A fight to save Israel's soul

Mission: The post-Zionists are working to remake Israel without a Jewish identity, says one opponent.

June 04, 2000|By John Rivera

IS IT POSSIBLE to imagine an Israel without the Law of Return, the cherished right of every Jew to return to the biblical homeland?

Is it possible to conceive of the Israeli flag absent the Star of David? Or that Israel might drop its evocative national anthem, "Hatikva," which proclaims: "In the Jewish heart a Jewish spirit still sings, and the eyes look east toward Zion" ?

Is it possible to imagine an Israel without a Jewish identity?

Such a scenario is not only possible but likely, if Israel continues on its present course, says Yoram Hazony, author of "The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel's Soul."

"Then we're going to end up with ... a Hebrew-speaking Albania or Bulgaria on the shores of the Mediterranean. Other than the language, there won't be any of the original mission, which is what brought all of our fathers and our mothers to do this," says Hazony, 35, adding:

"And the state will act like a small, unintelligent, corrupt kind of a society. And it will keep doing that until it finds its end, like all other such things do eventually."

Hazony recently visited Baltimore as part of his U.S. book tour. His book has been published in English in the United States and it will be published in Hebrew later this year.

Hazony is president of the Israeli public policy think tank Shalem Institute and a one-time adviser to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He argues that anti-Zionist sentiments that were prominent before the founding of Israel, held by people who for a variety of reasons were opposed to the founding of a Jewish state, have re-emerged in the guise of what he calls "post-Zionism."

The most prominent proponents of anti-Zionism were Western European intellectuals, particularly the German members of the Reform movement, who felt that the notion of a Jewish state was antithetical to Jewish ideals, and who were suspicious of the corrupting influences such a political structure might entail.

With the founding of Israel after the tragedy of the Holocaust, sentiment shifted to the viewpoint that there was a need for a Jewish homeland, particularly for the refugees from Europe, many of them survivors of the horrors of the concentration camps.

Hazony, who was born in Israel but raised in the United States, says it was the Labor Zionist vision of Israel's founders, the vision of David Ben-Gurion, its first prime minister and considered by many the father of the country, that has sustained Israel in its half-century of existence. And it is the same vision that has inspired American Jews in their support of Israel."

[Israeli novelist] Amos Oz is the most eloquent at expressing this," he says. "He called it the Great Drama. Ben-Gurion was the representative in the minds of Israelis of the Great Drama, of the exile from the land, of the destruction, of the suffering, of the wandering, of holding out, of the praying and working to return and fighting. That entire saga is associated with this image of Ben-Gurion.

"But it turns out that people are getting tired of the vision of the Jewish state the way Ben-Gurion saw it," Hazony says. "People are getting tired of thinking of Ben-Gurion as a founding father."

Hazony argues that this discontent is rooted in anti-Zionism that never really died. Instead, he says, it went to school.

Some of its most prominent proponents founded and taught at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, including the philosopher Martin Buber. The philosophers, historians, sociologists and literature professors who trained succeeding generations of Israel's intellectual elite have succeeded in passing down this hostility to the Jewish state that Hazony calls "post-Zionism."

And now that Hebrew University-trained graduates are assuming positions of power in Israel, post-Zionist ideology has broken out of its academic ivory tower.

"It's definitely broken out. It's far, far beyond an enclave," Hazony says. "In part because of the media, to take one very important example. The Education Ministry is another. The Supreme Court is another. All of these are institutions that have been molded to a very large degree by the universities in Israel."

Hazony points to some prominent Hebrew University classmates. "Aharon Barak, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, he's the same age as Yossi Sarid, education minister. And they're both the same age as Amos Oz, who is the leading novelist in the country. All of them were there at that time," he points out, and participated in a protest movement against Ben-Gurion that eventually led to his resignation as prime minister.

"By now it's not an intellectual thing anymore," he says. "Now, these ideas are in a very, very commanding position in Israeli public life,."

One example Hazony trumpets is the recent revisions to textbooks used in the Israeli school system. These changes were telegraphed in an interview published in 1994 with Hebrew University historian Moshe Zimmermann, who at the time was chairman of the committee revising the history curriculum.

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