Saturday, July 31, 2004

In my very first post, I mentioned that I have a somewhat vexed attitude towards Zionism. I never explained what I meant by that and now is as good a time as any to pay that debt. First, I'll say what I didn't mean by that. I was not referring to Agudah/Mizrachi debates which are now utterly passe and probably as boring to you as they are to me. I also certainly didn't mean that I have doubts about the desirability or value of living in Israel: it's clear to me that this is where the cutting edge of Jewish history is located now and I can't understand why anyone who cares about that and has the opportunity to be part of it (I know there are those who can't for a variety of reasons) would not choose to be here. I have never regretted making my life here and I love every minute here (OK, not the annual car inspection when I get all flustered and feel like a clueless white guy).

I was referring to the fact that Zionism, as it is manifest in the political, economic and social fabric of the country, is weighted with some seriously diseased cultural baggage. In particular, it suffers from what Thomas Sowell calls "the vision of the annointed". As Sowell explains in other works, it is a curious fact that, by and large, the same people support pacifism, judicial activism, environmental legislation, abortion, and other "left-wing" causes. In fact, it is only because political views cluster this way that it's even meaningful to talk about left and right political views. The explanation for this correlation is that the cluster of positions identified as left-wing share a single feature: the belief that social problems can be solved by a right-thinking cadre of educated elite, if only the bone-headed masses would give them a chance. The contrary positions typically identified as right-wing share an underlying belief that most social problems are not solvable but rather must be "managed" and that the best methods for managing them evolve over generations. This is only possible in an atmosphere of humility, moderation and patience in which experience -- and the traditions in which it is manifested -- are respected.

Zionism incorporates all the ugliest aspects of left-wing thinking. It is rooted in elitist snobbery. In fact, Zionism was directed primarily against the conservative streak in Judaism. The traditional Jew, subservient to halachah and waiting patiently for Mashiach, was to be replaced with the worldly, unsentimental, self-reliant Jew. The Jewish People, distinctive in their beliefs and habits, anomalous in their statelessness, would become a people like all others and take their place among the nations. Their leaders would practice the arts of statecraft and diplomacy and mingle as equals among other world leaders. Their elite would engineer, through the efforts of their own intellects, solutions to the pressing problems of the State.

If the purpose of Zionism is the sustaining of a viable democratic Jewish state, Zionism's snobbery threatens all three aspects: viable, democratic, Jewish. Let's see how.

Jewish – To the new worldly Jews produced by the Zionist revolution, traditional Judaism and those who wish to maintain it in all its old-fashioned glory are something like the nutty old aunt in the attic. She needs to be fed until she dies of natural causes; in fact, she needs to be well-fed so that she doesn't come down and make a scene in front of the company. On special occasions she can be trotted out in ceremonial garb. She is expected to shut up and be grateful for anything she gets. The result has been that Israeli culture is not rooted in any cultural tradition, even one against which it might define itself. The national debate on almost every issue – abortion, pornography, blue laws, etc. – has been impoverished because whatever view traditional Jews are aligned with is simply dismissed as so much shouting from the attic. Modern Israeli culture has neglected the family heirlooms that the nutty old aunt has been hoarding in the attic in favor of tchatchkes picked up at the five and dime.

Viable – I've blogged this before but here goes again. Those for whom a central element of the Zionist revolution is the chance for Jews to practice diplomacy just like everybody else must take it as axiomatic that Israel's problems are just like everybody else's. If Israel is besieged by enemies threatening to drive it into the sea, that must be the result of some border dispute, perhaps some colossal misunderstanding that caused our proud neighbors to lose face. Whatever the problem is, it surely must be amenable to a solution requiring precisely the diplomatic tools our elite now possess. The possibility that hundreds of millions of people want us dead because we are Jews is simply incomprehensible to those for whom it is an article of faith that statehood has ended the anomalous status of the Jew. This article of faith, because so many remain in its grip and because it is wrong, now threatens our very existence. For over a decade, the centerpiece of our foreign policy has been to make, or seek to make, diplomatic concessions that weaken our defense posture for the sole purpose of proving to ourselves and to others that this false article of faith is in fact true, that we really are just like everybody else, that we are hated only for the usual reasons.

Democratic – If the purpose of the State is, as the ideology of revolutionary Zionism would have it, to provide the Jewish people with a framework in which to solve problems rather than to merely manage them, there are those who won't wait patiently for the unwashed masses to evolve solutions. They prefer an elite with the intellect and vision to create the policies that will improve the human condition. A centralized economy and a proactive judiciary place the reins of power firmly in the hands of those who will use it best. It is precisely this belief which threatens Israeli democracy. Power has been siphoned away from elected representatives and given to self-appointing elites who know better. Israel's Supreme Court judges, unique among those in the history of the free world, are appointed by a committee including a plurality of sitting judges, the protocols of which are kept secret by law. As a result of the self-replication this system encourages, the Supreme Court is a largely homogeneous body which serves as a bulwark against the elected representatives of the masses. When those involved have represented interests inimical to the court's milieu, the courts have capriciously over-ruled decisions by both the Knesset and the executive branch.

In the U.S. the fact that the policies of the left are determined by over-indulged elitists is disguised by the conspicuous presence on the left of the whole panoply of "victims" whose causes the left claims to champion. In Israel this is not the case. The left here consists overwhelmingly of out-and-out snobs: old-line, Ashkenazi, secular elitists who think they inherited the country from their zeides (which in fact they did). The victims whose causes the left champions here are only those who might be willing to be patronized (Viki Knafo but not Shas, Arabs but not Haredim), never those who might threaten the left's hegemony over everything you don't need votes for.

So if I hate Zionism so much, why do I love Israel so much? Oh, come off it -- that's a silly question.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post. Sowell is great.
But get to the *really* good stuff - let's hear your views on Religious Zionism!

R Brand

2:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post.
This explains my ambivalence towards Israel and growing despair for the future of a "Jewish Israel". I just don't see how things can change and (at my most cynical moments) feel that hashem has chosen to hide a lot of Jewish problems behind the Arab problem...

10:31 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Don't be ambivalent. Be angry and try to do something about it.


11:26 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home