Mondoweiss / January 9, 2023
Hillel Halkin moved to Israel from the U.S. 50 years ago as a committed Zionist. Now the author confesses the project failed because it could not deal with Palestinian demands, and he was naive.
We have closely followed indicators that the Jewish community is turning on Israel in the shock of its new fascistic government, and here’s another sign.
Hillel Halkin, a committed Zionist of 83, who moved from the U.S. to Israel in 1970, writes in the Jewish Review of Books that Israel is doomed. “We’re over the cliff and falling.” And nothing will save it from the “abyss” of messianic rightwing politics.
Israel’s leaders avoided the central issue of Palestinian rights, Halkin, an author and translator, explains. So the problem just grew, and Israel has turned more and more right wing. And not just rightwing, but religious extremist. When the whole point of Zionism was to wean the Jewish people from religion and produce a secular democracy.
“‘I never thought leopards would eat MY face,’ sobs woman who voted for the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party,” Jeremy Pressman mocks Halkin’s epiphany on Twitter. Very witty. But I salute Halkin. There are a lot of Zionists who were drawn to the ideology out of a sense of idealism/Jewish liberation/insular values; and though almost all of them have resisted the news from Palestine for decades now, at least Halkin is admitting he was wrong, and eating some humble pie.
Halkin begins his tale by describing an Israeli friend who saw the writing on the wall after Begin’s election in 1977 and began voting for Palestinian parties before moving to Portugal 10 years ago: “a professed anti-Zionist whose dire predictions for Israel’s future led to stormy arguments between us.” That friend lately wrote to Halkin to say, I told you so. Halkin responded:
You’ve won the argument. For years now, Israel has seemed to me like a man sleepwalking toward a cliff. Now we’ve fallen from it.
Halkin holds out hope that Israel can recover, but he says the radical new government portends “political chaos.” And when “the comforters” say, This is just one election, the centrist bloc will be back in two years, he says that’s wishful thinking. “Yes, there will be other elections. And the rascals will probably win them by bigger margins than they won this one.”
The demographics show that Israel is only getting worse. There are more and more young ultra-orthodox voters. “Israeli politics are now so solidified across entrenched lines of group identities that voting blocs are extremely stable…the currents driving Israel steadily rightward will persist.”
The endless confiscation of Palestinian land and expansion of settlements drives the Israeli public further to the right. “The more hopeless this conflict becomes, the more the Right and its religious allies gain and the Center-Left loses.”
Racism dominates Israeli political culture:
According to a survey last year, a quarter of all nonreligious Israelis between ages eighteen and twenty-four, and half of all religious ones, thought Israel’s Arab citizens should be stripped of the right to vote!
This is the voting population of Israel’s future—and it is a future in which any alliance between the Center-Left and Israel’s Arab parties, which might balance the Right-religious bloc, is ruled out. The chronically inflamed state of Jewish-Arab relations ensures as much, since no Jewish party can afford to be seen as “Arab-loving”…
The two-state solution failed by 2009, but everyone lies about that. “[T]hough its virtues continued to be sung by the world, [it] was impractical, having been rendered so by the hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers now in Judea and Samaria.” All mainstream parties in Israel adopted the policy of “managing the conflict.” As if that is feasible let alone an ideal.
And now Israel is “headed for disaster….a binational Israel that would inevitably implode from within or a morally repugnant Israel ostracized by the world and deserted by many of its own citizens.” Yes, as many as 1 million seculars are already living abroad. More will leave.
Halkin says Israel will be gone within 30 years, if it annexes the land — something finance minister Bezalel Smotrich wants to do “with God’s help.” Both Palestinians and Israelis have become more religious as the conflict destroys hope. “The steady drift toward religion in Israeli life in recent decades, so opposed to the trend in Western countries, is directly related to the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.”
Halkin explains that Zionism was supposed to be antimessianic:
Zionism aspired to wean the Jewish people off the belief that God was on its side and could be relied on to rescue it from its predicaments—that it should rely on God rather than on itself because it was God’s chosen. This was precisely why most of the rabbis of Europe, where Zionism arose, and especially of Eastern Europe, where it struck its deepest roots, fought it tooth and nail. The bulk of ultra-Orthodoxy remained bitterly anti-Zionist right up to the declaration of the State of Israel…
And now, with Benjamin Netanyahu in tow, these are the forces dragging us into the abyss…. [Anti-Zionists] put the blame on Zionism, and I put it on Judaism, of whose fantasies and delusions Zionism sought to cure us only to become infected with them itself. Zionism wanted to make us a normal people. It failed and grew warped in the process.
Halkin has the grace to admit that others saw this coming a long time ago.
I never credited the warnings, sounded by many over the years, that the expansion of the settlements would bring Israel to the point of no return. I believed that in the end, sooner or later, however long it took, the only feasible solution, the one solution yet to be tried, would be seized on [the two-state solution]…
I was (as I often was told) naive…. We’re over the cliff and falling, and no one knows how far down the ground is.
Halkin is 83, and I have to believe that he is representative of secular Zionists who are having terrible misgivings about a philosophy they embraced. The Netanyahu-Ben-Gvir-Smotrich government gives them an opportunity to climb down.
I’m not going to parse Halkin’s argument here (his Judea and Samaria justifications, his Palestinian blaming, his failure to credit Palestinians with an early understanding of Zionism). I think we need more Jewish Zionists to become former Zionists and decolonize the Jewish mind, and the U.S. establishment, to pave the way to democracy. So I applaud Halkin’s courage and honesty, and his shift.
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006