Unlike many other countries in the world the state of Israel, and the Israeli society, are the creation of a conscious and organized effort of a movement known as Political Zionism.1 This does not mean that the Israelis themselves are conscious Zionists. Most of them are not. It does mean, however, that the political, civil, and social institutions in Israel are conscious constructs of Political Zionism, and embody its assumptions. The Israelis themselves, their mentality, assumptions, aspirations, motivations and attitudes, are constantly shaped by these institutions. Most Israelis are unaware of this conditioning and tend to take their resulting attitudes as ‘natural’. The following article points out some of the components which go into the making of the dominant personality pattern in Israel.

* * *

Political Zionism did not fall out of the blue, it had its cultural antecedents in Jewish history,2 its social milieu amongst the Jews persecuted in Tsarist Russia, and its political leaders from the assimilationist milieu in Western Europe. Yet until after the second world war only a minority of world Jewry supported political Zionism, and that movement could never pretend to appear as the representative of all Jews. Political Zionism had to defend itself against Religious Jewry, assimilationist Jewry, and against the cultural Zionists.

The Religious argued that the revival of Jewish political independence is God’s task and should not be interfered with by human action. Moreover, they remembered the cultural fiasco caused by a similar attempt in the 17th century. The assimilationists argued that a Jewish state would necessarily be based on a discrimination between Jew and non-Jew which was precisely what they were opposed to in the countries in which they lived. How could they support such discrimination in the Jewish state while struggling against it in the country of their abode? The Cultural Zionists argued that a political revival (i.e. establishing a Jewish state) would be meaningless without a cultural revival. They emphasized that it was not only the Jews who emerged from the ghettoes but the Jewish culture3 as well. They pointed out that outside the ghetto the Jews encountered modern, secular, cultures and started to give up – in growing numbers – their traditional religious culture. If the meaning of Jewishness was to depend on a faith which most Jews no longer believed in then Jewish identity was bound to become meaningless for the non-religious majority. Even those who adhered to the religion encountered considerable problems due to the fact that there was no reformation in Judaism parallel to Protestantism in Christianity. It is a fossil.4

The Cultural Zionists, in particular A’had-Ha’am, recognized the significance of this problem and argued for a modernization of the Jewish culture which would maintain many of its values yet liberate it from the grip of religion. He proposed the creation of a cultural, rather than political, centre in Palestine, to revive the Hebrew language, literature, poetry, etc.

The political Zionists rejected this view. Their leaders, like Herzl and Nordau, came from an assimilationist background and had little or no awareness of the Jewish culture. It was only when their attempts of assimilation were frustrated by the antisemitic prejudices of the European bourgeoisie (e.g. the Dreyfus trial,) that the idea of a Jewish nation-state occured to them. From its beginning to this day Political Zionism depends constantly on two external elements: antisemitism and failed assimilation. The Political Zionists elevated their frustrated assimilation to the rank of a Historical Truth, namely, that antisemitism is a permanent feature of mankind that cannot be overcome. They argued that the problem of Jewish identity was irrelevant because it was the antisemites who defined who is a Jew. They insisted on the creation of ‘the state of the Jews’ (i.e. refuge to those fleeing from persecution5) rather than the creation of ‘a Jewish state’ (i.e. a state permeated by a uniquely Jewish culture).

To this the cultural Zionists replied that unless Jewish culture itself was updated there was no point in diverting all the energy of the Jewish people towards the creation of a state that would be just another state; victims of anti-semitism seeking refuge could go to any country willing to accept them rather than to a state of the Jews which would have nothing meaningfully ‘Jewish’ about it.

  • Was the Jewish culture doomed to a fossilized existence in its religious form?
  • What is the meaning of secular Jewishness in the absence of antisemitism?
  • What would secular Jewishness mean in a secular Jewish state?
  • Can statehood provide a solution to the problem of cultural identity?

Eighty years have elapsed since the controversy over these issues raged between the Political and the Cultural Zionists. Moreover, ‘the state of the Jews’ has now been in existence for almost a quarter of a century. Under these circumstances one can reformulate the old questions thus:

  • Has Israel provided a solution to the problem of (secular) Jewish culture?
  • What is the new, secular, Jewish culture, which the creation of Israel has brought about?

In discussing these issues we shall refer here only to the dominant culture in Israel, namely that of the European secular Jews. We shall not refer to the culture of the Palestinian Arabs or that of the Oriental Jews despite their richness and uniqueness, since they are subordinate cultures in Israel. They did not create Israel, nor do they sustain it culture-wise, but are themselves living under the constant pressure of the dominant culture.

The Settlers’ Generation

Secular European Jewry is the social group whose culture dominates Israel. These are the people who founded Political Zionism and formed its backbone and muscle in every sense. They struggled for the creation of Israel, and having achieved this they moulded its politics, economics, its army and society. They hold all key positions and take all crucial decisions. They determine the education of the young down to its details. It is for these reasons that this group – rather than the religious minority in Israel – is responsible for the outcome.

Religious Jewry was never very keen on Political Zionism, nor did it play any significant role in that movement. Religious Jews would go to Palestine to be buried there but not to establish a Jewish state there. The Orthodox leadership never forgot the cultural catastrophy brought about by the Shabtai Tsvi movement in the 17th century, when a similar political attempt failed. From their point of view the ‘redemption of Israel’ is God’s task and human interference with divine roles was bound to end in disaster. Even today many religious Jews in Israel and elsewhere have an ambiguous (sometimes even hostile) attitude to the Zionist state. Religious Jewry has no ‘identity complex’ since the identity of a religious Jew is defined by his inner belief and this never depends on being persecuted by antisemites or being favourably discriminated by enlightened progressives. The existence or non-existence of a Jewish state has nothing to do with the sense of identity of the religious Jew. His identity is determined by his religious beliefs and is completely self-sufficient.

Zionism, whether political or cultural, is in a different position, for it depends on the Jewish religion. Why establish a state in Palestine (i.e. Zion) rather than in Africa? Why invoke the Old Testament as a justification for such a choice? Why all this insistence on the ‘Divine Rights’ or ‘Historical Rights’ of all Jews over the whole of Palestine?

From the day that the first Zionist Congress declared its aim: “To create for the Jewish people a home in Palestine” (1897), until the day a “Jewish State” was declared in Palestine (1948), it was the very aspiration, effort and activity, to found that state which endowed the life of individuals and groups with a meaning and thus with a culture. Every act of Jews and non-Jews, in Palestine or elsewhere, acquired a significance, and a positive – or negative – value according to its contribution or hindrance of the efforts to establish that state. Under those circumstances it seemed as though the question of secular Jewishness and its meaning was a scholastic debate.

Only after achieving statehood did this issue surface again: What was the meaning of Jewishness in a secular Jewish state? This time, however, the debate raged not amongst intellectuals but amongst lawyers. The issue itself took on a legal robe because the Israeli legal system, promulgated by secular Zionists, contains the term ‘Jew’ as a legal concept. Not only is all marital law subordinated to direct religious ruling6 but automatic right of immigration and citizenship is granted only to one whom the law defines as ‘Jew’. That, after all, was the main purpose of the Zionist endeavour. No-one foresaw the problems that would emerge from embedding the term ‘Jew’ in the legal system.

The issue exploded for the first time in the mid-1950’s with the case of Fr. Daniel Rufeisen who was brought up as a Jew in Poland but converted to Catholicism.

Fr. Rufeisen arrived in Israel as a Catholic monk to join a monastery. He asked for automatic rights of immigration and citizenship, defining himself as a ‘Jew by nationality and a catholic by religion’. The Ministry of the Interior (the traditional stronghold of the religious political partners in the governing coalition) rejected his request and Fr. Rufeisen appealed to the Supreme Court.

The court was in fact asked to decide whether Rufeisen was a ‘Jew’ from a legal point of view, but the authority of the courts was immediately challenged by the religious authorities. This raised a whole new set of questions:

Who is qualified to decide who is a Jew? By what authority? And according to what criteria? Rufeisen himself?7 The court? A government committee? The religious authorities?

A passionate debate over these issues split Israel. People felt their identity threatened. The secular majority argued that their Jewish nationality did not depend on acceptance of the Jewish religion and that Rufeisen’s request should be granted. The religious minority argued that subjective feelings of being ‘Jewish by nationality’ are an insufficient basis for a ruling and that no definition of Jewishness is possible unless one takes religion into account (a non-believer is considered a Jew if his mother was one; a convert to another religion is considered non-Jew). The debate was temporarily suspended when the governing coalition (headed by the secular Zionist Left) mobilized a parliamentary majority in favour of the religious view.

The case was over, the issue was not. It erupted repeatedly. A recent case (in January 1970) was that of an Israeli naval officer married to an atheist Scottish woman, who requested that their children be registered as ‘Jewish by nationality’ (Israeli law – and identity cards – require every citizen to be registered by nationality). The Ministry of the Interior rejected the request. The man appealed to the Supreme Court which deliberated the complexity and history of the issue for weeks and finally ruled by a majority of one to grant the request. The religious political parties immediately threatened to leave the coalition government unless the law be modified so as to prevent the court ruling from becoming a legal precedent. The law was modified according to their demand.

When the issue was debated in Parliament, Mrs. Golda Meir, the Prime Minister, made a highly emotional statement saying:

… On this occasion I wish to state my credo from this rostrum, … more than anything else in this world I value one thing – the existence of the Jewish People. This is more important to me than the existence of the state of Israel or of Zionism; for without the existence of the Jewish people the others are neither necessary nor can they exist.

… It is true that nowadays there is no threat of extermination, no threat to the physical existence of the Jewish People… but there is another threat, a great threat… namely, mixed marriages in numbers that scare me. Some say it is only 18 percent, some insist on 20 per cent, some say that on the campuses in the U.S.A. the figures reach 25 percent. For me the smallest figure of 18 to 20 percent suffices. Any statistician can calculate with pencil and paper what will happen to us. One calamity already hit us: When an independent, free Jewish state was established in our fatherland, six million Jews were no more. It is intolerable that just when we have a Jewish state the number of mixed marriages goes up – meaning that the number of Jews goes down. This haunts me and, I am sure, many of us, continuously…

…Those who say this is no business of the state of Israel are wrong. This is perhaps our main role after security, and linked to it. It is worth paying any price for the state of Israel and its security provided one recognized that its role is to preserve the Jewish People.

…I am not a religious person but no one will uproot from my mind the conviction that without our religion we would have been like all other peoples who once existed and later disappeared.

…I know these are new times, modern times, and we must progress. True, …but we must see to it that there will be Jews in the 21st century too.

…Someone has suggested to the government, or to the attorney general, that perhaps the government will delete ‘nationality’ from the legal system. As this is not a court ruling, I am entitled to criticize it. I reject this proposal… Do you suggest, on the twenty second anniversary of the Jewish state, to throw away the prayer shawl and the phylacetries? A small thing – delete the word ‘nationality’8 and create – perhaps not a reality but an impression amongst the Jewish People that they are separate from us, and we are Hebrews, Canaanites, Yevusites, I don’t know what else, but not Jews. That they are Jews but we are not?

(Knesset debates, official publication, Jerusalem. Vol. 13, p. 770. Debate of February 9th, 1970).

Anyone who knows Mrs. Meir’s generation9 knows that hers is the typical rather than the exceptional view. Mrs. Meir did not say all this just to appease the religious political parties or to apologize to her own non-religious party members. A majority for the religious parties’ motion was secured behind the scenes well before the debate.

Moreover, no political bargaining demanded the Prime Minister to state that there was something more important to her than the existence of the state she headed, nor can coalition haggling account for a statement by this ardent Zionist that there is something more important to her than Zionism. These utterances alone reveal a deeper problem than coalition politics.

“I am not religious. But without religion we would have disappeared.”

“I know these are modern times. But we must see to it that there will be Jews in the 21st century”.

“There is no threat of physical extermination to the Jewish People. But there is a greater threat, namely mixed marriages”.

Each of these phrases and their “buts” reveals the failure of Political Zionism to sustain secular Jewishness. The ‘survival’ of the Jewish people is no longer equated with sheer physical existence as the founders of Political Zionism argued against the Cultural Zionists, but becomes something that depends on religion. Without religion the Jews would have disappeared, not physically, but culturally. And today, it is ‘mixed’ marriages that constitute the major threat to Jewish ‘existence’.

All this would sound plausible if it came from a religious Jew, but Mrs. Meir, typical of her generation, remains a staunch non-believer.

Why is “mixed” marriages considered such a threat? What is mixed with what? Even those who agree with Mrs. Meir – and many non-religious Jews in Israel and elsewhere share her conscious views and subconscious fears – must realize that when a culture depends for its existence on court rulings, that existence is very feeble indeed. Religious Jewry needs no such external constraints.

If cultural existence nowadays looms more urgent than physical existence for Political Zionists, yet they can only safeguard it by laws against mixed marriages, one must conclude that the problem of a secular Jewish culture is as acute as it ever was, and that the state of Israel aggravates the problem rather than solves it.

Mrs. Meir’s generation – in Israel and elsewhere – suffers not only from a persecution complex and an identity complex, but from what could be called a “survival complex”. To understand this is one thing, to understand what happens when these complexes produce a political system, a state, is a different matter.

Far from alleviating these complexes, this state only creates new ones, not the least of which is a principled insistence on maintaining national discrimination within that state. Not only is every Israeli citizen required to register by nationality and to carry an identity card stating his nationality, but the declaration of independence which pledges itself to “uphold full social and political rights of all citizens without distinction of religion, race or sex” deliberately omits “or nationality”. Social and demographic statistical surveys in Israel categorize the population into two groups, namely Jew and non-Jew (see any statistical annual abstract of Israel published by the Central Bureau of Statistics), which indicates that national discrimination is not some minor flaw in the structure of Israel but its fundamental component.


Some Headings from the Statistical Abstract of Israel, 1970 



The Second Generation

The European Jews in Israel constitute three generations, each with a different experience and mentality. In the previous chapter we dealt with these who, like Mrs. Meir, left their countries, homes, and often their families, and emigrated to Palestine with the purpose of creating there a Jewish state. It is their children, born or educated, in Palestine under the British rule who constitute the second generation. Moshe Dayan is a typical representative of this generation. These are people whose experience was shaped by a perpetual struggle, during the period of 1918-1948, against the soil, the Palestinians, and the British.

Dayan’s generation has no ‘persecution complex’ or ‘identity complex’. They have neither the desire nor the ability to understand these complexes, and consider them as ‘inferiority complexes of the Diaspora Jew’. They ‘understand’ the antisemites for despising these people. The underlying attitude of this generation is the one of ‘creating accomplished facts’. It was the constant application of this principle to all the dealings with the Palestinian people and the British rulers that brought about the creation of Israel. It remains the guiding principle of all Israeli politics. However, it gradually spilled over from politics into all social relations and permeates the mentality of that generation.

The deep identification of this generation is neither with the ‘Jewish people’ nor with Zionism but with ‘The State’. However, by ‘The State’ they do not mean the body politic but a value system. Thus, the Israeli equivalent to “un-American” or “anti-Soviet” branding in the USA or USSR is not “un-Jewish” or “anti-Zionist”, but “anti-state”.

It is common amongst this generation to use the term ‘Zionism’ in a derogatory sense as an equivalent to ’empty sloganizing’ while at the same time accepting the moral and ideological leadership of their parents’ generation. Dayan’s generation has never rebelled against Ben-Gurion’s. An insight to this mentality is provided by Dayan’s speech to graduates of the Staff and Command course in 1968:

…As early as 1928… it became clear how difficult it is to implement Zionism and still keep in line with the demands of universal ethics… Was there no other way for Zionism than to deteriorate into pointless chauvinism? Is there no way of assigning a growing sphere of activity to a growing number of Jews without dispossessing the Arabs?

…Surely the day is not far off when no more uninhabited land will be available and the settling of a Jew will lead automatically to the dispossession of a Palestinian fellah? …On every site where we purchase land and settle people, the present cultivators will, inevitably, be dispossessed. It is our destiny to be in a state of continual warfare with the Arabs. This may well be undesirable but such is reality (Jerusalem Post Weekly, 30.9.1968).

Apart from the last statement, most of Dayan’s speech is quoted from Dr. A. Rupin, a prominent Zionist leader in the 1930’s.

This talk was no exercise in electioneering or party politics. Its purpose was to counter moral dilemmas created in the Israeli army by the Palestinian guerilla war; a war which many of the Israeli second and third generation recognized as a struggle for national liberation. Unlike Ben-Gurion and Mrs. Meir’s generation who consider the Arabs as just another brand of antisemites, Dayan, a typical representative of his generation, recognizes the Palestinians as a dispossessed people with a justifiable – if unacceptable – cause.

In this situation this second generation faces a dilemma: either to follow a general moral code, which does not discriminate between human beings, or to live by a morality which does discriminate and puts loyalty to the Jewish nature of the state above all else. While opting for the latter, they see this not as their choice but as their ‘destiny’.

If one accepts that what people label as their ‘destiny’ is often material from their collective subconscious, created by particular conditioning for which the culture of their parents is responsible, one gains some insights into the transmission of complexes from one generation to the next. The second generation is caught up in a perpetual conflict with the Palestinians, and feels vaguely that this is not exclusively the Palestinians’ fault, but some ‘destiny’ which it cannot identify.

The cause, however, is nothing else than the acceptance of the principle that Israel must be a Jewish state wherein Arabs can never share equal political rights; a principle which the second generation accepted – without any critical thought – from their parents (whose ‘Jewish complexes’ they look down upon…).

The Third Generation

The consciousness of the generation born in independent Israel is moulded by the state educational system. The syllabus itself is made up by the Ministry of Education – in which decisional authority was in the hands of the Settlers’ generation and only recently passed into the hands of the second generation (Alon replaced Aran in 1968). The teachers themselves come mainly from the second generation. The educational system can be summed up by saying: Those with the ‘Survival Complex’ devised it, those with the ‘Accomplished Facts’ mentality execute it.

The products are to be seen in the third generation. Already in the early 1950’s special lessons on ‘Jewish Consciousness’ were introduced into all schools to inculcate some identity into the minds of the very young. Basically, these lessons present Jewish history as a unique – and inexplicable – martyrology: “Every generation (of gentiles) tries anew to exterminate us, but He saves us from their hands.” Later, the Massada episode (where Hebrew warriors besieged by the Romans preferred to commit suicide rather than surrender) has been added to the list. The motto is: “Massada will not fall again.”

What sort of mentality does this education produce? Dr. G. Tamarin, an Israeli psychologist, investigated this question in 1963. He published his results in a document entitled: “A Pilot Study in Chauvinism: The Influence of Ethnico-Religious Prejudices on Moral Judgement”. The research presented 1066 school children of ages eight to fourteen with two texts, asked them to answer two questions concerning each text and to explain their answers. The answers were later analysed.

The main part of the first text reads:

“You are well acquainted with the following passages from the book of Joshua: ‘So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets; and it came to pass when the people heard the sound of the trumpet and the people shouted with a great shout and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went into the city every man straight ahead and they took the city. And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass with the edge of the sword. (VI, 20, 21) And that day Joshua took Makkedah, and smote it with the edge of the sword and the kings thereof he utterly destroyed and all the souls that were therein; he let none remain in it; but did unto the king thereof as he did unto the king of Jericho.”

The children were then asked to answer the following questions:

  1. Do you think that Joshua, and the Sons of Israel acted right or not? And explain why you think so.
  2. Suppose the Israeli army conquers an Arab village in battle. Do you think it would be proper or not to act against the inhabitants as did Joshua with the people of Jericho and Makkedah? Explain why you think as you do.

Out of the total of 1066 children questioned, the number of those who totally approved of Joshua’s method and its application to the Arabs was around 600, about 200 expressed total disapproval, the rest expressed partial approval or disapproval.

The same children were then presented with a “Chinese version” of the same story, which read:

“General Lin, who founded the Chinese kingdom some 3,000 years ago went to war with his army to conquer them a land. They came to some great cities with high walls and strong fortresses. The Chinese War God appeared to General Lin in a dream and promised him victory, ordering him to kill all living souls in the cities, because these people belonged to other religions. General Lin and his soldiers took the towns and utterly destroyed all that was therein, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep, and ass with the edge of the sword. After destroying the cities they continued their way conquering many countries.”

Please answer the question: Do you think that General Lin and his soldiers acted right or wrong? Explain why you think so.

The answers were classified as above. The number of those who totally approved of Lin’s method was about 70; those who totally disapproved about 750, the rest gave a partial approval or disapproval.

The various schools selected for the sample covered the whole range of different social groups, all social classes, all types of settlements – kibbutzim included; only Arab schools were exempted. The results are unequivocal. Some of the justifications given by the children merit quoting:

  • The Israeli army would have acted rightly if it acted towards the Arabs as Joshua acted towards the people of Jericho and Makeddah. I think so because if they would have left the people and the city, the Arabs would have invaded the city again and fought them.
  • I think they acted well, as Joshua did, because the Arabs want us to believe in their idols.
  • Joshua and the Sons of Israel did not act well, as they could have spared the animals for themselves.
  • Joshua acted properly because the people who inhabited the land were of a different religion, when Joshua killed them he wiped their religion from the earth.
  • Nowadays it is not done, but I think then it should have been done.
  • This behaviour was necessary, the Arabs are our enemies from always and the Jews did not have country, and it was necessary to behave like this towards the Arabs.
  • Joshua acted well in killing the people of Jericho since he still had the whole country to conquer and did not have time to spend on prisoners of war.
  • It was right for him to act like this, since the conqueror has the right to do with the conquered villages as he pleases.
  • They did not act well, but God told them and they had to follow his command. It was not right that they killed everyone.
  • Joshua acted wrong in killing the people of Jericho. Why are the women and the children guilty? It is cruel to kill the old and weak and burn cities which thousands laboured to build.
  • I do not think the Israeli army has to act in this manner since the Arabs are flesh and blood just like we are.
  • I do not think the army has to act like Joshua as the Jews are already settled on the land.

The analysis of the answers was:

On the Joshua question: A – 60%, B – 20%, C – 20%

On General Lin question: A – 7%, B – 28%, C – 75%

[A = total approval; B = partial approval or disapproval; C = total disapproval]

This research caused an uproar at the time because various academic authorities refused to publish it. It was read out at a meeting of the Israeli Psychological Society in November 1963, but the Tel Aviv University refused to publish it. Parts were published by the daily Ha’aretz and created the uproar, most of which concerned the publicity, not the facts.

Anyone familiar with the Israeli reality knows that this research reveals the almost standard attitudes of young children in Israel. In a country like Israel, where the Ministry of Education is in direct control of the education system such views amongst young children are the product of the educational policy.

Advocates of the Kibbutz type of communal settlement in Israel might wonder whether the Kibbutz-born generation shares a similar morality to that revealed by the Tamarin research, or whether the Socialist values of their parents produced a different one. An answer to this question is provided by the discussion in “The Seventh day” (Penguin books, London, 1971). This volume is based on discussion with Kibbutz-born youngsters who fought in the June 1967 war. In a discussion on the future of the occupied territories we find the following:

Hannan: One thing is clear to me, we won’t go back to the old borders, at least not on the Golan heights.

Avishai: I don’t have any hard and fast ideas about it, because I think that what the Arabs on the West Bank think will be quite decisive. And that is not a small number – there are nearly a million. I am not a racist but I know one thing: I read the statistics and for every thousand Arabs in the country there are sixty births as compared to twenty among the same number of Jews.

You can make a simple calculation that within one generation – and that is worrying … The kibbutz is nothing to go by, today, in the cities, two children per family is the fashion. Okay, I say, very nice so we’ll have a bi-national state, but we should be the majority, otherwise it won’t be a Jewish state. (The Seventh Day, Penguin, p. 143).

The biography of Avishai, in the same book reads: Age 22. Unmarried; grandchild of two of the founding members of the kibbutz. Paratrooper. Fought in Jerusalem and the Golan Heights in 1967.

This is a youth of the third generation, reared in a militantly atheist atmosphere, without a shred of belief in religion, never discriminated against by antisemites, yet deeply concerned about maintaining a non-religious, Jewish identity, and haunted by the same fear as Mrs Meir expressed in Parliament. This is not fear of physical extermination.

It is quite clear by now that Israeli politics – like the whole of Political Zionism – are deeply influenced by an identity complex. The political movement, which started by ignoring that complex, developed into an attempt to solve it, by basing the Jewishness of Israel on institutionalized national discrimination. The adherents of this solution entangled themselves in a ‘destiny’ of perpetual conflict with the dispossessed Palestinian people whom they subject, as a matter of principle, to eternal national discrimination, barring them from sharing rights which the Jews enjoy. This is bound to have repercussions on the Jewish culture itself.

Jewish culture, with its strong emphasis on abstraction (rather than concretization), on spiritual values (rather than material ones), and on moral righteousness (rather than expediency) is an uneasy marriage of two conflicting moral codes. One is a universalist morality which is opposed to any discrimination between human beings, the other is a particularist morality based on discriminating between Jew and non-Jew. Whereas the culture prides itself on upholding both moral codes, insisting that they are merely different aspects of a single value system, those conditioned by it must choose which one to suppress when applying the other to a conflict with non-Jews. Either one upholds the same moral considerations when dealing with say, the Palestinians, as one does when dealing with Jews, or one does not. A choice between the two is inescapable. Whatever the choice, it is always vehemently denounced as a betrayal (of the national morality) or hypocrisy by those who made the opposite choice.

As this conflict is never overcome, and emerges anew with every generation, one is forced to conclude that it is a manifestation of a genuinely schizoid culture. However, the delicate balance between the conflicting moralities is easily upset by external circumstances. The continuous conflict with the Palestinian people tips the balance sharply against the universalist morality. The spokesman of Cultural Zionism, A’had Ha’am, was well aware of this possibility and commented on the very aim of Political Zionism:

“…Such a Jewish State will be a fatal poison to our people, and will grind its spirit in the dust. Unable to become a political force to be proud of and unaware of its inner moral force it will produce a tiny state which will be like a ball to its bigger neighbours and exist only by diplomatic intrigues and perpetual subordination to those who dominate the area. This will not fill its spirit with national dignity, whereas its culture in which it could find such dignity would not be rooted in such a state and not lived by. And thus it will be, much more than now, a debased small people, a slave in spirit to greater forces, envious of the “fists” of its neighbours, and all its existence as a State owner will not add a dignified chapter to its history. Would it not be more dignified to an ancient people such as this, which has enlightened many nations, to disappear from history without reaching such a final goal.” (The Jewish Problem and the Jewish State. 1898. Collected Works of Ahad Ha’am, Hebrew edition. p. 135).

This chapter has already been written and, as A’had Ha’am foresaw many years ago, it has considerably reshaped the Jewish culture. Even such an essential element as the Jewish self-image has already been affected. In a recent meeting of twenty establishment writers (most of them of the second generation) with Mrs. Meir, a meeting called at their request to protest against the refusal of the government to allow the Palestinian inhabitants of the Bar’am village (themselves Israeli citizens) to return to their village after an exile of 20 years, one of the writers said:

“Justice has been twisted, the villagers of Bar’am and Ikrit are left naked with their just demands. I believed all those years in the purity of our cause. It is impermissible that our self-image should change.” (Yedioth Aharonot, 3.8.1972).

The Jewish self-image of moral righteousness cannot be maintained forever in a reality which consists of dispossessing the Palestinians, of ignoring their human, civil, and political rights. Political Zionism has produced a third-generation wherein the majority has a personality closer to that of the Afrikaner than that of the European Jew. The self-image of such a person is not one of moral self-righteousness but one of a Historical Destiny. Indeed, the most virulent nationalistic passages from the Old Testament now serve as rationalizations to purge every shred of universal morality.

It is only in the last decade that Political Zionism started to seriously consider the identity complex of the secular Western Jew. The enormous apparatus of Israeli propaganda amongst Jews throughout the world now pushes the line that identification with Israel resolves the Jewish identity complex. Identification with the ‘Jewish state’ is projected as the new meaning of ‘Jewishness’. As we have shown earlier, the meaning of secular Jewishness remains undefined in Israel, whereas the emerging Israeli Identity has more in common with other settlers’ states than with Jews. Anyone who bases his identity on identification with Israel must uphold the principle of discrimination by nationality, and the placing of nationalistic morality above universal morality.

Political Zionism has created a state based on national discrimination. Those who choose to resolve their identity complex by identifying with that state will be forced to justify all the atrocities which flow logically from the principle of discrimination. They will be drawn into idolization of the Israeli Army (the most revered institution in Israeli society), and politics based on accomplished facts. Gradually they will put up with military occupation (hailed by many as ‘liberation’) and the disregard for the Human, Civil, and Political rights of the Palestinian people. Eventually they will justify various scandalous and atrocious acts which are at first vehemently denied and later – passionately defended.10

On what sources do such politics feed?

On the fear of changing one’s social identity?

On the inability to separate Jewish nationality from its religious background?

On the attempt to substitute politics (and The State) for religion?

[Next article: The Identity of an Oriental Jew by Suzy Barry]

  1. We distinguish between Political, Cultural, and sentimental Zionism. The first aims to maintain a particular type of state, the second aspires to a cultural revival, the third is a sentiment which demands no action.
  2. e.g. The Shabtai Tsvi movement in the 17th century.
  3. By ‘culture’ we here mean the totality of values, motives, and aspirations which lend coherence and meaning to the life of a particular society and its members.
  4. By ‘fossil’ we mean an entity which neither develops nor degenerates.
  5. Later, in the 1930’s, Zionist leaders like Ben-Gurion were unwilling to share the efforts of evacuating Jews from Germany to countries other than Palestine. The Zionist movement is willing to help only those Jewish refugees who are willing to come to the Jewish state.
  6. There is no civil marriage in Israel. Jewish, Muslim, and Christian marriages must be performed according to the appropriate religious ruling.
  7. Most Israelis reject the notion of ‘Israeli’ nationality, insisting that they are Jews by nationality, Israelis by citizenship, and non-believers.
  8. By ‘generation’ we do not mean an age-group, but a group which shares a common social experience and mentality.
  9. e.g. The bombs thrown by Zionist emissaries into Jewish synagogues in Baghdad in 1951, aiming (and succeeding) to create the impression of an outbreak of antisemitism, to stampede 100,000 Iraqi Jews to Israel.