Start Running With A Better Crowd

The “day after” Gaza disengagement compels us to consider some resolutions. First, we Jews, Israelis and Zionists need to start hanging around with a better crowd, and avoid the pseudo-intellectual clique that thrives on fear. If we are all looking over our shoulders, afraid of scientific inquiry, social ingenuity and economic fairness, the better off the fear-mongering crowd will be.
The politicization of religious observance, the popular notion that the political spectrum from left to right corresponds respectively from sacred to profane, reinforces the urgent importance for a distinction between religion and state. For Jews the urgency is increased because of the national identity Jews share with our singular religious path.
The modern struggle for the national rights of the Jewish people has succeeded so far in establishing a viable western-style state — a flag, official language, genuine electorate, independent judiciary, borders and the ability to defend them, etc. None of which will matter of course if Jews compromise on the components of Jewish identity, including the religion of Judaism.
On the other hand, the commulative and dynamic Jewish national identity is greater than the sum of its parts, including the religion of Judaism. And there are lessons to learn from the current tension in American politics between the faith-based and reality-based factions of the electorate. And while Labor has its help from James Carville and Likud has its help from Arthur Finkelstein, we do ourselves no good living for the sake of others’ agendas. As the right characterizes itself as the sacred opposition to the liberal “profane,” policies advance contrary to empirical reality for the sake of short term gains for narrow private interests.
In as much as the problem of modernity is measured by its approach to “the Jewish question,” and to the extent that Zionism has arguably recovered much of haskala’s failed promise, Zionism’s ultimate success must be measured by the extent to which the Jewish people are reintegrated into the family of nations in general, and in the middle east region in particular. And to sustain a policy of fear and paralysis is to betray the achievement of Zionism to this point. Despite the fear-mongering of the G. Gordon Liddies and Pat Robertsons, the diplomatic foundation for regional cooperation is there to build on.

9 thoughts on “Start Running With A Better Crowd

  1. I don’t think we should aim so low as to “integrate into the family of nations” as our own nation. I concede that nations exist and that people belong to national groups. However, nation is a concept entirely independent from state. Nations offer identities to people in the same way that religions do, and therefore should be similarly separated from states.
    Occassionaly a state may need to define a common language for its citizens to easily communicate, but beyond that I firmly believe that nations should have nothing to do with states.

  2. I feel from where Isaac is coming and might wish Zionism too were “separated” from the state, but it’s not. Nevertheless, lest we fight over “who owns” or “who authoritatively represents” Zionism, i think it would be best to leave Zionism out of politics *and* religion, precisely because it sits right between and partakes of both.
    Issac is dead on suggesting that Zionism, if it is to be of any use at all, must be and do more than “integrate” Israel “into the family of nations.”
    The family of nations is disfunctional and Israel, like the united states, has it’s problems. I do think a revaluated and reinvogorated Zionism would be a good thing for Israel. I don’t know what to prescribe the other family members.
    Hopefully, all the nations will get a “disengagement” and re-engage, but Zionism can’t do it for the others.

  3. Bravo to Zionista for addressing this head-on!
    Of course, I disagree with a bit of your diagnosis… 😉
    You are quite correct to point to the remarkable and unique conflation of religious and political divides in Israel, and right in saying these are somehow symptomatic/related to the upheavals and new opportunities in Jewish identity.
    But… it is also clear that secular Zionism has run out of steam. The debacle of Oslo – to those of us who saw it all coming – is the story of a people with all the means to defend itself, all the trappings of sovereignty – but neither the narrative nor the will to defend itself against the false, recently minted ‘national identity’ of a particularly bloodthirsty enemy.
    Those of us who saw it coming were not prophets – but we DID have sufficient connection to the past 3000 years of Judaism to not question the validity of our own presence, in our own country. Our freedom from the assimilationist dream of being liked, of fitting in – that is what allowed us to see the geopolitical reality clearly, and not be taken in by the secular messianism of Oslo – in which visions of “the New Middle East” and an Israeli “the State of all its citizens” scrubbed clean of Judaism replaced the previous generations slogans about “being a Jew in your tent, and a Man in public” and being “a Nation like all other Nations”.
    So there is the explanation of why the religious and political divides match up so clearly: those who embrace their identity find the will to defend themselves – and those who are desparate to jump out of their skin, will be afraid of their own shadow, afraid to wield the just force of their own sovereignty.
    If I read you correctly, you have the guts to say that we have to get back to some connection between Israeliness and our Jewish roots. I couldn’t agree more – and I congratulate you for saying so.

  4. Thanks for the comments, Isaac and mason. Reintegration is more a measure of Zionism’s ultimate success, restoring Jewry to its only real homeland with all the national dignity any people deserves, not as much of an end in itself. As a stateless nation, Jews were obviously more vulnerable in a most existential sense than as keepers of a viable state.
    With the establishment of Israel, and a proverbial seat at the table of the family of nations, Jewry not only participates more fully in the process of human civilization (ie, in the areas of international law, economic globalization, insitutional research, etc.), but is more firmly in control of the agenda of our own national self-determination (for good or ill).
    The present challenge for Zionism appears to be to assert that socioeconomic and cultural legitimacy which the state has established politically.

  5. Thanks to you too, Ben David. Unfortunately, we must have been writing simultaneously and now I’m running out of time. Keynahora, I’ll reply in the morning….

  6. Am I missing something?
    Sorry, I don’t buy into the ‘joining the family of nations’ crap.
    No other country I know has has a clause in its founding document stressing to become accepted by the world into the ‘family of nations’ – whatever that means. In 1948, several countries were founded. Can someone tell me how many others were worried about legitimacy?
    “Zionism’s ultimate success must be measured by the extent to which the Jewish people are reintegrated into the family of nations in general”
    imo, NO.
    Zionism’s ultimate success must be measured by the extent to which the Jewish people are able to become a self-sustaining entity, without the need for foreign aid or permission from a certain superpower who we can do business with and what we can sell.
    Zionism’s ultimate success must be measured by the extent to which the Jewish people abandon the diaspora, return to our land, and returning to ‘judaism’ rather than wanting to emulate and assimilate itself with the rest of the world.

  7. gotta agree with Josh.
    Formulations like “place among the nations” and “A nation like all others” point directly to the core problem with secular Zionism: for all its proud talk of Jewish independence and self-determination, its still burdened with the externalized, dependent, diaspora mindset.
    No other sovereign nation worries about acceptance in this way. They just ARE – and the rest of the world just has to get used to it.
    The “nation among the nations” trope retains the galut notion of living on the sufferance of others, of needing permission from others to take up space on earth. It’s no accident that these slogans come from the same camp that enacted – and still seeks to enact – a systematic obliteration of the Jewish character of the State and its people. They are both expressions of a marginalized diaspora Jew’s dream of assimilation and acceptance.
    This attitude obviously undercuts any healthy nationalism. Here is the central riddle of secular Zionism: if progress means one has to erase everything that makes one unique to be “acceptable”, renounce all national particularity and destiny to be “a nation like any other nation” – why build a nation? Why not just assimilate into the already existing “family of nations”?
    So it’s also no accident that the vast majority of Israeli emigres come from this camp.
    And it’s also no accident that this camp is focused more on the rights of the Palestinians than it is on their brutality – whene you’ve made your national self-esteem conditional, when you’ve cut yourself off from your own cultural roots, you no longer can assert your own authentic right to be. Everyone – even the most bloodthirsty people whose national identity is a laughable pack of lies – everyone is more authentic than you. Your claim to take up space on earth must come after everyone else’s.
    This is the galut mentality – unalloyed and unchanged by the Israeli experience, uncoiling from the heart of secular Zionism.

  8. Ben-David: “But… it is also clear that secular Zionism has run out of steam.”
    Such a statement is as unrealistic as any presumptions of a secular triumph over religious Zionism. Zionism has always been a diverse movement of often conflicting agendas, and we have no reason to believe that Israel’s future won’t proceed likewise.
    Palestinian nationalism has served as historical subterfuge for the Arab establishment’s radical rejection of Israel. And it is likely that the wider Arab-Muslim establishment’s demonization of Israel will not suddenly disappear with the emergence of an independent Palestine alongside a secure Israel. But knowing any of this still fails to support impractical notions that Palestinians could either be wholly expelled from the territories or enfranchised into Israeli society with Israel’s national character intact. Anything short of the poltical divorce between Jews and Arabs in the former British Mandate is wishful thinking.
    Ben-David (cont’d): “Here is the central riddle of secular Zionism: if progress means one has to erase everything that makes one unique to be ‘acceptable’, renounce all national particularity and destiny to be “a nation like any other nation” – why build a nation?”
    “Acceptability” is a strawman. Reducing the contrast between the secular and sectarian to a manichean zero-sum conflict is almost as futile as it is unrealistic. Shimon Rawidowicz addressed the secular-religious contrast very early on in Israel’s history: “[W]ill the terrestial Land of Israel in the form of the partitioned State be able and have the will to serve the Jewish continuity as the heavenly Land of Israel has done for centuries, even without a great Jewish settlement? And if not, must not the basis of our continuity be fundamentally revised?”
    There are aspects of statecraft that religious perspectives by their nature are not equipped to deal with. For example, what do we do about El Al when the rabbinate closes Ben Gurion for Shabbes?

  9. yeah…
    i’m not interested in the “triumph” or denegration of either secular or religious Zionism and (as it has aleady been said) i’d hope a revaluated Zionism could emerge from all secular and religious “sides.” But so long as political and religious interests would use the field for ongoing turf wars the effort would largely be a waste.
    Israel as a society, it seems to me, needs an inter-communal dissengagemet more than the nation needs one with the palastinians. Rather than seeing the upcoming Gaza Strip withdrawl as cause for further division or reason for delay in a new Zionist project, i think this could be a great opportunity for Israel to pull together.
    am i nuts?

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