March/April 2000


by Jay Shapiro
Arutz Sheva Israel National Radio http://www.arutzsheva.org
Broadcast on March 2, 2000 / Adar Aleph 25, 5760

In this article:

1. Land As A Tool 2. The Ultimate Secular Redemption 3. Exhausted Israelis 4. The Impact On Diplomacy


Some 20 years ago, Prof. Shlomo Avineri of Hebrew University wrote a book called "Variations of Zionist Thought." In his introduction, Avineri notes that the dream of "redeeming the Land" accompanied Jewish life throughout the long exile, but it never had a practical application. As long as we were able to survive as Jews, we gave little consideration to a major move back to Eretz Yisrael. As the Enlightenment scored a breach in the traditional world, those who wished to remain Jewish - but who were no longer sure that traditional Judaism was the proper way in which to do this - began to look for other solutions.

This is where the Land of Israel entered the practical thinking of the modern Jew. Although the goal of the secular Zionists was to liberate the Jewish people, they felt that a renewed national identity had to be related somehow to the physical, geographical cradle of the Jewish nation. For the early Zionist thinkers, however, Eretz Yisrael served only as a tool by which to help formulate a modern Jewish identity. The liberation of the land, for them, then, was not a goal in and of itself, but was merely the means to an end. For those Jews for whom the land possesses no inherent holiness, the Land of Israel could potentially be dissected, if necessary, as long as some territory - however small - remained.


When Shimon Peres first began talking of his "New Middle East," he declared that Israel would become the "Hong Kong" and "Singapore" of the region. These exotic places are largely business and tourism centers. Although Singapore does have an army, Hong Kong is wholly dependent upon the good will of its owner, China. The Hong Kong-Singapore model lay at the foundation of the Peresian proclamation that hotels perched on the banks of the Kinneret are more crucial for Israel than fortresses and tanks.

His vision prompted me to reflect on the differences between the religious and secular visions of redemption. Whereas the religious Zionist believes in the ultimate redemption of the Jewish people, the redemption of the land and the coming of the Messiah - his secular counterpart has two Messiahs: Hi-tech and tourism, and "peace." For the religious Zionist, Elijah will proclaim the coming of the Messiah; for the secular Zionist, "Peace" will herald the onset of hi tech and tourism - what I call the "ultimate secular redemption."

Peres, Barak and company probably would not mind if Israel were to be reduced to the area in and around metropolitan Tel Aviv. While serving as Minister of Interior, Barak outlined his plan for the future of Israel. Barak wrote in the September 20th edition of the Jerusalem Post that Israel would eventually house 12 million people, all packed into an area characterized by far fewer land resources and less green space. If the Barak vision comes to fruition, the Israeli urban octopus will extend its tentacles to Haifa in the north and Ashkelon in the south. Put simply, our beloved homeland would be transformed into a well-planned concrete, high-rise ghetto.


The ultimate secular redemption has been helped along by several subtle, behind-the-scenes forces. Writing in a recent edition of Commentary Magazine, Daniel Pipes explains that "fatigue takes many forms in contemporary Israel. The pervasive feeling that they have fought long enough and that the time has come to settle, leads many to express openly their annoyance with the need for military preparedness and the huge expense of maintaining a modern armed force. At the same time, Israel's soaring economy has given many citizens a taste for the good life that cannot be easily reconciled with the need for patience and fortitude - and especially sacrifice... And Israelis are tired of the moral opprobrium their country has long suffered - at the UN, in western academic circles and in editorial boardrooms. Indeed, in an extreme reaction to this ongoing moral ostracism, some of the country's foremost intellectuals have, as it were, defected. They have accommodated sizable chunks of the Arab side's version of the Arab-Israel conflict, promulgating them as important new truths."


Pipes then examines the political and diplomatic implications of Israeli fatigue and self-absorption, noting "how little attention Israelis are paying these days to their Arab neighbors." Israelis, says Pipes, are convinced that the region's Arabs share Israelis' hopes and dreams for the future. "According to a survey conducted by the Jaffee Center at Tel Aviv University," Pipes writes, "fully two-thirds of Israelis now agree with the following dubious assertions: that most Palestinians want peace; that signing agreements will end the Arab-Israel conflict; and that if forced to choose between negotiations and increased military strength, Israel should choose negotiations. Prime Minister Barak perfectly sums up this outlook in his repeated invocation of a peace that will 'work for everyone,' the unspoken assumption being that Arabs no less than Israelis seek to resolve their conflict on harmonious terms..."

Pipes calls "a delusional but widespread assumption" the Israeli belief that peace in the Middle East is ours for the making, and that Israel can "solve" the Palestinian problem by acceding to the creation of a state in the West Bank and Gaza. A similar delusion is that Israel "can eliminate anti-Zionism by helping to funnel money to the Arabs, who will use their newfound affluence to become good neighbors or - in the post Zionist scenario - it can win Arab hearts by dismantling the Jewish character of the Jewish state." Such false illusions have prompted Israelis to be willing to transfer "hard earned territory...in the hope that their troubles will thereby disappear."

Whether such troubles will indeed disappear, time will surely tell. A better bet for a more promising Jewish future, in my view, involves a reversal of the post-Zionist doctrine. Instead of viewing our land as a mere tool, let's begin to appreciate the inherent holiness of Eretz Yisrael. Let us resume the historical Jewish longing for the ultimate Messianic redemption, instead of its shallow secular counterpart. Perhaps by readjusting our perceptions, we can once again regain our composure and our sorely-lacking national-self confidence. Should we choose to follow this recipe, perhaps we will experience a fresh appreciation of our Arab neighbors, and thus an alternate understanding of their vision of a "new Middle East."

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