Reclaiming Secular Zionism’s Religiosity

Feb. 24 2021

A recent article in an Israeli political journal argued that anyone who wishes to revive Israel’s moribund left must stay true to its secular heritage and “take a stand against both religion and religious people.” But to Gershon Hacohen this claim rests on a profound misunderstanding. While it is true that David Ben-Gurion and other early leaders of the Zionist left were secular insofar as they were agnostic and did not observe halakhah, their ideology was deeply enmeshed with the Hebrew Bible and Jewish traditions:

In his writings and speeches, Ben-Gurion made use of Jewish ideas fraught with religious content. [In] February 1937, for example, he asserted, “The definition of the ‘ultimate goal’ of Zionism is nothing other than the full and complete redemption of the Jewish people in its land. The ingathering of the exiles, national sovereignty.” And the Declaration of Independence [invokes] “the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream—the redemption of Israel.” There is a fundamental difference between aspiring to no more than a civil-law state that is pleasant to live in and aspiring to eternal redemption.

[U]nlike secular circles that reject any definition of Jewish identity that does not distinguish between the religious and the national, Ben-Gurion insisted on the unique and indissoluble link between the two dimensions: “The Jewish religion is a national religion, which has assimilated all the historical phenomena of the people of Israel from its beginnings up to the present. It is not easy to separate the national aspect and the religious aspect.”

In the face of the ḥaredi opposition to Zionism, Ben-Gurion stressed that not only did he refuse to turn his back on the age-old Jewish heritage but, in fact, the opposite: he sought to renew the connection with the Jewish legacy of “Rabbi Akiva, the Maccabees, Ezra and Nehemiah, Joshua son of Nun, Moses our teacher.” Disavowal of this connection is the main reason for the left’s loss of a path to the national leadership.

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: David Ben-Gurion, History of Zionism, Labor Zionism, Religious Zionism

The End of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the Rise of the Arab-Israeli Coalition

Nov. 30 2022

After analyzing the struggle between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors since 1949, Dan Schueftan explains the current geopolitical alignment and what it means for Jerusalem:

Using an outdated vocabulary of Middle Eastern affairs, recent relations between Israel and most Arab states are often discussed in terms of peace and normalization. What is happening recently is far more significant than the willingness to live together and overshadow old grievances and animosities. It is about strategic interdependence with a senior Israeli partner. The historic all-Arab coalition against Israel has been replaced by a de-facto Arab-Israeli coalition against the radical forces that threaten them both. Iran is the immediate and outstanding among those radicals, but Erdogan’s Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, Syria—and, in a different way, its allies in the Muslim Brotherhood—are not very far behind.

For Israel, the result of these new alignments is a transformational change in its regional standing, as well as a major upgrade of its position on the global stage. In the Middle East, Israel can, for the first time, act as a full-fledged regional power. . . . On the international scene, global powers and other states no longer have to weigh the advantages of cooperation with Israel against its prohibitive costs in “the Arab World. . . . By far the most significant effect of this transformation is on the American strategic calculus of its relations with Israel.

In some important ways, then, the “New Middle East” has arrived. Not, of course, in the surreal Shimon Peres vision of regional democracy, peace, and prosperity, but in terms of a balance of power and hard strategic realities that can guardrail a somewhat less unstable and dangerous region, where the radicals are isolated and the others cooperate to keep them at bay.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Abraham Accords, Israel-Arab relations, Middle East, Shimon Peres, U.S.-Israel relationship