Jewish World Review May 5, 2000 / 1 Iyar, 5760
The Shalem Center is defending the idea of a Jewish state
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- CHANGING THE WAY a nation and a people think about itself is not an easy job.
But Yoram Hazony and his Jerusalem and Washington, D.C.-based Shalem Center is attempting to do just that for Israel and the Jews.
Hazony’s arrival on the Jewish intellectual scene is a signal that the backlash against post-Zionism has begun. So here’s the question: Is it too late for the proponents of mainstream Zionism to reverse a trend that has called into question the morality of having a Jewish state?
Given the fact that this week we will celebrate only the 52nd anniversary of Israel’s rebirth as a sovereign Jewish state, that is a remarkable question to be asking. But for Hazony, a 30-something Israeli who was raised and educated in the United States, the most important questions for Israel are not about how much territory to exchange for a peace treaty, but how Jewish and Zionist are the people who will be living in the country, no matter its size.
Hazony, who worked as an aide to Benjaman Netanyahu in the early 1990s, before Bibi’s election to the premiership, left politics in 1994 to found the Shalem Center. The point of this nonpartisan think tank is “to prepare a reasonable alternative” to the post-Zionist view of Israel. He’s set out his views on this problem in a book that has just been published this month by Basic Books, "The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel's Soul." I had a chance to sit down with Hazony and discuss his book and his views on the state of Israeli society recently while the author was in Philadelphia.
Hazony’s work represents the most comprehensive account yet written about the phenomena of post-Zionism, its origins and how it conflicts with the basic ideology of the people who created Zionism and brought Israel to life: Theodor Herzl and David Ben-Gurion.
What is post-Zionism? It is the transformation of Israeli society into a culture whose primary values are not specifically Jewish. Post-Zionism is the process by which Israel ceases to be the Jewish state and becomes merely the state of its inhabitants.
For many people here, the phrase “post-Zionism” is associated primarily with the politics of the Israeli left, and what the Jewish state might look like in the aftermath of a comprehensive peace. But whether former Prime Minister Shimon Peres’ vision of a “New Middle East” was realistic or not is, according to Hazony, not the point.
ISRAELIS FORGET WHY THEY ARE FIGHTING
Is Hazony exaggerating? A quick look at recent cultural and political developments inside Israel confirms his concerns.
The change in Israel’s secondary-school history textbooks is only the most well-known example. As reported in a front-page story last summer in The New York Times, the new book drops the traditional Zionist view of the War of Independence and subsequent struggles, looking at them instead from a “universalist” frame of reference.
This is not a question of whether Israeli schools should continue to teach myths merely to defend Israel, as the post-Zionists have asserted. A nonromantic view of the horrors of the War of Independence is not the point. The real question is whether or not Israelis believe that the struggle for the Jewish state itself was justified.
The switch here is not from a Likud to a Labor point of view. Hazony explains that post-Zionist ideology is, in fact, an abandonment of the Labor Zionist values promoted by Ben-Gurion. Rather than being a modernist fad, post-Zionist thought can be traced directly back to intellectual trends that were prominent in the Jewish world prior to World War II and the Holocaust. Indeed, Hazony devotes considerable space to the leftist critics of both Herzl and Ben-Gurion, especially the famous intellectuals who worked at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, such as the famed philosopher Martin Buber.
These critics opposed the idea of a Jewish state, and pushed for a binational state of Arabs and Jews.
Hazony sees this non-Zionist school of thought as dominating Israel’s intellectual and cultural worlds. If a nation’s leading intellects all believe that the only obstacle to peace has always been “right-wing militant Zionist nuts” like Ben-Gurion, says Hazony, a process of self-delegitimization of Zionist values can snowball. Recent decisions of Israel’s Supreme Court that have undermined the legal basis of Zionism give credence to Hazony’s fears.
Hazony argues that “the Israeli man in the street still has a strong Jewish identity and believes in Zionism as a just cause,” but that the abandonment of Zionism in Israeli education, films, theater, literature and law is taking a terrible toll on Israeli society.
“How long can a country survive if its intellectuals are working to debunk the basic culture the country is built on?” Hazony asks.
PREPARING FOR A COMEBACK OF ZIONIST THOUGHT
Yet as Israel celebrates its 52nd birthday, one need only reflect on the fact
that 100 years ago, few believed that there would ever be a Jewish state, let
alone a drift to post-Zionism. In this age of Jewish miracles that Zionism
produced, it would be foolish to bet against Yoram