On this page, we present essays, profound or timelyculled from the CLAL literary archive. CLAL faculty members wrote many of the articles that appear here, past and present. Many were written by others and originally appeared in the pages of Sh'ma journal of Jewish responsibility, which was founded by Eugene Borowitz in 1970 and published by CLAL (and edited by Nina Cardin) from 1994-1998.
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(from Shma 13/252, April 15, 1983)
The End of Zionist Ideology?
By Mitchell Cohen
"Tell me, your honor, how am I to understand this, that you write about `light, light, light' while I feel the dark in every part of my soul?" said Yosef Hayim Brenner to Rav Kook.
Zionists dismayed by the direction of Israel in the Begin era, it is time for some hard
thinking and tough questions. Even apart from
its manifestations in Israeli-Arab relations, there is a profound malaise within Zionism
-- a malaise with roots deeper than the fortunes and policies of the current government in
Jerusalem. To borrow a phrase from Hannah Arendt, Zionism no longer thinks about what it
is doing. It congratulates itself incessantly
for its many (and very real) accomplish-ments. It
does not try to understand its own limits and possibilities in today's world and prefers
to rely on old lifeless formulae and an elaborate institutional network to safeguard its
future, pretending that this institutional network is a popular movement of the Jewish
people. For Zionism to survive as something
with value, it must begin an internal dialogue unafraid of the conclusions that might be
reached. It must think itself.
Historical movements neither appear nor sustain themselves ex nihilo. Conditions, generally of conflict, provide the soil for their growth. In the golden age of Zionist thought (roughly the half century after 1881), real conditions gave the impetus to political ideas. Self-scrutiny of the Jewish people was the essence of Zionism. Zionism attempted to think about the condition of the Diaspora and to propose an alternative. Thus as long as there is a Diaspora, the raison d'etre of Zionism exists.
Current Zionism Is Contentless
existence of a raison d'etre, however, does not
guarantee the continued existence of a movement. By
and large, post-state Zionism is an uncritical Zionism, a non-thinking Zionism with
nothing to say to Diaspora Jews about their own
lives; we have instead an Israeli nationalism on one hand, and a support movement in the Golah (exile) for the Jewish state on the other. This is an easy Zionism, especially for American
Jews, because it has no need to pose difficult Zionist
questions about the nature of life in the Golah. This contentless Zionism permits fixation on the formal (though, of course, unquestionably
necessary) aspect of Zionism, the State qua State. Questions about means and ends, indeed the very
effort to define ends, are disparaged as "ideological bickering," leftovers from
another age and another continent. After all,
it is better to be "pragmatic" like good Americans.
aspect of American political culture is a self-congratulatory enthusiasm for being
"non-ideological." This was
crystallized in the "End of Ideology" thesis propounded by various social and
political scientists in the 1950s. Briefly
(and broadly) the assertion was that the end of ideology was upon us because the advanced
West could resolve all major problems within the existing systems, thus allowing everybody
to be happily integrated. Hence if we can
properly manipulate the means (e.g., the American political and social systems), we need
ask no real questions about political and social ends.
In this technocratic outlook, the means became the end; as Alasdair
MacIntyre has pointed out, the "End of Ideology" argument was an ideology
itself. We add: an ideology of the status quo
masquerading as pragmatism.
For the American Golah, where Zionism as a critique of Jewish reality was never taken too seriously, a similar end of Zionist ideology poses no problem. Indeed, it was Zionist ideology that was the problem. What better exemplifies this than Brandeis' famous rationalization that to be better Americans we have to be better Jews and to be better Jews we have to be Zionists. If Zionism is a critique of galut (exile) reality, it is self-evident that it makes American identity problematic.
Relationship Between Means And Ends
Mainstream American Zionism has always been that of Brandeis; it speaks of the State which American Zionists support, but not of the relations between means and ends. Means and ends may be conceptually distinguished, but are in reality always mutually determining. Their interrelation was at the heart of the division between left and right within Zionism. Jabotinsky's attack on the rising power of the Zionist Socialists in the 1920s and 1930s was based on a statist vision of nationalism, the goal of Zionism was a state, pure and simple. The national endeavor ought not to be "polluted" by foreign, divisive elements such as socialism and the question of social classes. "In Zionism and in Palestine," he wrote in 1931, "you are but a puppet dangling from a wire and playing a prescribed part, and the hand that pulls that wire is called the State in building."
Such a formulation, of course, begs the question of what a state is. A technical means of protection and organization? A tool of oppression? An arena for the expression of various forms of life? Are the institutions and tools of a state, e.g., government, army, police, embodiments of human realization?
Jabotinsky reified the State; he made it a thing unto itself, the be-all and end-all. Hence the Labor Zionist reply to Jabotinsky, articulated in particular by Ben Gurion at the time, was that means and ends could not be separated; any national movement, including Zionism, could be good or bad depending on the social reality it creates.
If social vision is subordinated, the means, however, become the be-all and end-all. And Zionism becomes an ideology of statism whose focus is the Jewish State rather than the liberation of the Jewish people. In short, it becomes an ideology of means masquerading as a pragmatic nationalism. Ironically, Ben Gurion himself came to embrace something like this -- it might be argued that in this regard he became his opposite, Jabotinsky. In pursuing his policy of "mamlakhtiyut" ("statism" or "etatism") as Prime Minister, Ben Gurion sought to subordinate all institutions, including those of the Labor movement (the kibbutzim, the Histadrut) to the State and its exigencies. Statism, colored with a foggy messianism, replaced socialism in his political vocabulary, and while much of the Labor leadership still spoke of socialism, it increasingly became statist as well. Israel may be the only historical example of a socialist movement nationalizing its own institutions and, by this, undermining itself.
For The Sake Of Coalition
for instance, the question of education. During
the Mandate, labor, religious and general Zionists each maintained their own school
systems. Mamlakhtiyut dictated one, state-run
system; but for the sake of his coalition with the religious parties, Ben Gurion satisfied
himself with merging only the general and labor systems and continuing a separate
religious one. In 1953, the year before the
merger, 43.4 % of Israeli students attended the labor schools as opposed to 19.1 % in the
religious and 27.1 % in the general "trends" (as they were called). In other words, Labor yielded a critical means by
which to socialize young Israelis into its value system.
No doubt many in Mapai thought that their dominance in the government would
guarantee the infusion of Labor ideals in national education. In retrospect, we can see how wrong they were.
Indeed, three decades later the Zionist right wing, long the apostles of fetishizing the state, came to power and gave their coalition partner, the National Religious Party, the portfolio for Education and Culture. Zvulun Hammer, a religious and not a pure nationalist, has sought, albeit with caution, to enhance the religious content of the curriculum of the secular state schools which he oversees along with the religious ones. Labor, in the meanwhile, is dominated by statist technocrats and finds itself not only in opposition, but bewildered and unsure of its own vision and goals.
The State Has Become An End In Itself
Israeli and American Zionisms have met where the means become all and ends ideology are negated. What this ultimately signifies is the triumph of right wing Zionism a triumph, if the above analysis is correct, prepared by the Labor Zionists. With this triumph the State qua State becomes an object of worship, nationalism runs rampant, and there is no place for a critical Zionism. The promotion of aliyah today exemplifies what this implies: how often are American Jews told to move to Israel because it is good for the State (i.e., American Jews are a means to the end of the State) rather than because aliyah responds to dilemmas in their own lives (in which case, the State is a means, and only a means, for the well-being of the Jewish people)? The two approaches represent the difference between a statist Zionism and a humanist Zionism.
Haam once wrote an essay entitled Anticipations and Survivals in which
he tells us that in each age there exist beliefs that are out of step with their times,
hidden in watertight compartments in the minds of a few, with no practical
effect. These are survivals
lacking the conditions which originally nurtured them, and their contemporary appearance
of life is illusory: it is no real life
of motion and activity, but the passive life of an old man whose moisture is gone
and his natural force abated.
Alongside survivals there are anticipations ideas yet in their youth, alive (like survivals) in a world that doesnt understand them. Writing in 1892, Ahad Haam saw the Return to Zion as a survival which, given the right developments, could flourish as new life, and become as a soul to a body. For there is hope for both anticipations and survivals, he insisted, as long as they have a breath in them.
Zionism Is Nearly Lifeless
The Zionist world today is composed of bodies without souls, institutions with red tape in their veins; their appearance of life is illusory as demonstrated by the surreal world of the Zionist Congress held this past December. (How many delegates returned to the Golah complaining that there was too much politics at the Congress? Better to be pragmatic.)
A vibrant, critical Zionism is but a survival today, somewhere in watertight compartments in the minds of a few. Shall it suffocate or break out and breathe? Here then is one task for thinking Zionists: an intellectual guerrilla war against the Zionism of today. Before Zionisms future lies the question of finding a form of itself relevant to the conditions of the times. In the era of Beginesque triumphalism this is to ask: can the survival become an anticipation, too an old-new soul giving rebirth to a decaying body?
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