Monday, August 20, 2007

A New Book on Zionism

Haaretz has reviewed the Shalem Center's new collection, "New Essays on Zionism", edited by Michael Oren, David Hazony and Yoram Hazony in an article entitled Making an impression by Nissim Calderon.

Here are some excerpts:-

"New Essays on Zionism" is an anthology of articles from Azure that sum up the main ideas promoted by the Shalem Center...The Shalem Center's declared objective is to provide the Israeli right with a solid ideological underpinning. But we are talking about a new Israeli right, different from the various right-wing movements that have traditionally been active here.

Shalem is attempting to inject American neoconservative ideas into the conceptual world of Israeli politics and merge them with Israeli sensibilities, thereby replicating here the great success of American neoconservatives. (William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, and one of the dominant American neoconservatives today, and Ron Lauder, one of the movement's chief financiers, are among the Shalem Center's trustees).

Why is it doing this? I believe it has to do with the State of Israel's "old" right wing. Until the 1970s, the secular right wing had ideological strength, profound thinkers, effective literature and intellectual drawing power. Ze'ev Jabotinsky, Yonatan Ratosh, Uri Zvi Greenberg, Natan Yellin-Mor, Yisrael Eldad and even politicians like Yohanan Bader came up with ideas, ideological arguments and cultural nuances that could not be ignored.

The emotional excitement created by real ideological tension is not something that can be dismissed. Passion is an important asset in politics. But all this was lost when the settlement enterprise came into being. As this enterprise grew and expanded, the Israeli right paid a price: the loss of intellectual respect among the secular community, as well as among sectors of the religious public that were not partners (in ideology or theory) to the settlement movement.

Settlement was an act of force backed by a meager secular rationale. The rhetoric employed to cover up the use of brute force was limp and ineffective. The endeavors of Natan Alterman and Prof. Yosef Ben-Shlomo to lend the settlements spiritual validity did not measure up to the imprint left by Jabotinsky and Ratosh. And even though the religious Zionist community, which supported settlement, had intellectual energy and creative passion, it remained a closed circle. Secular Israelis were not impressed intellectually.

Shalem is attempting to change this state of affairs, to restore ideological energy to the Israeli right and earn back this lost respect. At the same time, those involved in the enterprise fully recognize that unless the right learns from the failures of the past, there is no hope of moving ahead and providing intellectual answers.

...Ever since the days of the Irgun and Lehi pre-state militias, the Zionist right has had an advantage over the left, because it based its world on the dichotomy between "reality" and "redemption," while the latter combined the two.

Menachem Begin, unlike secular right-wing ideologues, was a master at fusing the two. In this way, the Israeli right won hearts in both the secular and religious communities.
This advantage was drastically eroded when the religious dimension of right-wing ideology led to the settlement enterprise and its messianic justification.

The new right is more careful in this respect: The book contains two or three calls to support the settlers (explicitly in the article by Ophir Ha'ivri, and implicitly in the article by Yoram Hazony), but this is swallowed up in the broader context of a moral project touted as vital for humanity.

Israelis are thus advised not to give so much weight to occupation and settlement, but rather to view this component as a small detail in the grand scheme of faith, justice and higher mission.

...Likewise, the essays in this collection never mention Jabotinsky's "Iron Wall" or Uri Zvi Greenberg's hate-filled diatribes against Arabs. Such a tone would be unacceptable to Israel's political center.

So what is there instead? The institutionalized discrimination against Arabs in Israel is simply passed over in silence, and the authors write about spiritual missions, visions and the redemption of the entire human race. With regard to feminism, the Shalem Center again wisely avoids blind imitation of the American neoconservatives.

...The Zionist left, on the other hand, refuses to see the nation-state as holy. This group considers it a tool, and only a tool. Yoram Hazony makes no effort to conceal his repugnance when he quotes a remark by Amos Oz: "Herzl's book is called 'The State of the Jews' [generally translated in English as 'The Jewish State']. A state cannot be Jewish, in the same way that a chair or a bus cannot be Jewish."

This refusal to subordinate everything to the nation-state, especially while recognizing the need for it, is fiercely attacked by many of the book's contributors, including Zeev Magen, Arieh Morgenstern and Natan Sharansky. They claim the left is demolishing the wall of communal responsibility that safeguards Israeli citizens, and say its stance is a reflection of individualism and a withdrawal from the Israeli collective.

This opposition to Israeli occupation is a rejection of the same collective Jewish "angel" whose mission is not to redeem Beit Hadassah, the settlers' stronghold in Hebron, but all of mankind, they claim. The human rights debate is a shift away from the issue of Jewish rights (collective) to citizens' rights (individual).

Demanding equal rights for Israeli Arabs is giving preference to poor who live somewhere else over those in your own city. Allowing a gay pride parade is granting priority to sexual minorities over solidarity with the heterosexual majority. The secularity of the Israeli left is a rejection of a muted religiosity meant to unite both religious and non-religious.

...Israel's political right continues to cling to the vestiges of its old ideology, and the new ideology has remained on paper. Benjamin Netanyahu's sporadic efforts to inject neoconservative ideas into Israeli politics have ended in failure, at least for now. Tomorrow, though, they could succeed.

...The Shalem Center has a different agenda: moving 20-30 Knesset seats from the left and center to the right led by Netanyahu and Lieberman. I think it is high time for the left, both Zionist and post-Zionist, to stop expending so much energy on who rules the roost in the humanities departments and devote more thought to who forms the next government, and the one after it.