fit to be woven into the famous three-fold mesh of ‘homeland, army, and heroic songs.’ No Judaism is Torah, ethics, and exaltation of spirit. If Judaism is truly Torah, then it cannot be reduced to the confines of any particular territory. For as Scripture said of Torah: ‘Its measure is greater than the heart ...’ (Job 11:9).”  
The “center” of Judaism, in the view of Rabbi Tamarat and countless other Jewish critics of Zionism, is not a particular geographic location but can be found in its spiritual vision: “...the true focus and center of Judaism is within the heart, within the heart of every Jew whose heart is of flesh, not of stone. Wherever on all this earth such a Jew is found, there is the place of Judaism.”  
A “Normal” People  
The distinguished rabbi and academic Arthur Hertzberg, in his book Jews: The Essence and Character of a People (written with Aaron Hirt-Manheimer), argues that the Zionist idea of making Jews a “normal” people is a rejection of the very uniqueness of Judaism and the Jewish mission: “The Jew ... lives in two dimensions — the now and the forever. Jews have lived within changing and often tragic circumstances, but their religion had lifted them up to another realm in which nothing changes. The holy days and the commandments that Jews observe are timeless. Historical events are fleeting. The Zionist settlement in Palestine is no more important to the continuity of Judaism than the revolt against Rome or the expulsion from Spain or the pogroms in Russia ... Chronology is irrelevant in the study of Torah, all of its divine teachings and interpretations are eternal values and transcend time.”  
Rabbi Hertzberg was not worried about “Jewish survival” and believed that what Jews should be asking is not how to perpetuate the Jewish people, but what God expects of them. If God still has some role for Jews to play, they will, in some mysterious way, find themselves able to do it. If there is no belief in God, or in Judaism’s uniqueness, there will be no Jews.  
For Reform Jews, the idea of Zionism contradicted almost completely their belief in a universal Judaism. In 1854, the first Reform prayer book eliminated references to Jews being in exile and to a Messiah who would miraculously restore Jews throughout the world to the historic land of Israel and who would rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem. The prayer book eliminated all prayers for a return to Zion.  
Pittsburgh Platform  
In November 1885, a group of Reform rabbis met in Pittsburgh and wrote an eight-point platform that one participant called “the most succinct expression of the theology of the Reform movement that had ever been published in the world.” The platform emphasized that Reform Judaism denied Jewish peoplehood and nationalism in any variety. “We consider ourselves no longer a nation but a religious community,” it stated, “and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state.”  
In 1897, the Central Conference of American Rabbis adopted a resolution disapproving of any attempt to establish a Jewish state. The resolution stated: “Zion ... is a holy memory, but it is not our hope for the future. America is our Zion.” In 1904, The American Israelite, edited by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, the leader of American Reform Judaism in the 19th century, noted: “There is not one solitary prominent native Jewish-American who is an advocate of Zionism.”  
In 1912, when Zionists pressed for the promulgation of the Balfour Declaration, it was a Jewish member of the British Cabinet who spoke out against the concept of an exclusively Jewish state. Edwin S. Montagu, secretary of state for India in Lloyd George’s World War I cabinet, declared that he had “striven all his life to escape the ghetto,” to which he now faced possible relegation as a result of the proposed policy paper. He resented the Zionist effort to convince Jews that they were an “ethnic-racial” rather than a religious group. Montagu believed, as well, that there was an injustice involved in turning over control of a land to those who constituted only 7 percent of the population.  
Jewish National Home  
He wrote: “What would a national home for the Jewish people really mean? I do not know what this involves, but I assumed that it means that Mohammedans and Christians are to make way for the Jews, and that Jews would be put in all positions of preference and should be peculiarly associated with Palestine in the way that England is with the English or France with the French, that Turks and other Mohammedans in Palestine will be regarded as foreigners ... I assert that there is not a Jewish nation ... It is no more to say a Jewish Englishman and a Jewish Moor are of the same nation than it is to say that a Christian Englishman and a Christian Frenchman are of the same nation.”  
In 1919, a petition was presented to President Woodrow Wilson entitled “A Statement to the Peace Conference.” Reflecting the then-dominant Reform position on Zionism and Palestine, it asserted that the opinions expressed therein represented the vast majority of American Jews. Among the signers were Rep. Julius Kahn of California; Henry Morgenthau, Sr., ex-Ambassador to Turkey; former New York Attorney General Simon W. Rosendale; Mayor L.H. Kempner of Galveston, Texas; E.M. Baker, president of the New York Stock Exchange; and New York Times publisher Adolph Ochs. President Wilson brought the petition with him to the Versailles peace conference.  
The petition criticized Zionist efforts to segregate Jews “as a political unit ... in Palestine or elsewhere “and underlined the principle of equal rights for all citizens of any state “irrespective of creed or ethnic descent.” It rejected Jewish nationalism as a general concept and opposed the founding of any state on the basis of religion and/or race. The petition asserted that the “overwhelming bulk of the Jews of America, England, France, Italy, Holland, Switzerland and other lands of freedom have no thought whatever of surrendering their citizenship in those lands in order to resort to a ‘Jewish homeland in Palestine.’”  
A Land for All Creeds  
With regard to the future of Palestine, the petitioners state: “It is our fervent hope that what was once a ‘promised land’ for the Jews may become ‘a land of promise’ for all races and creeds, safeguarded by the League of Nations which, it is to be expected, will be one of the fruits of the Peace Conference ... We ask that Palestine be constituted as a free and independent state to be governed under a democratic form of government recognizing no distinction of creed or race or ethnic descent, and with adequate power to protect the country against oppression of any kind. We do not wish to see Palestine, either now or at any other time in the future, organized as a Jewish state.”  
Later, as Reform Judaism embraced the Zionist idea, the American Council for Judaism (ACJ) was created in 1942 to maintain the older idea of a universal, prophetic Judaism shorn of nationalism. In his keynote address to the June 1942 meeting in Atlantic City, Rabbi David Philipson declared that Reform Judaism and Zionism were incompatible: “Reform Judaism is spiritual, Zionism is political. The outlook of Reform Judaism is the world. The outlook of Zionism is a corner of eastern Asia.”  
Rabbi Morris Lazaron, an early ACJ leader who served from 1915 to 1946 as rabbi of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, originally was a supporter of cultural Zionism. He later altered his views, however, as he slowly discovered that Zionist nationalism was not different from other forms of nationalism: “The Jewish nationalist philosophy of separateness as a people who would always and inevitably be rejected because they were Jews, boldly asserted itself. The idea seems to have been to break down the self-confidence and opposition to Jewish nationalism ... Behind the mask of Jewish sentiment, one can see the specter of the foul thing which moves Germany and Italy. Behind the camouflage of its unquestioned appeal to Jewish feeling, one can hear a chorus of ‘Heil.’ This is not for Jews — Reform, Conservative or Orthodox.”  
Speaking to the January 1937 meeting of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in New Orleans, Lazaron declared: “Judaism cannot accept as the instrument of its salvation the very philosophy which is leading the world to destruction. Shall we condemn it as Italian or German, but accept it as Jewish?”  
Politicization and Corruption of Judaism  
Indeed, Judaism as a religion has become increasingly corrupted and politicized. Jewish religious bodies, ranging from the Orthodox to the Conservative to the Reform, have embraced the notion that the State of Israel — not God — is, somehow, “central” to Judaism. In its 1999 Statement of Principles, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the Union for Reform Judaism) went so far as to declare that, “We affirm the unique qualities of living in the land of Israel and encourage Aliyah (immigration to Israel).”  
From Israeli flags in synagogues to “Birthright Israel” trips sending young Jews on free trips to Israel, to a host of Jewish organizations focused on influencing U.S. Middle East policy — the center of attention within the organized American Jewish community has been not the traditional Jewish religious commitment to God, but something far different.  
More and more thoughtful Jewish voices — in Israel, in the United States and around the world — are increasingly using the term “idolatry” to describe the elevation of the State of Israel to the “central” position in Judaism.  
In 1991, 90-year-old Yeshayahu Leibowitz, an eminent Israeli theologian, received the country’s most prestigious award, the Israel Prize. Leibowitz’s views were described in these terms by Professor Moshe Halbertal of Hebrew University: “For Leibowitz, the most fundamental principle of Judaism is the rejection of idolatry ... He denounces as idolatrous a traditional assertion regarding the essential sacredness of the land and the people of Israel. Since nothing human is sacred, religion, which is in the sphere of the sacred, cannot serve any human interest. The worship of God is the exclusive purpose of the commandments of the Torah and any other purpose ... even the purpose of the survival of the Jewish people, is an instrumentalization of religion and forbidden.”  
“Undivided” Jerusalem  
With regard to the religious zeal in behalf of an “undivided” Jerusalem, the respected Israeli author Amos Elon declares that, “In monotheistic terms, it is probably idolatrous to consider a shrine — or a city — let alone the preservation of a national or ethnic identity — as the ultimate goal of a religion.”  
Rabbi Jacob Neusner, a respected scholar, was among the first to warn that pro-Israelism could not solve the identity crisis of the community. He declared that the United States was a much better place for Jews than Israel and pointed out the “irony of religious passions being lavished by mainly secular people upon a state, which, like all other states, is a contingent and this-worldly fact.”  
Daniel J. Elazar coined the term “Israelotry” to denote his contention that American Jews turned to worshiping Israel rather than the God of Israel. Immanuel Jacobovits, the late chief rabbi of Britain, bemoaned that, for many Jews, “Israel became a vicarious haven of their residual Jewishness, conveniently replacing the personal discipline of Jewish life.” Rabbi Eugene Borowitz said that, “We cannot function as Jews by trying to live a vicarious Israeli experience on American soil.” David Clayman, a high-ranking American Jewish Congress official, noted that “fundraising was the key. You worshiped at the altar of Israel by contributing. Jewish observance was raising money, not going to the synagogue.”  
Some Zionists openly proclaim that support for Israel is more important than belief in God. Harvard Professor Ruth Wisse, for example, declares: “I would sooner pray among Jews who did not love God than I would among Jews who did not love Israel.”  
Idolization of Israeli State  
Referring to such idolization of the Israeli state, Susannah Heschel, professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth College, writes: “If Jewish prayer is better when confirming right-wing politics rather than love of God, how will we hear the prophetic voice we need to call the Jewish people back to its soul? Judaism is not a religion of space and does not worship the soil. So, too, the State of Israel is not the climax of Jewish history, but a test of the integrity of the Jewish people and the competence of Judaism”  
The growing idolatry of the State of Israel, states Rabbi Marc Gopin, who teaches in the Department of Religion at George Mason University, “has led to what it historically has always led to in other religions ... the distortion of a rich religious heritage that has a deep set of ethical commitments to the stranger, in biblical language the grim, those non-members of one’s culture who happen to reside on the land as well. The biblical prophets were aware that this level of intoxication with the land is poisonous ... They required a balance between love of land and moral restraint, a stepping back from land intoxication ... To recapture our sense of religious morality, we must undertake a fundamental re-evaluation of our relationship to the land.”  
The 19th century founders of Reform Judaism rejected the notion of a God confined to a particular “holy” land and embraced, instead, a universal God, the Father of all men, and a religion of universal values, as relevant in New York or London as in Jerusalem. Early in the 20th century, Hermann Cohen, one of the foremost Jewish philosophers of modern times, understood the danger that Zionism would re-ignite an intoxication with the land that would strangle Jewish morality.  
Defining Zionism  
According to Eric Alterman, distinguished professor of English and journalism at the City University of New York, until the establishment of Israel in 1948, “Zionism was never required to define its goals. Was it a national liberation movement for the Jewish people, allowing them to create a society where they could be free of persecution and in control of their own destiny in their biblical homeland? Or was it a movement to liberate — or, more accurately, conquer — the land itself, regardless of the cost not only to its previous inhabitants, but also to the other values that modern Jews hold dear, including, most particularly, democracy and human and civil rights?”  
In the past, declares Alterman, the refusal of Palestinian leaders to become serious about a negotiated settlement allowed those two versions of Zionism to coexist. “But those days are over,” he writes, “and the tragedy of recent history is the fact that just as a majority of Palestinians have finally come to recognize that they must accept the inevitable and bargain from their position of relative weakness, the ascendant Zionist right has no interest whatsoever in peace, whatever the costs to Israel or world Jewry, if it means parting with even an acre of ‘holy land.’”  
Outgoing Mossad chief Meir Dagan made headlines in Israel when he complained that the Israeli government had failed to put forward a peace initiative with the Palestinians and that it had foolishly ignored the peace initiative from Saudi Arabia, which promised full diplomatic relations in exchange for a return to the 1967 boundary lines. Dagan, a decorated hero, also warned against an attack on Iran.  
Racism on the Rise  
Sadly, racism appears to be on the rise in Israel. Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed, for example, published a religious ruling prohibiting the renting of apartments to Arab citizens. Within days, 46 chief rabbis from locations around Israel and the West Bank published rulings saying more or less the same thing. A similar petition was signed by more than 300 rabbis.  
Nitzan Horowitz, a Meretz Party MK, accused the rabbis of having a warped approach to Judaism. “What these rabbis represent has nothing to do with Judaism, no connection to Jewish values, and definitely no connection to the democratic values of Israel,” he declared. He viewed the rabbis’ proclamation as further proof of “the racist...ugly wave sweeping through Israel that calls for exclusion of entire sectors of Israeli society — not only Arabs, but also Ethiopians, homosexuals, everyone who is a bit different.”  
Will Democracy Survive?  
Even some of Israel’s strongest supporters are beginning to wonder aloud whether Israel’s democratic character will survive. Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic asked, “What if Israel ceases to be a democracy.” He wondered: “Is it actually possible that one day Israelis — Jewish Israelis — would choose to give up democracy in order to maintain Israel’s voting majority? Some people, of course, argue that Israel has ceased to be a democracy, because there is nothing temporary about the 43-year-old occupation of the West Bank ... Let’s just say as a hypothetical, that one day in the near future, Prime Minister Lieberman’s government (don’t laugh, it’s not funny) proposes a bill that echoes the recent call by some rabbis to discourage Jews from selling their homes to Arabs. Or let’s say that Lieberman’s government annexes swaths of the West Bank in order to take in Jewish settlements, but announces that the Arabs in the annexed territory are in fact citizens of Jordan, and can vote there if they want to, but they won’t be voting in Israel ... Most of American Jewry would be so disgusted by Israel’s abandonment of democratic principles that I think the majority would simply write off Israel as a tragic, failed experiment ... Am I exaggerating the depth of the problem? I certainly hope so ... But on the other hand, the Israel I see today is not the Israel I was introduced to more than 20 years ago ...”  
Rejecting Judaism’s Spiritual Tradition  
It is time for those engaged in the growing debate over a “crisis in Zionism” to seriously consider the possibility that this philosophy from the very beginning not only turned its back on the Jewish spiritual tradition but, by ignoring the rights of the indigenous population of Palestine, on Western principles of democracy and self-determination.  
It is good that the current excesses are being criticized. But these excesses, these critics must understand, were inherent in the Zionist idea itself. •  

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