Monday, April 2, 2012

The Counterlife

My new column is up on the Daily Beast. I am now ensconced at Dartmouth for the Spring quarter and will  be blogging more regularly.
In 1985, I published a book called The Tragedy of Zionism. It argued that the Zionist movement had been a good, largely secular and cultural revolution that had run its course, that is, with the founding of Israel and the consolidation of the national Hebrew culture; but that the residual institutions and theories of that revolution—rashly kept alive by Israel’s leaders, who feared the fight with the orthodox Jewish parties over a constitution—had grown to be a burden on, even a threat to, Israel’s democratic life.

I argued that it was this unretired Zionist revolution—embodied in the Zionist land bureaucracy: the JNF, the Israel Land Administration, the Jewish Agency, etc.—that set the table for the post-1967 settlement movement. The Israel I had discovered, in other words, was not simply a valiant little country whose Labor leaders had (heroically) stumbled into an occupation post-1967 and, owing to Palestinian enmity, didn’t know how to get rid of it. It was also a country whose Labor leaders, post-1948, had laid a neo-Zionist trap for their own democracy.

Communities of scripture hawks, ultra-orthodox and immigrants with no deep commitment to democratic norms were overtaking the Zionist modernists I had taken for granted. The West Bank settlements, growing in the 1980s to 100,000 people, were the most dramatic proof of Israel’s democratic deficiencies. But so was its treatment of Israeli Arabs, or more precisely the absence in Israel of the kind of liberal social contract that allowed all citizens, Jews and Arabs, to meet as equals in Hebrew civil society.

The book caused something of scandal, for which I was not entirely prepared. I was a young, reasonably well-published writer, the kind invited to address the national conference of Hillel rabbis in 1981. I thought I would be protected by historical precision, reputation, syllogism and sincerity. More important, I assumed that, because democratic norms were an essential part of what made Jews Americans, they would (so a young writer hopes) read my book, rally to Israel’s liberal, emancipationist peaceniks, and oppose Israel’s Likudniks, halakhic extremists and settler-nuts, in that order. Things did not work out as planned.

Read on...


Anonymous said...

Excellent book.

Potter said...

It's a good question about the inability to engage respectfully on the part of those who fiercely defend the present course.

I happened to catch Peter Beinart being interviewed today on NPR by Terri Gross. He was amazingly articulate, addressing the fears, and I feel he is so right, as this article of yours is as well. (I did read Beinart's response to critics, linked on the Daily Beast, which seemed too defensive, taking the low road..)

I don't know how you get people to "break on through to the other side" from the destructive point of views they hold, from the solid walls they have built. You only have to listen to Gary Rosenblatt repeating worn out phrases to get a sense of the work necessary. It may be a losing proposition, sadly..

Peter Beinert Interview:Should American Jews Boycott West Bank Settlements?

See "another opinion" on that page for Rosenblatt

Y. Ben-David said...

Funny how you lament the lack of "respectful" discussion while at the same time you dismiss those who disagree with you as "halachic extremists" and "settler nuts". I think you should look in the mirror if you want to see where the intolerance so typical of the Israeli Establishment Progressive/Left comes from. In the last few days, two card-carrying Liberal/Progressives like yourself were heard telling Jews who made aliyah from the former Soviet Union to "go back where you came from". One was Ha'aretz journalist and "lover of humanity" Gidon Levy who said it to a Russian immigrant whose political views didn't suit Levy, and the second was another 'progressive' journalist whose name I forgot who said exactly the same thing to Cabinet Minister Yuli Edelstein, who happened to spend years in the GULAG in Siberia because he wanted to come to Israel.
This typifies the behavior of your Israeli/Leftists...the state is their personal property, anyone who disagrees with them is not only a "nut" as you put it, but is stupid and illegitimate.
No wonder most of the Israeli electorate has turned against this arrogant clique.
Your 'progressive' friends can forget about returning to power if they don't change their attitudes and really start living their ideology of "loving humanity" starting with their fellow Jews and Israelis. I get the feeling that there concern for the Palestinians comes less from a real interest in their welfare but rather as using them as a weapon to beat their Jewish opponents over the head since they view them as the real "enemy" in the fight for control of the country.

Potter said...

So the pot calls the kettle black! Yes, let's ALL look in the mirror Ben-David.