The Zionism that sees Israeli sovereignty over even more of the historical Land of Israel cannot help but see June 1967 as an unalloyed good; the Zionism that has to figure out how to govern an area containing far more Palestinians than Jews and do so in a world where nearly every other country views Israel’s presence there as an illegal occupation is less enthusiastic. In many ways, this tension can be seen most prominently in Jerusalem, a place that has been central to millennia of Jewish longing and hope, and whose capture fifty years ago led to euphoria over the reclamation of Judaism’s holy places and the idea of a reunifying an eternally undivided Jerusalem. Yet the idea of a whole and unified Jerusalem crashes against the reality of a Jerusalem that is starkly divided by ethnicity and religion, that is subject to gaping municipal inequalities in housing and services between Jewish and Arab neighborhoods, and that is claimed in part by a different national movement. As unthinkable as it is for Jews not to rejoice over Jewish control of the Jerusalem of kings and prophets, it is also unthinkable for Jews not to see that this victory carries with it costs.
The success of the next fifty years of the Zionist enterprise will be judged on how this tension between dreams and reality is navigated, beginning with how Israel ultimately resolves its control of the West Bank. It requires a recognition that events can simultaneously be celebrated as outcomes whose consequences are rued, and that the quest for the perfect is more often than not the enemy of the achievable good. Few ideological movements born as a vision of utopia have been as successful in the real world as Zionism, but the initial decades of that success were emblematic of how an ideology transforms to fit its circumstances. The legacy of June 1967 is complicated, and for the Jewish state to continue to thrive and fulfill its core mission of Jewish self-determination in the Jewish homeland, it will have to embrace the contradictions of this legacy so that it can reconcile them.
The fiftieth anniversary of Israel’s wondrous victory in June 1967 is the perfect opportunity to reflect upon the gap between aspiration and execution and what it means for the Zionist endeavor today. Zionism began life as an aspirational ideology – Jewish self-determination in the Jews’ historic homeland – but its monumental successes meant that it had to quickly grapple with the practical implications of transforming into a governing ideology. Never has that tension been so acute as how to relate to Israel’s victory fifty years ago and its control of the West Bank, a victory that was absolutely necessary and that should be celebrated unambiguously but the aftermath of which has proved to be infinitely more complicated.
Michael Koplow is the Policy Director of the Israel Policy Forum. Before coming to IPF, he was the founding Program Director of the Israel Institute from 2012 to 2015. He holds a Ph.D. in Government from Georgetown University, where he specialized in political development and ideology, and the politics of Middle Eastern states. In 2012-13 he served as a Young Turkey Young America fellow through the Atlantic Council’s Young Atlanticist program. He writes IPF’s weekly Koplow Column and edits IPF’s Matzav blog, which is a leading source for commentary and analysis on Israel and American Jewry. He is also the author of the Ottomans and Zionists blog and his work has appeared in Security Studies, Foreign Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, The National Interest, Foreign Policy, The American Interest, and The Atlantic, among other publications. In addition to his Ph.D., he holds a B.A. from Brandeis University, a J.D. from New York University, and an A.M. in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University.