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.