Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Yehezkel Dror's Defence of Jewish Fascism in the Forward

"Fascism" means many things to many people, and is, I grant, an overworked term. Leftists cry "fascist" so many times that it is hard to tell a real fascist when you see one. So for the purposes of this article, let me define "Jewish fascism" as a belief that the existence of a Jewish state trumps all values, especially moral ones; that individual and collective morality must be submerged to the interests of that state. In Zionist historiography, "Jewish fascism" is identified with the revisionists, but that is arguable. Jabotinsky, like so many others, often talked the fascist talk, but was ambivalent. Labor Zionists did not like to talk openly like Jabotinsky, since they were socialists, but their tactics confirmed his strategy. In recent years, Jewish fascism is associated with neocons like Poldheretz and Ruth Wisse, who opens her book on Jewish Power with a story implying that a live immoral Jew is better than a dead Jewish mensch, something that even Judah Halevy wouldn't have believed.

Yehezkel Dror, a professor emeritus of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a recipient of the Israel Prize, has written a not-so-brilliant defence of Jewish Fascism in the Forward, of all places. The argument is a familiar one and contains the familiar elisions: the state of Israel = the Jewish people, so the survival of the former is the same as the survival of the latter, or at least a necessary condition. Dror doesn't even bother to raise the question whether the state of Israel is good for the survival of the Jews; he holds that truth to be self-evident. The fact that more Jews have died as Jews since 1945 because of the Jewish state than of any other cause doesn't faze him. The fact that not a single Jew has been rescued by the Jewish state that wasn't previously endangered by it doesn't cross his mind. He could argue, of course, that Jewish existence is more certain than it was a century ago. But he doesn't; he just takes it for granted.

But let's grant him the point that the survival of Israel = the survival of the Jews. The question is what can be done in order to ensure that survival? And it turns out that Dror, like many other intellectual fascists, wimps out at this point. He allows that it is legitimate to criticize policies of the state, so long as they are unreasonable, or do not advance the state's interests. Who is to judge what they are? Well, Dror, I suppose, and other like-minded individuals; certainly there is no good argument why Israeli-style democracy is essential for the survival of the state. A fundamentalist theocracy a la Iran would do just as well.

No, for Dror the issue is between realpolitik and liberal morality; chuck the latter, he says, in favor of the former. All right, in that case we have chucked neoconservatism and liberal interventionism, and we are back with Walt and Mearsheimer's thesis that US unlimited support for Israel is against the US interest. Look, I have no problem with realpolitik (sorry guys), but why say that it has anything to do with Judaism or with Jews? Once again, Dror has no argument for a liberal democratic state; he believes in it precisely because of the values with which he was inculcated.

Are state's moral agents? That is a long philosophical discussion that I can't go into. But whether they are or whether they are not, states that allow widespread immorality generally are not stable over time. If Dror wants to argue that liberal morality is in the Jewish state's interest (for one thing, it is a stabilizing factor, for another, it eases a small state like Israel's acceptance in the family of nations, that is one thing. And I imagine he would agree to that. But it is a sign of his intellectual poverty that he can't see that that conclusion is undermined by his main claim.

The truth is that folks like Dror, Podhoretz, and Wisse attempt to provide moral justifications for Israel's actions. When they think they can't, they resort to the Jewish Fascist strategy of Israel's "survival" trumping all considerations. The form of their argument is: either Israel's actions are moral, or morality doesn't count.

Of course, as I said, none of this has anything to do with Judaism. I suppose that it does have something to do with all those Jewish kings in the Bible who identified their own interest with the interest of their people, and were promptly disabused of that idea by the prophets. Prophetic Judaism doesn't count much with the Jewish fascists. Jewish fascism is the latest version of Jewish zealotry that goes back to Reuven and Shimon, who would massacre an entire people to avenge the lost honor of their sister Dina. For them, the clan's survival trumped all morality. To Azure's editor David Hazony, the brothers were just engaging in realpolitik.

My response -- the Jewish response -- is Israel's last word: Be-sodam al tavo nafshi. "I will not participate in their councils." Jewish zealotry is as Jewish as felafel, my favorite Palestinian dish.


Joachim Martillo said...

Technically speaking for Reuven and Shimon, the clan's purity (not survival) trumped all morality.

The truth is that folks like Dror, Podhoretz, and Wisse attempt to provide moral justifications for Israel's actions. When they think they can't, they resort to the Jewish Fascist strategy of Israel's "survival" trumping all considerations. The form of their argument is: either Israel's actions are moral, or morality doesn't count.

Of course, as I said, none of this has anything to do with Judaism.

It may not have anything to do with Judaism qua religion but it does seem to connect to Russian Yiddishkeyt when we remember that the three defining political murders of modern Russia (Alexander II, Pyotr Stolypin, and Nicholas II + family) and therefore of the modern world were ordered, organized or executed by Jews.

I probably go into these issues than anyone would ever care to study in Judonia Rising, Part II, but I could probably summarize that Yiddishkeyt is what people make it, and for this reason people like Yehezkel Dror, Ruth Wisse and friends are extremely disturbing.

And BTW it is probably a minor point, the ideology of Arlosoroff, Katznelson, Ben-Gurion, and the so-called left Zionists is far closer to historic fascism than the belief system of Dror, Wisse and friends, who as highly politicized ethnic fundamentalists are Jewish Nazis.

Anonymous said...

Why the surprise?
If Hitler wasn't an anti Semite at least half the Jews would have embraced National Socialism as a bulwark against decadence and Communism. They would have tolerated or 'not not known about' the final solution of the Roma.

Ben Bayit said...

Most of th eprophets were pretty violent people - especially if you equate verbal violence with actual violence (a typical progressive liberal position).

Mike said...

This blog is great

rachamim ben ami said...

You have made some very elementary mistakes on your piece on "Jewish Fascism," not least of which is your definition of "Fascism" itself. It does , in its barest definition, mean that one subverts all other priorities to the good of the state, but it does not dictate moral ambiguity let alone purposefyul rejection of morality for any reason. One can be both a Facist and a moral human being.

Another apalling mistake was your belief that "no Jews was rescused by Israel that was not imperiled because of it" (please excuse the close paraphrasing). What of the Jews of the Balkans during the breakdown of Yugoslavia? Jews from the fromer Soviet Union in the post Soviet Era? Even the Jews of Ethiopia were not imperiled because of Israel's existence.

You take one facet of a dynamic (that of Mizrachi Jewry and their expereinces post 1947)and attempt to connect the dots. Sorry, but it does not work in this case.

Zionism is not the bogeyman. Of all nations in the Middle East only Israel posseses a historical context in which to exist.Even Egypt is a fiction with no relation to any historical nation.

Israel is just in its existence but like any nation sometimes fails to act justly. This does not then negate its very right to exist.Israel onws this right on many, many different levels.

Ergo, to support the state above all else while always working to build on constructive criticism (as opposed to simply bashing it out of misplaced Jewish Liberal Guilt)is a positive and commendable action. It is not something to despise and whisper about in hushed tones.

Jerry Haber said...

Sure there can moral fascists, just like there can be pregnant virgins. But it's a pretty rare phenomenon.

Look at what Robert O Paxton has to say:

Since Mussolini, there have been many conflicting definitions of the term fascism. Former Columbia University Professor Robert O. Paxton has written that:

Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victim-hood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."[12]

Paxton further defines fascism's essence as:

...a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond reach of traditional solutions; 2. belief one’s group is the victim, justifying any action without legal or moral limits; 3. need for authority by a natural leader above the law, relying on the superiority of his instincts; 4. right of the chosen people to dominate others without legal or moral restraint; 5. fear of foreign `contamination."[12]

Dror certainly holds (2), and that's good enough for me.

Soviet Jews were not "imperiled." Some came to Israel for ideological reasons (relatively few) or for a better life. Many stayed. Many of the Jews would have gone elsewhere had they the choice (and many left Israel as soon as they could)-- and remember, Israel constantly tried to remove that choice. Consistent with Zionist policy Israel insisted that it save Jews, or else.

Look, I suppose you can say that inasmuch as Israel gave refuge for those genuinely facing physical elimination, and not for other Zionist motives, like the so-called ingathering of the so-called exiles, then it saved those refugees, the way other countries saved refugees.

I don't know why you thought I was thinking of the mizrahi experience. I will say that the aliyah of the Ethiopians was more ambivalent then the aliyah of the Russians, for obvious ethnic-racial reasons.

As for the historical context, that's a good argument if you're a Zionist, and a bad one if you are not. Since nobody who is not a Zionist believes that the present-day Jews are descended from people who were exiled from Judea two thousand years ago...and anyway, at best, the historical argument may be an argument in favor of trying to realize Jewish self-determination in Palestine. An argument, not necessarily a conclusive one. And self-determination, not necessarily a state.

You are obviously new to this blog, and I suggest you read some of my other posts. You will see that I disagree with you profoundly. I would agree with you that the Jewish people has as much right to a state as any people has a right to a state.

I.e., none.