Along with many others, I have repeatedly written about the malaise affecting the Dati Leumi community in Israel. Although the establishment of the State in 1948 should have propelled this group to peak importance within the Torah community, over the last 25 years the opposite has happened. Influence has wained, the Rabbanut and other national institutions have been taken over by the Chareidi sector and what's left of the group spends much of its time portraying itself as fanatical about living in Yehuda and Shomron.
In fact, one can directly tie the malaise many Dati Leumi feel about themselves and the State to the retreat from 'Aza in 2005. For too many, the State became an article of holiness, the "settlements" inviolable and when that selfsame State chose to abandon those selfsame settlements, much of what we believed was swept out from under us.
Perhaps this is due to language which is often imprecise. There are three types of Zionism. The first is just plain Zionism, the vague idea that Israel is the land of the Jews and that we have a right to have a country there. Then there are Secular Zionism and Religious Zionism. Because of the second part of the term, one might conclude there is a great similarity between the two and perhaps too many on the religious side have over the years because they have come to emphasize the Zionism over the Religious part of the name. This is a grave error.
Theodore Herzl's goal for Secular Zionism is worth recalling. An assimilated Austrian Jew, he knew nothing of Torah, the land of Israel or the journey of our people throughout history. All he knew, based on his experiences at the Alfred Dreyfuss trial, was that no matter how much Jews tried to assimilate they were still singled out by the gentiles around them and set aside as "the other". That assimilation into the general culture is not the Jewish goal never occured to him. He saw it as the natural thing to do and this discordance between his desired goal and the refusal of the world around him to recognize it bothered him. His solution was to work to create a state for Jews. Not a Jewish state, mind you, but rather a secular state with a majority Jewish population which would be indistinguishable in culture and societal mechanisms from any advance European liberal democracy. He hoped that when the non-Jewish world would see that on their own Jews could create a vibrant and modern state that would rival Germany or Britain they would come to realize that the Jews are one of them and finally accept them.
Unfortunately, Secular Zionism has only recently started to realize that despite their best efforts to turn Tel Aviv into "Manhattan on the Mediterranean" they are still the Jews of the world. Like Dreyfuss, the loyal French soldier who was chosen as guilty because of his Jewishness, secular Israel today stands before the world as a pariah and outcast. Even the State's best friendships are conditional with constant reminders that no country in the world really views Israel as a permanent feature on the international scene.
As a result, secular thought is drifting. Unable to accept the failure of its fundamental underlying belief, it continues to push that belief further. The desperate need to be accepted by the world has brought all manner of disaster to our people, from the Oslo Discord on. The more Israeli politicians dream of being feted in world capitals, the weaker the position of the country becomes.
Religious Zionism, on the other hand, was founded on the desire to create a Jewish state rather than just a state with a lot of Jews in it. The thought of standing apart from the world community was not anathema to the founders. As Jews, we have always stood apart from gentile society around us, no matter how much our assimilated brethren would delude themselves into thinking otherwise. It therefore made no sense to plan for a country that would fit neatly into the international order.
Rather, the dream was to fulfill the words of the prophets and use the opportunities God Himself has provided over the last 110 years to rebuild Zion and reestablish His worship in our Holy Land.
As noted above, Religious Zionism has been distracted over the last few decades. Far from dreaming of a Jewish state and working towards that end, the Dati Leumi have limited themselves to single issues such as the right of Jews to live in Yehuda and Shomron as they do in Haifa and Tel Aviv. Certainly these are worthy issues to take a stand on but they cannot be the defining issues of the movement. For too many, Yesha is just not an important priority in their lives. The more the Mafdal has concentrated on a limited platform, the more irrelevant it has become in national politics and its own community.
This is not a surprise to those who know the Dati Leumi community. Unlike the Chareidim, most are well integrated into general Israeli society. As a result, they share many concerns that secular Israelis have. They are worried about taxes, defence, foreign policy and the price of food. They are more interested in what the three large parties, Avodah, Likud and Kadimah, have to say on those issues that in the Mafdal with its constant call to support "the settlers". Unlike many in the Chareidi community who are only interested in having a party that will extort money for their yeshivos, the Dati Leumi are interested in what is good for the State in general.
Therefore, Religious Zionism needs to reorganize and establish its original direction. We must remember what one particularily non-Zionistic rav, Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, z"l, noted in his commentary on the Torah. "Israel is the land of the Torah. The Jews are the people of Torah. But Israel is not the land of the Jews."
It is only through a connection to Torah that Jews can have a real connection to Eretz Yisrael. Thus the only really successful form of Zionism over the long term must be Religious Zionism properly focused on showing that the return of our people to our Land is not due to necessity or political convenience but because of God's hand in history slowly revealing itself and drawing the final redemption closer.
As a community, we must develop a platform that shows that we can build a state al pi halacha that is functional and modern. The idea that Religious Zionism can provide satisfactory answers to the concerns of Jews, both religious and secular, must be pursued. That great giant of Religious Zionism, Rav Avraham Yitzhchak Kook, zt"l, was not interested in creating yet another segment within the Torah world or the Jewish community in general but in remaking our nation and returning it to its former glory. This ideal reaches out to all Jews, no matter what their background and offers them a chance to play a role greater than the small one of living in quiet desperation from day to day. Religious Zionism must emphasize that it has the answers people are seeking and be willing to share them.
If the movement can turn itself in that direction, it may just regain its prominence and help develop the State of Israel into the ideal, the reshis tzimchas geulateinu.