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A Generation of Misguided Policy in Israel

For more than a generation, defence policy and much else has been increasingly determined by the dictates of Israel’s religious settler lobby and its Messianic visions.

· 8 min read
A Generation of Misguided Policy in Israel
Slogans hung on a main road by Jewish settlers demanding sovereignty over the Jordan Valley in West Bank. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh / Alamy.

Israel was not founded by religious Jews. The early Zionists were secular, rational, and uniquely unsentimental about the Jewish condition in late 19th-century Europe and beyond. They believed that if Jews were to end their tragic two-thousand-year exile, their reliance on God and the fatalism it bred needed to be expunged.

The early Zionists’ focus on secularism seems to have been vindicated by recent events. 

How could the catastrophe on 7 October, which claimed the lives of at least 1,400 Israelis and has left 220 as hostages of Hamas, have happened? How could Israel lose control, over the course of a few hours, of an entire swath of its sovereign territory, including twenty-two kibbutzim and other villages? Beyond the obvious intelligence failure, one reason is that a good portion of the troops in the enlarged division that was meant to be guarding the Gaza border had been redeployed to keep order and protect an ever-expanding archipelago of tiny, often unauthorized West Bank settlements and roads leading to them. The sole purpose of these outposts was to establish a de facto Jewish presence in the West Bank and hence restrict the actions available to future Israeli governments. Objections and warnings by the defence establishment that the military and security services were overstretched, that the army no longer had the requisite forces or the time to train soldiers properly, were dismissed as the defeatism of an old and tired secular elite, by a growing chorus of hyper-patriotic, right-wing zealots, people often with little or no practical military experience. 

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