When Religion Refuses to Go Away

In The Paradox of Liberation, the political theorist Michael Walzer examines how secular movements for national liberation from colonial rule, after achieving success, have been challenged by movements for return to religious tradition. He focuses on three examples: Algeria, India, and Israel. In his review, Yehudah Mirsky argues that the paradox is even more profound than Walzer acknowledges:

The paradox of liberation is not just that the old ways are cherished by the people whom the liberators seek to set free; it goes deeper than that. Secularism, certainly secular revolution, is not a transparent visage of the plain sense of things. It is a chapter in the history of the pursuit of ultimacy that we in the modern world call religion. The revolution in fact must rely on the very cultural sources it seeks to overcome.

[Thus] secular Zionism was of course a revolution against the path that Jewish history had taken in millennia of exile, but it was acutely dialectical. It was no simple casting-off; rather it was a recasting, a reworking of the tradition—a reinterpretation whose shape and form came out of deep currents and recesses in the tradition itself. . . .

Zionists sought to create a new Judaism on the embers of the old. By draining the traditional religious terms of their transcendent reference, they were able to harness the rhetorical and spiritual power of religious language to their enterprise, and in so doing to argue—often persuasively—that while they were breaking with rabbinic Judaism, they were reconnecting to its original pre-exilic form in which people, faith, and land were unified. That gave them the superior claim to be Judaism’s rightful heirs. . . .

And so, [in the 1970s], . . . new generations of Religious Zionists decided to lay hold of the Zionist movement as a whole, and took the religious language that Labor Zionism had made into a functional tool for a political program and re-infused it with its classical religious meaning. . . . Not only were Religious Zionists re-enchanting the national enterprise but—precisely because of the phase of disenchantment that had gone before—the re-enchantment now had special power.

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More about: Algeria, India, Michael Walzer, Religion & Holidays, Religion and politics, Religious Zionism, Secularization, Zionism

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank