Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Adam Kirsch’s Problems With Cultural Zionism

Literary critic Adam Kirsch has made a career of taking potshots at cultural Zionists like Hannah Arendt and Albert Einstein. Like the Mapai-niks of old, he dismisses the more humane Zionism they represented, or to be precise, he insinuates that they were Zionists manqués.

So before I get to his Zionist "take" on Einstein, let's recall the standard statist Zionist criticisms against cultural Zionists like Magnes and his circle.

They were naïve intellectuals.

They could not find an Arab partner for peace.

They foolishly believed that the Arabs would agree to Jewish immigration if the Jews promised not to have their own state.

They were assimilated Jews who worshipped Jewish powerlessness.

They assumed, wronglyת that the declaration of the Jewish state would provoke a war that would eliminate the Jews in Palestine.

And my favorite:

They didn't understand that a Jewish State could live in peace with the Arabs and provide equal rights for their Arab citizens, were it not for blind Arab intransigence and anti-Semitism.

This is the view of the Magnes-circle that is dominant in Zionist historiography. It places Magnes on the left and revisionist Zionism on the right, with the Mapai, statist labor Zionism taking the moderate center. This view was eminently reasonable for the first few years of the state. After all, the Jews were not thrown into the sea; on the contrary, they actually conquered more land than allotted to them by the UN Partition Plan – and their state was more independent of the Arabs than provided for in the Partition Plan. True, there was the problem of the refugees, but it was only natural that the Arab countries accept their brothers and sisters. And the mass exodus of Arabs provided opportunities and housing for another exodus, that of the Jews from Arab lands. An Israel that was Jewish and democratic would offer great opportunities for its citizens, its neighbors, and the region.

History has proven otherwise. After sixty years, Israel is considered, in the eyes of much of the world, a pariah or failed state – and if not a failed state, then one in danger of becoming one (according to Foreign Policy's 2009 Failed State index.) Far from living in peace with the Palestinian Arabs, it has made their lives miserable, reducing some of them to second-class citizens who are forbidden to learn their own history, and much of whose land was taken away from them; the others to stateless subjects without basic human rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Thank God, there was not a massacre of Jewish Palestine in 1948, but there was a War of Independence that claimed many Jewish and Arab lives, and created the Palestinian refugee problem. And since that date, many more Jews have died in Israel and because of Israel, than all other places combined; the "new" anti-Semitism, from which Jews around the world, and especially in Europe, suffer, is really anti-Zionism and anti-Israelism in disguise.

But none of this fazes Kirsch, an America Jew raised on classic Zionist dichotomies of "power vs., powerlessness," "assimilationists vs. proud Jews," "realists vs. dreamers." Kirsch sticks to the standard Zionist take on the Magnes circle in his review of Einstein on Israel and Zionism, an anthology of Einstein's writings published in Germany and translated into English. Now, Einstein was a cultural Zionist, who, like other cultural Zionists, became increasingly disenchanted with the brand of Zionism that took over the Zionist movement. Since Einstein was a liberal nationalist, he found many problems with the idea of a Jewish state, and he also knew that such a state would inevitably clash with the native Arabs of Palestine. Like others of his kind, including Buber, Magnes, Scholem, and Simon, and mostly because of the Holocaust, he became reconciled with the state as a fait accompli. But this did not turn him into a statist Zionist.

All this is beyond Kirsch's intellectual ken. He does not see how somebody can be a Zionist, and deeply committed to the cause of Jewish nationalism, and yet not support the idea of a Jewish nation-state. So he really doesn't know what to do with the book or Einstein. Rather than try to understand Einstein's position, much less attempt to justify it, he argues with him, as he did with his New Yorker piece on Hannah Arendt. Kirsch writes:

As a result, [Einstein] is totally unable to face the truth, which is that Arab and Jewish visions for Palestine were incompatible. Einstein insists, for example, that the Jews then languishing in European DP camps be allowed to enter Palestine, contrary to British policy. One British expert asks Einstein, "What would you do if the Arabs refused to consent to bringing these refugees to Palestine?"—as, of course, they did, just as they had violently resisted Jewish immigration since the 1920s. "That would never be the case if there were no politics," Einstein replies. There is Einstein's fallacy in a sentence: his response to a desperate political problem is to wish that there were no politics, which is to say, no conflicting desires, no clash of rights, no power.

Note that Kirsch, himself a statist Zionist, identifies statist Zionism as the Jewish vision for Palestine, thus delegitimizing other competing Jewish visions as not Jewish. Note also that he views the conflict as a case of a conflict of national rights. But Einstein did not wish away politics, nor did the greatest scientist of modern times commit a fallacy. Einstein was implying that that it was politics, i.e., precisely the desire for political independence and control on both sides, that destroyed the possibility of the increased immigration of Jews. And Magnes, because of this, was willing to restrict Jewish immigration rather than to plunge Palestine into war.

Kirsch's polemic continues:

But surely the lesson of Jewish history is that powerlessness is not a solution for the Jews, but the most dangerous problem. The same conclusion can be drawn from another valuable document in this book, an account of Einstein's 1952 meeting with an Egyptian journalist, Mohamed Heikal. Jerome interviewed Heikal in 2006, and he remembered his long-ago visit to Princeton to see Einstein. There the great man spoke with anguished sincerity about his desire to make peace between Jews and Arabs, and tried to use to Heikal to open up back-channel talks with Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt's new ruler. Clearly hoping to find common ground with Heikal, Einstein said that "when it comes to people like Menachem Begin and his massacre of Arabs in the village of Deir Yassin … these people are Nazis in their thoughts and their deeds."

And what was Heikal's response? "Ben-Gurion is no less a Nazi than Menachem Begin." Here we see the ugly reality behind Einstein's dream of a binational state, and Jerome's present-day anti-Zionism. There was, in 1948, no way to ensure the survival of Jewish Palestine without a Jewish state, which meant an army, a flag, borders, and all the insignia of sovereignty that Einstein detested. Likewise, there is no way to establish a true peace in Palestine today as long as so many Palestinians, elite and ordinary, are committed to Israel's destruction. Still, Einstein has one advantage over his new editor: his reservations about Israel were voiced from the standpoint of his unquestionable commitment to Zionism. For that reason, he makes a less useful ally than [editor] Fred Jerome appears to think.

The Magnes circle indeed had a particular animus towards Begin, who was a Jewish terrorist, but they disagreed no less strongly with Ben-Gurion. But so what? The real issue is whether there was, as Kirsch claims, no alternative to the survival of Jewish Palestine besides the declaration of the Jewish State? How would he know this? Because the Arabs had declared their intention of driving the Jews into the sea? But wasn't that because they knew that what the Jews wanted was a Jewish state and control over Palestine?

And here is the real question that Kirsch never considers. Had the Zionist movement not adopted statist Zionism, had it been willing from the beginning to struggle for national group rights within a secular Palestinian state, would indeed the existence of a Jewish cultural center in Palestine been endangered? Of course, the question is unanswerable; some will point to Arab massacres of Jews during the Mandate and others to the close friendships and relations between Jews and Arabs during this period of Zionist settlement.

But at the very least, one would expect Kirsch to grapple with the claim that the very concept of statist Zionism endangered Jewish Palestine because it set the yishuv on a collision course with the nationalist aspirations of the native majority. This Kirsch cannot do, because he, like so many other Zionists, accepts the myth of Jewish powerlessness – that the actions of Jews do not have an effect on the actions and views of others, and if they do, the effect should only be benign because the Jewish agents are benign.

Kirsch cites Einstein's remark, "I believe that the existence of a Jewish cultural center will strengthen the moral and political position of the Jews all over the world, by virtue of the very fact that there will be in existence a kind of embodiment of the interests of the whole Jewish people" and then comments, "The case for Israel has seldom been better put." But Einstein was not making the case for Israel, not for the Israel of 1948, with the Jewish cultural giants of that time (all European), and certainly not for the state that is currently slashing budgets for the humanities and Jewish studies and funding settlements – and where the average age of the World Congress of Jewish Studies participants in Jerusalem (which I am attending) seems to be over sixty.

Einstein was making the case for something that never came to be – "a cultural center that would strengthen the moral and political position of the Jews all over the world." The statist Zionists, of course, claim otherwise; the moderates among them see no contradiction between the two sorts of zionism, and claim that, on the contrary, only a strong Jewish nation state guarantees the possibility of cultural Zionism. Yet there was a thriving Jewish cultural center in Palestine before the establishment of the state, and nothing would be lost to that center would the State of Israel become the nation state of all its citizens.

A final note: Kirsch begins his review by noting that the book is at war with itself because it paints Einstein as anti-Israel and yet refers to his Zionism Ironically, it is Kirsch's review that is at war with itself. The title of the review is "Relatively Speaking, a Zionist" and yet Kirsch refers to Einstein's "unquestionable commitment to Zionism".

How abolutely committed was he, Adam?

39 comments:

andrew said...

Once again, we see how common sense is not so common. Obviously, Palestinians would have a problem with a Jewish State on their indigenous lands. So the choice for Statism is a choice for conflict and power struggle. With the help of imperialism, the political zionists have won many battles, but history is not yet written. I'd say we are still in the thick of it.

Chai said...

I just discovered this blog and I want to say "thank you thank you thank you!" I grew up with the classic Zionist line, in an Orthodox Jewish family (daughter of an Orthodox Rabbi, himself a Holocaust survivor). I've been on a major journey for the past decade, coming to understand the incredible moral harms inflicted by the current Jewish state. I loom forward to continuing my learning via this blog. And I agree with Andrew -- while there are many many times when I feel there is absolutely NOTHING we can do to change things, given how far down the path we have come (path dependency is quite strong here), I also believe the only way to look at ourselves in the mirror as Jewish people is to believe that we CAN do something to get back to a moral and honest path. What we have done so far has truly warped the moral sensibilities and understandings of our people. We have to be part of changing that.

Thanks again for this blog. I look forward to reading backwards in the archives!

Chai Feldblum
Washington, D.C./Rehoboth Beach/NYC

Y. Ben-David said...

Let's take Einstein as an example of a "moral man" who was troubled by Zionism. Although I do have great respect for him and appreciate his maintaining his connection with the Jewish people when so many of his fellow "enlightened" Jews couldn't wait to get away from it, it is necessary to point out that he was a major hypocrite. During the First World War, when he was working on his General Theory of Relativity, he was sitting in Berlin, working at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, saying he was a pacifist, hoping for Germany to be defeated, yet his salary was paid for by Prussian militarists and he maintained friendship with people like Fritz Haber, a Germanized alienated Jew who was working on Germany's poison gas project.
So I am not surprised by all the contradictions engendered by his support of Zionism on the one hand, and his abhorrence of Zionist defense on the other hand.

Jerry-had a Palestinian state with a Jewish minority with some degree of autonomy been established during the British Mandate period, you know very well that the Jews would have been driven out upon the end of British control, just as the Jews were driven out (either by direct explusion, or simply by Judeophobic economic, social or political pressure) of EVERY other single Middle Eastern state. I know you claim it is "understandable" due to the "reasonable" opposition of the local Arab populations to Zionism, but if Israel had never arisen, the Jews would have been driven out of these countries in any case because of their identification with the departing colonial powers whose rule benefitted the Jews. Just as one hundred years ago 20% of the population of the Middle East was Christian, whereas today it is only 2%, we see it is clear that there is NO ROOM for non-Muslim minorities in the supposedly "tolerant" Muslim Middle East. A Jewish community in Arab Palestine would have had the same fate, and you and I wouldn't be living here now.

Y. Ben-David said...

You say:
-----------------------------------
After sixty years, Israel is considered, in the eyes of much of the world, a pariah or failed state – and if not a failed state, then one in danger of becoming one (according to Foreign Policy's 2009 Failed State index.)
-----------------------------------

This is, of course, nonsense. The "much of the world" you are referring to is a small group of Jewish and other "progressives". Sure, the Arab/Muslim world doesn't like Israel, but outside of them (and this is the majority of mankind) what you say is not true. Israel is NOT a pariah or failed state in most of the world's eyes (I am not worried about Foreign Policy Magazine's views, I also note that the main internet bashers of Israel like MJ Rosenberg and Phil Weiss each have about 5-10 regular commenters, no more).
Few people in the world care about the Palestinians AND THIS INCLUDES THE OTHER ARABS. When Israel was bombing Gaza there were no demonstrations EVEN IN JUDEA/SAMARIA. HIZBULLAH didn't join in with the massive rocket arsenal. True, Arab governments did ban demonstrations, but if there was so much rage in the street, people would have confronted the police. The fact is that they don't care. Outside of the Arab world, how many people care about arcane problems like "the Law of Return discriminates against Arabs"?
Regarding the problems with the Palestinians in Judea/Samaria/Gaza, well, most reasonable people realize that it is the Palestinians who refuse to make peace.

For further proof of the indifference of the world to our problems, I bring the fact that all these various Jewish and Israeli groups that bash Israel like "Shovrim Shtika" or the "Geneva Initiative" are financed by European countries. If everyone was so concerned about the Palestinians there would be a mass movement of volunteers to do these things, include contributing money. True, European governments are under a lot of pressure from the oil-rich countries to dump on Israel, but this doesn't mean there is large-scale public support in these countries for these policies. Most people simply don't care one way or another.

Michael W. said...

You wrote: "True, there was the problem of the refugees, but it was only natural that the Arab countries accept their brothers and sisters."

Sarcasm?

"And since that date, many more Jews have died in Israel and because of Israel, than all other places combined;"

That's hardly a relevant statement. The vast majority of the Diaspora now lives in the US and other Western European countries - some of the safest and richest countries in the world. You can't really measure if Israel has made the Jews there safer since you can't create a control group to compare.

I don't know the numbers but maybe you can compare the number of Jews who fled to Palestine between 1932-1945 to the number of Israeli Jews that died from armed conflict with the Arabs.

"Note that Kirsch, himself a statist Zionist, identifies statist Zionism as the Jewish vision for Palestine, thus delegitimizing other competing Jewish visions as not Jewish."

Kirsch does identify Zionism as the Jewish vision for Palestine (whatever that means), but I don't see where he says that Einstein's vision for Palestine is not Jewish. He says that Einstein's vision for Palestine is Jewish, and therefore incompatible to the Arab vision, but he just can't see it, or rather wishes that it was not the case.

So the question is what if - what if the (Zionist) Jews, , did not want to establish a state in Palestine, would have the Arabs allowed increased Jewish immigration? Well, why would they? Did any country during WWII allow mass immigration of Jews? And if let say, the Arabs did allow increased immigration of Jews (highly uncharacteristic of the regional players), what would have been the fate of Palestine? A bi-national democratic state? Or an Arab dictatorship? Remember - no "statist Zionism" in this scenario.

I think you are drawing conclusions about history by looking at only one place and time - Palestine in the 20th century. If you only look at the time and period, it looks that all of a sudden we grab for power when we were just fine without it, and it hurt a lot of people, mainly the Palestinians. But if you look at the last 20 centuries, it is actually the one time we do grab for power (a state) as Jews, and don't get wiped out.

It seems that you believe that cultural Zionism can succeed without a national state. In a way you are right, America and the Jews living there have never had it so good with contributions in science, civil rights and great involvement in politics, and don't forget about Hollywood. There has never been anything like America. But that's the thing, nobody knew America was going to be so good for the Jews in the second half of the 20th century. But what about the rest of the Jews? Those living in the Middle East? Why didn't they achieve the freedom and opportunities to achieve like American Jews? And let's not forget that Einstein, the great scientist and the first international celebrity, is from Europe, where 6 million Jews died during his time. Why wasn't European Jewry's contribution enough to save itself from Europe's antisemitic wrath?

Michael W. said...

In this post you said that Jews in Europe who experience antisemitism are actually just experiencing "anti-Israelism". Again, it seems like you are narrowing your perception of history by looking at the last 61 years only. In a region historically known for its antisemitism, why would all of a sudden it be actually anti-Israelism? What was the Shoah then? Anti-International Jewry?

You finish with: "Einstein was making the case for something that never came to be – "a cultural center that would strengthen the moral and political position of the Jews all over the world." The statist Zionists, of course, claim otherwise; the moderates among them see no contradiction between the two sorts of zionism, and claim that, on the contrary, only a strong Jewish nation state guarantees the possibility of cultural Zionism. Yet there was a thriving Jewish cultural center in Palestine before the establishment of the state, and nothing would be lost to that center would the State of Israel become the nation state of all its citizens."

You claim that there was a thriving Jewish cultural center in Palestine, but you don't explain how it accomplished, or would have accomplished Einstein's goal - to "strengthen the moral and political position of the Jews all over the world." The entire world Jewry was not enough to save a third of the world's Jewish population.

An Israeli "a nation state of all its citizens" would accomplish the goal of "strengthen the moral and political position of the Jews all over the world" - "if there were no politics."

Jews have already been in nation states that were of all its citizens - and they resided over the worst catastrophe in a centuries, the Shoah. Don't get me wrong, empower Israel's Arabs like any Israeli citizen, but in spirit it has to stay a safe haven for Jews.

On a final note, if non-statist Zionism could have made a safe haven for Jews before 1947 or 1919, or today, mazel tov. A Jewish political entity is not a must per se. But in a world where the tides follow political movements, a counter political entity (a state) is perhaps the only thing that can protect you, because the UN would not protect you. We are not in that age where an international body will fight for you and all of humanity. We are misfortuned to have originated from one of the worst regions on the planet - the Middle East. We got to live with it, hope for the better, and fight for the better.

Jerry Haber said...

Four challenging and perceptive comments to respond to. Let's take them in order.

Considering that Ludwig Wittgenstein left Cambridge to fight for Austria, and considering that this was at the height of nationalism, for arguably the most useless and inane war in history, Einstein's (and Russell's) "contradictions" and "hypocrisies" seem tame compared to others.

But, Y. Ben David, it's hard to argue with such a moral absolutist as yourself. And NO sarcasm implied or intended there.

Your second point is well-taken. Jewish settlement in Palestine was enabled because of the age of Empire, first Ottoman, and then British. It is unlikely that there would have been much settlement of Jews in Palestine, and certainly there would have been little understanding of Jewish claims. But in that case, the Jews simply would not have settled in Palestine. They would have gone elsewhere, or they would have stayed where they were.

I think I mentioned it before that Ben-Gurion challenged Magnes on this point; how come you are allowed to make aliyah to Palestine, but you are willing to restrict the aliyah of others. Magnes' reply was that he did not come to make a state, and his arrival did not threaten anything. But if you are a fundamentalist Muslim nationalist, then there certainly would be little understanding for a Jewish national community with minority rights. And the treatment of minorities in the Arab world after the age of Empire is, to say the least, not the best.

Jerry Haber said...

Y. Ben David (cont.)

Add to this that Bi-Nationalism never really got off the ground (and the cultural Zionists were opposed to national minorities, given what happened to them after WWI in Europe), then it is easy to see, in hindsight, why there project failed. But that failure also has to be laid at the feet of the statist Zionists, who held real political power in the Yishuv. (Although we tend to forget nowadays that there was a time when intellectuals and university professors had real status in society. Had another president besides Harry Truman been sitting in the White House, Magnes' arguments against statism may not have falled on deaf ears.

I don' agree that the Jews would have been driven out of Arab countries had there not been Israel. Persecutions and pogroms, alternating with financial and cultural success, would have been standard fare. But who knows? You cannot look at the Arab world now and not see the sea change that has occurred in the last fifty years with the arrival of fundamentalist Islam, and the retreat of secularism. Was that inevitable? Only if you believe, as I do not, in historical inevitability.

As for the fact that most people don't care, well, duh, most people don't care. I frankly don't worry whether the sun will come up every day or not. But if you come and show me why the sun may not come up in two weeks then I would think about it. Ditto for anything else. My experience on talking about Israel in America is that the first reaction is, "Is it safe there?" and the second reaction is, "It looks like a mess." True, I don't hang with evangelicals, mostly upper middle class sorts. But it is hard to deny that there has been a big shift in opinion of the policy-makers and machers with regards to Israel-Palestine in the last forty years. For one thing, the Palestinians were an endangered species; nobody talked about a Palestinian state; you are old enough to remember all this. The Palestinians have made an impressive comeback, especially considering that they were abandoned by their Arab brethren.

You dismiss Foreign Policy as if it were some radical left rag, but I can tell you that Israel would not have appeared on that list ten years ago.

You write:

Regarding the problems with the Palestinians in Judea/Samaria/Gaza, well, most reasonable people realize that it is the Palestinians who refuse to make peace.

Can't disagree with you there, provided that we also add your definition of "reasonable people". And again, the Palesitnians have been getting much higher marks than Israel in the mainstream media -- primarily because terrorism is down.

But don't worry, the third intifada may be around the corner. The Palestinians have been well-taught by the Israelis that they can only achieve things through violence

Jerry Haber said...

Michael W.

"Sarcasm?" Yes.

"Unfair comparison". Why? Had Israel not come into existence, more refugees would have settled in the safe and secure countries of the West. Simply follow the fate of the Jewish refugees. Where was it safer to go? Obviously, not Palestine. That is why many people who resettled in Israel left it at the first opportunity to go to safer places. The ones who stayed couldn't get out, or they had been indoctrinated by the Zionists. What non-ideologically motivated person would have willingly chosen Palestine?

As for the movement of refugees in the thirties, as you know, that is a complicated topic, made more complicated by the attempts of the Zionists to bring them to Palestine. And, may I suggest, that the primary motivation of the Zionists had nothing to do with the refugees' safety.

Kirsch clearly says elides Zionism with Judaism; he may wish to claim that Einstein's Zionism was also a Jewish vision that was incompatible with the Arab vision, and that may be right. But I don't think he intended that when he wrote what he did. I think he simply was ignoring the alternative voices. Note that he devotes no time to binationalism or any other form of non-statism.

As for the historical comment, I am in disagreement. But leaving history aside, what I argue for is a secular democratic state of all its peoples, with a strong Jewish culture, reflected in language and culture. If you like, I accept the idea that statist Zionism enables cultural Zionism in the sense that the establishment of a Jewish ethnic state, which brought millions of people to Palestine, prepared the way for its transformation into a liberal secular democracy with a strong Jewish culture. That could not have happened in the 1940's, and maybe the tide of fundamentalism, Jewish and Muslim, is too hard for it to happen now. But Israel is frozen in a post world war II mentality and its inability to evolve and change its system, not to mention to end the occupation, is harming it now. Y. Ben David will say that Israel is strong and power counts in the world. That is true. But it is also a country that is very sensitive to its position and status in the world. A tiny group of IDF soldiers put out a small booklet of testimonies, and the government goes ballistic -- not because of the testimonies -- but because they appeared on the evening news in England. And so they actually contact the foreign ministries of countries funding the group to make formal protests. What other country is so hypersensitive?

Jerry Haber said...

So my point is simply that Israel has to grow up. What was excusable fifty years ago (like population transfers, for example) just doesn't cut the mustard anymore, unless you want Israel to become like North Korea. I am not saying that ethnicity or nationalism is dead; far from it. But there are better ways of handling it than the old ways.

The answer to the excesses of ethnic nationalism (nazi Germany) is not more ethnic nationalism but liberal nationalism. Jews never suffered in liberal democracies. They always suffered when those democracies ceased to be liberal.

You write:

On a final note, if non-statist Zionism could have made a safe haven for Jews before 1947 or 1919, or today, mazel tov. A Jewish political entity is not a must per se. But in a world where the tides follow political movements, a counter political entity (a state) is perhaps the only thing that can protect you, because the UN would not protect you. We are not in that age where an international body will fight for you and all of humanity. We are misfortuned to have originated from one of the worst regions on the planet - the Middle East. We got to live with it, hope for the better, and fight for the better.

Look, I understand what you are saying; in a world of states, states offer the best security. I couldn't agree with you more. But it does not follow from this that ethnic states provide the best security for their ethnic groups. You cannot really say that Jews in Israel are more secure than Jews in the US, certainly not on an individual level, and I submit, even on the level of Jewish peoplehood. The question, "What happens if a Hitler takes power in America and exterminates powerless Jews" can be matched with the question, "What happens if a Hitler takes power in Iran and destroys much of Israel."

What has enabled the Jews to survive for so long is davka their ability to take their Judaism with them, to move from place to place. Before the second Jewish commonwealth was destroyed there was a flourishing diaspora. So putting your eggs in one basket is no guarantee for physical survival at all.

Michael W. said...

You wrote: " Had Israel not come into existence, more refugees would have settled in the safe and secure countries of the West. Simply follow the fate of the Jewish refugees. Where was it safer to go? Obviously, not Palestine."

But that's the point, they hardly let any Jews in during the 30's and 40's when they most need a refuge. Who was safer, a Jew who fled to Palestine, or a Jew that stayed in Europe through WWII? And how many people actually did leave Israel/Palestine for a safer place?

"liberal secular democracy with a strong Jewish culture."
I think that is how many Jewish Americans actually view Israel. It's hip, modern, high-tech, and sexy. The Rabbinate does have control over certain things, but nothing substential. Discrimination is a problem, but you can say the same thing about many Western countries. Internally we have to deal with it, but it shouldn't be a sticking point when dealing with foreigners. The State might call itself Jewish and uses Jewish symbols for the state, but it's not a theocracy where Talmud is Law.

What do you mean by "Jewish ethnic state"? Jew only state? That is not the case. Compare it to Egypt that calls itself an Arab-Muslim state. Non Arab-Muslims don't go to Egypt for refuge, but non-Jews do go to Israel for refuge. And its own non-Jewish population has grown and their living standards improved.

Is there a conflict when the state defines itself as Jewish but much of the population is not Jewish? Yes, but only if it behaves as serving only Jews. The recent comments by the Speaker of the Knesset shows that he, and the staet which he represents, do serve only people in the state.

Can Israel evolve fully into a liberal secular democracy? The Disengagement perhaps proved that it can, but its inability to stand up to the hilltop settlers shows otherwise. Though the radical settlers don't necessarily view the State as being on their side.

Are Israeli citizens equal? In many ways yes. One of the biggest issues you have is with the immigration laws. The Right of Return Law doesn't necessarily take anything away from the Arab citizens. Perhaps politically as a group, but a liberal secular democracy doesn't care about maintaining ethnic porpostions.

Economiclly, they don't suffer because olim create their own opprotunities. The Right of Return is perhaps a law that exists no where else, but what's the harm of refusing immigrants? In the US, it is because of labor competition, in Europe it is because of slow assimilation. But olim cause none of these probelms.

evets said...

Jerry -

I generally agree with your POV, and basically do here as well. However, I think one could claim that diaspora Jews (at least since their exodus from Muslim lands) have been made somewhat safer by the existence of a Jewish state with a strong military, that this state's existence deters more anti-Jewish violence (outside its borders) than it engenders.

This, in itself, is not an argument for the current disposition of the Jewish state (certainly not a traditional Zionist argument, since it legitimates the continuation of a diaspora). And it could be that the scales will soon tip in the other direction, that Israel's presence will no longer make diaspora Jewish lives safer. All I'm saying is that, on balance, it's hard to know whether a militarized Jewish state has helped or hurt global Jewish security.

Jerry Haber said...

Michael W., you are obviously a newbie to this site. Welcome aboard. I have addressed every one of the issues you raise. You clearly know quite little about Israel beyond what the Israeli spin machine provides.

My only comfort is that very few Israelis, left or right, share your views.

I have no problem discussing these things but you may begin by reading a bunch of my posts on these topics. Or to save yourself time, why not just get Chaim Gans' A Just Zionism or Berny Avishai's The Hebrew Republic. Both are Israelis and both know how things work here.

With all due respect, to describe Israel as a Jewish America is really to show how little you understand how things work here.

Michael W. said...

Can the Israeli political system evolve to better serve and protects its citizens' rights? I believe it can. You are probably pessimistic about this and don't believe it can. But are you willing to invite Western pressure so the State will behave in the way you want? Are you a believer in democracy or what? Do you believe the nation has become so ideological that it can't behave decently and maintain minority rights?

"Population tranfers" and the like shouldn't be opposed because the international community won't tolerate it, because it does tolerate it. It should be opposed because of individual rights to property and just plain wrong. Sometimes imminent domain must be implemented like in 2005 in Gaza. In messes such as wars, population transfers are inevitable. It is an acceptable consequence as long as the goal is not to take away from civilians on the other side.

Jews have always been safe in liberal democracies, but what is to prevent such a state from turning fascist and turn against the Jews? Answer: a majority Jewish state. What reason does a majority Jewish state have to be a democracy that protects minority rights? Simply because it is the best way to govern and protect the rights of all citizens, Jew and gentile. That's the point the Israeli Left has to convince voters of. If the Left threatens voters with Western pressure, it will only invite hostility from inside.

And to Jews who didn't live in Western democracies like Mizrachim and Eastern European Jews? How are they going to implement a liberal democracy? I believe Norman Finkelstein is the one that said that the Jews should have tried to gain rights in the countries they lived in. If the Arabs have failed to gain rights from their Arab rulers, how the hell would have the Jews gained rights from the Arabs?

You wrote: "You cannot really say that Jews in Israel are more secure than Jews in the US, certainly not on an individual level, and I submit, even on the level of Jewish peoplehood."

But what about Jews from the Middle East? My mom was born in Tunisia. She's is definetly safer in Israel than in Tunisia. Not all Jews can simply move to the US. Ideology is not the thing blocking them. Ideology didn't not block them from coming to the US in 1942.

Jews did survive by being able to take their identity from place to place. But individual rights are more important. Surviving is not the goal. One has to live, achieve and contribute. And moving from one place to the other will no ensure our abilities to live, achieve, and contribute. It should not be about having Jews now and in the future. It should be about having the freedom and security to fullfill our potential as scientists, doctors, authors, etc.

I think you are confusing Israel the Jewish State(a Jewish majority state) with the state for the Jewish people (a state that acts on behalf of all Jews whether they are citizens or not). A Jewish majority state acts for its citizens. If it is in danger of a nuke from Iran, it doesn't tell the Jews within it to scatter to the four corners of the earth so the Jewish people will survive. It acts so that the Israeli people will survive. Can you imagine the US President telling his country's citizens that he can't protect them from a nuke and that they must scatter to other countries so the American way of life will survive. Israel might act to save Jews who are not Israeli citizens and allow Diaspora Jews refuge and citizenship if they want it, but it doesn't represent Diaspora Jews since being a Jew does not automatically give you a vote in Israeli elections.

Jerry Haber said...

Michael W.

I meant, of course, share your views in the comment you made that I was reacting to. Not all your views, some of which I share.

Jerry Haber said...

evets,

You write:

"However, I think one could claim that diaspora Jews (at least since their exodus from Muslim lands) have been made somewhat safer by the existence of a Jewish state with a strong military, that this state's existence deters more anti-Jewish violence (outside its borders) than it engenders."

Yes, one could make that claim.

But do you have ANY EVIDENCE FOR THAT CLAIM AT ALL? Where has Israel protected the security of Jews outside of Israel? It may be that Jews feel more secure knowing that there is a Jewish state. But surely you have no evidence that the Israel deters anti-jewish violence anywhere in the world. What will Israel do when there is anti-Jewish violence in France? Send in the IDF?

On the other hand, there is overwhelming evidence that Israel's actions, rightly or wrongly, endangers Jews in many places. Just see the correlation between the incidence of anti-Jewish attacks in Europe and periods of violence in Israel-Palestine. During the first few years of Oslo, attacks on Jews were way down. During the Second Intifada they went way up.

Please give my your evidence for your claim.

evets said...

Jerry -

You're right. I have no evidence, just the hunch that Israel's presence could act as a deterrent. Not to individual acts of vandalism or terrorism, but to large, organized, even state-sponsored, acts of anti-Jewish violence. The possibility of a reprisal (not necessarily IDF) and the need to address Jewish concerns in the presence of a Jewish state could be prophylactic. I happen to agree that this 'deterrence' capability diminishes with Israel's moral and diplomatic stock and I'm not surprised at the figures you cite correlating anti-Jewish acts with Israel's actions. So relax, I have no stats to back up my hunch, just the idea that the existence of a Jewish state, for a time anyway, made it less likely that really large-scale acts of anti-Jewish violence would occur in the diaspora.

Y. Ben-David said...

I completely agree with the claim that Israel's very existence has benefitted ALL Jews around the world. Even the anti-Zionist Satmars have benefitted even though their ideologues will deny it. It is not just a question of whether the IDF will send troops to protect Jews, it is how Jews are perceived by everyone else that counts. You have to remember, as much as "progressives", particulary both assimilationists and Orthodox anti-Zionists might want to deny it, that Israel IS perceived as the "JEWISH state" by most of the world. This especially includes the Arabs. Yes, I am aware of the propaganda line that Arab/Muslims push saying "we LOVE Jews and respect Judaism, its just Zionists we have a problem with". Well, that is just a lie. I read an article about about someone who attended an International Solidarity Movement training session (they are the ones who go to Palestinian areas and try to interfere with Israeli security operations) and they were told that they would hear Arabs "cursing the Jews all the time, but REALLY they mean Zionists". Yeah, sure. Even Phil Weiss noted all the expressed hatred for Jews in Egypt and Gaza.

Look at the Jewish rights movement in the USSR. What gave it its push? The victory in the Six-Day War. Before this, Jews were considered weaklings, going like sheep to the slaughter. Particularly in a place like Russia, Jews felt absolutely helpless and that only solution to avoid antisemitism was assimilation. The Jewish/Zionist pride movement in Russia saved over 1 MILLION Jews for the Jewish people, and I belive that is something important. Although "progressives" think the greatest honor in the world is to be considered a "victim" this is not true for the majority of mankind. Strong, self-confident people are respected far more than pathetic crybabies who run to others to protect them. In traditionally antisemitic places like Europe, people would disparage Jews and then, in the next breath, they would say "Israelis are different, I respect them". A good example is Robert Kennedy who visited Palestine in 1946 as a cub reporter. He visited ETZEL and LEHI fighters in the underground and he wrote articles sympathetic to their struggle. It is well known that his father, Joe Kennedy, was a virulent antisemite but Bobby wrote to his father saying "you know, the Jews here in Palestine are not like the ones we know back in the US, they are strong, hard workers, farmers, etc". Jews, for better or worse are judged as a group and Israel is the largest concentration of Jews in the world and is judged accordingly. Its power reflects on all Jews around the world.

Robert Sarber was a physicist who worked with Robert Oppenheimer on the Manhattan Project. He was sent in uniform as a soldier to Hiroshima and Nagasaki to study the effects of the A-bombs on those cities just a short time after the surrender. He noted he was treated deferentially by the Japanese he met and did not enocounter hostility. Why? Because the Japanese respect the strong. This is the lesson for us here.

Jerry Haber said...

Michael W. I just spent a half-hour writing a comment to you that I lost. So rather than write it again, let me refer you to two posts on the Law of Return.

http://themagneszionist.blogspot.com/2007/08/law-of-return-part-ii-what-israel-can.html

and

http://themagneszionist.blogspot.com/2009/06/ahmads-key-and-aharons-key.html

And that just has to do with Palestinian citizens of Israel.

By the way, I have no problem in Israel having an immigration law that privileges people fleeing persecution who belong to native national groups,Jews and Palestinians, with Jews getting extra points, even. There is nothing illiberal about that, just as there is nothing illiberal about goals rather than quotas when it comes to affirmative action.

But the Law of Return is not an immigration law. It says that if Bill Gates became Jewish and was elected President of the United States, he would be considered, by virtue of his conversion, a returning citizen of Israel. He would not have to undego naturalization, or a waiting period, or anything. And he would have a greater right to citizenship than a seventh-generation Palestinian who was studying abroad when the 1948 war broke out, and who was an enthusiastic supporter of the Jewish State.

You see my point. Israel sells the law of return to liberals such as yourself by saying that it is there to protect persecuted Jews. That may be one of the law's purposes, but such a purpose could be served by other less sweeping laws.

Shabbat Shalom
Jerry

Michael, a true democracy requires consent of the governed. For over forty years, Israel has ruled, directly or indirectly, over 3 1/2million Palestinians against their will and their consent. That is unparalleled in the last half of the twentieth century. Even China offered Tibetans citizenship.

So that, in itself, suggests that Israel is not a democracy. It may have to hold onto the territories for security reasons, or because a large section of its population believes that it belongs to the Jews. It may not want to rule directly over the Arab population (in fact it does not); it just wants to control their borders, economy, and security. And all that may be justified. But it still disqualifies Israel from being a democracy, at least in my mind. Others, who focus on the question of citizenship, will disagree.

Y. Ben-David said...

In addition, I would say that the "peace process" is the greatest danger to the security of Jewish people around the world because it should be noted that the big increase in Muslim terrorism, both against Israel and the rest of the world occurred AFTER Oslo. When Muslims see that Israeli leaders are hestitant about stating the rights of Israel, and that Israel's leaders, some of whom are "tough generals" like Barak and Sharon are BEGGING the Muslims to take JUDAISM'S holiest sites away from us, without even a struggle, the Muslims say "you see, it is just as Islamic tradition and Muhammed teach...the Jews are cowards and weaklings and all we have to do is keep up the pressure and they will eventually collapse totally". This was the origin of Nasrallah's claim after the flight of the IDF from southern Lebanon that Israel "was no stronger than a cob-web".
I know you "progressives" are simply appalled at my thinking, but that is the reality of the situation.

Michael W. said...

Doesn't it take a year for an oleh to get his full passport/citizenship?

LeaNder said...

sorry, the software change here irritated me, the first attempt isn't yet corrected.

During the First World War, when he was working on his General Theory of Relativity, he was sitting in Berlin, working at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, saying he was a pacifist, hoping for Germany to be defeated, yet his salary was paid for by Prussian militarists and he maintained friendship with people like Fritz Haber, a Germanized alienated Jew who was working on Germany's poison gas project.

He published the main part of his special theories of relativity while still in Switzerland, partly while working as a civil servant in--I think--Bern's patent office.

Obviously Max Planck invited him to Berlin, since he was fascinated by Einstein's work. It built up on some of his own. Einstein was a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences, and as such paid by the Prussian state. It feels as if you drew a direct line from the wanna-be-Prussian Hitler to the Prussians. And Prussia wasn't the only state on earth that believed in a strong military, law and order and a stern believe in authorities.

Also you seem to forget that in 1907 initially Einstein's habilitation was denied, and that was quite a bit after the annus mirabilis the year 1905, when the main parts of his special relativity theory saw the light of day.

You want to blame him for accepting Max Planck's invitation in 1914? I could imagine both man had a deep respect for each other. People like Max Planck were his surrounding and not the Pickelhauben.

Peter H said...

Y. Ben David,

There is no question that there is a great deal of anti-semitism in the Arab & Muslim world. I don't justify or condone these ugly sentiments, but it is ridiculous to ignore the role the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has played in this. Attitudes towards Jews, and the fate of Jews in Arab lands, would be very different in the absence of Zionism. Indeed, many Jewish critics of Zionism warned that the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine would lead to the deterioration of the security of Arab Jews.

I am also perplexed by your statement that "You have to remember, as much as "progressives"...might want to deny it, that Israel IS perceived as the "JEWISH state" by most of the world." Well, what do you expect when Israel defines itself as a Jewish state and appropriates Jewish symbols.

Mike said...

As a Jew living in a western European country, I disagree with the argument claiming that Israel’s existence had benefited all Jews around the world. This was maybe true until 1967 but this blessed period is over. First of all, as any citizens of EU democratic countries, Jews are protected by their state and granted full and equal rights. Israel has nothing to do with it. European states don’t make any connections between their Jewish citizens and the state of Israel. They are French, German, Dutch... I may even say that in some countries Jews are over-protected but again, it has nothing to do with Israel but because of the memory of the Shoah, remains of collective guilt and also because people are understandably afraid to be perceived as anti-Semites. When in France, the Jewish cemetery of Carpentras was desecrated or when Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish boy was tortured and murdered because of his origin, tens of thousands French citizens marched to demonstrate their support and their grief.

On the opposite, Israel’s image has considerably worsened the last 30 years. It has lost its magic aura. Almost nobody’s sees Israel as the little David courageously fighting the mighty Goliath anymore, but much more as the bully firing real bullets at kids throwing stones. In fact, since the second Intifida, Israel’s behavior has done a lot of harm to Jewish communities, notably in France and Belgium, countries with a large Muslim community. It is the main factor behind the surge of anti-Semitic aggressions, notably in 2002 and 2003. All polls and surveys link the surge of individual anti-Semitism to the Middle East conflict and Israel’s behavior.

Y. Ben-David said...

Peter H.-
Yes, among some "progressives" and Muslims (of course) Israel has a negative image, but you have to remember this is a minority in the West.
Polls in the US taken AFTER the Gaza war show something like 70% of the population saying they view Israeli positively (yes, I know some "progressives" are showing polls with some slippage in this, possibly due to Obama's policies, but even if this is true this will soon correct itself) and about 15% saying they view the Palestinians positively. Most people in the West don't care about the Palestinians, viewing their problems as being self-inflicted.

You stated:
-----------------------------------

Almost nobody’s sees Israel as the little David courageously fighting the mighty Goliath anymore, but much more as the bully firing real bullets at kids throwing stones.
-----------------------------------
I completely reject this statement. Who is "everybody"? Do you mean "everybody who counts, i.e. is a 'progressive like me"? You ignore the rocket attacks by HAMAS and HIZBULLAH and Iran's nuclear threat. People still know how to count and see that there are are lot more Arabs and Muslims wanting to fight Israel than there are Jews defending themselves. Regarding the "soldiers firing rubber bullets at kids throwing stones", it is also at least something of a myth that the average uninformed viewer seeing this automatically identifies with the kids...they frequently view it as the forces of law and order fighting anarchy.


I repeat, most reasonable people in the world realize that it is the Arab side that is responsible for the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Arabs.

-----------------------------

Leander-
He did the work on the SPECIAL theory of relativity in Switzerland which he published in 1905. The GENERAL theory of relativity (gravitional warping and the such) he did in Berlin in World War I. I never mentioned Hitler, I was talking about World War I-era Prussian militarism, which Einstein seemed to get along with fine, although he denounced it at the same time. Having his bread buttered on both sides. Just like his support for Zionism and his denouncing it when it when they actually had to defend themselves with force....also like his sending the famous letter about German A-bomb work in 1939 to FDR and then his complaining when the Americans actually used it.

Jerry Haber said...

"I repeat, most reasonable people in the world realize that it is the Arab side that is responsible for the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Arabs."

Y. Ben David -- could you give a source for this? My impression is that Jews and Christian evangelicals think this way in America. Most people I know either have no opinion, or blame both sides.

The myth of tiny-Israel-beleaguered-by-powerful-Arab states -- which we know now was NEVER true, even in 1948, since Israel had military superiority in the 1948 war (especially the second half, though the first half is arguable), not to mention 1956 and 1967 -- is simply not bought by anybody nowadays outside of rightwing Jews and evangelicals. Compare the American media on Israel in 1967 and now. And this is a pro-Israel media, certainly compared to Europe. And who in Israel believes that David vs. Goliath crap excepts for the datiyim and the Uzi Landau types.

Jerry Haber said...

Y Ben David, I am willing to grant to you that states support powerful states. I was not calling you on support for Israel among governments. But when polls in Europe list Israel and Iran as the two most negative countries,

http://www.globescan.com/news_archives/bbccntryview/

where do you see popular support for Israel?

Of course, you did say "most reasonable people." But then aren't you doing what you accused Peter of?

Jerry Haber said...

Michael W, the time wait is a mere formality. It is not a period of naturalization. In my case it took three years, but then again, that was back in the early 80's, when it took two years to get a phone line.

Y. Ben-David said...

Jerry-
Of course, being "weak and small" doesn't always make you right. Nazi Germany was the "weak and small" party in the Second World War, they didn't stand a chance against the "Goliath" of the combined forces of the US, USSR and British Empire.
So, if it makes the Arabs happy by wanting to keep emphasizing their beloved status as "victims", let them then believe that they were Arab Davids facing the Jewish Goliath in 1948.

But Benny Morris talks about this in his book "1948". The Arab countries had vastly more population than Israel, they had regular armies, most of whom were British-trained, they had tanks, artillery and warplanes. What was fortunate for Israel is that their forces were originally trained not for fighting some foreign country, but rather for repressing their own populations. With the end of World War II and the onset of the Cold War, the British were encouraging their client states like Egypt, Iraq and Transjordan to build up their forces to face possible aggression from the USSR so they were being upgraded at the time.
Most people observing the situation, including the Jews in Palestine had good reason to worry about the outcome of the war.

In the end, the perception of who was weak and who was strong is irrelevant. And regarding the situation today, well, a lot of your 'progressives' and not just us primitive datiim who believe "THE CRAP" (your words) of us facing major threats are worried about it. After when a relatively powerful country that has nuclear ambitions keeps saying it wants to eradicate us (AND PLEASE DON'T GIVE ME THIS GARBAGE ABOUT HIM MEANING THAT WE WILL SIMPLY DISAPPEAR ON OUR OWN, WITHOUT HIS 'HELP'), it gets the attention of a lot of people. A lot of powerful oil-rich countries hate our guts and preach genocidal Judeophobic propaganda.


Mike-
People have this bizarre view that before 1967 "everybody loved Israel". WRONG. Israel was hounded by the UN to take back the refugees, the New York TImes in an editorial in the waiting period before the Six-Day War said it was time to admit it was a mistake to create a Jewish state because it was so weak it would have to be defended by the US. Yes, "progressives" supported Israel to a larger degree than today, but again, they are a minority . It was Israel showing its strength that brought a lot of other people around.

I don't want Israel to be "loved", I want it to be respected, and it is respected a heck of a lot more than it was before 1967 and Jews are respected a heck of a lot more than before 1948.

Michael W. said...

Jerry,

The main reason Marshall opposed US recognition of Israel in 1948 is because he thought Israel wouldn't have been able to defend itself, and would require 100,000 or so troops from the US to defend it from the announced Arab invasion after the British left and Israel declared independence.

What advantage did Israel have over the Arabs between 1948 and 1967?

Jerry Haber said...

Michael W.

Shows how wrong Marshall was. He wasn't the only one.

Read Benny Morris's book. While the first stage of the war showed a certain parity, after the first long cease-fire, Israel had military superiority in weapons, manpower, etc.

Remember, Transjordan seems to have worked out a deal with the Jews to carve up Palestine between the two states. So, actually, despite a lot of sabre-rattling and Arab rhetoric, the Arab armies did not seriously threaten the new state. Of course, they also were not fighting for their homeland or their survival. That sometimes makes a difference.

You seem to confuse numerical superiority with military superiority. If we were going by numbers, sure the Jews were outmanned. But look at armies and weapons deployed, and the Jews had the edge. That, by the way, is why they did so well -- although there were heavy Jewish losses.

In both 1956 and 1967 Israel launched a war against inferior armies with the element of surprise. And of course their armaments were superior.

Y. Ben David, the last thing Iran would do with a bomb would be to nuke Israel. If they get the bomb it will be because of the strategic advantages it provides them in the Middle East.

And, Y. Ben David, you are always harping on the line, "Better a feared and respected power than an admired and respected wimp." Spoke like a true "tough Jew". Countries like the Soviet Union were also feared and respected because of their power. At one point, apartheid South Africa, because of its natural resources, was a major player.

We'll see how long Israel holds out with its negative ratings. At the moment, it leans on Uncle Sam, to whom it runs whenever the rest of the world is cross with it. Of course, the point of the Peace Process is to demonstrate to the world what good guys we are. It's bought a lot of good will and time. We will see how long that last, too.

At least the Palestinians have contributed to the mess by not getting their act together.

LeaNder said...

I was talking about World War I-era Prussian militarism, which Einstein seemed to get along with fine, although he denounced it at the same time.

I really hate your argument. It is so easy to judge someone in hindsight. A vast European majority went into WWI with utter fervor. You are aware of that? How many of them you think did anticipate the outcome?

And what is your problem with Einstein in this context? That he didn't stop the euphoria for war from his desk at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute? Germany was still a monarchy at the time. How could he have done that?

If you want to blame Jewish Germans for supporting the war, there are many others. Surely Einstein wasn't one of them.

Islam And The West said...

I recently came across your website and welcome the refreshing tone taken in our posts.

As someone who takes particular interest around the subject of Muslim-West relations, Israel-Palestine is of particular importance to me.

I find that much of the debate regarding this issue is stifled for obvious reasons. Your blog goes a long way in opening up such areas for discussion. I hope in the future to be able to add my voice to the debate here.

Gibson Block said...

Good article. But I disagree.

A large Jewish community with "national group rights within a secular Palestinian state"?

Sounds like a pipe dream.

The Jews would still appear to be a threat.

1. This community would still have been imposed by the imperialists.

2. The majority was un-modern, traditional, religious and not Jewish.

This would put them at odds with the Jewish community.

Jerry Haber said...

Some misunderstandings, Gibson:

1. This community would still have been imposed by the imperialists.

>The Arabs proposed minority rights for the Jews as a national community, more righs, I may mention, that Israeli Arabs currently held. The Binationalist Jews rejected it for various reasons, but mostly because of the bad experience of European minorities, despite guarantees, after World War I.

2. The majority was un-modern, traditional, religious and not Jewish.

This would put them at odds with the Jewish community.

The Jewish community, like the Arab community, had a mix. True, there were many secular Jews, but there were many traditional Arabs, for whom religious law was not binding. Look at the states around Palestine: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt. They were, and are, all, essentially, secular states.

Y. Ben-David said...

Leander-

While you are right that most people supported the outbreak of war with enthusiasm, Einstein claimed to be a pacifist and to oppose the war from the beginning. An important thing to remember is that most Jews outside Russia supported Germany in the war because at the time treated the Jews well, unlike Russia with its history of virulent antisemitism. But, outside Germany, EVERYONE condemned the German invasion of Belgium, and it was this act that brought the British into the war and which also antagonized feeling against Germany in the US. It is possible that Einstein's pacifism was tempered somewhat by a fear that maybe Russia would win the war, but Einstein always portrayed himself as a super-moral person who was above the fray. That is why I think it was hypocritical of him to take money from Prussian militarists during the war and to maintain a friendship with Haber who was heading the poison gas project for Germany.

Don't get me wrong, I do not hate Einstein. I appreciate his support for Zionism and his strong identity as a Jew. He also openly sympathized with Orthodox/religious Jews, something that was very rare of Jewish intellectuals of his day.
He was a genuinely good man who helped a lot of people (he would give recommenations to anyone who asked for one which ended up meaning "a letter of recommendation from Einstein" didn't really carry much weigh). But he was certainly no political thinker and he suffered from many human weaknesses and these must be taken into consideration when assessing his role in history.

Margaret said...

"...many human weaknesses and these must be taken into consideration when assessing his role in history."

How true! True also of us, Y. Ben-David. Do you accept that of yourself?

LeaNder said...

but Einstein always portrayed himself as a super-moral person who was above the fray.

Admittedly I read about Einstein a long time ago, but I never once had the impression he was a bigot. That's what super-moral feels to me. I think he was a human, not a super-moralist, and he judged matters from this humanist perspective.

My main interest in Einstein was creative thought/imagination in natural sciences ... Your interest may be more connected with the exploitation of science for power. During the last years I encountered much praise about the nuking of Hiroshima/Nagasaki, how important it was, how in the end it saved life, that series of Arabs/Persians have to be likewise nuked into surrender for their own good. Concerning Iran, according to US military experts nukes are Israel's only option. Maybe Einstein with his "creative mind" would have understood the complex results of this better than you do:

Both global entrepreneurs mentioned at the beginning of this column believe Israel will resolve its existential crisis by bombing Iran's key nuclear facilities later this year. One thought Gulf Arabs would be secretly delighted and that Iran's much vaunted asymmetrical retaliatory capabilities would fizzle as the theocracy imploded. The other could see mayhem up and down the Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz closed, and oil at $300 per barrel.

You really seem to be trying to denigrate Einstein only to keep your "realistic power perspective" intact. Are you a Machiavellian? For me politics start with every human being, not only with political strategists.

Look at your discussion of politics surrounding WWI and specials interest groups versus the world's reaction. Do you think every "humanist" is ultimately a super-moral? Must be if he objected to Israel's nukes on Iran? Even if he can't prevent it? Would the owner of this blog be guilty if it happened? Would you be personally responsible for all the disaster on Iranian ground, the larger ME? If not, why not? And what makes Einstein's case different?

Margaret said...

What appears to be the plan for political zionism on a global scale is described at the following link. (I've summarized comments from several threads at Comment by MA on August 12, 2009 - 1:07am) Please join me in discussing.

http://www.cnas.org/blogs/abumuqawama/2009/08/debating-cost-afghanistan.html