Israeli Affairs (Issue no. 63)

The Thought of Salvation in Zionism

  • Author: Christoph Schmidt, Nabih Bashir, Marh Khalifa, Tayeb Ghanaim, Elad Labidot, Leat Schlesinger, Yousef Al-Shayeb, Yael Bairda, Hagai Matar, Tomar Briscoo, Helil Ben Sasson
  • Editor: Raif Zureik, Nabil al-Saleh, Honaida Ghanem
  • Number of Pages: 146
  • ISBN: 978-9950-00-015-5
  • Date of update: Wednesday, 02 November 2016
  • Price: $0.00

The Thought of Salvation in Zionism
The ancient Greek philosophy did not define the concept of historical progress; that is, time moves forward in a perpetual progress towards salvation. Greek philosophy envisaged time to be more of a circle. In other words, time did not move in a uniform direction towards progress and salvation. Augustine, who viewed and construed Christian theology as one that embraced the notion of progress: history has its teleology and particular direction. Its final station is salvation.

However, modernism has revived the notion of progress and concept of salvation. Modernism secularised and removed this notion out of its religious context, in which it was born. Within modernism, epistemological, academic production synchronises and intersects with capital production. It seems that both processes are in a symbiotic relationship, with one feeding the other in a historically unprecedented manner. As a result, progress has been a justified notion that is backed by history. This encounter has also allowed room for moral progress. The notion of freedom has provided the moral axis, which regulates this process. It seems as if history is one that manifests and positions the notion of freedom. This thought of salvation has found an intellectual religious receptacle, which was ready to be used. Hence, it replaced its essence and retained its outer layer of salvation which promised paradise for people, not in the afterlife, but on this earth. The thought of salvation is not made by God, but by man. Nevertheless, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw an intense conflict over the identity of the salvation project and the historical agent who was eligible to take it forward. On the one hand, universal, trans-boundary and nationalist tendencies viewed the Proletariat as one that was in possession of the project of mankind salvation. On the other hand, others believed that the nation state, which enforces the rule of law on its citizens, was the core and end of this liberation project. In this context, Hegel declared his statement The End of History. This was embodied in the Prussian state at the beginning of the nineteenth century.


Zionism evolved within this intellectual framework, in which the nationalist thought inherited and secularised the dream of religious salvation. It reflects the same nationalist thought, which believed in the notion of progress and that it was the author of a universal mission that facilitated colonial control and expansion. This notion provide an ideological cover of the [colonial] project.

Importantly, the intellectual climate in which Zionism evolved needs to be considered in order to determine the common and discrepant elements between Zionism and other concurrent colonial nationalist movements. Consideration will also address the characteristic of the concept of salvation in the Zionist thought and how the nationalist project is linked to colonialism and religion.

In this context, a major setback of Zionism primarily lies in its modernist European nature, rather than in its digression from the paradigm. Zionism is part and parcel of the paradigm, which inherited colonialism, apartheid and genocide of indigenous peoples to the world.


However, the fact that Zionism falls within a certain paradigm does not deny its unique status, which makes its thought of salvation an intransigent case. Zionism is not the first movement, which combines religion, nationalism and colonialism, but it is unique in the way it combines these elements. Irish nationalism cannot be understood without Catholicism, English nationalism without Protestantism, or Greek nationalism without Orthodox Christianity. In all these cases, however, the peripheries of the religious group do not meet with those of the nationalist group: there are Catholics in parts of the world outside Ireland and Orthodox Christians outside Greece. Conceptually, Orthodox Christianity does not need Greece. Likewise, the concept of the Catholicism does not need Ireland. In other words, these dichotomies are not conceptually allied as is the case of Zionism. The target audience of Ben-Gurion is the same one of Rabbi Cook or other clergymen, leaving the door open to interpret the religious text nationalistically and the nationalist text religiously. The first part of the twentieth century represents the first interpretation  using the religious narrative from a Zionist perspective. By contrast, the last fifty years provide an example of using the Zionist narrative in a religious domain. This mutual use changes the meanings of Judaism and Zionism at the same time, making each a captive of the other. Any political concession may seem as abandoning the divine care. Any worldly achievement has divine implications and vice versa.

This issue begins with an article by Christophe Schmidt, who focuses on the European thought of salvation in the Age of the Enlightenment in Europe. Starting with Kant and ending with Herman Cohen in early twentieth century, Schmidt indicates that the rationalist thought of the Enlightenment saw its liberation project as an embodiment of the Kingdom of God on earth. This project reached the climax of its revelation with Schlegel and Heinrich Heine. Schmidt distinguishes between two types of the thought of salvation. An introvert dimension sees salvation as an enterprise of a nationalist group. The other dimension seeks the salvation of mankind as a whole. Schmidt’s contribution is significant because it places Zionism within a historical context. However, it is clear that this is not the only influential context; it is necessary to read the nationalist-ethic context in Eastern Europe as well as the colonial setting.

Nabih Bashir presents a reading of another context: the context of the religious Jewish heritage. This has shaped the traditional and conscientious epistemological essence, which prepared the ground for the Zionist thought within Judaism itself. Bashir analyses key terms that unfold the notion of salvation, such as Geulah, Vedut, and Yeshua. Bashir indicates that two currents of salvation are in place: one that looks at salvation as a purely divine process, in which man has no role but to wait and supplicate. God alone administers the process at His Will. Considered revolutionary, the other current believes that man plays a role in bringing salvation closer through acts delivered by mankind.

While Schmidt presents a European background, Bashir provides a review of the religious Jewish setting needed to understand the Messianic nature of Zionism.

In his article, Lapidot focuses on the ongoing tension between the Messianic notion within Talmudic Judaism and the thought of salvation in Zionism. Lapidot highlights the essence of the religious Jewish thought of salvation as a presence of the absence: absence of the Messiah.

However, the Messiah is completely absent because “we are waiting and longing for him”. Thus, the Messiah’s absence is permanently present even though he does not transform into an actual body or into a proper name. Lapidot believes that this is the essence of tension: between the Messiah as an idea and the Messiah is a proper name  as a material embodiment. Lapidot hypothesises that the Zionist thought, which appears to be a secular thought and in conflict with the thought of salvation, is essentially a pure thought of salvation. Lapidot posits that salvation materialised with the establishment of the State of Israel.

Persico analyses the intellectual and historical roots of Gush Emunim. Persico investigates Rabbi Cook’s thoughts, which provided the main drive of the movement. Rabbi Cook presents a Hegelian reading of the linkage between the thought of salvation in the religious Jewish heritage on the one hand, and material and military achievements of Zionism on the other. The latter seem as a link in the historical religious series. According to this reading, the cunning history has used atheist Zionists to establish Israel and occupy the rest of Palestine. In this context, Zionism is considered as a tool in the hands of the religious project of salvation. However, these atheist Zionists will revert to religion and God after they play their historical role. According to Persico, although Gush Emunim has exerted a far-reaching impact on all that is related to settlement activity and reinforcement of the occupation, it has failed to introduce a religious transformation within the Jewish-Israeli society.

Hillel Sasson explores the Temple Mount as a cornerstone and distinctive feature in the Zionist thought and practice. Sasson wonders whether there are forces that are capable of this separation between the worldly aspect and the aspect of salvation in Zionism. Sasson argues that if such a transformation takes place, it will have far-reaching projections and provide a prelude to a new relationship between the two peoples.

In addition to the foregoing articles, the report of this issue centres on a topic that is closely related to the thought of salvation and Zionism. The report highlights fundamentalist Evangelical Christian groups and institutions, which have built relationships with and influenced Israel’s policy and generally supported the Israeli settlement enterprise and occupation. This issue also includes a review of a book on the obsession with salvation trends throughout history. The review is provided by Marah Khalifeh and Nabih Bashir.

It is worth noting that some authors spell terms differently. Since they serve the same meaning, the editorial board has kept the authors’ choices of terminology and spelling style.

This issue also includes an interview with the Israeli historian Sholomo Sand. The interview was conducted by Al Tayyeb Ghanayem.

The Articles section features an article by researcher Yael Berda. Yousef al Shayeb, researcher in cultural affairs, publishes the fifth and last part of his study on the Israeli cinema.

The Current Issues section focuses on the relationship between Netanyahu and mass media in Israel. The media has recently seen many developments. Research Haggai Matar sums up these developments, providing a synopsis of relevant motives and expected projections.

The Archive section includes a televised interview with Ben-Gurion. The interview dates back to 1970.

Title Download
ولادة الحداثة من روح المسيحانية السياسية وأزمتها أطروحة أولية- كريستوف شميدت Download Preview
الخلاص اليهودي في التراث اليهودي المقدس- نبيه بشير Download Preview
المسيح الذي لن يأتي حول المسيانية الإسرائيلية- إلعاد لابيدوت Download Preview
حول التجربة اليهودية الأخيرة للتغلب على عملية العملنة صعود وسقوط غوش ايمونيم- تمر فرسيكو Download Preview
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Saturday, October 23, 2021

MADAR CENTER

The Palestinian Forum for Israeli Studies (MADAR) is an independent research centre specialising in Israeli affairs, based in Ramallah, Palestine. MADAR was established in 2000 by a group of Palestinian intellectuals and academics, including the late poet Mahmoud Darwish, Dr. Lily Feidy, Dr. Ali Jarbawi, Dr. Ahmad Harb, Mr. Walid Al-Ahmad and Mr. Akram Haniyyeh. The centre was registered as a not-for-profit organisation with the Palestinian Ministry of Interior, and obtained a research centre’s operational licensing from the Palestinian Ministry of Information.

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