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Israelis Against Themselves, Chapter Three of THE JEWISH DIVIDE OVER ISRAEL: Accusers and Defenders (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2006).

  Edward Alexander

“Antisemitism directed at oneself was an original Jewish creation. I don’t know of

any other nation so flooded with self-criticism. Even after the Holocaust…harsh

comments were made by prominent Jews against the victims…. The Jewish ability

to internalize any critical and condemnatory remark and castigate themselves is

one of the marvels of human nature.… Day and night…that feeling produces

dread, sensitivity, self-criticism and sometimes self-destruction.”

—Aharon Appelfeld (New York Times Book Review, February 28, 1988)


In his essay of 1838 on Jeremy Bentham, J. S. Mill wrote that “speculative

philosophy, which to the superficial appears a thing so remote from the business

of life and the outward interests of men, is in reality the thing on earth

which most influences them, and in the long run overbears every other influence

save those which it must itself obey.” Of course Mill was not always

willing to wait for the long run and was often tempted by shortcuts whereby

speculative philosophers and other intellectuals could make their influence

felt upon government. Frightened by Tocqueville’s observations of American

democracy, Mill sought to prevent the “tyranny of the majority” by an elaborate

scheme of plural voting which would give everybody one vote but intellectuals

a larger number; when he awoke to the folly and danger of such a

scheme he switched his allegiance to proportional representation as a means of

allowing what he calls in On Liberty the wise and noble few to exercise their

due influence over the mindless majority.

By now we have had enough experience of the influence of intellectuals in

politics to be skeptical of Mill’s schemes. To look back over the major intellectual

journals of America in the years prior to and during the Second World

War—not only Trotskyist publications like New International or Dwight

Macdonald’s Politics, but the highbrow modernist and Marxist Partisan Review

is to be appalled by the spectacle of the finest minds of America vociferous

in opposition to prosecuting the war against Hitler, which in their view was

just a parochial struggle between two dying capitalist forces. The pacifism of

English intellectuals in the late thirties led George Orwell to declare that some

04Chapter3.pmd 33 1/4/2006, 3:48 PM

34 Jewish Divide Over Israel

ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals could believe them; and in one of his

Tribune columns of 1943 he said of the left-wing rumor in London that America

had entered the war only in order to crush a budding English socialist revolution

that “one has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe something like that.

No ordinary man could be such a fool.”

If we look at the influence of Israeli intellectuals upon Israeli policy in

recent decades, and especially during the Yitzhak Rabin/Shimon Peres and

Ehud Barak governments that prepared the Oslo Accords (and Intifada II), we

may conclude that Mill and Orwell were both right, Mill in stressing the remarkable

power of ideas, Orwell in insisting that such power often works evil,

not good.

Among the numerous misfortunes that have beset the Zionist enterprise

from its inception—the unyielding hardness of the land allegedly flowing with

milk and honey, the failure of the Jews of the Diaspora to move to Zion except

under duress, the constant burden of peril arising from Arab racism and imperialism—

was the premature birth of an intellectual class, especially a literary

intelligentsia. The quality of Israel’s intelligentsia may be a matter of dispute.

Gershom Scholem once remarked, mischievously, that talent goes where it is

needed, and in Israel it was needed far more urgently in the military than in the

universities, the literary community, the arts, and journalism. But the influence

of this intelligentsia is less open to dispute than its quality. When Shimon Peres

(who views himself as an intellectual) launched his ill-fated election campaign

of spring 1996 he surrounded himself with artists and intellectuals on the stage

of Tel Aviv’s Mann Auditorium.1 Three months earlier, he had listed as one of

the three future stars of the Labor Party the internationally famous novelist

Amos Oz, the same Amos Oz who was notorious among religiously observant

Jewish “settlers” for having referred to their organization Gush Emunim (Block

of the Faithful) in a speech of June 1989 in language generally reserved for

thieves and murderers: they were, he told a Peace Now gathering of about 20,00

people in Tel Aviv’s Malchei Yisrael Square, “a small sect, a messianic sect,

obtuse and cruel, [who] emerged a few years ago from a dark corner of Judaism,

and [are] threatening to... impose on us a wild and insane blood ritual... They

are guilty of crimes against humanity.” 2

Intellectuals in many countries have adopted the motto: “the other country,

right or wrong,” and worked mightily to undermine national confidence in

their country’s heritage, founding principles, raison d’être. But such intellectuals

do not usually arise within fifty years of their country’s founding, and in

no case except Israel have intellectuals cultivated their “alienation” in a country

whose “right to exist” is considered an acceptable subject of discussion

among otherwise respectable people and nations. As Midge Decter shrewdly

put it in May 1996, “A country only half a century old is not supposed to have

a full fledged accomplished literary intelligentsia... This is an extravagance

only an old and stable country should be allowed to indulge in.”2

04Chapter3.pmd 34 1/4/2006, 3:48 PM

Israelis Against Themselves 35

The seeds of trouble amongst intellectuals in Zion antedated the state itself.

On May Day 1936 the Labor Zionist leader Berl Katznelson asked, angrily:

Is there another people on earth whose sons are so emotionally and mentally twisted

that they consider everything their nation does despicable and hateful, while every

murder, rape and robbery committed by their enemies fills their hearts with admiration

and awe? As long as a Jewish child... can come to the Land of Israel, and here catch the

virus of self-hate... let not our conscience be still.3

But what for Katznelson was a sick aberration would later become the normal

condition among a substantial segment of Israeli intellectuals. A major

turning point came in 1967, when the doctors of Israel’s soul, a numerous

fraternity, concluded that in winning a defensive war which, if lost, would have

brought its destruction, Israel had bartered its soul for a piece of land. The Arab

nations, shrewdly sensing that Jews were far less capable of waging the war of

ideas than the war of planes and tanks, quickly transformed the rhetoric of their

opposition to Israel’s existence from the Right to the Left, from the aspiration to

“turn the Mediterranean red with Jewish blood” (the battle cry of the months

preceding the Six Day War) to the pretended search for a haven for the homeless.

This deliberate appeal to liberals, as Ruth Wisse has amply demonstrated,4

created legions of critics of the Jewish state, especially among devout believers

in the progressive improvement and increasing enlightenment of the human

race. Israeli intellectuals who were willing to express, especially in dramatic

hyperbole, criticism of their own country’s alleged racism, imperialism, and

religious fanaticism quickly became celebrities in the American press. They

were exalted by people like Anthony Lewis as courageous voices of dissent,

even though what they had joined was, of course, a community of consent.

But it was not until a decade later that the Israeli intelligentsia turned massively

against the state, against Zionism, against Judaism itself. For in 1977 the

Labor Party lost its twenty-nine-year-old ownership of government to people it

considered its cultural inferiors, people Meron Benvenisti described as follows:

“I remember traveling on a Haifa bus and looking around at my fellow

passengers with contempt and indifference—almost as lower forms of human

life.”5 Such hysteria (which burst forth again in May 1996 when Benjamin

Netanyahu won the election) now became the standard pose of the alienated

Israeli intellectual, and it was aggressively disseminated by American publications

such as the New York Times, ever eager for Israeli-accented confirmation

of its own views. Amos Oz, for example, took to the pages of the New York Times

Magazine during the Lebanon War to deplore the imminent demise of Israel’s

“soul”: “Israel could have become an exemplary state... a small-scale laboratory

for democratic socialism.” But that great hope, Oz lamented, was dashed

by the arrival of Holocaust refugees, various “anti-socialist” Zionists, “chauvinistic,

militaristic, and xenophobic” North African Jews, and so forth.6 (These

are essentially the reasons why it was not until Menachem Begin became prime

minister that the Ethiopian Jews could come to Israel.) By 1995 Oz was telling

04Chapter3.pmd 35 1/4/2006, 3:48 PM

36 Jewish Divide Over Israel

New York Times readers that supporters of the Likud party were accomplices of

Hamas.7 Even after spiritual brethren of Hamas massacred three thousand people

in the United States on September 11, 2001, Oz declared that the enemy was not

in any sense the radical Islamist or Arabic mentality but simply “fanaticism,”

and that in any case the most pressing matter he could think of was to give

“Palestinians their natural right to self-determination.” For good measure he

added the patently false assertion that “almost all [Muslims] are as shocked and

aggrieved [by the suicide bombings of America] as the rest of mankind.”8 Apparently

Oz had missed all those photos of Muslims round the world handing

out candy, ululating, dancing, and jubilating over dead Jews and dead Americans.

It was a remarkable performance, which made one wonder whether Oz gets

to write about politics because he is a novelist or gets his reputation as a novelist

because of his political views.

People like Benvenisti—sociologist, deputy mayor of Jerusalem until fired

by Teddy Kollek, and favorite authority on Israel for many years of the New

York Times and New York Review of Books—foreshadowed the boasting of the

intellectual spokesmen of later Labor governments that they were not only

post-Zionist but also post-Jewish in their thinking. Benvenisti, writing in 1987,

recalled proudly how “We would observe Yom Kippur by loading quantities of

food onto a raft and swimming out with it to an offshore islet in the Mediterranean,

and there we would while away the whole day feasting. It was a flagrant

demonstration of our rejection of religious and Diaspora values.”9

Anecdotal evidence of the increasingly shrill anti-Israelism (or worse) of

Israeli intellectuals is only too easy to amass. Some years ago the sculptor

Yigal Tumarkin stated that “When I see the black-coated haredim with the

children they spawn, I can understand the Holocaust.”10 Ze’ev Sternhell, Hebrew

University expert on fascism, proposed destroying the Jewish settlements

with IDF tanks as a means of boosting national morale.11 In 1969 the guru of

Labor Party intellectuals, the late Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, as Alvin

Rosenfeld observes elsewhere in this book, began to talk of the inevitable

“Nazification” of the Israeli nation and society. By the time of the Lebanon

War he had become an international celebrity because of his use of the epithet

“Judeo-Nazi” to describe the Israeli army. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990,

he outdid even himself by declaring (in words redolent of what Katznelson

had deplored in 1936): “Everything Israel has done, and I emphasize everything,

in the past 23 years is either evil stupidity or stupidly evil.”12 And in

1993 Leibowitz would be honored by the government of Yitzhak Rabin with

the Israel Prize.

In third place after Oz and Benvenisti among the resources of intellectual

insight into Israel’s soul frequently mined by Anthony Lewis, Thomas Friedman,

and like-minded journalists is David Grossman, the novelist. Grossman

established his credentials as an alienated intellectual commentator on the

state of his country’s mind in a book of 1988 called The Yellow Wind, an ac-

04Chapter3.pmd 36 1/4/2006, 3:48 PM

Israelis Against Themselves 37

count of his seven-week journey through the “West Bank,” a journey undertaken

in order to understand “how an entire nation like mine, an enlightened

nation by all accounts, is able to train itself to live as a conqueror without

making its own life wretched.”13 This is a complicated book, not without occasional

patches of honesty. But its true flavor can be suggested by two successive

chapters dealing with culture and books, especially religious ones.

Grossman first visits the Jewish settlement of Ofra, at which he arrives fully

armed with suspicion, hostility, and partisanship, a “wary stranger” among

people who remind him, he says, of nothing human, especially when they are

“in the season of their messianic heat” (52). In Ofra, Grossman does not want “to

let down his guard” and be “seduced” by the Sabbath “warmth” and “festivity”

of these wily Jews (34). Although most of his remarks to Arabs in conversation

recounted in The Yellow Wind are the perfunctory gestures of a straight man to

whom his interlocutors pay no serious attention, he angrily complains that the

Jewish settlers don’t listen to or “display a real interest” in him. He asks them to

“imagine themselves in their Arab neighbors’ places” (37) and is very much the

angry schoolmaster when they don’t act like compliant puppets or accept his

pretense that this act of sympathetic imagination is devoid of political meaning.

Neither are the settlers intellectually nimble enough to make the appropriate

reply to Grossman: “My dear fellow, we will imagine ourselves as Arabs if

you will imagine yourself as a Jew.” But Grossman has no intention of suspending

his own rhythms of existence long enough to penetrate the inner life of

these alien people: “What have I to do with them?” (48) His resentment is as

much cultural as political. He complains that the settlers have “little use for

culture,” speak bad Hebrew, indulge in “Old Diaspora type” humor, and own no

books, “with the exception of religious texts” (46). And these, far from mitigating

the barbarity of their owners, aggravate it. The final image of the Jews in

this long chapter is of “potential [!] terrorists now rocking over their books.”

(51) For Grossman, the conjectural terrorism of Jews is a far more grievous

matter than the actual terrorism of Arabs.

The following chapter also treats of culture and books, including religious

ones. Grossman has come to Bethlehem University, one of several universities

in the territories that have been punningly described as branches of PLO State.

Here Grossman, though he admits the school to be “a stronghold of the Democratic

Front for the Liberation of Palestine,” sees no terrorists rocking over

books, but rather idyllic scenes that remind him of “the pictures of Plato’s

school in Athens” (57). Bubbling with affection, eager to ascribe only the highest

motives, Grossman is now willing to forgive even readers of religious books.

He has not so much as a snort or a sneer for the Bethlehem English professor

who ascribes Arabs’ supreme sensitivity to lyric rhythm in English poetry to the

“rhythm of the Koran flow[ing] through their blood” (59). The author’s ability

to spot racism at a distance of twenty miles when he is among Jews slackens

when timeless racial categories are invoked in Bethlehem.

04Chapter3.pmd 37 1/4/2006, 3:48 PM

38 Jewish Divide Over Israel

When the Labor Party returned to power in 1992, so too did the Israeli

intellectuals and their disciples. People once (rather naively) casually referred

to as extremists moved to the centers of power in Israeli government and policy

formation. Dedi Zucker, who used to accuse Jewish “settlers” of drinking blood

on Passover, and Yossi Sarid, who once shocked Israelis by declaring that Holocaust

Memorial Day meant nothing to him, and Shulamit Aloni, whose statements

about religious Jews would probably have landed her in jail in European

countries that have laws against antisemitic provocation, all became cabinet

ministers or prominent spokesmen in the government of Rabin. Two previously

obscure professors laid the foundations for the embrace of Yasser Arafat, one of

the major war criminals of the twentieth century, responsible for the murder of

more Jews than anyone since Hitler and Stalin. The Oslo process put the PLO

well on the way to an independent Palestinian state, had Arafat desired one (a

conjectural state, it should be added, that probably commands the allegiance of

more Israeli intellectuals than does the actual Jewish one). Amos Oz and A. B.

Yehoshua and David Grossman were delighted. Oz announced in 1993 that

“death shall be no more,” and Grossman assured Anthony Lewis that Israel had

finally given up its “instinctive suspicion,” and that although “we have the

worst terrorism,” “we are making peace.”14 Benvenisti proved harder to satisfy:

in 1995, he published a book called Intimate Enemies, the ads for which carried

glowing endorsements from Thomas Friedman and Professor Ian Lustick, in

which he proposed dissolution of the State of Israel.

Only a few figures within Israel’s cultural establishment expressed dismay at

what was happening. The philosopher Eliezer Schweid warned that a nation

which starts by abandoning its cultural memories ends by abandoning its physical

existence.15 Amos Perlmutter analyzed the “post-Zionism” of Israeli academics

as an all-out attack on the validity of the state.16 A still more notable

exception to the general euphoria of this class was Aharon Megged. In his

Ha’aretz essay of June 1994 called “The Israeli Suicide Drive” this long-time

supporter of the Labor Party connected the Rabin government’s record of endless

unreciprocated concessions (to a PLO that had not even cancelled its Charter

calling for Israel’s destruction) to the self-destructiveness that had long

before infected Israel’s intellectual classes. Megged argued that since 1967 the

Israeli intelligentsia had more and more come “to regard religious, cultural, and

emotional affinity to the land... with sheer contempt”; and he observed that the

equation of Israelis with Nazis had become an article of faith for the otherwise

faithless learned classes. He also shrewdly remarked on the methods by which

anti-Zionist Israeli intellectuals disseminated their message and reputations.

Writers like Benny Morris, Ilan Pappe, and Baruch Kimmerling “mostly publish

first in English to gain the praise of the West’s ‘justice seekers.’ Their works

are then quickly translated into Arabic and displayed in Damascus, Cairo and

Tunis. Their conclusion is almost uniform: that in practice Zionism amounts to

an evil, colonialist conspiracy... “17

04Chapter3.pmd 38 1/4/2006, 3:48 PM

Israelis Against Themselves 39

The minds of the majority of those who carried on the Oslo Process of the

Israeli government from 1993 to 1996 were formed by the writers, artists, and

publicists whom Megged excoriated. Although Shimon Peres’ utterances about

the endless war for independence which his country has been forced to wage

often seemed to come from a man who had taken leave of the actual world, they

were rooted in the “post-Zionist,” post-Jewish, and universalist assumptions of

the Israeli intelligentsia. Just as they were contemptuous of any tie with the

Land of Israel, so he repeatedly alleged that land plays no part in Judaism or

even in the Jewish political philosophy that names itself after a specific mountain

called Zion. Like the Israeli intelligentsia, he accused Israel’s religious

Jews of an atavistic attachment to territory over “spirit,” claiming that Judaism

is “ethical/moral and spiritual, and not an idolatry of soil-worship.”18 Just as

Israeli intellectuals nimbly pursued and imitated the latest cultural fads of

America and Europe, hoping to be assimilated by the great world outside Israel,

so did Peres hope that Israel would one day be admitted into the Arab League.19

Despite the enlistment of then President William Clinton as his campaign

manager, and the nearly unanimous support he received from the Israeli and

world news media, to say nothing of the herd of independent thinkers from the

universities, and the rented academics of the think tanks, Shimon Peres and his

Oslo process were decisively rejected by the Jewish voters of Israel. Predictably,

the Israeli intellectuals (not guessing that Labor’s successors would blindly

continue the process) reacted with melodramatic hysteria. David Grossman, in

the New York Times of May 31, wailed sanctimoniously that “Israel has moved

toward the extreme right... more militant, more religious, more fundamentalist,

more tribal and more racist.”20

Among the American liberal supporters of Israel’s intellectual elite, only the

New Republic appeared somewhat chastened by the election result. Having for

years, perhaps decades, celebrated the ineffable genius of Shimon Peres and his

coterie, the magazine turned angrily upon the Israeli intellectuals for failing to

grasp that “their association with Peres was one of the causes of his defeat.”

Disdainful of [Jews] from traditional communities, they thought of and called such

people “stupid Sephardim.” This contempt for Arab Jews expresses itself in a cruel

paradox, for it coexists with a credulity about, and esteem for, the Middle East’s

Christians and Muslims—Arab Arabs. Such esteem, coupled with a derisive attitude

toward Jewish symbols and texts, rituals, remembrances and anxieties, sent tens of

thousands to Netanyahu.21


The most ambitious attempt to trace the history and analyze the causes of

the maladies of Israeli intellectuals is Yoram Hazony’s book The Jewish State,

which appeared early in the year 2000. Within months of its publication the

dire consequences of the Oslo accords, post-Zionism’s major political achievement,

became visible to everybody in Israel in the form of Intifada II, otherwise

04Chapter3.pmd 39 1/4/2006, 3:48 PM

40 Jewish Divide Over Israel

known as the Oslo War, a campaign of unremitting atrocities—pogroms, lynchings,

suicide bombings—launched by Yasser Arafat after 97 percent of his demands,

including an independent Palestinian state, had been conceded by the

government of the hapless Ehud Barak.

The Jewish State is a broadside aimed at those Israelis who, in what its

author calls “a carnival of self-loathing,”22 are busily eating away at the Jewish

foundations of that state. The book’s very title is a conscious affront to Israel’s

branja, a slang term for the “progressive” and “enlightened” experts whose

views, according to Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak, should determine

the court’s decisions on crucial matters. For these illuminati have sought

to enlist no less a figure than Theodor Herzl in their campaign to de-Judaize the

state of Israel. Nearly all the “post-Zionists” discussed in The Jewish State

claim that Herzl did not intend the title of his famous book to be The Jewish

State at all, that the state he proposed was in no significant sense intrinsically

Jewish, and that he believed in a total separation of religion from the state.

Hazony argues (and massively demonstrates) that Herzl believed a Jewish state

was essential to rescue the Jewish people from both antisemitism and assimilation,

the forces that were destroying Jewish life throughout the Diaspora. (Most

of Herzl’s rabbinic opponents argued that Zionism was itself but a thinly veiled

form of assimilation.)

Hazony’s Jewish State has two purposes. The first is to show that “the idea of

the Jewish state is under systematic attack from its own cultural and intellectual

establishment” (xxvii). These “culture makers” have renounced the idea of a

Jewish state—”A state,” claims Amos Oz, “cannot be Jewish, just as a chair or a

bus cannot be Jewish” (338). The writers who dominate Israeli culture, Hazony

argues, are adept at imagining what it is like to be an Arab; they have, like the

aforementioned David Grossman, much more trouble imagining what it is like

to be a Jew.

If Israeli intellectuals were merely supplying their own illustration of Orwell’s

quip about the unique susceptibility of intellectuals to stupid ideas, their hostility

to Israel’s Jewish traditions and Zionist character would not merit much

concern. But Hazony shows that they have had spectacular success, amounting

to a virtual coup d’etat, in their political struggle for a post-Jewish state. “What

is perhaps most remarkable about the advance of the new ideas in Israeli government

policy is the way in which even the most sweeping changes in Israel’s

character as a Jewish state can be effected by a handful of intellectuals, with

only the most minimal of opposition from the country’s political leaders or the

public” (52).

The post-Zionists imposed their views in the public-school curriculum, in

the Basic Laws of the country, and in the IDF (Israel Defense Force), whose code

of ethics now excluded any allusion to Jewish or Zionist principles. The author

of the new code was Asa Kasher, one of Israel’s most enterprising post-Zionists,

who modestly described his composition as “the most profound code of ethics

04Chapter3.pmd 40 1/4/2006, 3:48 PM

Israelis Against Themselves 41

in the world of military ethics, in particular, and in the world of professional

ethics, in general”—so terminally profound, in fact, that an Israeli soldier

“doesn’t need to think or philosophize anymore. Someone else already... did

the thinking and decided. There are no dilemmas” (53, 56).

The ultimate triumph of post-Zionism, Hazony argues, came in its conquest

of the Foreign Ministry and the mind of Shimon Peres. Both came to the conclusion

that Israel must retreat from the idea of an independent Jewish state. In

the accord reached with Egypt in 1978 and even in the 1994 accord with

Jordan, Israeli governments had insisted that the Arab signatories recognize the

Jewish state’s “sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence”

(58). But the Oslo accords with the fanatically anti-Zionist PLO conceded on

every one of these issues; and if the agreement with the PLO was partly an effect

of post-Zionism, it was an effect that became in turn a cause—giving respectability

and wide exposure to post-Zionist political prejudices formerly confined

to coteries in Rehavia and Ramat-Aviv.

Thereafter, Peres and his Foreign Office routinely promoted the interests not

of a sovereign Jewish state but of the (largely Arab) Middle East. In a reversal of

policy akin to that of the Soviet Foreign Ministry in the wake of Stalin’s pact

with Hitler, Uri Savir and other Foreign Ministry officials exhorted American

Jews who had for decades resisted the Arab campaign to blacken Israel’s reputation

to support U.S. foreign aid to the two chief blackeners, the PLO and Syria.

They—it was alleged—needed dollars much more than Israel. Peres himself, as

we observed earlier, carried the post-Zionist campaign for assimilation and

universalism to the global level, grandly announcing in December 1994 that

Israel’s next goal should be to become a member of the Arab League” (67).

The second part of Hazony’s book has a twofold purpose. The first is to write

the history of the ideological and political struggle within the Jewish world

itself over the idea of the Jewish state, paying particular attention to how that

ideal, which a few decades ago had been axiomatic among virtually all Jews the

world over, had so quickly “been brought to ruin among the cultural leadership

of the Jewish state itself” (78). Hazony’s second aim as historian is to demonstrate

the power of ideas, especially the truth of John Stuart Mill’s axiom about

the practical potency, in the long run, of (apparently useless) speculative philosophy.

It was the power of ideas that enabled philosopher Martin Buber and

other opponents of the Jewish state to break Ben-Gurion and to undermine the

practical-minded stalwarts of Labor Zionism. (Likud hardly figures in this book.

The quarrels between Ben-Gurion and Begin have from Hazony’s perspective

“the character of a squabble between the captain and the first mate of a sinking

ship” [79].)

Hazony is a masterful political and cultural historian, and his fascinating

account of the long struggle of Buber (and his Hebrew University acolytes)

against Herzl and Ben-Gurion’s conception of a genuinely Jewish state is told

with tremendous verve and insight. Buber is at once the villain and the hero of

04Chapter3.pmd 41 1/4/2006, 3:48 PM

42 Jewish Divide Over Israel

this book. He is the villain in his relentless opposition to a Jewish state; in his

licentious equations between Labor Zionists and Nazis; in his fierce anti-(Jewish)

immigration stance (announced the day after he himself had immigrated

from Germany in 1938). But he is the hero because his posthumous ideological

victory over Labor Zionism—most of today’s leading post-Zionists claim that

their minds were formed by Buber and his binationalist Brit Shalom/Ihud allies

at Hebrew University—is in Hazony’s view the most stunning example of how

ideas and myths are in the long run of more political importance than kibbutzim

and settlements. Because Buber understood the way in which culture eventually

determines politics and grasped the potency of books and journals and

(most of all) universities, his (to Hazony) malignant influence now carries the

day in Israel’s political as well as its cultural wars.

Hazony argues that since the fall of Ben-Gurion, Israel has had no Prime

Minister—not Golda Meir, not Menachem Begin—who was an “idea-maker.”

Even the very shrewd Ben-Gurion and Berl Katznelson (who presciently warned

of the dangers lurking in the “intellectual famine” (299) of Labor Israel) were

slow to recognize the potentially disastrous consequences of entrusting the

higher education of their children to a university largely controlled (for twentyfour

years) by the anti-Zionist Judah Magnes and largely staffed by faculty he

recruited. Magnes, in language foreshadowing the cliches of today’s post-Zionists,

charged that the Jewish settlement in Palestine had been “born in

sin”(203); moreover, he believed that seeing history from the Arabs’ historical

perspective was one of the main reasons for establishing the Hebrew University.

Hazony’s book is written backwards, something like a murder mystery. He

begins with a dismaying, indeed terrifying picture of a nearly moribund people,

exhausted, confused, aimless—their traditional Labor Zionist assumptions

declared “effectively dead” by their formerly Labor Zionist leaders, most crucially

Shimon Peres. He then moves backward to seek the reasons why the

Zionist enterprise is in danger of being dismantled, not by Israel’s Arab enemies

(who gleefully watch the spectacle unfold), but by its own heavily

petted intellectual, artistic, and political elite—professors, writers, luminaries

in the visual arts.

The material in the early chapters is shocking, and I speak as one who thought

he had seen it all: the visiting sociologist from Hebrew University who adorned

his office at my university with a PLO recruiting poster; the Tel-Aviv University

philosophy professor who supplied Noam Chomsky’s supporters with a

letter of kashrut certifying the “lifelong dedication to Israel” of their (Israelhating)

idol; the Haifa University sociologist active in the American-Arab Anti-

Discrimination League (a PLO front group); the contingent of Israeli professors

taking up arms on behalf of the great prevaricator Edward Said. But the material

Hazony has collected (and dissected) from Israel’s post-Zionist and post-Jewish

intellectuals shocks me nevertheless. Compared with the Baruch Kimmerlings,

the Asa Kashers, the Ilan Pappes, and other protagonists in Hazony’s tragedy,

04Chapter3.pmd 42 1/4/2006, 3:48 PM

Israelis Against Themselves 43

Austria’s Jorge Haider, the right-wing demagogue about whom the Israeli government

kicked up such a fuss some years ago, is a Judeophile and Lover of


Hazony carefully refrains from applying the term “antisemitic” to even the

most extreme defamations of Jewish tradition and of the Jewish state by post-

Zionists and their epigones. But surely such reticence is unnecessary when the

secret has long been out. As far back as May 1987 the Israeli humorist and

cartoonist Dosh, in a column in Ma’ariv, drew a picture of a shopper in a store

that specialized in antisemitic merchandise reaching for the top shelf—on which

lay the most expensive item, adorned by a Stürmer-like caricature of a Jew and

prominently labeled “Made in Israel.” The article this cartoon illustrated spoke

of Israel’s need to increase exports by embellishing products available elsewhere

in the world with unique local characteristics. Israel had done this with

certain fruits and vegetables in the past, and now she was doing it with defamations

of Israel, produced in Israel. Customers were getting more selective, no

longer willing to make do with grade B merchandise produced by British leftists

or French neo-Nazis. No, they wanted authentic material, from local sources;

and Israeli intellectuals, artists, playwrights, were responding with alacrity to

the opportunity.

But Dosh had spoken merely of a specialty shop. To accommodate the abundant

production of Hazony’s gallery of post-Zionist/post-Jewish defamers of

Israel (both the people and the Land) would require a department store twice

the size of Macy’s or Harrod’s. On bargain day, one imagines the following

recitation by the elevator operator: “First floor, Moshe Zimmermann, Yeshayahu

Leibowitz, and 68 other members of the progressive and universalist community

on Israelis as Nazis; second floor, A. B. Yehoshua on the need for Israeli

Jews to become “normal” by converting to Christianity or Islam; third floor,

Boaz Evron in justification of Vichy France’s anti-Jewish measures; fourth floor,

Idith Zertal on Zionist absorption of Holocaust refugees as a form of rape; fifth

floor, Benny Morris on Zionism as ethnic cleansing; attic, Shulamit Aloni on

Zionism (also Judaism) as racism; basement, Ya’akov Yovel justifying the medieval

blood libel; sub-basement, Yigal Tumarkin justifying Nazi murder of

(religious) Jews. Watch your step, please.”

Although Hazony’s argument for the large role played by Israel’s professoriat

in dismantling Labor Zionism is convincing, it cannot be a sufficient cause

of current post-Zionism and post-Judaism. The habitual language of post-Zionists,

and most especially their hammering insistence on the contradiction between

being Jewish and being human, is exactly the language of European

Jewish ideologues of assimilation over a century ago. Gidon Samet, one of the

numerous resident ideologues of post-Judaism and post-Zionism at Ha’aretz, is

not far from the truth when he likens their attractions to those of American junk

food and junk-music: “Madonna and Big Macs,” Samet says,” are only the

most peripheral of examples” of the wonderful blessings of Israel’s new

04Chapter3.pmd 43 1/4/2006, 3:48 PM

44 Jewish Divide Over Israel

“normalness” (71-72). Of course, whatever we may think of those who in 1900

urged fellow-Jews to cease being Jewish in order to join universal humanity,

they at least were not promoting this sinister distinction in full knowledge of

how it would be used by Hitler; the same cannot be said of contemporary Israeli

ideologues of assimilation and universalism.

Most readers of post-Zionist outpourings have little to fall back on except

their native mistrust of intellectuals. Thus, when Hebrew University professor

Moshe Zimmermann declares that Zionism “imported” antisemitism into the

Middle East (11), it requires knowledge (not much, to be sure) of history to

recognize the statement as preposterous. But sometimes the post-Zionists are

tripped up by overconfidence into lies that even the uninstructed can easily

detect. Thus Avishai Margalit, a Hebrew University philosophy professor spiritually

close to, if not quite a card-carrying member of, the post-Zionists, in a

New York Review of Books essay of 1988 called “The Kitsch of Israel,” heaped

scorn upon the “children’s room” at Yad Vashem with its “tape-recorded voices

of children crying out in Yiddish, ‘Mame, Tate [Mother, Father].’” Yad Vashem

is a favorite target of the post-Zionists because they believe it encourages Jews

to think not only that they were singled out for annihilation by the Nazis but

also—how unreasonable of them!—to want to make sure they do not get singled

out for destruction again. But, as any Jerusalemite or tourist who can get over to

Mount Herzl will quickly discover, there is no “children’s room” and there are

no taped voices at Yad Vashem. There is a memorial to the murdered children

and a tape-recorded voice that reads their names.23 Margalit’s skullduggery is

by no means the worst of its kind among those Israelis involved in derogating

the memory and history of the country’s Jewish population. But it comes as no

surprise to learn from Hazony that Margalit believes Israel is morally obligated

to offer Arabs “special rights” for the protection of their culture and to be

“neutral” toward the Jews (13). With such neutrality as Margalit’s, who needs


In Hazony Israel has perhaps found its latter-day Jeremiah, but given the

widespread tone-deafness of the country’s enlightened classes to their Jewish

heritage, perhaps what is needed at the moment is an Israeli Jonathan Swift,

especially the Swift who in his versified will “gave the little wealth he had/To

build a house for fools and mad;/And showed by one satiric touch,/No nation

wanted it so much.”

I began this essay with statements by J. S. Mill and George Orwell about the

role of intellectuals and their ideas in politics, and I shall conclude in the same

way. The first statement, by Mill, might usefully be recommended as an aid to

reflection by the intellectuals of Israel: “The collective mind,” wrote Mill in

1838, “does not penetrate below the surface, but it sees all the surface; which

profound thinkers, even by reason of their profundity, often fail to do...” The

second statement, by Orwell, seems particularly relevant as the Arab siege of

Israel rages on: “if the radical intellectuals in England had had their way in the

04Chapter3.pmd 44 1/4/2006, 3:48 PM

Israelis Against Themselves 45

20’s and 30’s,” said Orwell, “the Gestapo would have been walking the streets

of London in 1940.”24


1. Jerusalem Post, April 6, 1996.

2. Midge Decter, “The Treason of the Intellectuals,” Outpost, May 1996, 7.

3. Kitvei B. Katznelson (Tel Aviv: Workers’ Party of Israel, 1961), Vol. 8, p. 18.

4. Ruth R. Wisse, If I Am Not for Myself... The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews (New

York: Free Press, 1992).

5. Meron Benvenisti, Conflicts and Contradictions (New York: Villard, 1986), 70.

6. New York Times Magazine, July 11, 1982.

7. New York Times, April 11, 1995.

8. “Struggling Against Fanaticism,” New York Times, September 14, 2001.

9. Conflicts and Contradictions, 34.

10. Jerusalem Post, December 1, 1990.

11. Ibid.

12. Jerusalem Post, January 16, 1993.

13. The Yellow Wind, trans. Haim Watzman (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux,

1988), 212. Subsequent references to this work will be cited in text.

14. New York Times, May 17, 1996. The most detailed account of the influence of Israeli

intellectuals specifically on the Oslo accords is Kenneth Levin, The Oslo Syndrome:

Delusions of a People Under Siege (Hanover, NH: Smith and Kraus Global,


15. Jerusalem Post International Edition, April 15, 1995.

16. “Egalitarians Gone Mad,” Jerusalem Post International Edition, October 28, 1995.

17. Aharon Megged, “The Israeli Suicide Drive,” Jerusalem Post International Edition,

July 2, 1994.

18. Quoted in Moshe Kohn, “Check Your Quotes,” Jerusalem Post International Edition,

October 16, 1993.

19. The Arab League contemptuously replied that Israel could become a member only

“after the complete collapse of the Zionist national myth, and the complete conversion

of historical Palestine into one democratic state to which all the Palestinians will


20. “The Fortress Within,” New York Times, May 31, 1996.

21. “Revolt of the Masses,” New Republic, June 24, 1996.

22. The Jewish State (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 339. Subsequent references to

this work will be cited in parentheses in the text.

23. Ten years later, Margalit reprinted this piece in a collection of his essays called Views

in Review. There he says he has omitted a sentence from the original essay that “had

wrong information in it about the children’s memorial room at Yad Vashem.” But he

blames this on “an employee” who misled him. Margalit’s sleight of hand here

reveals two things: (1) When he says in his introduction to the book that “I am not

even an eyewitness to much of what I write about,” we can believe him. (2) The

Yiddish writer Shmuel Niger was correct to say that “we suffer not only from Jews

who are too coarse, but also from Jews who are too sensitive.”

24. In The Lion and the Unicorn (1941) Orwell also wrote: “The really important fact

about the English intelligentsia is their severance from the common culture of the

country... In the general patriotism, they form an island of dissident thought. England

is the only great nation whose intellectuals are ashamed of their country.”

This, not to put too fine a point upon it, no longer seems true.

04Chapter3.pmd 45 1/4/2006, 3:48 PM

04Chapter3.pmd 46 1/4/2006, 3:48 PM


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