Thursday, August 2, 2018

Labor Zionism turned Jewish settlement into a dirty word - Uri Heitner

by Uri Heitner

Labor Zionist leaders once viewed settlement as a critical component of Jewish independence. But they have abandoned this cause, as their opposition to the nation-state law clearly demonstrates.

On Nov. 10, 1975, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 3379, which said that "Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination." In response, then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin held a special cabinet session and announced a proper Zionist countermeasure: Four more Jewish communities would be built in the Golan Heights.

This cabinet resolution was a natural reaction by a Labor-led government because Jewish settlement had always been the lifeblood of the party and its precursors. Rabin's message was that even as the U.N. condemns Zionism, we are going to move head with realizing its vision. How? By building new Jewish settlements in the land of Israel.

But now Labor is attacking the nation-state law and zeroing in on the section stating that "the State of Israel views the development of Jewish settlements as a national value and priority and will act to encourage and promote the establishment and consolidation of such settlements." This makes it clear that Labor is ideologically bankrupt.

Having Labor say the provisions on Jews settlement are "racist" and "nationalist" is akin to having ultra-Orthodox parties lambaste  Torah study and claim that the five books of Moses are a travesty.

In July 1919, the Poale Zion movement decided to send a delegation to Palestine with a goal: Come back with a plan on how to establish a socialist entity there. At the time, the movement was the largest and strongest socialist party in the Jewish world.

The head of the delegation was Nachman Syrkin and its members included people who would end up having prominent roles in the Zionist movement, including David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister. The plan they provided was the foundation for Labor Zionism for many decades thereafter. At its core was a vision of Jewish settlement in the land of Israel as a means of realizing the dream of Zionism and socialism.

The delegation secretary, future president Zalman Shazar, recalled Syrkin's role: "He was the father of the entire plan; being the great visionary that he was, with deep economic understanding, he would expound on the intricate details of establishing a Jewish utopia."

Over the years, a schism emerged among Labor Zionists: Adherents of Ben-Gurion saw the establishment of a Jewish state to be the be all and end all of Zionism. Those who subscribed to Yitzhak Tabenkin and the Kibbutz Hameuchad movement saw the settling of the land to be the main tenet of Zionism and considered the state to an auxiliary that would ensure uninterrupted Jewish settlement. That is why Tabenkin opposed the partition plan.

After the state was founded, the two camps were at odds: Ben-Gurion wanted to rally the country behind a collective effort to build state institutions while Tabenkin's focus was on continued pioneering work that would be separate from the state. But they had common ground on one thing: the need to continue settling the land.

Ben-Gurion believed that building Jewish communities should be handled by the state and the Israel Defense Forces. That is why he established the Nahal Brigade and that is why the compulsory service law initially mandated that every soldier dedicate a year to settlement activity.

At the height of the War of Independence, Ben Gurion said: "We liberated the Negev and the Galilee. The Galilee – all of it. The Negev – most of it, and perhaps more of it could be liberated. But we have yet to settle the Negev and the Galilee. It is not enough to just expel the foreign invader, we must bring the Jewish settler to that area. Land cannot be held over time without settlement. This is a project that will span generations"

In a Knesset speech in 1949, he said: "We must ensure that the education we instill inside the classroom and beyond, in our literature and in the media, leads to the emergence of a pioneering generation that considers the settling of the land to be its mission and its role in Jewish and human history."

The man who made this vision into a reality was Prime Minister Levi Eshkol. No other Zionist leader has ever matched Eshkol's contribution to Jewish settlement. It is thanks to him that hundreds of Jewish communities were founded, mainly after Israel's independence. During his premiership in the 1960s, he presided over the Six-Day War, and following Israel's victory he supported the establishment of Jewish communities beyond the Green Line. Although Labor Zionism would ultimately have its disagreements over where Israel should build, there was no disagreement over building settlements.

Even when the right-wing Gush Emunim movement began campaigning for more settlements in Judea and Samaria, activists from the left-wing Hashomer Hatzair demonstrated against them but urged them to settle the Galilee and the Negev instead.

It is only recently that Jewish settlement has become a dirty word on the Left, throwing it into an ideological crisis.

Uri Heitner


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