Back to the dark ages
Zionism's founding fathers (the realistic among them) did not claim that anti-Semitism would vanish with the establishment of the Jewish state. The success of the Zionist solution was not contingent on the death of anti-Semitism, that ancient, irrational, meta-historical curse. Rather, Zionism posited the return of the Jewish People, through a sovereign state, to history.
A Zionist might easily plummet into the depths of despair these days.
In France, a century after the Dreyfus Affair, anti-Semitism is back at center-stage, in the person of Jean Marie Le Pen. When Herzl, watching the persecution of Dreyfus, grasped the power of the irrationalism that lies at the core of anti-Semitism, he came up with a solution that was brilliant in its simplicity. The Jewish people must normalize its situation, he proposed, by creating a state of its own. Before his vision could come to fruition, the Holocaust proved him right.
Now, another 50 years later, the vision seems to be shattering before our eyes. Anti-Semitism is once again terrifying the European Jewish communities left over from the Holocaust. Worse yet, the Jewish state, which was supposed to provide the solution, serves as the cause, or at least the excuse, for the eruption of the new anti-Semitism (which is as dark and as irrational as the old). Moreover, the Jewish state itself is victim of an ugly, worldwide wave of that same ancient anti-Semitism.
And in the state, citizens are now informed that despite the recent military operation, defined as a success, they must expect a new wave of deadly terror in the streets of their cities. In the state that was supposed to normalize the lives of Jews, their lives are not normal at all. Nor are their expectations for the future normal. It can almost seem as though not Herzl's vision is what came true, but rather, Heaven forbid, the terrible prophecy from Deuteronomy 32, "The sword shall ravage without, and terror within."
But that description of the past Jewish century, true though it is in part, is hugely incomplete, because it does not take into account what we are doing to ourselves. Zionism's founding fathers (the realistic among them) did not claim that anti-Semitism would vanish with the establishment of the Jewish state. The success of the Zionist solution was not contingent on the death of anti-Semitism, that ancient, irrational, meta-historical curse. Rather, Zionism posited the return of the Jewish People, through a sovereign state, to history. Only thus, said classical Zionism, could the Jews escape their bitter condition as a persecuted minority, and "take their destiny into their own hands," just as other peoples, with their nation-states, take theirs.
The founding fathers' argument, which was valid and vindicated, was that a Jewish state, playing a role on the world stage, would force the world to deal with it according to those same strict and rational rules by which the "game of nations" is played. Anti-Semitism, the essence of irrationalism, cannot, and would not, have a decisive role in that game, where power and interests determine all.
And indeed, Israel's affairs of state were conducted on that basis during the early decades of its existence. The ancient hatred of Jews did not suddenly diminish when the state was declared. But what did change was the attitude of the international community to the Jewish community in Palestine, when it took up arms, absorbed immigrants, conducted foreign policy - and behaved like a normal, rational state.
There were those in the world who favored it, and those who did not, there were enemies and allies, and those who changed from enmity to amity and vice versa, all according to changing circumstances and interests. Anti-Semitism continued to exist, mostly on a low flame, among countries both friendly and hostile to Israel. It even had an influence, though mostly marginal. There were cases when foreign statesmen applied a sort of "affirmative action" towards Israel in order to "balance," or cover up, their own anti-Semitic tendencies. Israel, for its part, always knew how to benefit from that.
But it was not anti-Semitism that dictated the essence of the world's relationship with the Jewish state. In a most profound sense, that is one of most important meanings of the Zionist revolution. And it radiated to Jewish communities everywhere, enhancing their objective condition and strengthening their subjective view of themselves and their place in the world.
What went wrong, and now threatens to undermine that enormous Zionist accomplishment to the point of endangering the actual enterprise, is that the Jewish state broke the rules of the game. It ceased behaving as a rational state. The ideological hooliganism (in the original sense of the term birionut, from the tragic last days of the Second Temple), and the false messianism that now shape Israel's policies - Minister Effi Eitam is their ultimate personification - seek to drag the Jewish people outside of history, sending it reeling backward into the realms of the meta-historic. There, it is not a state's power - nor the limits of its power - that dictate its fate. Nor do strategy or diplomacy govern in those realms. Those are the realms of the irrational, of the supernatural, the miraculous, and the metaphysical; the realms of evil spirits, of hatred, fanaticism - and anti-Semitism. This is the world of Bashevis Singer. And that is where the post-Zionist, nationalist-religious camp wants to take the Jewish people.
With macabre timing, on the day that le Pen restored dark and irrational French anti-Semitism to its former glory, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, drunk with his victory over Jenin, proclaimed that he would never dismantle a single settlement. Not even the most isolated and indefensible of them. Nor would he ever discuss the subject in his government. Forever and ever, until eternity. Amen.
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