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General Articles
ISRAELI INTELLECTUALS AND ISRAELI POLITICS

http://www.freeman.org/m_online/jan97/alxandr.htm

By Edward Alexander


In his essay of 1838 on Jeremy Bentham, J. S. Mill wrote
that "speculative philosophy, which to the superficial appears a
thing so remote from the business of life and the outward
interests of men, is in reality the thing on earth which most
influences them, and in the long run overbears every other
influence save those which it must itself obey." Of course Mill
was not always willing to wait for the long run and was often
tempted by shortcuts whereby speculative philosophers and other
intellectuals could make their influence felt upon government.
Frightened by Tocqueville's observations of American democracy,
Mill sought to prevent the "tyranny of the majority" by an
elaborate scheme of plural voting which would give everybody one
vote but intellectuals a larger number; when he awoke to the
folly and danger of such a scheme he switched his allegiance to
proportional representation as a means of allowing what he calls
in On Liberty the wise and noble few to exercise their due
influence over the mindless majority.
By now we have had enough experience of the influence of
intellectuals in politics to be skeptical of Mill's schemes. To
look back over the major intellectual journals of this country in
the years prior to and during the second World War--not only
Trotskyist publications like New International or Dwight
Macdonald's Politics, but the highbrow modernist and Marxist
Partisan Review--is to be appalled by the spectacle of the finest
minds of America vociferous in opposition to prosecuting the war
against Hitler, which in their view was just a parochial struggle
between two dying capitalist forces. The pacifism of English
intellectuals in the late thirties led George Orwell to declare
that some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals could
believe them; and in one of his Tribune columns of 1943 he said
of the left-wing rumor in London that America had entered the war
only in order to crush a budding English socialist revolution
that "one has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe
something like that. No ordinary man could be such a fool."
If we look at the influence of Israeli intellectuals upon
Israeli policy in recent decades, and especially during the
Yitzhak Rabin-Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak governments, we may
conclude that Mill and Orwell were both right, Mill in stressing
the remarkable power of ideas, Orwell in insisting that such
power often works evil, not good.
Among the numerous misfortunes that have beset the Zionist
enterprise from its inception--the unyielding hardness of the
land allegedly flowing with milk and honey, the failure of the
Jews of the Diaspora to move to Zion except under duress, the
constant burden of peril arising from Arab racism and
imperialism--was the premature birth of an intellectual class,
especially a literary intelligentsia. The quality of Israel's
intelligentsia may be a matter of dispute. Gershom Scholem once
remarked, mischievously, that talent goes where it is needed, and
in Israel it was needed far more urgently in the military than in
the universities, the literary community, the arts, and
journalism. But the influence of this intelligentsia is less open
to dispute than its quality. When Shimon Peres (who views himself
as an intellectual) launched his ill-fated election campaign of
spring 1996 he surrounded himself with artists and intellectuals
on the stage of Tel Aviv's Mann Auditorium.1 Three months
earlier, he had listed as one of the three future stars of the
Labor Party the internationally famous novelist Amos Oz, the same
Amos Oz who had was notorious among religiously observant Jewish
"settlers" for having referred to their organization Gush Emunim
(Block of the Faithful) in a speech of June 1989, in language
generally reserved for thieves and murderers: they were, he told
a Peace Now gathering of about 20,00 people in Tel Aviv's Malchei
Yisrael Square "a small sect, a messianic sect, obtuse and cruel,
[who] emerged a few years ago from a dark corner of Judaism, and
[are] threatening to...impose on us a wild and insane blood
ritual....They are guilty of crimes against humanity." 2 


Intellectuals in many countries have adopted the motto: "the
other country, right or wrong," and worked mightily to undermine
national confidence in their country's heritage, founding
principles, raison d'etre. But such intellectuals do not usually
arise within fifty years of their country's founding, and in no
case except Israel have intellectuals cultivated their
"alienation" in a country whose "right to exist" is considered an
acceptable subject of discussion among otherwise respectable
people and nations. As Midge Decter shrewdly put it in May 1996,
"A country only half a century old is not supposed to have a full
fledged accomplished literary intelligentsia....This is an
extravagance only an old and stable country should be allowed to
indulge in." 3
The seeds of trouble amongst intellectuals in Zion antedated
the state itself. On May Day 1936 the Labor Zionist leader Berl
Katznelson asked, angrily, "Is there another people on earth
whose sons are so emotionally and mentally twisted that they
consider everything their nation does despicable and hateful,
while every murder, rape and robbery committed by their enemies
fills their hearts with admiration and awe? As long as a Jewish
child...can come to the Land of Israel, and here catch the virus
of self-hate...let not our conscience be still." 4 But what for
Katznelson was a sick aberration would later become the normal
condition among a very large segment of Israeli intellectuals. A
major turning point came in 1967, when the doctors of Israel's
soul, a numerous fraternity, concluded that in winning a
defensive war which, if lost, would have brought its destruction,
Israel had bartered its soul for a piece of land. The Arab
nations, shrewdly sensing that Jews were far less capable of
waging the war of ideas than the war of planes and tanks, quickly
transformed the rhetoric of their opposition to Israel's
existence from the Right to the Left, from the aspiration to
"turn the Mediterranean red with Jewish blood" (the battle cry of
the months preceding the Six-Day War) to the pretended search for
a haven for the homeless. This calculated appeal to liberals, as
Ruth Wisse has amply demonstrated, 5 created legions of critics
of the Jewish state, especially among devout believers in the
progressive improvement and increasing enlightenment of the human
race. Israeli intellectuals who were willing to express,
especially in dramatic hyperbole, criticism of their own
country's alleged racism, imperialism, and religious fanaticism
quickly became celebrities in the American press. They were
exalted by people like Anthony Lewis as courageous voices of
dissent, even though what they had joined was, of course, a
community of consent.
But it was not until a decade later that the Israeli
intelligentsia turned massively against the state, against
Zionism, against Judaism itself. For in 1977 the Labor Party lost
its 29 year old ownership of government to people it considered
its cultural inferiors, people Meron Benvenisti described as
follows: "I remember traveling on a Haifa bus and looking around
at my fellow passengers with contempt and indifference--almost as
lower forms of human life."6 Such hysteria (which burst forth
again in May 1996 when Benjamin Netanyahu won the election) now
became the standard pose of the alienated Israeli intellectual,
and it was aggressively disseminated by American publications
such as the New York Times, ever eager for Israeli-accented
confirmation of its own views. Amos Oz, for example, took to the
pages of the New York Times Magazine during the Lebanon war to
deplore the imminent demise of Israel's "soul": "Israel could
have become an exemplary state...a small-scale laboratory for
democratic socialism." But that great hope, Oz lamented, was
dashed by the arrival of Holocaust refugees, various "anti-
socialist" Zionists, "chauvinistic, militaristic, and xenophobic"
North African Jews, and so forth. 7 (These are essentially the
reasons why it was not until Menachem Begin became prime minister
that the Ethiopian Jews could come to Israel.) By 1995 Oz was
telling New York Times readers that supporters of the Likud party
were accomplices of Hamas. Even after spiritual brethren of
Hamas massacred almost seven thousand people in the United States
on 11 September 2001 Oz declared that the enemy was not in any
sense the radical Islamist or Arabic mentality but simply
"fanaticism," and that in any case the most pressing matter he
could think of was to give "Palestinians their natural right to self-
determination." For good measure he added the patently false
assertion that "almost all [Moslems] are as shocked and aggrieved
[by the suicide bombings of America] as the rest of mankind." 8
Apparently Oz had missed all those photos of Muslims round the
world handing out candy, ululating, dancing, and jubilating over
dead Jews and dead Americans. It was a remarkable performance,
which made one wonder whether Oz gets to write about politics
because he is a novelist or gets his reputation as a novelist
because of his political views.
People like Benvenisti--sociologist, deputy mayor of
Jerusalem until fired by Teddy Kollek, and favorite authority on
Israel for many years of the New York Times and New York Review 
of Books--foreshadowed the boasting of the intellectual spokesmen
of recent Labor governments that they were not only post-Zionist
but also post-Jewish in their thinking. Benvenisti, writing in
1987, recalled proudly how "We would observe Yom Kippur by
loading quantities of food onto a raft and swimming out with it
to an offshore islet in the Mediterranean, and there we would
while away the whole day feasting. It was a flagrant
demonstration of our rejection of religious and Diaspora values."
9
Anecdotal evidence of the increasingly shrill anti-Israelism
(or worse) of Israeli intellectuals is only too easy to amass.
Some years ago the sculptor Yigal Tumarkin stated that "When I
see the black-coated haredim with the children they spawn, I can
understand the Holocaust." 10 Ze'ev Sternhell, Hebrew University
expert on fascism, proposed destroying the Jewish settlements
with IDF tanks as a means of boosting national morale.11 In 1969
the guru of Labor Party intellectuals, the late Professor
Yeshayahu Leibowitz, began to talk of the inevitable
"Nazification" of the Israeli nation and society. By the time of
the Lebanon War he had become an international celebrity because
of his use of the epithet "Judeo-Nazi" to describe the Israeli
army. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, he outdid even himself by
declaring (in words redolent of what Katznelson had deplored in
1936): "Everything Israel has done, and I emphasize everything,
in the past 23 years is either evil stupidity or stupidly evil."
12 And in 1993 Leibowitz would be honored by the government of
Yitzhak Rabin with the Israel Prize.
In third place after Oz and Benvenisti among the resources of
intellectual insight into Israel's soul frequently mined by
Anthony Lewis, Thomas Friedman, and like-minded journalists is
David Grossman, the novelist. Grossman established his
credentials as an alienated intellectual commentator on the state
of his country's mind in a book of 1988 called The Yellow Wind,
an account of his seven-week journey through the "West Bank," a
journey undertaken in order to understand "how an entire nation
like mine, an enlightened nation by all accounts, is able to
train itself to live as a conqueror without making its own life
wretched." 13 This is a complicated book, not without occasional
patches of honesty. But its true flavor can be suggested by two
successive chapters dealing with culture and books, especially
religious ones. Grossman first visits the Jewish settlement of
Ofra, at which he arrives fully armed with suspicion, hostility,
and partisanship, a "wary stranger" among people who remind him,
he says, of nothing human, especially when they are "in the
season of their messianic heat." (52) In Ofra, Grossman does not
want "to let down his guard" and be "seduced" by the Sabbath
"warmth" and "festivity" of these wily Jews. (34) Although most
of his remarks to Arabs in conversation recounted in The Yellow 
Wind are the perfunctory gestures of a straight man to whom his
interlocutors pay no serious attention, he angrily complains that
the Jewish settlers don't listen to or "display a real interest"
in him. He asks them to "imagine themselves in their Arab
neighbors' places" (37) and is very much the angry schoolmaster
when they don't dance to his tune or accept his pretense that
this act of sympathetic imagination is devoid of political
meaning. Neither are the settlers nimble enough to make the
appropriate reply to Grossman: "My dear fellow, we will imagine
ourselves as Arabs if you will imagine yourself as a Jew." But
Grossman has no intention of suspending his own rhythms of
existence long enough to penetrate the inner life of these alien
people: "What have I to do with them?" (48) His resentment is as
much cultural as political. He complains that the settlers have
"little use for culture," speak bad Hebrew, indulge in "Old
Diaspora type" humor, and own no books, "with the exception of
religious texts" (46). And these, far from mitigating the
barbarity of their owners, aggravate it. The final image of the
Jews in this long chapter is of "potential [!] terrorists now
rocking over their books." (51) For Grossman, the conjectural
terrorism of Jews is a far more grievous matter than the actual
terrorism of Arabs.
The following chapter also treats of culture and books,
including religious ones. Grossman has come to Bethlehem
University, one of several universities in the territories that
have been punningly described as branches of PLO State. Here
Grossman, though he admits the school to be "a stronghold of the
Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine," sees no
terrorists rocking over books, but rather idyllic scenes that
remind him of "the pictures of Plato's school in Athens" (57).
Bubbling with affection, eager to ascribe only the highest
motives, Grossman is now willing to forgive even readers of
religious books. He has not so much as a snort or a sneer for the
Bethlehem English professor who ascribes Arabs' supreme
sensitivity to lyric rhythm in English poetry to the "rhythm of
the Koran flow[ing] through their blood" (59). The author's
ability to spot racism at a distance of twenty miles when he is
among Jews slackens when timeless racial categories are invoked
in Bethlehem.
When the Labor Party returned to power in 1992, so too did
the Israeli intellectuals and their disciples. People once
(rather naively) casually referred to as extremists moved to the
centers of power in Israeli government and policy formation. Dedi
Zucker, who used to accuse Jewish "settlers" of drinking blood on
Passover, and Yossi Sarid, who once shocked Israelis by declaring
that Holocaust Memorial Day meant nothing to him, and Shulamit
Aloni, whose statements about religious Jews would probably have
landed her in jail in European countries that have laws against
antisemitic provocation, all became cabinet ministers or
prominent spokesmen in the government of Rabin. Two previously
obscure professors laid the foundations for the embrace of Yasser
Arafat, one of the major war criminals of the twentieth century,
responsible for the murder of more Jews than anyone since Hitler
and Stalin. The Oslo process put the PLO well on the way to an
independent Palestinian state (a state, it should be added, that
commands the allegiance of far more Israeli intellectuals than
does the idea of a Jewish one). Amos Oz and A. B. Yehoshua and
David Grossman were delighted, with the last of this trio
assuring Anthony Lewis that Israel had finally given up its
"instinctive suspicion," and that although "we have the worst
terrorism," "we are making peace." 14 Benvenisti proved harder to
satisfy: in 1995, he published a book called Intimate Enemies,
the ads for which carried glowing endorsements from Thomas
Friedman and Professor Ian Lustick, in which he proposed
dissolution of the state of Israel.
Only a few figures within Israel's cultural establishment
expressed dismay at what was happening. The philosopher Eliezer
Schweid warned that a nation which starts by abandoning its
cultural memories ends by abandoning its physical existence. 15 
Amos Perlmutter analyzed the "post-Zionism" of Israeli academics
as an all-out attack on the validity of the state. 16 A still
more notable exception to the general euphoria of this class was
Aharon Megged. In June of 1994 this well-known writer and
longtime supporter of the Labor Party wrote an explosive article
in Ha'aretz on "The Israeli Suicide Drive" in which he connected
the Rabin government's record of endless unreciprocated
concessions to a PLO that had not even cancelled its Charter
calling for Israel's destruction, to the self-destructiveness
that had long before infected Israel's intellectual classes.
"Since the Six Day War," Megged wrote, "and at an increasing
pace, we have witnessed a phenomenon which probably has no
parallel in history: an emotional and moral identification by the
majority of Israel's intelligentsia with people openly committed
to our annihilation." Megged argued that since 1967 the Israeli
intelligentsia had more and more come "to regard religious,
cultural, and emotional affinity to the land...with sheer
contempt"; and he observed that the equation of Israelis with
Nazis had become an article of faith and the central idea of
"thousands [emphasis added] of articles and reports in the press,
hundreds of poems, ... dozens of documentary and feature films,
exhibitions and paintings and photos." He also shrewdly remarked
on the methods by which anti-Zionist Israeli intellectuals
disseminated their message and reputations. Writers like Benny
Morris, Ilan Pepe, and Baruch Kimmerling "mostly publish first in
English to gain the praise of the West's 'justice seekers.' Their
works are then quickly translated into Arabic and displayed in
Damascus, Cairo and Tunis. Their conclusion is almost uniform:
that in practice Zionism amounts to an evil, colonialist
conspiracy...." 17 
The minds of the majority of those who carried on the Oslo
Process of the Israel government from 1993 to 1996 were formed by
the writers, artists, and publicists whom Megged excoriated.
Although Shimon Peres' utterances about the endless war for
independence which his country has been forced to wage often
seemed to come from a man who had taken leave of the actual
world, they were rooted in the "post-Zionist," post-Jewish, and
universalist assumptions of the Israeli intelligentsia. Just as
they were contemptuous of any tie with the land of Israel, so he
repeatedly alleged that land plays no part in Judaism or even in
the Jewish political philosophy that names itself after a
specific mountain called Zion. Like the Israeli intelligentsia,
he accused Israel's religious Jews of an atavistic attachment to
territory over "spirit," claiming that Judaism is "ethical/moral
and spiritual, and not an idolatry of soil-worship." 18 Just as
Israeli intellectuals nimbly pursued and imitated the latest
cultural fads of America and Europe, hoping to be assimilated by
the great world outside Israel, so did Peres hope that Israel
would one day be admitted into the Arab League.19
Despite the enlistment of then President William Clinton as his
campaign manager, and the nearly unanimous support he received
from the Israeli and world news media, to say nothing of the herd
of independent thinkers from the universities, and the rented
academics of the think tanks, Shimon Peres and his Oslo process
were decisively rejected by the Jewish voters of Israel.
Predictably, the Israeli intellectuals (not guessing that Labor's
successors would blindly continue the process) reacted with
melodramatic hysteria. David Grossman, in the New York Times of
31 May, wailed sanctimoniously that "Israel has moved toward the
extreme right...more militant, more religious, more
fundamentalist, more tribal and more racist." 20
Among the American liberal supporters of Israel's intellectual
elite, only the New Republic appeared somewhat chastened by the
election result. Having for years, perhaps decades, celebrated
the ineffable genius of Shimon Peres and his coterie, the
magazine turned angrily upon the Israeli intellectuals for
failing to grasp that "their association with Peres was one of
the causes of his defeat." "Disdainful of [Jews] from traditional
communities, they thought of and called such people 'stupid
Sephardim.' This contempt for Arab Jews expresses itself in a
cruel paradox, for it coexists with a credulity about, and esteem
for, the Middle East's Christians and Muslims--Arab Arabs. Such
esteem, coupled with a derisive attitude toward Jewish symbols
and texts, rituals, remembrances and anxieties, sent tens of
thousands to Netanyahu." 21

The most ambitious attempt to trace the history and analyze the
causes of the maladies of Israeli intellectuals is Yoram
Hazony's book The Jewish State, which appeared early in
the year 2000. Within months of its publication the dire
consequences of the Oslo accords, post-Zionism's major political
achievement, became visible to everybody in Israel in the form
of Intifada II, otherwise known as the Oslo War, a campaign of
unremitting atrocities launched by Yasser Arafat when after only
97% of his demands, including an independent Palestinian state,
had been met by the government of the hapless Ehud Barak.
The Jewish State is a broadside aimed at those Israelis who, in
what its author calls "a carnival of self-loathing,"22 are busily
eating away at the Jewish foundations of that state. The book's
very title is a conscious affront to Israel's branja, a slang
term for the "progressive" and "enlightened" experts whose
views, according to Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak,
should determine the court's decisions on crucial matters. For
these illuminati have sought to enlist no less a figure than
Theodor Herzl in their campaign to de-Judaize the state of
Israel. Nearly all the "post-Zionists" discussed in The Jewish 
State claim that Herzl did not intend the title of his famous
book to be The Jewish State at all, that the state he proposed
was in no significant sense intrinsically Jewish, and that he
believed in a total separation of religion from the state.
Hazony argues (and massively demonstrates) that Herzl believed a
Jewish state was essential to rescue the Jewish people from both
antisemitism and assimilation, the forces that were destroying
Jewish life throughout the Diaspora. (Most of Herzl's rabbinic
opponents, of course, argued that Zionism was itself but a thinly
veiled form of assimilation.)
Hazony's Jewish State has two purposes. The first is to
show that "the idea of the Jewish state is under systematic
attack from its own cultural and intellectual
establishment"(xxvii). These "culture makers" have not only
renounced the idea of a Jewish state--"A state," claims Amos Oz,
"cannot be Jewish, just as a chair or a bus cannot be Jewish"
(338). The writers who dominate Israeli culture, Hazony argues,
are adept at imagining what it is like to be an Arab; they have,
like the aforementioned David Grossman, much more trouble
imagining what it is like to be a Jew.
If Israeli intellectuals were merely supplying their own
illustration of Orwell's quip about the unique susceptibility of
intellectuals to stupid ideas, their hostility to Israel's Jewish
traditions and Zionist character would not merit much concern.
But Hazony shows that they have had spectacular success,
amounting to a virtual coup d'etat, in their political struggle
for a post-Jewish state. "What is perhaps most remarkable about
the advance of the new ideas in Israeli government policy is the
way in which even the most sweeping changes in Israel's character
as a Jewish state can be effected by a handful of intellectuals,
with only the most minimal of opposition from the country's
political leaders or the public" (52).
The post-Zionists have imposed their views in the new public-
school curriculum, in the Basic Laws of the country, and in the
IDF, whose code of ethics now excludes any allusion to Jewish or
Zionist principles. The author of the code is Asa Kasher, one of
Israel's most enterprising post-Zionists, who has modestly
described his composition as "the most profound code of ethics in
the world of military ethics, in particular, and in the world of
professional ethics, in general"--so terminally profound, in
fact, that an Israeli soldier "doesn't need to think or
philosophize anymore. Someone else already ... did the thinking
and decided. There are no dilemmas" (53, 56).
The ultimate triumph of post-Zionism, Hazony argues, came in its
conquest of the Foreign Ministry and the mind of Shimon Peres.
Both came to the conclusion that Israel must retreat from the
idea of an independent Jewish state. In the accord reached with
Egypt in 1978 and even in the 1994 accord with Jordan, Israeli
governments had insisted that the Arab signatories recognize the
Jewish state's "sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political
independence" (58). But the Oslo accords with the fanatically anti-
Zionist PLO conceded on every one of these issues; and if the
agreement with the PLO was partly an effect of post-Zionism, it
was an effect that became in turn a cause--giving respectability
and wide exposure to post-Zionist political prejudices formerly
confined to coteries in Rehavia and Ramat-Aviv.
Thereafter, Peres and his Foreign Office routinely promoted the
interests not of a sovereign Jewish state but of the (largely
Arab) Middle East. In a reversal of policy akin to that of the
Soviet Foreign Ministry in the wake of Stalin's pact with Hitler,
Uri Savir and other Foreign Ministry officials exhorted American
Jews who had for decades resisted the Arab campaign to blacken
Israel's reputation to support U.S. foreign aid to the two chief
blackeners, the PLO and Syria. They--it was alleged--needed dollars
much more than Israel. Peres himself, as we observed earlier,
carried the post-Zionist campaign for assimilation and
universalism to the global level, grandly announcing in December
1994 that "Israel's next goal should be to become a member of the
Arab League" (67).
The second (and much longer and more nuanced) part of Hazony's
book has a two-fold purpose. The first is to write the history of
the ideological and political struggle within the Jewish world
itself over the idea of the Jewish state, paying particular
attention to how that ideal, which a few decades ago had been
axiomatic among virtually all Jews the world over, had so quickly
"been brought to ruin among the cultural leadership of the Jewish
state itself" (78). Hazony's second aim as historian is to
demonstrate the power of ideas, especially the truth of John
Stuart Mill's axiom about the practical potency, in the long run,
of (apparently useless) speculative philosophy. It was the power
of ideas that enabled philosopher Martin Buber and other
opponents of the Jewish state to break Ben-Gurion and to
undermine the practical-minded stalwarts of Labor Zionism.
(Likud hardly figures in this book. The quarrels between Ben-
Gurion and Begin have from Hazony's perspective "the character of
a squabble between the captain and the first mate of a sinking
ship" [79].)
Hazony is a masterful political and cultural historian, and his
fascinating account of the long struggle of Buber (and his
Hebrew University acolytes) against Herzl and Ben-Gurion's
conception of a genuinely Jewish state is told with tremendous
verve and insight. Buber is at once the villain and the hero of
this book. He is the villain in his relentless opposition to a
Jewish state; in his licentious equations between Labor Zionists
and Nazis; in his fierce anti-(Jewish) immigration stance
(announced the day after he himself had immigrated from
Germany in 1938). But he is the hero because his posthumous
ideological victory over Labor Zionism--most of today's leading
post-Zionists claim that their minds were formed by Buber and his
bi-nationalist Brit Shalom/Ihud allies at Hebrew University--is
in Hazony's view the most stunning example of how ideas and myths
are in the long run of more political importance than kibbutzim
and settlements. Because Buber understood the way in which
culture eventually determines politics and grasped the potency of
books and journals and (most of all) universities, his (to
Hazony) malignant influence now carries the day in Israel's
political as well as its cultural wars.
Hazony argues that since the fall of Ben-Gurion Israel has had
no Prime Minister--not Golda Meir, not Menachem Begin--who was an
"idea-maker." Even the very shrewd Ben-Gurion and Berl Katznelson
(who presciently warned of the dangers lurking in the
"intellectual famine" (299) of Labor Israel) were slow to
recognize the potentially disastrous consequences of entrusting
the higher education of their children to a university largely
controlled (for twenty-four years) by the anti-Zionist Judah
Magnes and largely staffed by faculty he recruited. Magnes, in
language foreshadowing the cliches of today's post-Zionists,
charged that the Jewish settlement in Palestine had been "born in
sin"(203); moreover, he believed that seeing history from the Arabs'
historical perspective was one of the main reasons for
establishing the Hebrew University.
Hazony's book is written backwards, something like a murder
mystery. He begins with a dismaying, indeed terrifying picture of
a nearly moribund people, exhausted, confused, aimless--their
traditional Labor Zionist assumptions declared "effectively dead"
by their formerly Labor Zionist leaders, most crucially Shimon
Peres. He then moves backward to seek the reasons why the Zionist
enteprise is in danger of being dismantled, not by Israel's Arab
enemies (who gleefully watch the spectacle unfold), but by its
own heavily petted intellectual, artistic, and political elite--
professors, writers, luminaries in the visual arts.
The material in the early chapters is shocking, and I speak as
one who thought he had seen it all: the visiting sociologist from
Hebrew University who adorned his office at my university with a
PLO recruiting poster; the Tel-Aviv University philosophy
professor who supplied Noam Chomsky's supporters with a letter of
kashrut certifying the "lifelong dedication to Israel" of their
(Israel-hating) idol; the Haifa University sociologist active in
the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination League (a PLO front group);
the contingent of Israeli professors taking up arms on behalf of
the great prevaricator Edward Said. But the material Hazony has
collected (and dissected) from Israel's post-Zionist and post-
Jewish intellectuals shocks me nevertheless. Compared with the
Baruch Kimmerlings, the Asa Kashers, the Ilan Pappes, and other
protagonists in Hazony's tragedy, Austria's Jorge Haider, the
right-wing demagogue about whom the Israeli government kicked up
such a fuss not so long ago, is a Judeophile and Lover of Zion.
Hazony carefully refrains from applying the term "antisemitic"
to even the most extreme defamations of Jewish tradition and of
the Jewish state by post-Zionists and their epigones. But surely
such reticence is unnecessary when the secret has long been out.
As far back as May 1987 the Israeli humorist and cartoonist Dosh,
in a column in Ma'ariv, drew a picture of a shopper in a store
that specialized in antisemitic merchandise reaching for the top
shelf--on which lay the most expensive item, adorned by a
Stuermer-like caricature of a Jew and prominently labelled
"Made in Israel." The article this cartoon illustrated spoke of
Israel's need to increase exports by embellishing products
available elsewhere in the world with unique local
characteristics. Israel had done this with certain fruits and
vegetables in the past, and now she was doing it with defamations
of Israel, produced in Israel. Customers were getting more
selective, no longer willing to make do with grade B merchandise
produced by British leftists or French neo-Nazis. No, they
wanted authentic material, from local sources; and Israeli
intellectuals, artists, playwrights, were responding with
alacrity to the opportunity.
But Dosh had spoken merely of a specialty shop. To accommodate
the abundant production of Hazony's gallery of post-Zionist/post-
Jewish defamers of Israel (both the people and the Land) would
require a department store twice the size of Macy's or Harrod's.
On bargain day, one imagines the following recitation by the
elevator operator: "First floor, Moshe Zimmermann, Yeshayahu
Leibowitz, and 68 other members of the progressive and
universalist community on Israelis as Nazis; second floor, A. B.
Yehoshua on the need for Israeli Jews to become "normal" by
converting to Christianity or Islam; third floor, Boaz Evron in
justification of Vichy France's anti-Jewish measures; fourth
floor, Idith Zertal on Zionist absorption of Holocaust refugees
as a form of rape; fifth floor, Benny Morris on Zionism as ethnic
cleansing; attic, Shulamit Aloni on Zionism (also Judaism) as
racism; basement, Ya'akov Yovel justifying the medieval blood
libel; sub-basement, Yigal Tumarkin justifying Nazi murder of
(religious) Jews. Watch your step, please."
The Jewish State is a formidable but not a flawless book.
In his discussion of Israeli writers, Hazony sometimes forgets
the difference between imaginative literature and discursive
essays or public statements. He also occasionally overreaches
himself, as when he drops Aharon Appelfeld into the same
political-cultural boat, where I am sure he does not belong, with
Amos Oz and David Grossman. In the second part of the book, he
lays blame on Ben-Gurion's Hebrew University antagonists for
forming the minds of the post-Zionists, but does not account for
the fact that the politically most important post-Zionist,
Peres, was the personal protege of Ben-Gurion himself. On one or two
occasions, too, he forgets that ideas are radically defenseless
against the uses (and misuses) to which they are put. The fact
that Shulamit Aloni assigns Buber responsibility for her views
does not necessarily mean he entirely deserves that burden.
Although Hazony's argument for the large role played by Israel's
professoriat in dismantling Labor Zionism is convincing, it
cannot be a sufficient cause of current post-Zionism and post-
Judaism. The habitual language of post-Zionists, and most
especially their hammering insistence on the contradiction
between being Jewish and being human, is exactly the language of
European Jewish ideologues of assimilation over a century ago.
Gidon Samet, one of the numerous resident ideologues of post-
Judaism and post-Zionism at Ha'aretz, is not far from the truth
when he likens their attractions to those of American junk food
and junk-music: "Madonna and Big Macs," Samet says,"are only the
most peripheral of examples" of the wonderful blessings of
Israel's new "normalness" (71-72). Of course, whatever we may
think of those who in 1900 urged fellow-Jews to cease being
Jewish in order to join universal humanity, they at least were
not promoting this sinister distinction in full knowledge of how
it would be used by Hitler; the same cannot be said of
contemporary Israeli ideologues of assimilation and universalism.
Most readers of post-Zionist outpourings have little to fall
back on except their native mistrust of intellectuals. Thus, when
Hebrew University professor Moshe Zimmermann declares that
Zionism "imported" antisemitism into the Middle East (11), it
requires knowledge (not much, to be sure) of history to recognize
the statement as preposterous. But sometimes the post-Zionists
are tripped up by overconfidence into lies that even the
uninstructed can easily detect. Thus Avishai Margalit, a Hebrew
University philosophy professor spiritually close to, if not
quite a card-carrying member of, the post-Zionists, in a New York
Review of Books essay of 1988 called "The Kitsch of Israel,"
heaped scorn upon the "children's room" at Yad Vashem with its
"tape-recorded" voices of children crying out in Yiddish, 'Mame,
Tate [Mother, Father].'" Yad Vashem is a favorite target of the
post-Zionists because they believe it encourages Jews to think
not only that they were singled out for annihilation by the Nazis
but also--how unreasonable of them!--to want to make sure they do
not get singled out for destruction again. But, as any
Jerusalemite or tourist who can get over to Mount Herzl will
quickly discover, there is no "children's room" and there are no
taped voices at Yad Vashem. There is a memorial to the murdered
children and a tape-recorded voice that reads their names.23
Margalit's skullduggery is by no means the worst of its kind
among those Israelis involved in derogating the memory and
history of the country's Jewish population. But it comes as no
surprise to learn from Hazony that Margalit believes Israel is
morally obligated to offer Arabs "special rights" for the
protection of their culture and to be "neutral" toward the Jews
(13). With such neutrality as Margalit's, who needs belligerence?
In Hazony Israel has perhaps found its latter-day Jeremiah, but
given the widespread tone-deafness of the country's enlightened
classes to their Jewish heritage, perhaps what is needed at the
moment is an Israeli Jonathan Swift, especially the Swift who in
his versified will "gave the little wealth he had/To build a
house for fools and mad;/And showed by one satiric touch,/No
nation wanted it so much."
I began this essay with statements by J. S. Mill and George
Orwell about the role of intellectuals and their ideas in
politics, and I shall conclude in the same way. The first
statement, by Mill, might usefully be recommended as an aid to
reflection by the intellectuals of Israel: "The collective mind,"
wrote Mill in 1838, "does not penetrate below the surface, but it
sees all the surface; which profound thinkers, even by reason of
their profundity, often fail to do...." The second statement, by
Orwell, seems particularly relevant as the Oslo War rages on: "if
the radical intellectuals in England had had their way in the
20's and 30's," said Orwell,"the Gestapo would have been walking
the streets of London in 1940." 24




1. Jerusalem Post, 6 April 1996.
2. Yediot Aharonot, August 6, 1989.
3. Midge Decter, "The Treason of the Intellectuals," Outpost,
May 1996, 7.
4. Kitvei B. Katznelson (Tel Aviv: Workers' Party of Israel, 1961),
VIII, 18.
5. Ruth R. Wisse, If I Am Not for Myself...The Liberal Betrayal of 
the Jews (New York: Free Press, 1992).
6. Meron Benvenisti, Conflicts and Contradictions (New York:
Villard, 1986), 70.
7. New York Times Magazine, 11 July 1982.
8. New York Times, 11 April 1995; "Struggling against Fanaticism,"
New York Times, 14 September 2001.
9. Conflicts and Contradictions, 34.
10. Jerusalem Post, 1 December 1990.
11. Ibid.
12. Jerusalem Post, 16 January 1993.
13. The Yellow Wind, trans. Haim Watzman (New York: Farrar,
Straus & Giroux, 1988), 212. Subsequent references to this work
will be cited in text.
14. 17 May 1996, New York Times, 17 May 1996.
15. Jerusalem Post International Edition, 15 April 1995.
16. "Egalitarians Gone Mad," Jerusalem Post International 
Edition, 28 October 1995.
17. Aharon Megged, "The Israeli Suicide
Drive," Jerusalem Post International Edition, 2 July 1994.
18. Quoted in Moshe Kohn,"Check Your Quotes," Jerusalem Post 
International Edition, 16 October 1993.
19. The Arab League
contemptuously replied that Israel could become a member only
"after the complete collapse of the Zionist national myth, and
the complete conversion of historical Palestine into one
democratic state to which all the Palestinians will return."
20. "The Fortress Within," New York Times, 31 May 1996.
21. "Revolt of the Masses," New Republic, 24 June 1996.
22. The Jewish State (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 339.
Subsequent references to this work will be cited in
parentheses in the text.
23. Ten years later, Margalit reprinted this piece in a
collection of his essays called Views in Review. There he says he
has omitted a sentence from the original essay that "had wrong
information in it about the children's memorial room at Yad
Vashem." But he blames this on "an employee" who misled him.
Margalit's sleight of hand here reveals two things: 1. When he
says in his introduction to the book that "I am not even an
eyewitness to much of what I write about," we can believe him; 2.
The Yiddish writer Shmuel Niger was correct to say that "we
suffer not only from Jews who are too coarse, but also from Jews
who are too sensitive."
24. In The Lion and the Unicorn (1941) Orwell also
wrote: "The really important fact about the English
intelligentsia is their severance from the common culture of the
country....In the general patriotism, they form an island of
dissident thought. England is the only great nation whose
intellectuals are ashamed of their country." This, not to put too
fine a point upon it, no longer seems true.

 

 

 

 

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