For the last two years the Israeli High Court of Justice has tried to decide whether or not the grassroots right-wing group Im Tirtzu is a fascist organization.
Im Tirtzu are the first two words in Theodor Herzl’s immortal sentence “If you will it [im tirtzu], it is no fantasy” found in his book Altneuland (1902) that, in the form of a novel, outlined the vision for a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.
Im Tirtzu was established in 2006, after the Second Lebanon War, and its aim is the renewal of the Zionist discourse, Zionist thinking and Zionist ideology, to ensure the future of the Jewish nation and of the State of Israel. Today, Im Tirtzu is probably the most effective organ in the battle against extreme post-Zionist Israeli organizations.
One of the expert witnesses in this case is Zeev Sternhell (pictured left), a post-Zionist and one of the world’s foremost experts on Fascism. He is also a recipient of the prestigious Israel Prize.
As an expert on Fascism, Sternhell’s case rests on his definition of Fascism as organic nationalism. Among other things, he said in an affidavit submitted to the court that Im Tirtzu sees the Jewish nation in Israel as “a complete whole … just as the human body is not the sum-total of body parts, but a complete organism.” This, writes Sternhell, is a reactionary position that stands in opposition to progress, which is moving toward a democratic state that is not based on nationality.
In simple terms, Sternhell believes that a Jewish state is an outdated idea, while Im Tirtzu still holds on to the old Jewish notion of Israel as an organic nation. Sternhell sees the state as a partnership between individuals. Im Tirtzu sees the individuals as inseparable parts of a whole.
What is so interesting about this case is that it brings to the surface one of the most fundamental biblical differences between Israel and the nations that can be seen in two special kinds of sacrifices, relevant also for the understanding of the concept of “church” in the New Testament: Communal sacrifice and partnership sacrifice.
The only biblical communal sacrifice is the scapegoat of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Unlike any other, this sacrifice is the only one said to atone for the sins of Israel as a whole: “Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man; The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities” (Lev. 16:21-22). This sacrifice is absolutely unique for Israel, and treats the nation not as a collective of individuals, but as one organic unity.
Partnership sacrifice can be seen in the Passover Lamb. A single lamb was shared by a number of people and was effective only to the participants who bought the lamb and ate from it. As the Bible makes clear, individual Israelites who do not participate in this sacrifice are judged as being cut off from the nation: “The man who is clean and is not on a journey, and ceases to keep the Passover, that same person shall be cut off from among his people, because he did not bring the offering of the LORD at its appointed time; that man shall bear his sin” (Num. 9:13). The Bible therefore makes the distinction between each and every individual’s sin and Israel’s sin.
Passover was a sacrifice effective for gentiles and Jews, or in the language of the Bible, “both for the stranger and the native of the land” (Num. 9:14). The scapegoat, on the other hand, was effective only for Israel.
Translating this to political reality, gentile nations can form the partnership type of nationalism that post-Zionist like Sternhell support. Israel, however, can’t escape being an organic nation, or else it is something other than true Israel.
This difference sheds light also on the nature of the Church. Though organic in its own way, the Church nevertheless does not have its own scapegoat that atones for the sins of the Church as a whole. Rather, the church as understood in the New Testament shares the status of the stranger in the midst of Israel, and as such can partake of the Passover Lamb.
The High Court of Justice’s decision will not take the biblical position since its secular values will not allow it to legitimize what liberal thinkers like Sternhell view as Fascism. Sadly, Sternhell’s assault on Im Tirtzu is a direct challenge to the legitimacy of the existence of the Jewish State, and it is gaining ground all over the world. And yet, as every previous attempt to rob Israel of its uniqueness has failed, the faithful should remain hopeful that delegitimizing the existence of Israel as a Jewish state today will also meet an unsuccessful end.