Former Knesset member Professor Aryeh Eldad presents data and sources from the fathers of Zionism and repudiates the theory that severs Zionism and Judaism, and, in fact, determines that the absence of Judaism paves the way to the demise of the State of Israel.
He made these statements in a lecture that he delivered in the framework of a Friday-morning lecture series in the Oz VeGaon Nature Preserve in Gush Etzion. Eldad titled his lecture: “Is Israel the State of the Jews or a Jewish State?”
In his opinion, in order to attempt to provide a response to the question posed in the title, it’s necessary to analyze the Zionist idea in the writings of Herzl as a basis for the discussion. Eldad noted that the interpretation given to the term “Jewish State” ranges from a halachic state according to one understanding, and “a blend of folk songs, falafel, folk dances, ‘Hatikva’ and the flag, and ‘Our Life is Strawberries,’ ” in his formulation. His own view is that the concept “Jewish State” is based on: “Everything that exists in the Jewish people as a religion and as a nationality is indivisible, as well as everything that was written: the sacred texts and exegesis, but also later writings, up to and including my father and Leibowitz. All that is considered Jewish culture.”
In his remarks, Eldad noted that in the eyes of many on the left, the meaning of “Jewish State” is a state of all its citizens, the majority of whom are Jews, and in the name of the aspiration to achieve a Jewish majority, they fear the demographic demon. In their opinion, the state must be democratic—not Jewish and democratic—a characterization that imposes upon them undesired responsibilities.
Herzl considered Jewish culture as a cornerstone of the people’s nationality.
Eldad asserted that from time immemorial, the State of Israel was a Jewish State, and all attempts to transform it into a state of all its citizens, the majority of whom are Jews, are recent unviable endeavors. “The roots of this debate are ancient,” he says, citing Herzl’s “The Jewish State” pamphlet, and the statements of Ze’ev Jabotinsky to the contrary that the State of Israel must be a state of all its citizens, the majority of whom are Jews, albeit one with cultural autonomy for the Arabs, as well as a share in the leadership.
In contrast, David Ben-Gurion wrote the concept “Jewish State,” not “State of the Jews,” five times in the Declaration of Independence. “This word, which addresses the character of the state that prioritizes the Jews and their feelings, negates Arab national rights, and provides them only with civil rights.”
Eldad noted further the position of Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who supported Ben-Gurion’s position and viewed the Jewish State as one whose objective is tending to the problems of the Jewish people in the State of Israel and in the Diaspora in the realms of ethnicity, economics, society, etc. “These matters are reflected in the Law of Return, the National Education Law that requires instilling Jewish cultural values, as well as in dispatching Mossad agents for bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel and for bringing and trying Adolf Eichmann. These are the practical ties dictated by the connection between the Jewish people and the state.”
The professor said that the left today, despite its admiration for Leibowitz’s philosophy, stridently opposes these positions. In this context, he mentioned the statement of the late Shulamit Aloni who expressed her opposition to the term “Jewish State.” She explained that Herzl actually wrote the term “State of the Jews.” Amos Oz also expressed himself in a similar manner, and wrote: “A State cannot be Jewish, just as a chair or a bus cannot be Jewish. A State is merely an instrument, and an instrument must belong to all its citizens.” Amos Oz considered the term “Jewish State” as a hindrance.
According to Eldad, one who views the state like a seat on a bus is invited to take a seat on a bus and “travel away from here … ”, as the meaning of this statement is that the presence of the Jewish people in its land does not stem from destiny or intent; rather, it is the consequence of “an accident of history” of persecution and pogroms.
In response to Shulamit Aloni’s contention regarding Herzl’s choice of phraseology that relates to the state as a Jewish State, Eldad presented an analysis of the writings of Herzl himself, from which the clear and decisive relationship between the state that is destined to be established for the Jewish people and Judaism emerges. Eldad noted in this context the analysis of Herzl’s writing by Professor Yoram Hazony, an analysis from which Herzl’s intent clearly arises. “The attempt to hitch Herzl to the wagon of those who oppose the Jewish State is a failed effort. Herzl is not one of them.”
Based on Herzl’s writings, Eldad explained that Herzl considered Jewish culture as a cornerstone of the people’s nationality.
“In the first Zionist Conference, Herzl said that Zionism is a return to Judaism before it is a return to the land of the Jews. How then can one assert that his intent was to create a collection of assimilated Jews? Herzl was an assimilated Jew from his youth. But when he created Zionism, he wrote: ‘I am returning to stitch together the torn tradition of our people, and I am kindling a Menorah.’ He continues: ‘The greatest accomplishment of Zionism is returning the lost youth back to Judaism,’ He provides his children with Jewish education. He recites Shema with them before they go to sleep, and he considers the Bible as the basis for the Jewish claim on the Land of Israel.”
To the contention on the left that Herzl was an atheist, Eldad stated that the basis of that contention is a distorted citation of his words that “the place of the rabbis is in the synagogue,” words whose connotation is separation of religion and state. However, they must be read in the context of additional things that he wrote: “I want to educate my children in the spirit of what could be characterized as ‘the God of history.’ I see that He is present and active in everything. I see Him, the same way I see the function of a muscle. The world is the body and God is its action. I do not know the ultimate objective and I do not need to know it. I suffice in the knowledge that there is something more exalted.”
Eldad sees statements of this kind as clear proof that Herzl was not an atheist. An additional example of this, he finds in Herzl’s determination that “through the State, we can educate our people for missions that are still beyond our horizon, as God would not have sustained our people for so long a time were there not some destiny for us in the midst of the human race.”
“That is not what a person who plans on establishing a State for Germans of Jewish descent or French people of Jewish descent,” Eldad asserted, noting that Herzl despised assimilated Jews and those who converted to Christianity. In the Zionist Congress, women had the right to vote, a rare decision for that era; however, at the same time, converts to Christianity did not have the right to vote. “A Jew who converted to Christianity cannot be a member of the congress,” Eldad emphasized.
According to Eldad’s understanding, Herzl was attempting to distance himself from the dispute between the religious and the secular since he was seeking to attract both groups to his positions. However, even while distancing himself from the dispute, he wrote that his desire was “to transform Jerusalem into a powerful religious center; that Jerusalem would be for the Jews what Mecca is for Moslems.” Eldad recommends to carefully read the points that Herzl wrote in the political document that he submitted to the British government as a proposed charter. In that document, it is written that the aspiration is the construction of a settlement center for the preservation and cultivation of the Jewish national concept.
Similarly, it is written that for the Jewish settlement, a government would be established whose makeup would be Jewish, whose governor would be Jewish, and whose law would be the British law, with the exception of places where changes would be introduced based on Jewish law. The settlement would have a Jewish name and a Jewish flag, and the state would have declared Jewish objectives.
Regarding Herzl’s statement that “we will not allow theocratic impulses of our clerics to emerge,” and his words later in his statement about the need to restrict the clerics to the synagogue, the basis for the left’s contention for separating religion and state, Eldad remarked that it is necessary to read the continuation of the sentence, where it is written that this must be done just as the military must be restricted to their bases. He continued and cited from Herzl’s writings the subsequent sentence: “The army and the rabbinate will be respected to the extent that their lofty positions demand and to the degree that they are worthy. However, their voice will not have greater rights in the State, lest they cause problems domestically and internationally.”
According to Eldad, Herzl underscores with this statement that in his vision, the rabbis are civil servants, who receive their salary from the state, just like members of the military.
In light of the differences in language among the Jewish people and their struggles in the various exiles, what unites the Jewish people from Herzl’s perspective is that “we identify ourselves as a nation on the basis of religion.” Herzl wrote further: “I don’t intend to do anything against religion, but to the contrary. Every individual can contribute to Jewish civilization, but it is not the neo-Jewish architecture that will be at the heart of the national identity; rather, it will be the religious tradition of the Jews.”
Herzl also wanted a Temple, and wrote about it in “The Solution to the Jewish Question,” which appears in Volume 7 of “All Herzl’s Writings’: “Our spiritual shepherds, to whom our call is directed first and foremost, will present themselves, with all their might, in service of our idea. At the same time, it will be clear from the outset that we are not establishing a theocracy, but a modern civil state, civil and tolerant; however, we will rebuild the Holy Temple as a shining memorial to the faith of our ancestors.”
The rabbis are civil servants, who receive their salary from the state, just like members of the military.
Eldad sees the entirety of these citations as proof that there is no basis for the left’s contention that Herzl’s desire was to establish a state for the Jews and not a Jewish State.
The professor continued and sharpened the question, asking whether it is possible to continue to characterize those who seek to separate the state from its Judaism as Zionists. “In my understanding, if this State is not Jewish, it has no right to exist here,” Eldad said and elaborated: “If the source of the right to exist of the State of Israel stems from the right to self-determination of every people, then the Arabs have a similar right. This contention is liable to engender the establishment of a Palestinian state or a binational state.”
Eldad went on to ask whether there is a contradiction between the state being Jewish and its being democratic—a question that arises because the need to ensure the state’s being a Jewish state requires legislating the Law of Return, which is not a democratic law. Eldad cited the statement by Professor Ruth Gavison according to which “there is an absolute democratic right to sustain a State that maintains its Jewish character. It is incumbent upon Israel to preserve its Jewish characteristics because it is obligated to express the most basic preferences of the majority of its citizens. The demand from the Jewish people to renounce the existence of the Jewish state is a demand for national suicide.”
Gavison also does not accept the determination that Arab national rights are included under the rubric of basic human rights. In her opinion, human rights are the right to live and the right to dignity; national rights are desirable but not essential. A Jewish state which does not provide the Arabs with the right to self-determination, “is not guilty of a violation of fundamental human rights.”
In this context, Eldad commented and mentioned the opposition of 95 percent of Israeli Arabs to the notion of transferring their cities to Arab sovereignty, as Avigdor Lieberman proposed, clearly indicating the understanding that the Arabs’ human rights are protected in that Jewish state.
Ostensibly, from all this, emerges the contention of the left that in order to preserve the Jewish character of the state, it is necessary to relinquish portions of the land, and thereby address the demographic threat. Eldad reminds us that the Zionist left, at the outset, even considered the possibility that a Jewish minority would rule over the majority. “Arlozorov and Ben-Gurion, in the ’30s, wrote that until the creation of a majority by opening the gates of the land to immigration, it is justified and moral to seize control in a non-democratic manner, on an interim basis, in order to realize the people’s right to the land. Eldad noted that in the summer of 1932, there were only 180,000 Jews. Then Arlozorov wrote to Weizmann that “Zionism cannot be realized without an interim period of a nationalist minority government that will wrest the mechanism of the State from the military force in order to prevent the danger that the non-Jewish majority will seize control.”
Eldad stated that “Judaism is an indivisible amalgam of religion and nationality. One who seeks to separate them will produce mutations that are not viable.” He finds proof for his statement in the article by Gershom Schocken according to whom the time has come to integrate Jews and Arabs in the Land of Israel and to establish a new, third, united nation. He recommends to us assimilation as a nation, which is tantamount to national suicide. Anyone willing to relinquish the central foundation, the identity of the State of Israel as a Jewish State will ultimately relinquish it and a State of the Jews.”
“The call to transform the State of Israel from a Jewish State to a State of the Jews is a reversal of the Binding of Isaac. This is the desire to sacrifice the father, to sacrifice the fathers and the ideology that generated the State of Israel, our culture and our national characteristics. The sons are the new Left who are attempting to sacrifice the ideology of the fathers,” Eldad said as he mentioned the statement of Meir Shitrit at the establishment of the “Kadima” Party that at long last a party has been established that has unburdened itself from the ideological kitbag of Jabotinsky and Katzenelson.
“In the new Zionism, individual rights are the supreme value, and therefore, they speak here in praise of normalcy, the desire to be a country like all the countries, to live, to enjoy and to thrive in self-realization without ideology. But Israel cannot be a normal country. This is the only country that exists not only for its citizens, but for the entire Jewish people, even those who not here. So it is by definition, so it is in its actions. Israel has an anomalous history that is unparalleled. The history of our liberation movement is also anomalous, as while all the nations needed to expel others to establish their State, we needed to gather our people in order to establish a State. Therefore, the hope to establish here a ‘normal State’ is a false hope.”