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  • The Zionist Right and Constructivist RealismIdeological Persistence and Tactical Readjustment
  • Ilan Peleg (bio)

Zionist politics during the time of the British Mandate and Israeli politics since the emergence of Israel as an independent state in 1948 have often experienced upheavals, instability, and continuous political crisis. Since the 1967 war, for example, Israel has witnessed three dramatic shifts from Left to Right (1977, 1996, 2001) and two equally dramatic shifts from Right to Left (1992, 1999), four of these occurring within a period of mere nine years (1992–2001). Nevertheless, it is possible, and arguably necessary, to interpret Zionist and Israeli politics as significantly more stable than structural shifts of political coalitions might lead the casual observer to conclude. This essay adopts such interpretation with regard to what it calls the Zionist Right, explaining the behavior of that political camp by what it terms Constructivist Realism.

As an historic force, the Zionist Right was born when Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky (1880–1940) announced his opposition to the 1922 Churchill White Paper that limited British support for the establishment of the Jewish national home to the territory west of the Jordan River and excluded Transjordan (east of the River). Jabotinsky's position on this issue led him to resign from the Zionist Executive after that body accepted the British position,1 and he eventually established an alternative Zionist organization. In terms of the interpretation offered in this essay, it is important to note that from the very beginning the Zionist Right did not present merely tactical, political opposition to what it saw as a judgmental error on the part of the Zionist establishment, but rather it offered a fundamental, identity-based (i.e., "constructivist") alternative. The "Revisionist" movement of Jabotinsky laid claim to having control over what it saw as the national [End Page 127] patrimony of the Jewish people—historical Eretz Israel in its entirety—and challenged the establishmentarian position of the other Zionists, particularly that of the Labor movement in Palestine.

Following Jabotinsky's death (1940), the leadership of the Zionist Right was assumed by Menachem Begin, first (in 1943) as commander of Irgun Zvai Leumi (National Military Organization) and then (in 1948) as leader of the nationalist political party, Herut. After 1967, Herut and several other political forces emerged as a broader coalition of political forces, the Likud. The territorial drive proclaimed by Jabotinsky was sustained, although it changed its definition and focused exclusively on the West Bank and Gaza. The nationalist identity-based ideology proposed by Jabotinsky was, in fact, further strengthened under Begin.

The argument advanced in this essay is that, despite important changes in organizational forms, leading personalities and their psychological makeups, and the conditions faced by Zionists and then by Israelis, the Zionist Right has shown remarkable ideological continuity since its emergence in the 1920s. That stability is noted particularly in terms of the general principles and goals guiding the Zionist Right, although not necessarily in terms of the specific tactics, and surely not in terms of the rhetorical means, adopted by its leaders and spokesmen.

Since 1922, the Zionist Right, in all its varieties, has followed the idea of "Greater Israel" as the exclusive patrimony of the Jewish people. While the exact boundaries of that imagined entity have often been in dispute even among Rightists,2 and although there was a dramatic shift from the traditional insistence on Jewish control on both banks of the Jordan River to the revised demand for control over one of the banks,3 the maximalist territorial drive has remained constant. Moreover, despite some ideologically meaningful changes with regard to important matters that have sometimes amounted to rather significant deviations from Jabotinsky's original belief system (see below), territoriality has remained a quintessential characteristic of Right-Wing politics for over 80 years.

This thesis begs the following question: what has been the intellectual bedrock of the ideational continuity characterizing the Zionist Right? This essay argues that this continuity must be sought, first, in the broad outlook of the Zionist Right, in all of its varieties, with regard to the nature of international politics. More specifically, the key for understanding the thinking of Jabotinsky and his successors is their...


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pp. 127-153
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