For The Land and The Lord: Conclusion, by Ian S. Lustick

VII. Conclusion

Assessing Jewish Fundamentalism's Long Term Potential

At the beginning of this book, I used Amos Elon's descriptions of Israeli Independence Day celebrations in 1968 and 1987 to suggest how drastically Israel changed in the twenty years following the Six Day War. Built to reflect the voluntarist spirit and social democratic nationalism of the Labor Zionist movement, Israel developed into a deeply divided and highly politicized society. Right-wing Zionism, marginalized for generations by the Labor Zionist founders of the country, rose to power. Exploiting the resentments and anti-Arab attitudes of Sephardic Jews, who previously had been excluded from key institutions, the Likud used its irredentist program to capitalize on the romance and enthusiasm stimulated by the Six Day War and the fears generated by the Yom Kippur War. From this setting arose a redemptionist Jewish fundamentalist movement that provided devoted settlers, inspiring leadership, and an exciting and coherent worldview, and thereby acted both as an instrument of the Likud and as a powerful influence on it.

No one can tell what Israel, or the Middle East, will be like twenty years from now. Nor can one chart, with confidence, the future of Jewish fundamentalism. But one can be sure that the two will be linked. virtually no serious observers believe a negotiated solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is possible unless Jewish fundamentalism's key goal-establishment of permanent Jewish rule of the whole Land of Israel-is thwarted. Yet, for the foreseeable future, the political leverage this movement and its allies can exert will prevent the Israeli political system from responding positively, by normal, peaceful parliamentary means, to opportunities to achieve such an agreement, no matter how attractive its terms. Nor can Israel stably incorporate the territories within its sovereign domain-partly because of international opposition, partly because of sharp divisions within Israel itself over the wisdom of doing so, but also because the entrenched interests and extremist proclivities of Gush Emunim settlers make it unlikely that any arrangement even minimally satisfactory for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza could be agreed upon and implemented. 1

The overheated political climate that results from Israel's inability to disengage from or absorb these areas, and the cycles of violence, international obloquy, and threats of war that maintain it, create conditions that enhance the attractiveness of fundamentalist ideas. For however "authentic" is the fundamentalist message, it is but one authentic expression of what Jewish political culture has been and can be. To thrive, Jewish fundamentalism must rely not simply on authenticity, but on conditions that encourage hundreds of thousands of Jews to see in its radically parochial and expansionist message a relevant and even compelling interpretation of their predicament. F()r its adherents, and indirectly for much wider strata whose thinking is shaped by the categories, myths, and assumptions it promotes, Jewish fundamentalism makes sense of the contradictions between what mainstream Zionism promised to Jews (security and respect in their own land) and what it has been able to deliver. Gush Emunim, in other words, relies not only on the absence of movement toward peace, but also on the inability of any other political force to convey to a majority of Israelis an alternative formula, equally authentic, equally reassuring, but grounded in accommodation and cooperation, rather than in isolation and confrontation.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the Labor Parry's emphasis on the "demographic problem"-the concern that absorption of the West Bank and Gaza Strip will give Israel either an Arab majority or too large an Arab minority to satisfy the minimal conditions of Zionism. The point of this argument was, and is, to frighten Israelis out of their attachment to the occupied territories by creating images of the impossibility of living in the same country with so many Arabs. But given a rapidly growing Arab population of nearly 700,000 inside the green line, and the lack of a plan for territorial compromise acceptable to Arab representatives (Palestinian or otherwise), this argument has done little but convince many Israelis of the need to get rid of the Arabs, not the territories. Such thinking nourishes the kind of radical Jewish exclusivism cultivated so assiduously by the fundamentalist movement.

At the end of October 1987, Minister without Portfolio Yosef Shapira, an influential figure within Gush Emunim, publicly suggested that the transfer of Arabs from both Israel and the territories be accomplished by paying $20,000 to each Arab willing to leave permanently. In defense of his proposition, Shapira cited a survey his party conducted among rabbis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to gauge preelection sentiments. In answer to the question 'What is your opinion regarding the emigration of gentiles from the country?" 62 percent responded that 'We must force them to do so by any means at our disposal and see in it an exchange of populations," 13 percent favored the encouragement of voluntary emigration, and 10 percent said "this is not the time to discuss the question." 2

Other politicians and respected personalities-including retired General Rehavam Ze'evi, former head of the Central Command, now curator of Tel Aviv's Land of Israel Museum; Herut's Mikhael Dekel, deputy minister of defense; Ariel Sharon, minister of trade and industry; Gideon Altschuler' Geula Cohen, and Yuval Neeman of Tehiya; and several of Shapira's colleagues in the National Religious Party-joined in a lively and sustained debate over what sort of voluntary, semivoluntary, or forcible transfer schemes might be implemented. 3 This debate emerged against a background of bloody clashes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and of new demographic statistics showing that in 1988 a majority of the children under the age of fifteen living within the area ruled Israel will be Arabs. 4

The importance of the debate is not in the likelihood that any of these proposals will soon be implemented, but in the unmistakable widening of the parameters of acceptable political discourse to include the mass transfer or "repatriation" of Arabs as a discussible option. It is also evidence of the kind of long term influence fundamentalist ideas can have, given the right circumstances, on the direction of Israeli political life. Gush Emunim, according to Doron Rosenblum, has often succeeded in transforming "the criminal to the crazy, the crazy to the odd, the odd to the mistaken, the mistaken to the good, the good to the excellent, the excellent to the accomplished reality, and the accomplished reality to the consensus view." 5

Just how much success could Jewish fundamentalism have in Israel? To begin with, Israel is not Iran. The kind of social revolution that swept Khomeini to power is virtually inconceivable in the Israeli context. Nor should the Likud be underestimated with regard to its autonomy or its potential to develop in much more pragmatic directions than it has under the leadership of Begin, Shamir' and Sharon. Indeed, late in 1987, Likud politicians clashed directly with Gush Emunim in an effort to take control of the Yesha Council. 6 Clearly, Shimon Peres was exaggerating when he told 2,000 retired Labor party workers in June 1987 that the Likud has "ceased to exist. {It] has become an appendage of Gush Emunim and Tehiya and religious parties. There is no longer a Likud-only a Rabbi Levinger and Daniella Weiss." 7

Those who hold that the organizational difficulties have drained self-confidence and vitality from Gush Emunim since 1984 are correct. But it must not be forgotten just how unusual is the national unity government arrangement that has prevailed since the 1984 elections, and how severe the constraints it places on the movement as an effective interest group. The fact is that fundamentalist ideas and elites are now part of the Israeli political landscape. While the nonfundamentalist hawkish right appears incapable of differentiating itself clearly from its fundamentalist allies, the dovish/liberal left still lacks coherent, compelling visions of the country to which a majority of Israelis might turn for guidance and reassurance. New elections, the polarization of political sentiments, the Likud's need for coalition partners, continued unrest in the territories, and heightened regional tensions all contribute to an environment in which Jewish fundamentalism can flourish.

Jewish Fundamentalism and American Foreign Policy. The question posed for both liberal democratic Israelis and American policy-makers is therefore not how to respond to the prospect of a fundamentalist Israel. It is, rather' how to shape circumstances and interpret them in ways that would undermine the attractiveness of the fundamentalist message. For Israelis the stakes are high and obvious. But important American interests are also involved. A peace agreement that would eliminate the pattern of costly and dangerous wars between American and Soviet proxies-Israel and the Arab states, respectively-is a central foreign policy objective of the United States. For this reason, given the intimacy of the American-Israeli relationship, and because the United States must be concerned with the consequences of an Israel torn between radically opposed conceptions of itself, Washington must seek ways to prevent the explosiveness that surrounds Jewish fundamentalism from being unleashed on the region and the world.

The internal strain associated with its influence and with dramatic swings of the Israeli political pendulum is likely to be reflected in a spasmodic pattern of Israeli behavior, including extreme oscillation in official policies toward peace negotiations and toward the Arab inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza. These stresses have been apparent even within the national unity government, in the desperate fighting between Shamir and Peres over the prospect of negotiations under some sort of international aegis. With the passing of this awkward coalition, the intensity of political conflict within Israel will increase dramatically. Government annexationist efforts to sabotage processes leading toward politically uncomfortable negotiations may follow, or precede, rather daring attempts by dovish governments to create diplomatic or political facts before the opposition can mobilize the fears and emotions of the electorate. In this context vanguardist arguments within Gush Emunim will attract increasing support. Pressure will build for actions able to irrevocably alienate gentile opinion toward Israel, and Arab opinion in particular.

Even if a governing coalition could be formed of parties willing to accept an agreement based on the principle of territory for peace, the implementation of that policy would trigger intense and widespread opposition and pose real challenges to the parliamentary regime's ability to sustain itself. Such events would be reminiscent of those that led to the collapse of the Fourth Republic in France in 1958, when uprisings by Algerian settlers and units of the French army on behalf of Algerie francaise attracted wide support from right-wing and clerical parties in metropolitan France. In Israel such a crisis would almost certainly involve repeated demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of Jews, violence against both Jews and Arabs, challenges to the authority and legitimacy of the government, a host of rabbinical decrees opposing the government's intentions, the creation of scores of new illegal settlements, threats of civil war, a sudden influx of militantly ultranationalist Diaspora Jews, and, as suggested above, attempts at spectacular actions such as the destruction of the Muslim shrines in Jerusalem. 8 It is quite conceivable that such opposition could be overcome by skillful and determined Israeli leaders-especially leaders able to characterize their willingness to compromise as the inescapable result of a superpower diktat. But even against the background of vigorous American and Soviet pressure, and even assuming the government's willingness to use tough, possibly ruthless measures against its opponents, success would not be guaranteed.

Should such a genuine attempt to implement a territorial compromise fail, the fundamentalist movement might well find it possible to exploit a breakdown of parliamentary democracy and the ensuing confusion for its own purposes. In a poll taken of Israeli Jews in January 1987, 34 percent either agreed or definitely agreed that "in Israel's current condition it is preferable to have a strong leadership which can set the house in order without being dependent on elections or voting for the Knesset." Another 21 percent chose the response "do not quite agree," and 38 percent selected "definitely disagree." 9 Israel is, indeed, so deeply divided on key territorial and ideological issues, and has such a short and essentially untested tradition of constitutional democracy, that successful challenges to the regime cannot be ruled out. The most often discussed scenario of this sort is that of popular but unscrupulous right-wing politicians joining with ambitious military commanders to "restore order and sanity" amid chronic, polarized, and increasingly violent intra-Jewish struggles. Gush Emunim could provide these elements with necessary political support and ideological legitimacy. 10

The emergence of an Israeli regime dependent on, if not actually led by, fundamentalist elites would destroy the special relationship with the United States, based as it has been on perceptions of common moral, political, and cultural purposes. An Israel decoupled from the United States, opposed in principle to a negotiated peace, unfettered by the norms of liberal democracy, animated by redemptionist imperatives, and disposing of a large and sophisticated nuclear arsenal would pose challenges to American foreign policy and security interests at least as profound as those resulting from the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The United States thus has a strong interest in finding effective ways to support those inside Israel who are struggling against the fundamentalists and their allies. It is neither too early nor too late to prepare the ground for management of the crises that are bound to come. Washington should stress, much more strongly than it has in the past, how central to America's special relationship with Israel is the cluster of democratic, libertarian, and universalistic values our two countries have always shared. We should make crystal clear the extent to which our friendship and support ultimately depend on these shared values-values we can directly portray as unrealizable in the "greater Israel" to which the fundamentalists aspire. 11

Jewish Nationalism and Jewish Fundamentalism. If Jewish nationalism and sovereignty mean anything, they mean that the largest measure of responsibility for the neutralization of Jewish fundamentalism rests with Jews, both in Israel and in the Diaspora. In a Jewish historical context, contemporary fundamentalism is an example of dheikat haketz, a struggle to push, force, or press for the end-for the final redemption-by achieving, at any cost, Jewish rule over the whole Land of Israel. The question it raises is new as it relates specifically to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian Arabs; but in another sense, for Jews it is very old. No one has posed it more effectively or presciently than Gershom Scholem.

In 1959, well before the rise of Gush Emunim, Scholem observed that the messianic idea has held an extraordinary attraction for Jews. He therefore found it unsurprising that "overtones of Messianism" and a "readiness for irrevocable action in the concrete realm" accompanied the success of Zionism. On the other hand, recalling the catastrophic revolts against Rome and the Sabbatian episode, he warned that "the blazing landscape of redemption" is a hazardous field for political ambition. Zionism may have drawn strength from Jewish messianism, but in the past, he notes, Jews have had to pay a price for acting on these beliefs-an exceedingly high price.

Whether or not Jewish history will be able to endure this entry into the concrete realm without perishing in the crisis of the Messianic claim which has virtually been conjured up-that is the question which out of his great and dangerous past the Jew of this age poses to his present and to his future. 12

The Jewish people is still reeling from its most recent experience of near annihilation-the Holocaust. In their search for a way out of the current political impasse, Israeli Jews are confronted with another type of historically familiar challenge-the seductive but perilous temptations of redemption. Meeting this challenge will require the political maturity to avoid succumbing to these temptations and to find instead the earthly, and imperfect, alternatives.


Note 1: For an argument that it was precisely the vested interests and intransigence of settlers that prevented the permanent incorporation of Ireland by Great Britain, and of Algeria by France, see Ian S. Lustick, State-Building Failure in British Ireland and French Algeria (Berkeley, California: University of California Institute of International Studies, 1985). Back.

Note 2: The poll was conducted by the Tzomet Institute. Of the 120 questionnaires distributed, fifty-two (43 %) were returned . For the full results of the poll, see "The Rabbis of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza: Encourage the Emigration of the 1) Arabs," in Nekuda, no.115, November 1987, p.37. Back.

Note 3: For a useful summary of this debate, see Avishai Ehrlich, "Is Transfer an Option?" Israeli Democracy, vol.1, no.4 (Winter 1987) pp. 36-38. See also Yohanan Ramati, "The Transfer of Refugees-Without Demagoguery, Davar October 4, 1987. Back.

Note 4: This projection is based on the age-specific proportions of Arabs and Jews living in Israel and the territories, as listed in the Statistical Abstract of Israel (Central Bureau of Statistics, Jerusalem, Israel) 1986 and 1987. Estimates published widely in the Israeli press at the end of 1987 concluded that there were 750,000 Arabs within Israel (including expanded East Jerusalem), 830,000 in the West Bank, and 650,000 in the Gaza Strip. Back.

Note 5: Doron Rosenblum, "The Temple Mount Will Be Blown Up." Koteret Rashit, no. 131, June 5, 1985, pp. 20-21. Back.

Note 6: On the ultimately' successful effort of Gush Emunim veterans to oust the Likudsupported general secretary of the Yesha Council, see Uriel Ben-Ami, "Threats and Blackmail in Yesha," Davar November 13,1987. Back.

Note 7: Jewish Week, June 12, 1987, p.5. See also Jerusalem Domestic Service broadcast, June 9, 1987 (transcribed in FBIS, June 9, 1987, p. Ll). Back.

Note 8: Warnings that civil war could breakout are not offered by leading and responsible personalities within the fundamentalist movement. See, for example, an interview with Hanan Porat, Counterpoint (October-November 1985) p.10; and Otheniel Shindler in Koteret Rashit, no.131, June 5, 1986, p.7. Since the early 1980s, one former head of Israel's secret service, Avraham Achitov, and many Israeli intellectuals and journalists-including Yaakov Talmon, A. B. Yehoshua, Shaul Friedlander, and Eliyahu Saltpeter-have warned of the possibility of civil war, often drawing for parallels on Weimar German". See Ian S. Lustick, "The West Bank and Gaza in Israeli Politics," in Steven Heydemann, ed., The Begin Era (Boulder, Colorado: Weseview Press, 1984) pp. 86-88. For a more recent discussion of fundamentalists' willingness to confront the army, see Dan Margalit in Haaretz, June 11, 1987 (translated in FBIS, June 12, 1987, pp. L3-4). Yisrael Medad, a religious activist within Tehiya and a leader of two groups with activities related to the Temple Mount, published an article in Nekuda prior to the Yamit evacuation, arguing that the evacuation could and would be halted only if a Jewish takeover of the Temple Mount was effected immediately. See Yisrael Medad, "The Temple Mount Is in Our Hands-The Time Has Come," Nekuda, no.39, February' 5, 1982, pp.4-5. Back.

Note 9: Poll conducted by Modi'in Ezrahi, reported in Yochanan Peres, "Most Israelis Are Committed to Democracy," Israeli Democracy (February 1987) p.16. Back.

Note 10: For discussions of this possibility, emphasizing Sharon as a possible leader of such a coup or Oriental Jews as the likely mass base, see Saadia Rachamim, "Sharon and the 'Original Sin,'" Koteret Reshit, no. 102, November 14, 1984, p.5; "To Destroy the Temple Mount Mosques," Koteret Rashit, no. 112, January 23, 1985, pp. 26-28; "The Danger Within," Jerusalem Post June19, 1984; and Yossi Melman, "And Tomorrow-the Whole Country," Davar July 19, 1985. See also Yoram Pen, Between Battles and Ballots (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1982) pp.284-287 For an evocative fictional account of the overthrow of Israeli democracy, see Amos Kenan, The Road to Ein Harod (London: EI-Saqi Books, 1986). The Hebrew edition was first published in 1984. Back.

Note 11: For specific suggestions regarding American policy in this area, see Ian S. Lustick, "Israeli Politics and American Foreign Policy," Foreign Affairs, vol. 61, no.2 (Winter 1982/83) pp.557-577; and Ian S. Lustick, "Israel's Dangerous Fundamentalists," Foreign Policy, no.68 (Fall 1987) especially pp.134-139. Back.

Note 12: Gershom Scholem, "Toward an Understanding of the Messianic Idea in Judaism," in The Messianic Idea in Judaism and Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality (New York: Schocken Books, 1971) pp.35-36. Back.

For the Land and the Lord