Monday, May 12, 2008

William Kristol on Begin in NYTimes

The Jewish State at 60


This week marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. There have already been many birthday greetings, some heartfelt, some perfunctory, along with numerous reflections on the meaning of the occasion, some profound, some commonplace. For me, however, a discordant voice broke through.

...I didn’t intend, in writing this column, to quote Ahmadinejad. I hate to dignify him by even taking note of his comments. I meant to pay tribute to the Zionists — men like Weizmann and Jabotinsky, Ben-Gurion and Begin — who made possible the almost miraculous redemption of the Jewish people in 1948. And I also intended to recognize the defenders of Israel at moments of crisis — men like Harry Truman and Richard Nixon and George W. Bush.

I thought I might even dwell on the amazing essay by the novelist George Eliot who made a case for Zionism in 1879 — 17 years before the publication of Theodor Herzl’s “The Jewish State.”

“The hinge of possibility,” Eliot wrote, is that among the Jews “there may arise some men of instruction and ardent public spirit, some new Ezras, some modern Maccabees, who will know how to use all favouring outward conditions, how to triumph by heroic example, over the indifference of their fellows and the scorn of their foes, and will steadfastly set their faces towards making their people once more one among the nations.”

The new Ezras and the modern Maccabees arose. But Jew hatred didn’t go away. And so, today, in light of Ahmadinejad’s remarks, in the face of the weakness of the West before the Iranian regime — I can’t avoid being reminded of the fact that this year is not only the 60th anniversary of Israel, but also the 75th anniversary of Hitler’s coming to power.

In 1933, in Germany, at the geographical and intellectual center of 20th-century Europe, the Weimar Republic was replaced, as the philosopher Leo Strauss put it, “by the only German regime — by the only regime that ever was anywhere — which had no other clear principle except murderous hatred of the Jews, for ‘Aryan’ had no clear meaning other than ‘non-Jewish.’ ”

The civilized world was helpless. Churchill’s pleas to act were ignored. The world was plunged into war. Two-fifths of world Jewry were murdered.

The founding of Israel promised a more hopeful future, not just for the Jews but for mankind. And, in fact, the last 60 years have perhaps been less horror filled and more humane than the preceding 60. But what of the future?

On Dec. 10, 1948, Winston Churchill, then leader of the opposition, took to the floor of the House of Commons to chastise the Labour government for its continuing refusal to recognize the state of Israel. In his remarks, Churchill commented:

“Whether the Right Honourable Gentleman likes it or not, and whether we like it or not, the coming into being of a Jewish state in Palestine is an event in world history to be viewed in the perspective, not of a generation or a century, but in the perspective of a thousand, two thousand or even three thousand years. This is a standard of temporal values or time values which seems very much out of accord with the perpetual click-clack of our rapidly-changing moods and of the age in which we live.”

In 2008, the defense of the state of Israel, and everything it stands for, requires a kind of courage and determination very much out of accord with the perpetual click-clack of our politics, and with the combination of irresponsibility and wishfulness that characterizes the age in which we live.

Still, even though the security of Israel is very much at risk, the good news is that, unlike in the 1930s, the Jews are able to defend themselves, and the United States is willing to fight for freedom. Americans grasp that Israel’s very existence to some degree embodies the defeat and repudiation of the genocidal totalitarianism of the 20th century. They understand that its defense today is the front line of resistance to the jihadist terror, and the suicidal nihilism, that threaten to deform the 21st.

What Eric Hoffer wrote in 1968 seems even truer today: “I have a premonition that will not leave me; as it goes with Israel, so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish, the holocaust will be upon us.”