Akiva Orr


The Zionist movement and its State—ISRAEL, do not represent the Jewish people. They never did. They represent a particular trend within the Jewish people, namely—the nationalist trend. To find out whether Israel is a Jewish State or a Zionist State one need only ask any religious Orthodox Jew anywhere. His answer will be unambiguous: a Jewish State must be ruled by Jewish religious law—“Halakha.” Israel is not ruled by “Halakha” laws, but by secular laws. Therefore Israel is not a Jewish State. The fact that it provides refuge to Jews does not make it a Jewish State. Zionism and Judaism are different entities. They have contradictory qualities.


Although Zionists claim to represent all Jews the Zionist movement is merely the JNP (Jewish National Party) within the Jewish people. It is one of two trends which emerged in European Jewry in the 19th Century. These trends are: 1) The Cosmopolitan secular trend, and 2) The Nationalist trend (“Zionism”). Marx, Freud, Einstein, Bob Dylan and Abbie Hoffman, belong to the Cosmopolitan trend.  Herzl, Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Begin, Sharon, Netanyahu, belong to the Nationalist trend.  The misleading image of Israel as representative of world Jewry is due to the fact that Israeli politicians participate in international forums and make public statements purporting to represent all Jewish people. Actually they represent Zionist interests, not Jewish interests. In every case of a conflict between Jewish and Zionist interests the latter prefers its own interest. The best example is the treatment of Holocaust survivors in Israel. Though Germany paid the Israeli government money to compensate them the Israeli government used the money for its own purposes without passing it on to the Holocaust survivors living in Israel. The survivors had to resort to strikes and demonstrations against the Israeli government to get their money.  The issue is not settled to this very day.


Until the 19th Century all Jews everywhere lived every act of daily life according to religious rules. To be “A Jew” meant one thing—to live ordinary daily life according to 613 religious rules for the conduct of every act of daily life. Religious rules dictating daily behaviour—not common language, common history, circumcision, or genetic features—kept the Jewish communities, dispersed all over the world, as a single coherent, unified, entity.


During the 19th Century, after the “Codex Napoleon” banned all legal restrictions against Jews and the Industrial Revolution offered them many new economic opportunities, most European Jews moved from their Ghettoes into the host societies and a process of fragmentation began in European Jewish communities. They split into three major fragments: 1) Religious 2) Secular and 3) Nationalist. Each of these fragments split further into secondary fragments: The Religious split into Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Traditional. The Nationalists—into Assimilationists, and Zionists, the Secular—into Marxists, Liberals and Cosmopolitans.


Within 100 years (1800-1900) 80% of European Jews ceased to live daily life according to the 613 religious rules. They became secular Cosmopolitans, Assimilationists, or Zionists. Only some 20% continued to live according to the religious rules. This happened in all Jewish communities in Germany, Austro-Hungary, Russia, Lithuania, Poland, Britain, France, USA, Italy, Holland, and Belgium. In 1900 only 20% of European Jews still observed all 613 religious rules while 75% became secular assimilationists, socialists, or cosmopolitans. Only 5% became Zionists. Most Zionists were atheists. Like all atheists they saw all religions as superstitions and obstacles to enlightenment, modernization and progress. A similar fragmentation process began among Jews in Asia and Africa a few decades later.


The relative sizes of the fragments (20%-Religious, 75%-Secular, 5%-Zionists) changed after the Nazis came to power in Germany, to 20%-50%-30%. The Jewish response to the rise of Nazism was a rise in Zionism. German nationalism culminated by creating Auschwitz and by trying to conquer Russia. Jewish nationalism culminated by conquering Palestine and by creating a Zionist State. Contrary to its claims, a Zionist State is not a Jewish State as a Jewish State is one ruled by Jewish religious law (“HALAKHA”) whereas the Zionist State is ruled (mainly) by secular law. Religious law is based on worship of God. Secular law is based on worship of the Nation. Zionism is Ethnocentric and worships the Jewish Nation. Judaism is Theocentric and worships the Jewish God. Religious Judaism considers the worship of the Jewish nation as blasphemy. Orthodox Jews in Israel refuse to serve in the Israeli Army, not because they are pacifist, but because they oppose a secular State pretending to be “Jewish.” Some refuse to vote in the elections, or to stand at attention when the national Anthem is played, some refuse to carry an Israeli passport. They consider Israel a State of blasphemers, not a “The Jewish State.”


Although the desire to resurrect Biblical Jewish independence in Palestine is expressed in every Passover meal for millennia religious Jews relegate this task to God. Rabbis emphasize that only when all Jews repent, return to worship God alone, and cease to worship false gods like money, nation, or state, will God relent and resurrect Jewish independence in Palestine (Biblical “Zion”). They warned against any human attempt to carry out this task. Their warnings went unheeded when many European Jews supported the Jewish Kabbalist Shabbtai Zevi (1626-1676) trying to resurrect Jewish independence in Palestine in the 17th century. His opponents were vindicated when his movement ended in a fiasco. He converted to Islam, disbanded his movement, and caused a major crisis in Judaism. No wonder this episode is glossed over by the Zionist state-education in Israel.


The fragments mentioned above formed political parties in Israel and their relations and deals shape Israeli politics. From 1922 to 1977 the major fragment in the Jewish community in Palestine, consisting mostly (but not entirely) of Zionists, was the Zionist Labour movement. It was a Social-Democracy committed to nationalism and atheism. Labour Zionism created all Israeli State institutions, the Knesset, the Legal system, the Police, the Army, the educational and health systems, and most of the economy. After the UN resolution to create two States in Palestine, one for Jews and one for the Palestinians (29.11.1947) Ben-Gurion, leader of Labour Zionism, acted to prevent a conflict between Religious Jewry and a Zionist state. He offered a compromise (known as “The Status-Quo Agreement”) between the Zionist State and Religious Jewry. He proposed that all traditional Jewish Holydays will be State Holydays, and all matters of marriage, divorce, and burial, be decided by religious law. Most Religious Jews accepted this compromise which has been in force ever since 1947. It averted Religious Jewish opposition to Israel. B/G. wanted to prevent a situation where Religious Jewry—all over the world – would challenge a secular Zionist state and its image as “The Jewish State.” His “Status-Quo” agreement achieved this. That is why there is no civil marriage in Israel and no Constitution (the religious demanded a religious one) and why Israeli children of mixed marriages born to non-Jewish mothers are legally bastards.


To understand the mutual relations between the secular majority and the religious minority in Israel one must understand the Jewish religion….


The bond between religion and ethnicity in Judaism is the source of a unique problem for “lapsed Jews” who do not live daily life according to the 613 religious rules but insist that they are still Jews by ethnicity. Defining their secular Jewish ethnicit6y is problematic. Any specific quality they try to attribute to secular Jewish ethnicity exists also among non-Jews. Moreover, no definition of secular Jewish ethnicity can achieve consensus among all Jews. Most “Lapsed Jews” provide personal definitions that suit their personal taste, but none of these is accepted by all Jews. Group identity is a quality determined by the group, not by its individual members. No member of, say, “Manchester United F.C.” can determine the qualifications for membership in the club. This is determined by the club’s management, not by individuals. Definitions suiting an individual are not recognized by the club. Various attempts in the last 150 years to define secular Jewishness in a way that would be accepted by all Jews have been tried— and failed. They continue—and so do their failures. The continuation of these efforts testifies to their failures.


The State of Israel itself is the central effort to define a core for secular Jewish ethnicity. The Zionist secular State is expected to play the role that God plays for the religious. The question is—Can a secular State be Jewish? Religious Jews say: NO! Secular Jews who insist that they are still Jews, say: YES! But they cannot define features that make a secular State—specifically Jewish. Speaking Hebrew is not—and never was—a hallmark of all Jews. Circumcision is performed also by non-Jews. Moral considerations guide Christians more than they guide religious Jews. Declaring all Jewish Holydays as official Holydays exacerbates the problem, as all Jewish Holydays have a religious character. They either commemorate a religious event or fulfil a religious function. A secular State celebrating religious Holydays does not provide a secular identity; it only deepens the confusion of the confused….


The central aim of Israeli politics is to secure Israel’s “Jewish Identity” (rather than its military security or economic stability) by maintaining a numeric majority of secular, lapsed Jews, in Israel. Israel’s “Jewish” identity worries them far more than its Defense or economy. The latter are means to ensure the former.  The former is not a means, but an end. The “Jewish Identity complex” of “lapsed Jews” does not affect the religious Jews who have a secure religious and ethnic identity with—or without— any state.  They do not fear to be a minority and do not seek refuge in numbers….


Two more features of the Jewish religion play a role in Israeli politics today:


1)  The idea that whatever happens in history is due to God’s will?


2) The idea that eventually God will redeem the Jewish people, send his saviour (“Messiah”) to resurrect the religious Jewish State, and rebuild His Temple in Jerusalem.


These two ideas motivate Israeli Religio-Nationalist settlers in occupied Palestine today.


Until 1948 most Orthodox religious Jews opposed Zionism. After the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 some argued that this is God’s will and joined the coalition headed by the atheist Labour Party. They were a subordinate partner puzzled by what God meant in using atheist Zionists to set up Israel. However, after the stunning Israeli victory in the 1967 war, when all of Palestine—especially the holy city of Jerusalem—came under Israeli sovereignty, the trend of Religio-Zionists began to attract many young believers, who argued that this victory signified God’s will and the “Countdown to Redemption.” Although the atheist Levi Eshkol, Israel’s Labour PM in 1967, forbade any settlement in the territories conquered in 1967 hoping to trade them for peace, Rabbi Moshe Levinger entered occupied Hebron as a tourist and then declared that he intends to settle there, because God promised it to Abraham. The Deputy PM, [Yigal Alon]—a militant atheistic Socialist Zionist—.went to negotiate with Levinger, but instead of evacuating him, congratulated him. This was the Kanossa of Labour Zionism. At the zenith of its political power Labour Zionism—committed to atheism— capitulated ideologically to Religio-Zionism.  The reason?  As socialists Labour Zionists opposed colonialism and justified the colonization of Palestine by arguing that Palestine was desolate and unpopulated, and therefore the Zionist project was not Colonialism. Until 1967 Labour Zionism argued that Palestine was “A country without a people for a people without a country.” The conquest of 1967 revealed the Palestinian people inhabiting hundreds of villages and dozens of towns in Palestine. The traditional Labour argument collapsed, but not its wish to colonize the whole of Palestine. As the religio-nationalists substituted a religious argument (“God gave this country to the Jews”) Zionist Labour bowed down to the new colonizatory zeal of the religio-nationalists. From that time on the ideological hegemony in the Zionist colonization of Palestine was in the hands of the religio-nationalist minority. It created facts and all Israeli governments accepted them.    The religious minority ideologically dominated the “lapsed Jewish” majority due to two reasons: First—it had a clear (religious) justification for colonizing Palestine, and second—it had a clear definition of Jewish identity.


All Jews today accept two definitions of Jewish identity: the Rabbinical and the empirical. The Rabbinical definition states: “A Jew is one born to a Jewish mother.” The empirical states: “A Jew is one obeying daily the 613 religious rules for the conduct of daily life.” All other definitions are not accepted by all Jews. “Lapsed Jews” do not contest these two definitions. They contest their exclusivity, arguing that there are other valid definitions.


The Rabbinical definition is flawed on three counts—1) It is logically circular. What has to be defined (“Jewishness”) is a condition of the definition (the “Jewishness” of the mother). 2) As it depends on the Jewishness of the mother—and of her mother—one must check the Jewishness of the matrilineal line. How far back? 3) It ignores the person’s actual own faith.  A person converted to Christianity, whose mother was Jewish, is considered by all Rabbis as “A Jew” (though a “sinner”) because his mother was Jewish. All Rabbis agree on this…..


As 80% of those who define themselves today as “Jews” do not live their daily life according to the 613 religious rules their “Jewish” ethnic identity is vague. This vagueness often generates an obsession to resolve it and becomes an identity complex. If it is acute it becomes a neurosis and as it is shared by many people it becomes a collective neurosis. This collective neurosis is the source of Zionism—and of Israeli politics. Unlike all other politics the prime aim of Israeli politics is to secure Israel’s secular Jewish identity, not its military security or its economic stability. The latter are means, not ends. The end is a secure ?SECULAR—Jewish ethnic IDENTITY. Zionism created the secular Zionist State as the core of the secular Jewish identity. Loyalty to the secular State has replaced loyalty to God.   Loyalty to Israel has become the core of Jewish Identity for most “Lapsed Jews” everywhere.


But this is only a semblance of a solution, not a genuine solution, because the basic problem remains:  Can a secular State qualify as “Jewish”? If yes, then what specific qualities make it “Jewish”? As there are no universally accepted answers to both questions (since all religious Jews reject them) Zionism— and Israeli politics— seek refuge in the numbers of “Lapsed Jews” who suffer from the Jewish ethnic identity complex. Their solution to this problem is to have a numeric ?majority in Israel of “Lapsed Jews” who share this situation. The recent demand of Israel’s PM that the Palestinians recognize the “Jewish nature” of Israel (which he is unable to define) or the fear of “the demographic threat” (i.e. that Palestinians become a majority in Israel) reveals the urgency of the problem. No religious Jew would ask others to “recognize” his Jewishness that he practices by obeying the 613 rules. For him such recognition is irrelevant. In matters of identity religious Jews have a clear advantage over “Lapsed Jews”, they have a secure, universally accepted, definition of their Jewishness “Lapsed Jews” lack a secure, universally accepted, definition of their Jewishness. 


In Israel 80% of the electorate do not live their daily life according to the 613 religious rules. Only 20% do. Therefore, despite its numeric inferiority the 20% minority has superiority in ideological controversies concerning the nature of the State of Israel. One of these controversies concerns the future of the Palestine territories conquered in 1967.


According to the Bible these territories were promised by God to Abraham and therefore belong to Jews even though they were inhabited continuously for 1300 years by Palestinian Arabs. Israeli TV often shows religious Jewish immigrants from the US in a new settlement in territories conquered in the 1967 war, cutting down olive trees planted by Palestinian owners of the land, who have inhabited it continuously for many centuries, cursing the Palestinians as intruders. Many Israeli “Lapsed Jews” oppose this behaviour but cannot present Jewish arguments against it. They can present Humanist arguments but these carry no weight with religious (or nationalistic) Jews since Judaism is Theocentric, not Anthropocentric.


PM Rabin’s assassin (1995) the Religio-Nationalist Ygal Amir, when asked by the police interrogator why he refused to admit that he has committed a crime, replied: “I did not act according to my own whim. Before acting I consulted some Rabbis. They said that if a Jew endangers the lives of many Jews it is a religious duty to kill the one and save the many.” The interrogator then asked: “And what about morality?” Amir replied: “If I were a soldier in Joshua’s army conquering Jericho, and God ordered me to kill all the babies in Jericho (as stated in the Bible A.O.) I would do it without any moral scruples. If it is God’s command morality is irrelevant.”


Amir’s Religio-Nationalist colleagues, who spearhead the settlement of occupied Palestine, feel the same about morality—and legality. Convinced that they obey God, they consider morality or legality irrelevant. One can distinguish them visually from traditional Orthodox Jews as they wear ordinary clothes and a knitted, blue-white, skullcap. Traditional Orthodox Jews wear black clothes and a black silk skullcap. These two groups are hostile to each other since the Orthodox worship the Jewish God alone, while the religio-nationalists worship also the Jewish nation and the territory of Palestine. Their motto is: “The Land of Israel to the People of Israel by the Bible of Israel.” In Israel today the traditional Orthodox number some 15% while the Religio-Nationalists number some 10%.


Most Zionists today are “Lapsed Jews” living outside Israel. Their emotional support of Israel shores up their insecure Jewish identity. Most of them are nationalistic and support Israeli politics uncritically. A small minority is critical of Israeli politics. Zionists visit Israel but have no intention to immigrate. Ben-Gurion used to say: “A Zionist is a Jew who pays another Jew to immigrate to Israel.” Today most Israelis are not Zionists. Being born and raised in Israel they relate to it as a Frenchman relates to France. They have their own, Israeli, nationalism. Their Israeli identity is shaped by speaking Hebrew as a mother-tongue, by serving three-years in the Israeli Army, and by daily life in Israel. Most of them rarely visit a Synagogue, rarely pray, and totally ignore the 613 religious rules for conduct of daily life. Israeli sociologists describe Israelis as “Hebrew-speaking gentiles.” When they live outside Israel they find more in common with local non-Jews than with local religious Jews. The Israeli Ministry of Education became worried when it realized that the Israeli identity is replacing Jewish identity among Israelis and de-Zionizes them. To counter this process the Ministry of Education organizes regular visits of Israeli High-School pupils to Auschwitz.  They are shown the heaps of suitcases, shoes, eyeglasses, and hair left by the Jews killed there. Then their teachers lead them to draw two conclusions: 1) Hatred of Jews is a permanent feature of Humanity.  2) Only a Zionist State can save Jews from persecution. The first conclusion fits the Zionist argument that as Jew-haters define Jews it hardly matter how the Jews define themselves. The second conclusion fits the Zionist argument that Jews fleeing from the Nazis died because no country was willing to accept them. Therefore a Zionist state is necessary as a reliable shelter for Jews. Both conclusions are flawed. 1) If persecution defines one’s ethnic identity one develops dependence on persecution.  One has a vested interest in its continuation since its absence threatens one’s identity.  2) Positing Israel as a shelter for persecuted Jews ignores the possibility that the shelter itself might be attacked.


Suppose a Zionist state existed in the 1930s and Jewish refugees from the Nazis found shelter in it. Had Rommel won the battle of El-Alamein in 1942 and conquered Egypt and Palestine, the fate of the Jews there would have been the same as in Nazi-occupied Poland. Jews were saved in all places that Nazis did not conquer. A Zionist state is no shelter. Today lives of Jews in Israel are threatened far more than lives of Jews in other countries. A “shelter” is often a trap rather than a safe place. To overcome racist persecution one must defeat racism, rather than seek shelter from it…..


Concern for ALL human beings, rather than for one’s own tribe or nation, is a positive trend. “Lapsed Jews” can use their ethnic-identity-complex to promote a new “All-Human” loyalty, superseding all ethnic, tribal, or religious, loyalties. It is a worthy role.  Far worthier than narrow ethnic loyalty fearing and fighting other ethnic loyalties.



Akiva Orr was born in Berlin in 1933. He immigrated to Palestine with his parents after the Nazis came to power in 1934. Akiva served in both the Haganah and the IDF. After the seamen’s strike of 1951 in Haifa, in which he participated, Akiva decided to join the Communist Party of Israel and became critical of Zionism, ideologically and practically. In 1962 Akiva was expelled from the CPI and, along with Moche Machovar, Oded Pilavsky and Jeremy Kaplan formed Matzpen – Socialist Organization in Israel.

Top - Home