Zionism is what the Jewish people decide it is.

By Ted Belman

I always read the writings of Ami Isseroff with interest. In his latest, Zionism is a lot more than the right of Israel to exist, he attempts to describe or define it.

He starts off by contrasting David Rubin’s view that Zionism is about returning to and settling the Jewish biblical lands with that of Doni Remba who believes

    “Zionism is the belief that Israel has a right to exist as a democratic Jewish state–nothing more, nothing less.”

Not so, says Isseroff.

Nothing more? That is a fine definition of Zionism, which everyone from Mahmud Abbas to Mr. Feiglin can support. Of course, Abbas will have a different definition of “democratic” than Feiglin, and they will also differ in their idea of what is a “Jewish state.” Feiglin will contend that Israel is not a “Jewish State” unless and until we all assume the 613 commandments of Judaism, not omitting one jot or tittle. Abbas will contend that Israel is not democratic unless we abolish the law of return. Even professors Walt and Mearsheimer content that they strongly support the right of Israel to exist. That right is anchored in international law. Of course, Zionism supports the right of Israel to exist, but so do many non-Zionists and even a few anti-Zionists.


To this I respond, “Who cares what Abbas says” and “if you are going to ascribe a view to Feiglin please get it right.” Feiglin’s “Jewish state” is based on identity and not on imposing halacha. [See Jews; ties that bind]

The reason he has set Feiglin up as a straw man is to be better able to demolish him and his ideas.

We also must contend with the dynamite hidden in the phrase “Jewish state,” which is open to hi-jacking by those who insist that Israel must be a Jewish theocracy. For that reason, Avrum Burg, who has said some outrageous things, pointed out, correctly, in this case, that we should strive for a “state of the Jewish people” rather than a “Jewish state.”

At least he agrees with me that it doesn’t have to be ‘democratic”. So what does he think Zionism is?

What does a real definition of Zionism add, that is missing from Doni Remba’s definition. Remba himself supplies the answer: “It is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people.” A national liberation movement believes in much more than the right of a state to exist. Zionism succeeded in large part because it transformed the Jewish people. “Life is with people.” Without the Jewish people to live in Israel and to support Israel, the “right of Israel to exist” would be a meaningless legalism.

[..] Support for the existence of Israel, democratic or otherwise, without support for Aliya and Hebrew culture, is a sterile sort of Zionism, because Israel obviously cannot exist as the state of the Jewish people without having Jews in it

But what is aliya if it is not to Zion, the biblical heartland and what is “Hebrew culture”?

Is not Isseroff’s definition also sterile? He wants to separate Zionism from the centrality of Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish people and their prayer for return. For him, it is the ingathering of the exiles to anywhere as long as the place has Hebrew culture. For him, time starts with Herzl and not with Moses.

“Life is with people”, as Isseroff states, and those people will determine what Zionism means today as opposed to in Herzl’s time.

August 5, 2007 | 8 Comments »

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