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Israel’s Independence Day Marks a 75-Year Odyssey from Left to Right

Elliot Kaufman
WSJ, Apr. 25, 2023

“The outcomes in Israel and India may be as different as Judaism and Hinduism, but the challenge for the right is the same: to marshal the best in its tradition to revise what is no longer sustainable from the old regime. The worry is that it will marshal the worst to squander its national inheritance.”
How did Israel, a liberal cause at its founding 75 years ago, become right-wing? You could begin the tale in 1935, when a Jewish state was still far from assured. Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the father of right-wing Zionism, despised by the socialist mainstream, made a promise and a threat to David Ben-Gurion, the Labor Zionist leader of Palestine’s Jewish community:

“I can vouch for there being a type of Zionist who doesn’t care what kind of society our ‘state’ will have; I’m that person. If I were to know that the only way to a state was via socialism, or even that this would hasten it by a generation, I’d welcome it. More than that: Give me a religiously Orthodox state in which I would be forced to eat gefilte fish all day long (but only if there were no other way), and I’ll take it. . . . In the will I leave my son, I’ll tell him to start a revolution, but on the envelope, I’ll write, ‘To be opened only five years after a Jewish state is established.’ ”

That Jabotinsky’s heirs kept his promise and threat allows us to trace the nation’s journey from left to right as the world’s most successful postcolonial state.

In 1944 right-wing Zionists revolted against the British, the colonial power blocking desperate European Jews from immigrating to Palestine. Ben-Gurion, focused on a postwar settlement, opposed the revolt. His forces betrayed hundreds of members of the Zionist underground to the British. This turned Jew against Jew and could have easily spiraled into civil war. But it didn’t. “There will not be a fratricidal war,” said Menachem Begin, successor to Jabotinsky. “Perhaps our blood will be shed, but we will not shed the blood of others.” … [To read the full article, click here]

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