A new attitude toward Israel, which Evelyn Gordon dubs “conditional Zionism,” has been gaining traction among American Jews. To its adherents, support for the Jewish state should be dependent on the righteousness of its conduct—a stipulation that, inevitably, is interpreted to mean an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. While the suggestion may be absurd on its face—after all, Gordon notes, Beijing’s persecution of the Uighurs doesn’t cause anyone to question China’s right to exist—it could, perhaps, be defended from the standpoint of Jewish theology:
[The idea] that the Jewish people’s right to remain in its land is conditional on its moral behavior [is] a core element of Jewish theology. It’s stated repeatedly in the Bible. It’s included in the Sh’ma prayer. . . . It’s the reason given by the rabbis of the Talmud for both the first and second exiles.
So does that mean conditional Zionists are right, and Israel’s right to exist depends on satisfying Palestinian demands? Not at all, because there’s a crucial distinction between modern conditional Zionism and the biblical version: neither the Bible nor the talmudic Judaism it engendered ever insisted that Jewish morality requires the Jewish polity to commit suicide. Indeed, another fundamental principle of Judaism is that following God’s laws leads to life, not death. . . . For the same reason, national self-defense is considered one of the principal responsibilities of a Jewish leader.
Even if you accept the (false) premise that ceding the West Bank would actually satisfy Palestinian demands, the fact remains that Israel isn’t there solely or even primarily because of the settlers, who have repeatedly proved incapable of preventing territorial concessions (see the Oslo Accords, the disengagement from Gaza, the far-reaching offers made by prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert). It’s there because, based on bitter experience, most Israelis see no way to leave without committing national suicide.