At the end of the Six-Day War, a tearfully triumphant Israeli soldier, standing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, realized that he was "facing two thousand years
of exile, the whole history of the Jewish people[.]" Suddenly and unexpectedly, the biblical homeland -- east and west from Jericho to Jerusalem and north and south from Nablus to Hebron
-- was restored to Jewish sovereignty.
After 1967, handfuls -- then hundreds and eventually thousands -- of Israelis accepted the challenge that had
always defined Zionism: to build new settlements in the ancient homeland. For their persistent -- and astonishingly successful -- efforts, they have been relentlessly excoriated ever
since as colonial occupiers stealing land that belongs to another people, known to the world ever since the war as Palestinians.
By now, for many Israelis, the miracle of return has become the calamity of conquest. Many Israeli
journalists, scholars, and their political allies on the left, yearning for international approval, have become avid collaborators in the increasingly hostile delegitimization of the Jewish
Their primary targets, whose growing presence and power in Israel challenge their own self-proclaimed right
to rule, are -- predictably -- religious Jews. Confronting 300,000 Jewish settlers living in biblical Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), the rising birthrates of ultra-Orthodox Jews, and the increasing presence of religious soldiers and
officers in the Israel Defense Forces, the secular left feels under siege.
No Israeli journalist writing for an American audience more vividly expresses this acute discomfort than
Gershom Gorenberg. Born in the American heartland (Missouri), raised and university-educated in California, for many years now a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, he is an
accomplished journalist (and an Orthodox Jew) who loathes ultra-Orthodox "fundamentalists" and Jewish settlers for destroying the Israel of his dreams.
Gorenberg's decade-long diatribe against settlers began with The End of Days (2000), a critique of
religious fundamentalism. It continued with The Accidental Empire (2006), exploring the formative decade of Jewish settlement after the Six-Day War. His trilogy has now
culminated with The Unmaking of Israel, in which his animosity toward religious Zionist settlers and ultra-Orthodox Jews is palpable.
The "defining contradiction of Israel's history," he writes, is "the inner clash between chauvinism and
liberalism, between ethnocracy and democracy." Yearning for Israel to become a "liberal democracy," perhaps even a Middle Eastern California, Gorenberg displays the intolerant zeal toward
his political enemies that he attributes to his ideological opponents.
The "divided soul" of the Jewish state, in his lament, is largely the post-1967 consequence of Jewish
settlements. Gorenberg's liberal solution is apartheid in reverse. With "ending the occupation" as his mantra, he sees no problem in transferring three hundred thousand Jews from
their homes, by force if necessary, to create a Judenrein Palestine.
Only if Israel relinquishes the biblical homeland of the Jewish people and expels its Jewish residents,
Gorenberg believes, can it be "saved." The dismal alternative is "ethnocracy," a derogatory label borrowed from Oren Yiftachel, an Israeli academic who has built his career by claiming
that Israel is guilty of "creeping apartheid."
To create the "liberal nation-state" of Gorenberg's dreams, draconian changes are necessary. Israel
must dismantle settlements, divorce state and synagogue by disestablishing religion, and become a state in which "all citizens" (excluding, of course, settlers) become equal as the result of
affirmative action programs for Israeli Arabs.
Along the way, the new "liberal" state must purge the IDF of its "ideological [i.e., religious] profiles,"
while ending "the creeping development of an officer corps that could obey a radical clergy instead of the government." Rabbis must no longer be permitted to teach soldiers about "the
sacred value of land." To be sure, little sacred land will be left under Gorenberg's plan, except for Tel Aviv.
In the land of Gorenberg, the "hallucinatory expectations" of religious Zionists, the Israelis who creatively
fused Zionism with Judaism after the Six-Day War, will finally be stifled and Israel will be "saved." It is, to say the least, a curious form of salvation that requires Judaism to be all
but expunged from the Jewish state.
Gorenberg's preferred model, revealingly, is the devastating Altalena episode of 1948. Prime
Minister David Ben-Gurion, hallucinating a right-wing putsch to overthrow his government, ordered the IDF to shoot his Irgun enemies (led by the despised Menachem Begin) and destroy
the ship that brought desperately needed weapons and fighters for the war for national independence. In a two-day battle, nineteen Jews were killed.
The Altalena "lessons" that Israel must now apply seem to require the forcible eradication of
religious Zionists, "dedicated to fantasies of power and expansion," whom Gorenberg deems to be enemies of the state. That unconscionable solution is likely to return Israel to the
1stcentury CE, when Jews fought each other in the
streets of Jerusalem, destroying Jewish national sovereignty for nineteen hundred years.
The Altalena tragedy left a legacy of fratricidal bitterness between left and right that has morphed
in recent years into a hostile struggle between secular Israelis and religious Jews over legitimacy and power. Ironically and sadly, Gorenberg's vision of an exemplary state of liberal
Jewish democrats (presumably like himself) reveals itself to be a Zionist nightmare in which perpetually bitter internecine conflict is virtually assured.