Mor Altshuler

By Mor Altshuler

(page 1 of 1 - view all)

The damage caused by a worm eating away at the inside of a tree becomes known only afterwards, when it is too late to save the tree. In the same manner, the Zionist state is on the verge of inward collapse; one day, a random kick will bust open its hollow trunk and reveal that its foundations have rotted to the core.
Israel has allowed its roots to disintegrate, enfeebling its society in the process. This weakness, in turn, invites the worms of division and the parasites of internal destruction to do their worst. The strongest among these is a reborn and rejuvenated anti-Zionism—which we thought had been conquered long ago. This anti-Zionism claims that the Jews have no need for, or right to, a sovereign state of their own. But since the State of Israel is an established fact, and there is something impolitic about openly calling for its destruction, the only recourse for the anti-Zionist is to undermine the state from within.
The Jewish state is disintegrating in stages. It started with the line that was drawn between “Israel” and “the territories,” thereby separating the State of Israel from its heartland, the historical Land of Israel. In so doing, Israel waived the moral basis for its very existence: That it was founded by virtue of the Jewish people’s “natural and historical” right to its only homeland, as stated in the Declaration of Independence. Israel’s surrender of its moral foundations, born of the need to offer a practical compromise in the Oslo accords, led to its retroactive redefinition as a colonialist, imperialist country of immigrants, an alien presence in the Middle East, one that will eventually disappear without a trace.
It should be clear, therefore, why those who are trying to transform Israel into a “state of all its citizens” are also at the forefront of the attempt to make Israel abandon its “natural and historical” right as the source of its legitimacy. Ostensibly, this demand is raised on behalf of democracy. But those who raise it know, either intuitively or intellectually, that no state is capable of perfectly implementing the democratic ideal, and that countries far larger and stronger than Israel have found humane solutions for ethnic minorities in their midst without giving up their meaning as nation-states. The only practical consequence of turning Israel into a “state of all its citizens” will be to dismantle the state of the Jews.
The victory of the spirit of Oslo among the Zionist Left, and the latter’s adoption of the “state of all its citizens” idea, show just how rotten the tree of Israeli ideology has become: The Zionist center has simply capitulated to, and been swallowed up by, the anti-Zionist Left. This has strengthened the anti-Zionists who, in turn, have received additional help from the Haredi anti-Zionists (who were always natural allies, of course, even before statehood). Both groups are hostile to any connection between the people and its homeland. They joined forces to break this bond, in the process creating a “diaspora in Israel” composed of weak, divided communities at odds with one another. The children of these communities have lost the memory of the ancient inheritance that for so long united them in a shared sense of purpose and responsibility.
The vision of such an internal exile, which is inherent in the demand to transform Israel into a “state of all its citizens,” has now become a real threat. But this threat also signifies a new opportunity—a challenge to return to the fundamental questions raised by the idea of a “Jewish state,” and to revitalize its significance. The claim can be made, in opposition to the anti-Zionists, that the State of Israel, and the Zionist movement which preceded it, are part of the continuum of Jewish history, not a deviation from it.
The idea of a continuum of Jewish history rests upon facts, not merely interpretations. The fact is that the Zionist settlement in the Land of Israel is part of the Return to Zion, a process that began, at the latest, in the sixteenth century among Jews expelled from Spain and their descendants. This generation fundamentally altered the diaspora’s approach to history, which until then had been one of complete passivity. The messianic Aliyot, which began in the sixteenth century out of the desire to redeem and be redeemed, signify the maturing of latent hopes into committed action, action which continued until the late nineteenth century. Like links in a chain, the last messianic Aliya, the immigration of Yemenite Jewry known as “E’eleh B’tamar,” was bound up with the first Zionist immigration, the Biluim, both of which took place in 1882. Of course, Zionism deserves the credit for aspiring to establish a sovereign state, with all that that implies, and for working toward this goal with total dedication in the spirit of Theodor Herzl’s vision. However, this does not obscure the fact that immigration to Israel was a continuing process, with the Zionist immigrations being only one chapter—perhaps the climax—of a centuries-long Return to Zion.
This was the approach of, for example, the historian Ben-Tzion Dinur, who even before statehood stressed that the Zionist immigrations were a continuation of earlier patterns of immigration. Since the 1960s, however, this approach to the study of Aliya has fallen into disfavor, replaced by “objective” methods that relinquish historical accuracy in favor of the belief in a hiatus between Zionism and the Judaism preceding it. Just as this break in time between Zionism and Judaism was fashioned, so too was the geographic dimension of Aliya distorted. To this day, chroniclers of Zionism simply ignore the fact that Jewish immigration from Muslim lands continued without interruption during the entire era of Zionist immigration from Europe. Historian Nitza Droyan’s remarkable recent work shows that during the Second Aliya, from 1903 to 1914, every third immigrant was a Sephardic Jew, from Bukhara or Kurdistan, from Morocco or Yemen. The contribution of these Sephardic immigrants to the Jewish settlement and to the advancement of the Zionist enterprise was simply not recorded in the annals of Zionism (an omission which might have something to do with the fact that any historical outlook that disregards the importance of pre-Zionist Aliya is likely to end up disqualifying as “Zionist” anyone who did not know the tune to the “Internationale”). Yet anyone who looks at the diversity of the immigrant populations will see that this was no isolated movement beginning in the late nineteenth century under the influence of Central and East European nationalism. On the contrary: For more than four centuries, waves of immigrants braved adversity, across sea and desert, in order to reach the Land of Israel, until the dream of the Ingathering of the Exiles finally reached its fulfillment with the establishment of the Jewish state, whose form and purpose had been, to be sure, the product of Zionist ideology.
The Zionist worldview undertook to destroy the foundations of the Return to Zion—whose roots were planted deep within Jewish history itself—and replace them with a transient nineteenth-century European nationalism. In this regard, those who today are striving to crush the collective memory are in good company—for our Zionist forefathers did much the same thing when, for example, they congratulated themselves for reviving a language that had never actually died. The conventional wisdom that Hebrew was a “dead language” resurrected by Zionism is based on a false parallel between the status of Hebrew among the Jewish people and that of Latin among the Europeans. But Hebrew was never like Latin, a proto-language studied in universities and used solely in writing and religious rites. On many levels, Hebrew preserved its vitality, never ceasing to be the “holy tongue,” through which it was believed the world was created, and in which God spoke to his people. It was used by commentators on the Tora, who interpreted even individual letters in the Tora, even the calligraphic crowns upon them; poets wrote in Hebrew; and in the otherworldly visions of the kabalists, the angels sang in Hebrew. In this language, too, were composed contracts, charters and correspondence. And when Jews from the different exilic communities came together on the holy soil of Israel, Hebrew was their common language. Indeed, authors such as S.Y. Agnon saw Hebrew as a living bridge between past and present, between East and West, between sacred and profane. But even in the early stages of Zionism, such opinions were cast aside in the face of a desperate need to offer something novel—even at the terrible price of a sharp break with the past, of willful forgetfulness, of the systematic erasure of memory.
The only remedy for this amnesia is to restore the living memory, that it may grant us the stability in language, time and place which we have lost. Yet, it is the primal memories, of the womb and the moment of birth, which are the hardest of all to retrieve. What has been done cannot be undone, and one may doubt whether we will ever be able to repair the damage wrought by our own amnesia. Even if we do the impossible and reclaim our national memory, the revival of one inalienable birthright is no compensation for the loss of another, our homeland. Still, if our primal memories ever resurface, there is no telling what vistas will open up before us. “If you return, O Israel—says the Eternal—to me you shall return.” (Jeremiah 4:1)

Dr. Mor Altshuler is a Senior Fellow at The Shalem Center in Jerusalem.

(page 1 of 1 - view all)

From the

Job’s Path to EnlightenmentA new interpretation of the Bible's most enigmatic book.
I.B. Singer's Cruel ChoiceFate and freedom for his characters, for himself.
Israel and the Palestinians: A New StrategyThe former IDF chief of staff proposes a different approach to dealing with an old conflict.
Cruel BritanniaAnti-Semitism in Britain has gone mainstream.
Civilians FirstOnly in Israel does concern for the safety of soldiers override the state’s obligation to defend its civilians.

All Rights Reserved (c) Shalem Press 2022