Early Zionists Sought to Achieve Solidarity, Moral Development, and New Forms of Independence for the Jewish People

Revisiting the American scholar Ben Halpern’s seminal 1961 history The Idea of the Jewish State, Donna Robinson Divine sums up its central arguments, and reflects on their relevance today:

Substituting action for prayers gave Zionism its purpose. Work, rather than textual study, would be the vehicle for legitimizing possession, creating community and for transforming sites holy in scripture into a real-life place to call home. Zionists were builders, empowered less as individuals than as members of a kind of collective construction team.

Moving to their ancient homeland could, Zionists argued, lift Jews up to the possibility of a new kind of solidarity, moral development, and new forms of power to shape their own destiny. Building a national homeland would provide Jews with a new kind of redemptive enterprise that would be authorized by their own work and by the civic framework they were called upon to create.

Finally, because Ben Halpern’s penetrating study emphasized that Zionism joined idealistic expectations with empirical reality, it is not surprising to observe that Zionism greatest success—the establishment of a state in 1948—came not from the imaginative potency of its messianic myths but rather from its capacity to set priorities and to adhere to a timetable that had international resonance and produced significant global support. Thus, as Halpern argues, correctly I think, Zionism could not plow through the familiar nationalist ground on the issue of sovereignty. As he put it, Zionism regarded sovereignty “like any other national aim, either as end or means, according to circumstances.”

That Zionism is a mission of high moral purpose doesn’t mean the Jewish state can ignore the cruel realities of regional politics posing dangers to the country’s population if not to its very existence. That is why, whatever its policy failures, Israel cannot escape the judgment of its own citizens or of the Jewish people.

Read more at Fathom

More about: History of Zionism, Jewish history

Why Arab Jerusalem Has Stayed Quiet

One of Hamas’s most notable failures since October 7 is that it has not succeeded in inspiring a violent uprising either among the Palestinians of the West Bank or the Arab citizens of Israel. The latter seem horrified by Hamas’s actions and tend to sympathize with their own country. In the former case, quiet has been maintained by the IDF and Shin Bet, which have carried out a steady stream of arrests, raids, and even airstrikes.

But there is a third category of Arab living in Israel, namely the Arabs of Jerusalem, whose intermediate legal status gives them access to Israeli social services and the right to vote in municipal elections. They may also apply for Israeli citizenship if they so desire, although most do not.

On Wednesday, off-duty Israeli soldiers in the Old City of Jerusalem shot at a Palestinian who, it seems, was attempting to attack them. But this incident is a rare exception to the quiet that has prevailed in Arab Jerusalem since the war began. Eytan Laub asked a friend in an Arab neighborhood why:

Listen, he said, we . . . have much to lose. We already fear that any confrontation would have consequences. Making trouble may put our residence rights at risk. Furthermore, he added, not a few in the neighborhood, including his own family, have applied for Israeli citizenship and participating in disturbances would hardly help with that.

Such an attitude reflects a general trend since the end of the second intifada:

In recent years, the numbers of [Arab] Jerusalemites applying for Israeli citizenship has risen, as the social stigma of becoming Israeli has begun to erode and despite an Israeli naturalization process that can take years and result in denial (because of the requirement to show Jerusalem residence or the need to pass a Hebrew language test). The number of east Jerusalemites granted citizenship has also risen, from 827 in 2009 to over 1,600 in 2020.

Oddly enough, Laub goes on to argue, the construction of the West Bank separation fence in the early 2000s, which cuts through the Arab-majority parts of Jerusalem, has helped to encouraged better relations.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: East Jerusalem, Israeli Arabs, Jerusalem