In a piece in Tablet Magazine, Israeli-American psychologist Alon Gratch describes two types of Zionists. In his words, the two are:
…the accommodating, largely secular brand, happy to survive on a sliver of the Jews’ ancient homeland, or the ideological, religiously informed wing, seeking to extend the Zionist vision to Judea and Samaria, also known as the West Bank…The creation of the Jewish state in Palestine was a miraculous marriage of ideology and pragmatism.
Dr. Gratch suggests that today, the ideological Zionists have too much power and are going to destroy Israel. Only practical, secular Zionists, looking just to survive, glad for even a “sliver” of the ancient Jewish homeland, can restore balance and save the nation through compromise and accommodation.
But Alon Gratch’s vision has one major flaw: the truly practical Zionists don’t actually live in Israel. If pragmatism is the basis of your decision, why would you? Why not live in America, like Alon and I? The salaries are high, the colleges are great, and the wars are far away. Jews are protected and even powerful. If, for the practical Zionist, Israel is about Jewish survival on some sliver of land, who says that sliver can’t be Manhattan?
So the practical Zionists don’t end up living in Israel, nor do they have a compelling reason to. Only the ideological Zionists remain to protect, build, and vote. Practicality is unsatisfactory in justifying or explaining the decision to live in Israel. As MK Yair Lapid put it in 2012
If we take our Ancient Father out of the picture what are we doing here? Why would a secular person choose to live in the worst neighborhood in the world, among a billion Muslims who hate him, in this heat, if he doesn’t believe in an external power that makes it worth living here?
Unless we believe in something, unless we feel some impractical connection to the land of Israel that goes beyond logic, we would never choose to live there. It isn’t a matter of “faith,” as Lapid emphasizes, but about “the societal and cultural foundation of the Israeli ethos,” which is naturally informed by Jewish religion and culture.
But Dr. Gratch’s practical Zionist represents those who see Jewish culture and religion as burdens. In their eyes our nation is “weighed down by centuries of collective Jewish memory,” as Gratch puts it. Rather than seeing this collective Jewish memory as a rich source of ideals and wisdom, practical Zionism sees it as an obstacle which stands in the way of conceding to the demands of the international community.
In place of Jewish ideology the practical Zionist adopts a non-ideology, one which effectively reflects the ideologies of those in power who must be influenced–the Ottomans, the British, the Americans, the Europeans–but just not the Jews. It is ultimately the ideology of survival, and its tenets are whatever the powerful nations find endearing.
And with nothing to believe in other than power, the practical Zionist is ever a supplicant before the mighty nations of the world, quick to sacrifice his indigenous homeland for their protection and affection. At the end of his piece, in an ironic analogy, Gratch tells us to emulate the sacrifice of the Israeli army officers who led their troops into deadly battle over the Jewish homeland–by relinquishing parts of that homeland. Rather than sacrificing for a cause, like the Israeli army officers, Alon Gratch wants us to sacrifice the cause itself–the Jewish homeland.
The eagerness of practical Zionists to sacrifice Jewish historical and cultural claims, next to the genuine passion of the Palestinian nationalists, makes Israel look like a colonial project founded by traumatized Europeans merely looking for survival, Europeans that settled where they don’t belong. This is now more or less what large swaths of the global population believe. And maybe we Jews have come to believe it as well.
But we Jews are not Europeans. We do belong in Israel, and the evidence is in the ground and in our genes as much as it’s in our texts and traditions. You don’t have to be religious or a Zionist to feel this belonging. You just have to be willing to embrace Jewish history and culture as powerful and legitimate forces, indeed the only legitimate forces, in justifying the continued existence of the Jewish state.
What Alon Gratch and the practical Zionists don’t understand is that living in the land of Israel, and supporting the Jewish State of Israel, are inherently ideological positions. Without Jewish culture, ideals, and beliefs, there is as little reason for the State of Israel to exist as there is for the Jewish people to exist.