Aryeh Schonbrun

Leaving the Fold: The Natural Process of “De-Zionification”

Last Friday night, as I was taking an evening stroll with a friend, we passed a group of Religious-Zionist Israeli teenagers who approached me (I’m not entirely anonymous in my hometown community…) and asked to speak with me. I bade my friend farewell and gave them my attention. At first, I was anticipating a strained, uncomfortable argument about my support for Palestinian-Arab rights or some other superficial topic, however, I was surprised by the novel direction the conversation actually took. Though they did initially accuse me of supporting terrorism, I managed to move the conversation away from abstract ideological tropes into the real domain of international geopolitics.

“Israel is weak,” I insisted, “Israel is dependent on Western economic interests in order to survive.” To this, they agreed. Anyone who believes that the Israeli economy could possibly function without the import of industrial and agricultural products from first and third world trading partners would be denying reality. With a bit of rhetoric and intellectual prodding, I eventually got them to reanalyze the strategic impact that taking a racist approach to the conflict has on Israel’s own security and economic interests. My interpretation of the situation, a Marxist approach that incorporates class theory as well as critique of Western, U.S.-backed, imperialist interests, got them to think a bit more about the bigger picture. Maybe the U.S. is really using the conflict in order “divide and conquer,” as I suggested, and the Palestinian terrorists are just pawns?

I felt somewhat relieved, as we ended the discussion on a more amicable tone. I don’t think that I actually succeeded in getting them to change their minds, but I believe that they may think twice before giving in to the baseless hatred that the political establishment relishes in spreading. As I turned to head home, another group, this time younger teenagers, called out to me. I recognized a few and, again, let them start the conversation. “What’s your problem with the State?”, they inquired of me. I responded,

“I find the official definition of Judaism as lacking.”

“How is that?”

I then explained to them my basic reasoning to the significance of integrating both sides of Judaism, secular and religious, into a unified, healthy identity.

“So you think that the secular Jews are less Jewish than us?”

“Well, maybe not less Jewish, per se, but less representative of the ideal Jewish identity.”

“How can you say that? That’s not fair!”

“Why should we keep Shabbos, then?

“Because we’re religious!”

“What religion, may I ask?! Historically speaking, Judaism and Halakha come hand-in-hand. Not that I identify Haredi society. We need to incorporate the two definitions.”

“Which side is more important? The secular or religious side?”

“That’s like asking me which side of my body do I prefer, my left or right side?”

At this point, one of the teenagers took over and tried to explain to his friend.

“He’s saying that definition of Judaism is like two sides of the same coin. The Haredi and secular Jews are missing one of the sides, we believe in integrating them both.”

“Bingo. Thanks kid.”

I then explained to them the importance of speaking out against the superficiality of the official position on Judaism, that distills millennia of Jewish history into a single bureaucratic question: “Who’s your mother?” I also encouraged them to appreciate the position of influence in which they find themselves, as young non-settler Religious-Zionists. “No-one questions your “Israeliness”, you don’t live in closed communities in the middle of the West Bank and you aren’t blacklisted by the E.U. as ‘messianic ideologues’. An authentic religious lifestyle here, in the midst of the bourgeois Mercaz, means only one thing: a repudiation of secular Zionism and an objective assertion as to the fundamental significance of a Halakha lifestyle for any Jewish identity.”

I continued home, thinking about the two conversations. These, of course, were not the first conversations that I had with the local youth. At first, I thought that these conversations were subversive, and that I was plugging anti-establishment ideology in a way that might get me in trouble with the authorities. However, as I progressed in my activities, and generally in my personal encounters in Israeli society, I became aware that such conversations are occurring more frequently and in more places in Israeli society, not excluding strategically significant positions of power within the Israeli establishment. Whether it be a ranking officer in the IDF, a bureaucrat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or an undercover operative in the Mossad or Shinbet, these conversations are, indeed, taking place, and thereby creating an undisclosed, shapeless resistance, in addition to spreading a general malaise surrounding the counter-productive decisions of Israel’s corrupt policy-makers that is felt even by the general public. We may not be about to experience a coordinated rebellion just yet, but I firmly believe that given the right external pressures and foreign guidance (e.g. Western sanctions, NGO involvement, etc.), many professional actors holding official standing will begin to speak out against the reigning political establishment (left and right) and start to demand real change.  If the opportunity is missed, we must expect to suffer much, both economically and socially, from the decaying political situation on both sides of the conflict which may eventually lead to a full-blown Third Intifada. It is a matter of time and political prerogative, not a measure of divine Providence.

About the Author
Originally from Westchester, NY, Aryeh made Aliyah 7 years ago.
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