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From "Both Banks of the Jordan " to the "Whole Land of Israel:" Ideological Change in Revisionist Zionism

From: Israel Studies
Volume 9, Number 1, Spring 2004
pp. 125-148 | 10.1353/is.2004.0019

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Israel Studies 9.1 (2004) 125-148

Ideological Change in Revisionist Zionism

Nadav G. Shelef

A central implication of constructivist ontologies of nationalism is that nationalist ideologies may not be static. This article explores this implication by tracing the shift in one aspect of Revisionist Zionist ideology: their conception of the appropriate borders of the Jewish nation-state. It asks how the definition of the homeland as the area encompassed by "both banks of the Jordan," gave way to a situation where one is hard pressed to find Revisionist politicians laying claim to the Gilead, Bashan, Amman, or other parts of the East Bank of the Jordan. The emergence of the map-image identifying the Jewish homeland as the territory west of the Jordan within the Revisionist movement in the mid-1950s and its slow and uneven displacement of the original map-image, suggests that conventional accounts which rely on adaptation to a new reality, generational change, or elite manipulation need to be integrated into the battle for hegemony among nationalist movements in order to account for change.

The battle for hegemony takes place because each nationalist movement within a society believes that its vision of the nation and the nation-state is the true one. As a result, nationalist movements fight for "a particular crystallization of the state's physical, human, or cultural boundaries." The Revisionist Zionist movement was, and is, an active contender in the battle for hegemony within Zionism. From its very inception, its members perceived it not as another Zionist faction or even as a loyal opposition, but as the true Zionism, the authentic voice of the Jewish world and the carrier of the real interests of the Jewish nation.

The battles between the Revisionist movement and the other Zionist movements to define the community, like battles for hegemony more generally, are more than metaphorical and like real fights, it matters who wins and who loses; in this contest, losing is particularly significant. As Gramsci noted, the defenders of an ideology under attack "are not demoralized, nor do they abandon their positions, even among the ruins, nor do they lose faith in their own strength or their own future. Of course, things do not remain exactly as they were . . ." The losers in a battle for hegemony (except for rare cases in which they are physically exterminated—e.g., the Mensheviks) face a choice of fading into irrelevance or attempting to re-enter the legitimate political spectrum. This was the situation in which the Revisionist movement found itself in the mid-1950s. In response, they embarked on a series of tactical changes that, perhaps unintentionally, contributed to a shift in the way they defined the appropriate territory of the Jewish homeland.

When Did the Change Actually Take Place?

A mainstay of Revisionist Zionist thought is the contention that they have consistently raised the banner of the "wholeness of Eretz Israel" (the Land of Israel). Even their critics often assume that the territorial dimension of their ideology has been consistent. However, the continuous use of the same rhetorical vessel—the "wholeness of the land"—masks the possibility that it may refer to different map-images over time. The timing of the emergence of the alternative map-images helps disentangle the factors that contributed to the formation and ultimate preeminence of the new map-image. The course of this shift can be divided into three periods. The first period (lasting until the mid-1950s) was characterized by the exclusive dominance of the "both banks of the Jordan" map-image. The second period, beginning in the mid-1950s and lasting until the early 1970s, was a liminal one in which both map-images uneasily coexisted. Since the mid-1970s the latter map-image has become dominant, if not exclusive.

This Best Part of Palestine

Initially, the only map-image of the appropriate territory of the Jewish state articulated within the Revisionist movement was that of "both banks of the Jordan." The most evocative rendition of this map image is Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky's 1930 poem, "The Left Bank of the Jordan," which described the Jordan as the "pillar," "spine," and "backbone," of the land of Israel, and whose...



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