Sunday, August 12, 2007
Zionism without a Jewish State
There is a long tradition of non-statist zionism, from the cultural zionism of Ahad ha-Am (who at times seems to have embraced the idea of a Jewish state, provided that it would not be devoid of Jewish cultural content), to the vehemently non-statist zionism of Judah Magnes. Does it makes sense to talk of non-statist zionism now that there is a Jewish state, or at least a state that likes to call itself Jewish? I submit that it does, and in fact, I would argue (if I had the time) that Israel would do well to adopt non-statist Zionism. But first, some assumptions. I call them assumptions, because they are mostly articles of faith. And what I mean by that is that if you are a leftwing, post-nationalist, you aren't going to be impressed by anything I have to say here. I start from the position of a liberal nationalist, one that sees the value for the flourishing of its citizens in a nation state. (On "liberal nationalism" you can read the good overview in the article on Nationalism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.) Because I am a liberal nationalist, I cannot be a statist Zionist, because by identifying the Jewish state as a state of the Jewish nation, I am automatically cutting off non-Jews from full membership in that state. Moreover, I will always have to use what I consider dubious arguments to favor what I will call here ethnic Jews (as in ethnic Russians and ethnic Poles) at the expense of non-Jews who are citizens of the Jewish state. Of course, one could make citizenship and nationality coextensive, so that anybody could become a Jew through the process of naturalization into the Jewish state. In that case, one could be a Muslim Jew, a Christian Jew, etc. But that would be a radical redefining of what it is to be a Jew. A suggestion like that (from the other direction) was made by David Friedlaender, one of the enlightened Jews of Berlin in the eighteenth century. Friedlaender said that if the price to pay for German citizenship was being a Christian, why not have the entire Jewish community "convert" to Christianity en masse -- not, of course, traditional Christianity, but an enlightened version of Christianity which was devoid of Christian dogma. His proposal was turned down by enlightened Christians, for obvious reasons. The point is that even if Jews do constitute a nation, or feel part of a nation, etc., it is not the sort of nation that liberal nation-states are constituted of, and for good reason -- it is a nation of which a national religion constituted a major part, whether one accepted it or rebelled against it, and, for better or for worse, that is the way it has played out in history. The failure of Israel to be a liberal democracy and a nation-state of the Jews is well-known, and I hope I don't have to bring the familiar arguments. That fact that Israel is a settler-state founded on the thwarted national dreams of a native population compounds the problem, but, frankly, there would be problems even if Israel had been founded in a wilderness bereft of people. But while Israel has, I believe, failed as a liberal state of the Jews, it need not be a failure as a liberal nation-state of all its people -- of the Israeli people, Jews and non-Jews, Palestinians and Jews. I have lived in Israel on-and-off for over thirty years, and I can tell you that there is an Israeli national culture, and it is predominantly, though not exclusively, Hebraic and Jewish. Israeli Palestinian culture is also Israeli, and it is a culture which I admire and respect, and feel part of my own -- not as Jew, although I find it close to my own, but as an Israeli. Within such a Israeli space, Jewish culture can flourish for those who want it to, and I think that in that sense, Israel could be a homeland for the Jewish people, a cultural center (note that I do not say, THE cultural center) that resonates with the historic associations of the Land of Israel for the Jewish people. Look, I told you I was a Zionist, so if you are anti- or post- or non-, this won't speak to you. But for Zionism to flourish in a liberal democracy, one cannot have a Jewish state as constituted now. The law of return would have to be abolished -- in its stead could be an immigration law which favors certain groups (Jewish and Palestinian) but does not grant citizenship automatically to any quasi-religio-ethnic group. In such a state, one would not be forever counting heads to see whether there is a Jewish majority -- because at every moment, the state would consist of a 100% of Israeli citizens. People say to me, "Why would any Jew would be interested to live in a state like that?" The funny thing is that the Jews who ask me this question actually do live in a state like that -- it is called the USA. Other people say,"Hang on, but what happens in your Israeli state if a majority of its citizens are able to change the constitution in such a way as to reduce the Jewish component to a minimum?" My answer is simple: in that case, the citizens would have every right to do so. But so what? What's the point of a predominant culture if most of the state's citizens are opposed to it. That is like saying that the idea of America is a bad one, because in principle, most of the citizens could change the constitution and vote America out of existence. Yes, but so what? In this post I have left many things unexplained. But mostly I have been assuming that the present state of Israel, while it may be good for Judaism, is bad for liberal democracy. But I don't believe that. I believe that while there are positive things about the state of Israel, it, on the whole, has not been very good for Judaism. That I will leave for another rant, i.e., post. But what I wanted to say here is that there can be zionism -- the feeling of the centrality of the Land of Israel for the Jewish people -- without a Jewish state as presently conceived. The conditions were not ripe for such a zionism in the forties, but they are much better now. And while I don't expect many people will agree with me -- on my right are the statist zionists, on my left are the post-nationalists, I don't see what is wrong about trying to preserve what is good about zionism, and, for that matter, the state of Israel, while pushing towards a more liberal and equitable regime, a second Israeli republic, as it were.