Giving up normalcy
Israel need not be a "normal" state, because that would in effect mean abandoning Jewish values. So said Dennis Ross recently. According to Ross, Israel and the Jewish people have a special role. Both must offer the world a sublime moral model, as befits the people of the prophets.
Israel need not be a "normal" state, because that would in effect mean abandoning Jewish values. So said Dennis Ross recently. According to Ross - the chairman of the board of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute set up by the Jewish Agency, and also the head of a Middle East research institute in Washington - Israel and the Jewish people have a special role. Both must offer the world a sublime moral model, as befits the people of the prophets, and thereby "repair" the distress caused by globalization.
Ross, who spent many hours in Israeli-Arab negotiations as an envoy for the first Bush and Clinton administrations, emphasizes that the dangerous new anti-Semitism is largely connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And that, he says, is an example of the sense of joint destiny shared by Israel and the Jewish world.
Thus, with a few off-the-cuff remarks on the situation in our region made during an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, the diplomat so versed in cautious statements effectively rejected the ideals at the heart of the Zionist ethos. The desire to escape the "Jewish fate" was always at the foundation of the idea proposed by Zionism's founding fathers, from both left and right.
As opposed to Ross, they longed for the normalization of Jewish existence. Theodor Herzl believed that the state of Israel would eliminate the problem of anti-Semitism, or at least neutralize it, and Zionist leaders, particularly those from the socialist movements, wanted to create a "new Jew" who would be the antithesis of the Diaspora Jew - who had no connection to the land and was not involved in productive labor. Author Arthur Koestler, who swung between Communism and Zionism between the two World Wars, claimed that he became a communist because he hated the poor and he became a Zionist because he hated the Jew. The rightist Zionist movements also regarded an independent state, with an army and national pride, as the prescription for normal life, "like that of all the nations."
The political solutions that have lately been emerging only highlight the Jews' abnormal situation in the region. It is impossible to escape the conclusion that the disengagement plan and the separation fence, no matter what route is chosen, emphasize the inability to achieve the normalization of Jewish existence in the region. As opposed to the atmosphere that prevailed after the Oslo Accords, now even hardline leftists speak of the need for separation and disengagement from the territories and reject dreams of integration in the region and a new Middle East.
That does not mean that we have returned to the ghetto, or that there is no difference between a sovereign state and life in the Diaspora. However, there is recognition now of two basic facts that Zionism did not always recognize in the past. The first is that anti-Semitism is a permanent condition of Jewish existence, and the state of Israel not only did not solve the problem, but became a new source of hatred for Jews. The second is connected to the enormous difference between the other regimes of the Middle East and Israel. As long as we are surrounded by dictatorships characterized by religious fundamentalism and the absence of civil and human rights, we will find it difficult or even impossible to integrate here. Israel's ambition to contribute to regional development and advancement is perceived in the Arab world as Jewish patronization and only sparks the most extreme anti-Semitic imagery. These facts are difficult to change, and they dictate an abnormal agenda for us in the Middle East, contrary to the hopes of Zionism's founding fathers.
The challenge of "tikkun olam" (repairing the world) and the prophetic morality mentioned by Dennis Ross could evoke a cynical Israeli response. It highlights the gaps between what Israelis discuss and what Diaspora Jewry discusses. It is difficult, in the Israeli pressure cooker, to take into account the wishes of those Jews around the world who want us to continue filling, for them as well, the mission of "a light unto the nations." Ross, like other Jews in the U.S. administration, was often attacked in the Arab press, and his sympathy for Israel was used as proof of disproportionate Jewish influence over American policy. When he presented his report on the state of the Jewish people, Ross mentioned his past involvement in the peace process and said that he does not see a contradiction between his diplomatic role and his pride in being Jewish or his concern about Jewish existence in the world and in Israel. That sincere and straightforward answer also constitutes an example of the ways in which the Jewish people's existence is abnormal.
Dr. Beker was director-general of the World Jewish Congress.