The Case for Left-Wing Religious Zionism

Religious Zionism is an ideology dear to my heart and the hearts of countless Orthodox Jews. The teachings of Rav Kook and Rav Soloveitchik have shaped Orthodox Judaism’s perspective on a modern State of Israel. Mainstream Modern Orthodoxy recognizes and supports the State of Israel, with a majority of its members leaning towards the right end of the political spectrum.

As the conflict with neighboring countries continues, and the struggle over the Disputed Territories drags on, voters and supporters of the State are becoming increasingly partisan. Moderate, middle-of-the-road parties are giving way to more extreme, alt-right and alt-left parties on both ends of the spectrum. What we discover here is a new trend in Religious Zionist affiliation with right-wing parties.

The issue arises when this newfound extremism leads to increased hostility between opposing parties and diminishes the government’s ability to properly lead its people. Right-wing policies are not synonymous with religious ideologies; Rav Yehuda Amital z”l, founder of the religious left-wing party Meimad, clearly understood this difference and successfully integrated core religious values into his social-democratic political policies. The Meimad movement beautifully harmonized Jewish values with the current status of an imperfect State of Israel. It was understood that in order to progress forward, certain religious standards would be maintained, but many ideals had to be compromised.

Today, the religious right risks fighting alone on multiple fronts. With their failure to piece together to form a unified right-wing entity, orthodox representation in Knesset is in jeopardy, not because of lack of representation in numbers, but by lack of solidarity and shared values. It’s understandable as observant Jews to seek perfection in the only truly Jewish country on earth.

However, the unsettling reality is that the State of Israel is far from perfect in terms of religious observance, and seeking to reach that heightened level of observance before the proper time and without a united group of religious representatives in Knesset can lead to even more destructive results. It’s easy to fight with zeal and passion about an idea that is held dear to the heart, but as it turns out, this fierce attitude and rigid mindset are turning other politicians off from establishing Jewish values nationally and is harming the future success of such endeavors in the state.

We must come to terms with our current reality and understand that any problem worth solving must be solved by means other than instant gratification and fervor.

The right’s inability to fess up to its own imperfections is putting a damper on the recognition and legitimacy that it seeks. By failing to condemn Jewish settler attacks on Palestinians and rabbinic political scandals, the right as a prominently religious sector has given itself a bad reputation in the eyes of the political world and lacks the backing that it is pursuing. Denying the crimes committed by Jewish settlers in an attempt to divert the attention back onto Palestinian crimes is putting our accountability at stake. The answer to Palestinian terrorism is not Jewish terrorism, and the answer to Jewish terrorism is not disacknowledgment.

A Jewish utopia with peace and complete sovereignty may indeed be what we’re ideally seeking, but as a modern state formed on the foundations of democracy and equality, we need to put our principles on hold and tackle the problems that are holding us back from making the smaller steps that come first in this long process. That includes thinking logically and strategically on a long-term plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and coming to terms with the inevitable truth that our enemies are not disappearing any time soon. Settlement expansion may give us the thrill that we’re seeking in this never-ending battle, but we should also be looking at the fact that as our enemies grow larger and larger, their living space must grow larger as well. There’s nothing cowardly about patiently dealing with the Palestinians. It’s true that they’ve been avoiding a permanent peace agreement for decades, but that doesn’t mean that we should make the possibility of a peace deal in the future smaller by expanding our settlements out of sheer spite.

Just as Meimad and Shas sacrificed certain ideals for the sake of peace and saving Jewish lives, so too we should realize that our religious beliefs and the State’s current status are not mutually exclusive. We can adhere to our Jewish values and also be rational supporters of a magnificent country that has lots of room for improvement. Secular Jews in Israel have been undeniably influenced by past rabbinic leadership such as Rav Ovadia Yosef z”l, and in order to reach the standard of religious life that orthodox Jews are seeking in Israel, secular Jews must be made a part of the plan. Arabs living in Israel must be taken into consideration. All these factors must be taken into account before any progress can be made.

Advancements can only be made based on the current reality on the ground. The first step is to lose the gusto attitude and to work on implementing our values into the prevalent policies of today. If we want it, it is no dream. But if we don’t, a dream it will remain. We must strive for success as religious Jews in the only Jewish State on the planet. And that is only possible if we work with what we’ve got.

About the Author
Jeremy Bassali is a Yeshiva student in the New York region. He is currently participating in the Write on for Israel program and is involved in pro-Israel advocacy at school and in the local community.