After Zionism What?
by Jonathan Rosenblum
March 7, 2007
Daniel Gordis is one of the sharpest observers of the Israel scene, and a writer of considerable elegance and power. He writes from the traditional Zionist perspective. In a recent piece entitled "A Place Called Hope," he describes nostalgically a time when the Jews of Palestine danced around a sprinkler upon the completion of the national water carrier.
Hope is a commodity that Gordis finds in short supply in Israel today. In particular, he points to the two original promises of Zionism. The first was that a Jewish homeland would provide increased security for Jews; the second that a Jewish state would result in the "normalization" of the Jewish people in the eyes of the world. Neither promise has been realized.
Over 34 days of fighting last summer, the IDF was unable to bring to a halt Hizbullah missile fire on northern Israel. Only a U.N. Security Council resolution brought the shelling to a close. And today we are drawing ever closer to a situation in which over half the Jewish children in the world will fall into "the crosshairs of a nuclear Iran," writes Gordis. Bottom line: "It is now more dangerous to be a Jew in Israel than any other place in the world." Still worse, Israel’s existence has made life more dangerous for Jews around the world.
As a journalist covering the Dreyfus trial, Theodore Herzl concluded that Jews could never be assimilated as individuals in European society. But he hoped that a Jewish state could assimilate on a national level among the nations of the world. That has not happened. Israel’s very right to exist remains contested by the international community. The U.N. General Assembly is a debating society for the passage of anti-Israel resolutions, and the U.N. maintains several large bureaucracies devoted to promoting the image of Palestinian victimization at the hands of Israel. Nearly sixty years after its birth, Israel still has no internationally recognized borders.
The death of Rachel Corrie, an International Solidarity Movement activist run over by an IDF bulldozer (whose driver could not see her) as she was trying to prevent the destruction of tunnels through which deadly weapons were being smuggled into Gaza, has drawn more media coverage than the deaths of 300,000 Moslems in Darfur or 500,0000 Tutsi tribesmen in Rwanda. North Korea and Pakistan export nuclear weapons technology around the globe, and Iran’s president threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Yet Israel is repeatedly and overwhelmingly described as the greatest threat to world peace in polls of Western Europeans.
Within Israel itself, Zionism animates few. Most are apathetic, and a minority of the Israeli elite are actively hostile. At the recent Herzliya Conference, Nobel laureate Robert Aumann pronounced post-Zionism a greater threat to Israel than Iran. "We will not endure. We will simply not be here. Post-Zionism will finish us off," he said. Aumann compared Israel today to a tired mountain climber lost in a snowstorm. He is tired, very tired, but knows that if he lies down to sleep he will not awaken in the morning.
EVEN THOSE WHO WOULD NOT DESCRIBE THEMSELVES AS ZIONISTS cannot fail to be disturbed by the foregoing. Nearly five million Jews, including the world’s largest and most intense Torah community, live in Israel, and they are all threatened by Iranian missiles.
Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky once said that but for the creation of the state of Israel after the Holocaust most non-religious Jews in the world would have lost all Jewish identity. And a major catastrophe in Israel today would snuff out the last embers of that identity among the vast majority of the world’s Jews.
Neither is the loss of Zionist idealism necessarily something positive, even for those who reject the Zionist project of creating a "new Jew" and the desire to assimilate at the national level. The prophet foretells the return of the "all the lost ones from Assyria and those who have been pushed away from Egypt." (Yeshaya 27: 13). The Ishbitzer asks why the "lost ones," which refers to those who have deliberately rebelled against Hashem, should return prior to those who have "been pushed away," i.e., who have lost all concern with Hashem by virtue of having become mired in material pleasures.
He answers that those who rebel against Hashem remain spiritual beings. Today they are lost, but, like anyone who has lost something, as soon as they find what they are missing they are immediately made whole. Those who have lost the spark of spirituality – "who have been pushed away" – cannot be made whole again in the same way and will be redeemed with much greater difficulty. Today’s apathy and alienation thus represent a greater challenge than the former Zionist idealism.
The absolute failure of Israel to bring about the "normalization" of the Jewish people – the fulfillment of the prophecy "As for what enters your minds – it will not be! As for what you say, ‘We will be like the nations, like the families of the lands . . . "(Yecheskel 20:23) -- does, however, provide a source of hope for the future. The Jewish people are fated to live an abnormal existence at both the individual and national level because we have been singled out for a unique mission.
The enduring, irrational, and protean nature of the hatred directed at us in all generations and all places is the greatest proof of that mission. We witnessing today, for instance, the rapidity with which hatred of Israel quickly metamorphoses into the same old anti-Semitism. Rather than depressing us, we should view never-ending anti-Semitism as one of the clearest proofs of our chosenness, and, incidentally, of the world’s unconscious recognition of that chosenness.
The "miracle" of anti-Semitism is something that even non-religious Jews can grasp. Ari Shavit castigating Israeli elites last summer in Ha’aretz for their madness in thinking that Israel could be neatly absorbed into the Middle East and that Tel Aviv could be another Manhattan sounded almost like the Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk warning the Jews of Berlin, twenty years before the Holocaust, that if they continued to view Berlin as Jerusalem, a great fire would go forth from Berlin and wreak havoc on the entire Jewish world.
At the end of his long article, Gordis calls for a renewal in Israel of the same hope for the future that filled the early Zionist pioneers. He fails, however, to link that hope to any reconnection to Jewish tradition, and thus is left reciting nothing but platitudes.
The recognition by secular Israelis like Shavit that we cannot escape our fate as Jews – i.e., we will never be normalized -- offers hope for Israel’s future. But it is not sufficient.. The task now is to embrace our fate as a reflection of our special closeness to Hashem, and with the determination to fill the role for which He has chosen us.
Related Topics: Israeli Society
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free jewish media resources mailing list