Zionism in crisis

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Author: Meyrav Wurmser
Date: Winter 2006
From: Middle East Quarterly(Vol. 13, Issue 1)
Publisher: Middle East Forum
Document Type: Article
Length: 4,949 words

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Zionism is in crisis. Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip settlements in August 2005 exposed deep fissures within Israeli society and politics. But Israel s unilateral disengagement and the preceding decade's peacemaking did not create the crisis; rather, it exposed a smoldering problem. In fact, the differences between the opponents and proponents of the withdrawal are deep because of the depth of the debate. While the crisis is not new, it has only absorbed the Israeli mainstream as it has moved from the margins of society into the center of the Israeli political map.

Until now Zionism has been a remarkable achievement, noted not only for its success in establishing a thriving, free society but also for defending without foreign forces its independence from multiple invasions. Israel stands among only a few post-colonial nations--the United States is another--as a success.

But the divisions in Israeli society now are becoming so evident that they threaten to overpower that which still unifies the majority of Israelis. Israelis now advocate diametrically opposite policies and confront each other with a passion usually absent from normal domestic discourse. The various segments of Israeli society differ not only in their belief over peace and security but also in their views on religion, ethics, democracy, and patriotism.

BATTLE OF THE FLAGS

The depth of tension over withdrawal manifested itself in the battle of the flags on the streets of Israel. During the May 11, 2005 Independence Day celebrations, many Israeli Jews--ironically from more nationalist segments of society--chose not only to wave Israel's blue and white flags but orange ones as well. By choosing the color of the Gaza municipal government, they sought to express both opposition to the Gaza withdrawal and solidarity with Gaza's nearly 9,000 Jewish settlers.

The orange camp is the religious-nationalist camp in Israel, including not only the Gaza settlers but also their supporters in West Bank towns and various Israeli cities. After the orange campaign began to sway public opinion, the proponents of withdrawal responded with a blue and white campaign, rallying around the Israeli flag.

The orange camp felt a greater sense of urgency and viewed itself in a rearguard attempt to save its vision of Israel; the blue camp, composed principally of the Israeli Left, was less comfortable with nationalism. Moreover, it found itself in the awkward position of having to defend Ariel Sharon, a Likud prime minister often demonized in leftist circles. As Israelis staked out positions with flags draped from balconies and fabric tied to car antennas, orange dominated the blue. The battle of flags reflected a schism between two parts of Israeli society that, until the planned withdrawal from Gaza, had coexisted. The schism is not new--it actually predates Israel's independence--but its open expression is.

THE SOULS OF ZIONISM

From its founding over a century ago, Zionism represented to its adherents a method for the Jewish people to redeem their soul from the dispersal and dereliction in which they existed. Two camps soon formed inside the movement: socialist...

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