"The End of Ashkenazi Hegemony" by Baruch Kimmerling, Keter Publishing House, 124 pages, NIS 68
Baruch Kimmerling's new book, which is being published in parallel to his important study, "The Invention and Decline of Israeliness: The State, Society and the Military" (University of California Press, forthcoming 2001), deals with the crumbling of the Israeli elite. Kimmerling calls this elite, in a variation of the American White Anglo-Saxon Protestant "WASP," by the wonderful name of "Ahusal" (plural: Ahusalim), an acronym of the Hebrew words for Ashkenaziness (ashkenaziut), secularism (hiloniut), socialism (sozialism) and nationalism (leumanut); the second and third syllables of the acronym are also the Hebrew word for "wiped out, eliminated."
For the final term in this acronym, Kimmerling prefers leumiut, which the "Megiddo Modern Dictionary, Hebrew-English," compiled by Dr. Reuven Sivan and Dr. Edward A. Levenston, defines as "nationalism (if a good thing)" because he is talking about Jews, while for him leumanut, which the Megiddo dictionary defines as "nationalism (if a bad thing), chauvinism," at best is applied to the Palestine Liberation Organization, and it is a pity to waste two separate categories on one and the same thing.
The characteristics designated in the acronym "Ahusal" are the ideological and cultural characteristics of the Israeli elite. Of course, it is possible to be a non-Ashkenazi and belong to it. (Novelist A.B. Yehoshua is the archetype of this effort.) It is possible to be religious and belong to it (Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg accumulated his great political capital with the help of this "ambiguity"). And of course, for many years now, it has been possible to be a nonsocialist (Meretz MK Amnon Rubinstein, Shinui MK Tommy Lapid) and belong to this camp.
Truth to tell, Kimmerling agrees that an Ahusal has long been a liberal and nowadays - especially since Haim Ramon, at the bidding of Yitzhak Rabin, broke up the Histadrut labor federation - a downright neoconservative.
Capitalizing on narcissism
Kimmerling's tract is being published in a series called "The Israelis," the origin, or the explanation for the success of which, is the crisis of the Ahusal hegemony. This is a profound crisis, which has gathered momentum during the past year to a nightmarish extent we had never imagined, that is - total war against the Palestinian struggle for national liberation. Within it, the increasing attempts by the "guardians of the walls" to explain this crisis in sociological, cartographic or economic terms elicit from them all the collaboration (as a "bad thing") that is inherent in the speaking human being.
During the past year, there has been a very strong tendency toward narcissistic concern with "ourselves": Indeed, some of our best-sellers are raking in the shekels from just this issue. The advantage of Kimmerling's discussion is that it attributes the end of the Ahusal hegemony to institutions created by the Ahusalim themselves. Above all, of course, there is the occupation and the expansion of colonization. It must not be forgotten: It was Shimon Peres, Yigal Allon and Moshe Dayan - each in turn and with the help of his own artful ploys - who began this horrible process.
Kimmerling describes the establishment of Gush Emunim as the most profound and serious crack in the Ahusal hegemony, despite the great symbolic closeness between the world of the Jewish settlers beyond the 1967 borders and the Ahusal world.
Kimmerling is not a leftist, as defined up until 1967 - that is, a member of the Labor Movement and the socialist camp. At some point, things underwent a change. A conservative historian like Yaakov Talmon is perceived as "a leftist" because the issue, since 1967, has been discussion of the occupation. In addition, here, on the pages of Ha'aretz, he published his prophecies that are being fulfilled day by day. And indeed, as Kimmerling notes, the identification between the social-democratic ruling party and the Zionist project has become not only a cultural or sentimental matter, but also a profound ideological one.
The world of the Labor Movement has never tolerated the perception of heterogeneity. The great effort that this movement invested in the homogenization of Israeli society has borne bitter fruit. Not only did revolt against this movement become the greatest reservoir of forces for the Israeli right: The ethos of the Labor Movement gave birth, almost from its beginning, to racist values.
Anita Shapira was the first historian to have pointed out the incarnations of the concept "Hebrew labor" and the contradictions between this concept and socialist values. What better illustration is there than proud young Jewish socialists overturning the carts of Palestinian peddlers in the streets of Jaffa in the 1930s? In this respect, the Gush Emunim bullies who run amok in the Hebron market saw themselves as the bearers of the torch that had been neglected by Ahusal youth.
Kimmerling sees the process of colonization, which started for him in 1973, as the breaking-point of the Labor Movement. From then on, public debate and political and symbolic organization revolved only around "territories or peace." This was the only yardstick for being leftist. And indeed, this act of Jewish settlement beyond the 1967 borders, which killed every chance of coming to an agreement on two states for two peoples, was carried out with the support of the Labor Movement, with one reservation: not to lose the Jewish majority in the State of Israel, whatever its new borders might be.
Thus, from the moment the Jewish majority increased (with the help of the mass immigration from the former Soviet Union) and the possibility of shutting the Palestinians into an enclave (the Oslo agreement) emerged, together with the disappearance of the Soviet Union as an element balancing American expansion, the doves in their masses flocked to the consensus led sometimes by the Labor Party and sometimes by the Likud - and always headed by an Ahusal.
Holding onto hegemony
Kimmerling correctly describes the alliances the Ahusalim formed from time to time. He is drawn to the description of social links (for example, the closeness between Gush Emunim and the Labor Movement.) To my mind, he does not discern the way these alliances, against the Palestinians, against the ultra-Orthodox, against the Jews with origins in the Muslim countries (Shas), combine to form a desperate battle by the Ahusal to preserve his hegemony.
It is enough to recall the strange battle over the appointment of a new chief of general staff: Shaul Mofaz versus Matan Vilnai, or the shock to "our people" when Moshe Katsav (and not Shimon Peres) was chosen to be president, to understand that the Ahusalim - whose control of the symbolic arena was not shaken at all - are refusing to leave the arena.
There are more examples, less amusing, and Kimmerling mentions them in passing. For example, the battle for the face of the Supreme Court. This was a prime Ahusal battle. In this battle, the Supreme Court won undeserved praise. Not only is its composition Ahusal in a provocative way, but the legal endeavors of its members before their sought-after appointment to the bench of the Supreme Court never included traversing the muddy paths outside the Jerusalem ivory tower. None of the justices has ever spent time, not even as an arraigning judge or as a criminal defender, with the huge non-Ahusal population, on whose imprisonment they deliberate as the highest court.
Moreover, with respect to constitutional matters regarding "the democratic tribe versus the nondemocratic tribe," the hands of the president of the Supreme Court tremble, we have been told, every time he has to recognize the rights of Mustafa Dirani and Abd al-Karim Obeid, who are being held without trial, to see a representative of the Red Cross, or to recognize the right of an Arab to live in a community where entry to Arabs is prohibited.
In contrast to Yonatan Shapira, who has written an excellent book on the Labor Movement, and to Ze'ev Sternhell, whose angry settling of accounts with the Labor Movement has never fully comprehended its settler nature, which is inherently anti-socialist, Kimmerling, in all his studies since his ground-breaking "Zionism and Territory" (1983), a book that was the start of what historian Benny Morris later called "the new historiography" - has understood the connection between the rule of the Ahusalim over lands and their rule over the state and what goes on around it.
It is important to mention that at present, very many Ahusalim (my friends and brothers, fellow-soldiers in the Nahal and fellow students at the university, lovers of Mozart and the Gevatron singers of songs from the good "old land of Israel") are "confused" to the point of distraction. The connection between the expansion of the territory of the state and the collapse of the Ahusalim is inevitable. You cannot run a democratic state for Jews, where there is so much antagonism, without creating ad hoc alliances in order to repel demands (territorial, social, economic) constantly.
Examples: In order to come to the Oslo agreement (without dealing at the moment with the ultimate aims of the agreement - control of water, roads and roadblocks), Yitzhak Rabin tried to create an alliance with the Arabs of Israel. This alliance ultimately cost him his life. At the other end of the spectrum, Rabin also forged an alliance with Shas. But Shas aroused great opposition on the part of a large segment of the Ahusalim.
Meretz, the most decidedly Ahusal party of all, even though it went along with Shas and Haim Ramon, made its "political capital" during the past eight years by attacking Shas and the ultra-Orthodox, "the worst enemies" of the Ahusalim, until the outbreak of the intifada.
Barak's Ahusal blindness
In this respect, former prime minister Ehud Barak's colossal failure as a political leader was evidence of Ahusal blindness. Barak was finished long before he went to Camp David. Not only did his arrogance make him forget the fact that he had been elected by a majority less homogenous than the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit and Yuli Tamir, but his attempt to enlist the "reserve soldier camp" with the help of incitement against the ultra-Orthodox ("One nation - one conscription") was a blind insistence on not understanding that the value system of "we all do reserve duty" no longer works and in any case is no stronger than the hostility of the non-Ahusal Jews to the ruling elite.
Therefore this alliance failed. One by one, Kimmerling enumerates the sequence of cracks that appeared in Ahusal rule: Gush Emunim, the ultra-Orthodox, the Mizrahi Jews who have their origins in the Muslim countries and Shas, the immigration from Russia, the deprived Arabs. All these groups were created by the Ahusalim, or more precisely, were shaped by the Ahusalim into dependents, potential voters in return for loyalty, and turned into forces that at one stage or another shook off the need to kiss the hand of the Ahusal.
However, for this reason Kimmerling is optimistic. He devotes a considerable portion of his book to an alternative proposal: Build a multicultural state, he says, with a new national anthem, a new flag, a professional army whose people will not be allowed to enter politics. Kimmerling is a true and honest liberal, skeptical about radical statements. We have had many bitter arguments by e-mail. I have never met anyone so optimistic.
These are bad times for critical thinking. Or so it seems, sometimes. If we look at all kinds of "leftists," who fill newspaper columns with writing against critical writing, we might think that something new is happening here. The truth is that critical thinking and writing have never been particularly well-liked in the republic of Hebrew letters, and "leftists" have always been found to snap at their heels.
There were years when this was done by people from Mapam, the left-wing labor party that eventually found its way into Meretz. And there were years when this was done by disciples of Moshe Sneh, who moved from the conservative general Zionist party during the course of his career to the Communist Party. Now this is being done by former "peace activists," some of whom are old enough to have been educated in Mapam or by Moshe Sneh, and some of whom were simply "leftists who finally saw the light."
In any case, the state, as an entity that is engaged day and night in defending its legitimacy, always appoints "guardians of the walls." This division of labor, of course, eliminates the concept "free will" from the halo of sanctity that surrounds them. But the 18th century has long been over.
Regarding bad times for criticism, Kimmerling's lucid book is a pinpoint of light in the darkness. The series "The Israelis," edited by Gideon Samet, got underway even before the second intifada began; this is the deepest retreat by what was once the "peace camp" (on condition that it is against Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu). Some of the publications in the series answer to the demands of the reading public for times of "exhaustion": lots of narcissistic stroking, an answer to the obsessive need to deal with "ourselves," "who we are," "what we are," "where we are going," "what we all have in common," bereavement, Germany or Zionism.
In this respect, the title of Kimmerling's book and its contents are in a destructive relationship with the series. The book makes its appearance in "The Israelis" series and trumpets: "What Israelis?" Kimmerling's neologism, "the Ahusalim," has an intrinsic connection to the relationship between this book and this series.
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