Avishay Ben Sasson Gordis
Avishay Ben-Sasson Gordis is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Political Theory at the Harvard Department of Government. He is a research fellow at Molad: The Center for Renewal of Israeli Democracy, and hosts The Israel Podcast a podcast on Israeli politics. He served as an officer in the Israeli Defense Intelligence, in a variety of analysis and command roles.
For the past 50 years the critical debate of Zionism has hinged on a core question. Not “How do we steer the ship?” but instead “Where are we headed?” It is as if the year is again 1905, but instead of debating the Uganda Question—whether a land other than Zion can sufficiently emblazon the souls of the Jews to get them to uproot their lives and move there—the debate now is over the dream of controlling Zion in its entirety. In this sense, 1967 entails a great irony: this dream threatens to end the crowning achievement of the Zionism, a Jewish state.
Given that we have been thrust back into an old discussion, perhaps the positions taken then can help us find a path forward. Theodore Herzl is considered the visionary of the State of Israel, yet we hardly devote any attention to the specific content of his vision. Herzl’s Zionism was a vision of normalcy for the Jewish people in which every feature of Jewish experience is put to work in service of a thriving, open, and tolerant society. It was a fundamentally liberal vision—because Herzl himself was fin de siècle liberal. Importantly, it was not a vision born of a naïve view of the world.
Anti-Semitism played an important role in Herzl’s own nationalistic awakening—and even in his political plans. But his Zionism was intended to create a society that does not replicate what the Jews have long suffered. Instead, Herzlian Zionism was meant to allow a Jewish society become the best of what human society can be, with religious and ethnic tolerance at its heart.
After 1967, and in the last decade especially, the Zionist endeavor has come to be defined by the liberation of the Land and not by the liberation of people. The future of the Zionist endeavor -- and of the Jewish state that it has created -- depends on reinvigorating a Herzlian idealism. The future depends on whether we build a state in which its successes and powers allow Jews the space to breathe -- and to become at once the most normal and the most outstanding, society possible.
If we will it, it is no dream.
The Zionist endeavor was never one thing. From its outset, Zionism was defined no less by the disagreements than by singularity of purpose-- disagreements about what it was and where it was headed. When the state was founded, it seemed that Zionism was largely successful. The debate then was between the Labor movement and the Revisionists over how to steer this ship. But the victory of 1967, and the Occupation it heralded, changed this.