The Magazine

The Collapse of Zionism

May 29, 2000, Vol. 5, No. 35 • By CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Hazony is the young head of the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem think-tank that publishes the intellectual journal Azure. He's also a leading Israeli neo-conservative (an admittedly small group), and he begins his book with a review of those voices in high Israeli culture -- writers, artists, philosophers -- that question the entire Zionist enterprise. He then offers a history of Zionism, probing into the great divisions between the followers of Theodore Herzl and those who opposed the idea of an exclusively Jewish state. In the last part of The Jewish State, Hazony tries to trace the influence of these early opponents on contemporary "post-Zionism."

The central contention of post-Zionism is that the idea of a Jewish state -- with its unique calendar, flag, anthems, rhythms, ethos, and history -- is atavistic, a throwback to the romantic nationalism of the nineteenth century that begat, among other things, fascism and Nazism. In the modern world of the Internet, the global economy, European integration, and growing transnational interdependence, this ethnic particularism is hopelessly retrograde. The advanced peoples of the West are surrendering sovereignty. Israel should, too.

There is something wildly out of place about this idea. This is all well and good for Liechtenstein. Unfortunately, however, the neighborhood in which Israel finds itself shows no sign of giving up nationalism, particularism, or religious fanaticism to join the global bandwagon. No matter. The post-Zionists are morally offended and aesthetically appalled by the grubbiness of their neighborhood and the brutal provincialism of their compatriots. One leading Israeli poet, Dalia Rabikovitch, parodies the longing for the Return in early Zionist poetry with this twist on the twenty-third psalm:
As for me,
He maketh me lie down in green pastures
In New Zealand. . . .
Truehearted people herd sheep there,
On Sundays they go to church
In their quiet clothes.
No point in hiding it any longer:
We're an experiment that didn't turn out well,
A plan that went wrong,
Tied up with too much murderousness.

Aesthetic revulsion is compounded by a profound moral guilt about the Israeli experiment. In The Jewish State, Hazony highlights how much Israeli cultural production focuses on the original sin of Israel's founding and how the "new historians" consciously subvert traditional Zionist history with a version that places blame for the suffering and dispossession of Palestinians on Jewish aggression, terror, and hunger for power.

But the new historians are hardly content with exposing original sin. They insist on the view that Israel has lived in sin ever since. Take, for example, the Six-Day War. If ever there was a just war, a war of self-defense, it was Israel's war of June 1967 when its existence was threatened -- indeed, its eradication promised -- by the ring of states led by Egypt. President Nasser ordered U.N. troops out of the Sinai, where they had been acting as a buffer to guarantee Israel's security after its withdrawal from the Sinai in 1957. He blockaded the Straits of Tiran, cutting off Israel's southern access to the sea -- an internationally recognized act of war. He massed a hundred thousand troops, concluded defense pacts with Jordan and Syria, and waited -- either for war, or for Israel to collapse under the weight of mobilization. (A country with a very small standing army cannot function when its entire male population is at the front.) Israel struck on June 5 and won the war.

Now, observe how this is portrayed in the modern ninth-grade history textbook issued by the Ministry of Education. There's no mention of the closing of the Straits of Tiran. No mention of the blockade. No mention of the expulsion of the U.N. troops from the Sinai. No mention of the military pacts among the countries ringing Israel. What single military event is mentioned as precursor to the war? Israel shooting down some Syrian jets on the northern border in May.

The textbook is full of other such travesties. The previous textbook had a map of Israel at the time of the War of Independence with arrows marking the invasion routes of the five Arab countries that attacked the infant state. In the new textbook, the map has no arrows coming in, just arrows going out representing Palestinians fleeing the country.

Another striking omission is any mention of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. This might seem merely odd, unless one understands that anti-nationalist intellectuals deplore the glorification of that World War II uprising as a fetishistic celebration of the Jew as fighter, and thus symbolic reinforcement of Israeli militarism.