Israel Between Zionism and Democracy
by Mordechai Nisan
There are two alternative conceptions of the proper political order and the modes of governmental policy toward a country’s population.
1) At the root of the democratic vision, certainly America’s version of it, is the abstract egalitarianism of individual rights for all peoples, at all times, under all circumstances.
2) At the heart of the national vision are ideas of ethnic character, religious identity, and historical solidarity serving as the foundation for a state.
Modern Israel is a product of two radically different political ideas that nonetheless combined to galvanize the Jewish national adventure:
* Nationalism-Collectivism: There is the indelible mark of Jewish peoplehood, the Biblical Homeland and the dream of Return, all of which constituted the spiritual underpinnings of the Jewish link to the land of Israel.
* Liberalism-Individualism: But there was also a universalistic European-based component that was accepted and assimilated into the outlook of modern Jews, Zionist Jews. … Herzl was a European by conviction and sentiment, Ben-Gurion was a Russian socialist, and Jabotinsky was a man of the liberal spirit, without in any way denying their dedication to Jewish self-determination.
Liberalism: enemy of collectivism
Fulfilling the political agenda formulated in Washington, Paris, and other Western capitals, and approved by the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International, will allow Israel to earn the privilege to be part of the legitimate West.
Yet in so fulfilling the Western agenda Israel will pulverize its Zionist ideological armor and, moreover, play into the hand of those who conspire to the piece-by-piece (or: peace-by-peace) dissolution of the Jewish state.
The Holy Collective
The Jewish people has, ever since the dawn of human history, carved out its own particular peoplehood, unwilling to be swallowed up by more universalist or internationalist enterprises.
Hebrew nationalism faced Hellenistic civilization, later the rise of Christianity and Islam, subsequently major European forces like liberalism and marxism. …
The state of Israel therefore symbolizes an ancient struggle, not just for Jewish existence, but for assuring the Jewish essence at the core of the people’s national heritage…
According to Zionism, resting upon the solid foundation of Torah and Judaic tradition, Eretz Israel is the singular and unconditional homeland of the Jewish People alone.
Zionism as a specific national movement did not recognize any alien element to deny the unique Jewish right to the land.
According to modern Israel’s founding document in 1948, the state is designed first and foremost to serve the purposes of the Jewish people. … Non-Jews, who constitute close to 20% of the Israeli population, are presumably relegated in the state of Israel to assume a markedly secondary role, in as much as they are not members of the national community - the Jewish people.
The land and the state are designed to serve as the foundation for Jewish spiritual fulfillment. Zionist self-actualization, the rejuvenation of Hebrew as the spoken tongue, and a safe homeland for secure Jewish life are the core purposes of Israel.
However, Israeli society is not composed solely of Jews…. The character of the state does not therefore overlap the character of the society.
The state is, by and large, uni-dimensionally Jewish but society in Israel is pluralistic and tri-religious (Jewish, Muslim and Christian, in addition to the Druze community).
The disjuncture between state and society is a source of social and political tensions, and can stimulate radical expectations to resolve this structural incompatibility.
Israel has to reject the American paradigma
The pluralistic model closely resembles the character of America established as a new political entity, without the historical bedrock of an old national ethnic people.
The United States was to be open to anyone - and this is its universalistic spirit - who regardless of race, color, or creed, chose to merge with others who do not share the same personal autobiography.
But it is inconceivable that Israel can be a permanently integral Jewish political entity, fulfilling the classic goals of modern Jewish nationalism expressed by the Zionist movement, if it fully applies the American paradigm.
The westernization of Israel must necessarily signify its fundamental de-Judaization and de-Zionization. The individualistic spirit of liberalism, focusing on private rights and human diversity, can weaken or even dissolve the sinews of collective purpose.
The Future of Jewish collectivism
To ‘normalize’ Israel in a Western liberal fashion, based on individual rights more than collective responsibilities, could pulverize the solidity of Zionism as the activist, dynamic, and virtually permanent revolutionary ethos of twentieth-century Jewish nationalism.
After all, Jews have come to Israel over the decades and generations, not for personal liberty (which is nonetheless a weighty value), but for national liberty as a people in control of its destiny.
The condition of Jewish existence in Israel is rent today by the juxtaposition and partial combination of two alternatives: the particular Judaic essence at the heart of Jewish nationalism, and political imitation of non-Judaic universal values.
It is this basic existential tension which remains at the crux of the Jewish dilemma and its present manifestation regarding Jewish nationalism with its Zionist facet.
Dr. Mordechai Nisan is senior lecturer in Middle East Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Erich Fromm: Fear of freedom
The rise of democracy, while setting us free also created a society where we feel isolated from our fellows, where relationships are impersonal and where insecurity replaces a sense of belonging. This sense of isolation drives a man to a devotion and submission to all-powerful organization from the state…
Erich Fromm sees right to the heart of our contradictory needs for community and for freedom like no other writer before or since. In Fear of Freedom, Fromm warns that the price of community is indeed high, and it is the individual who pays.
Any of several types of social organization that ascribe central importance to the groups to which individuals belong (e.g., state, nation, ethnic group, or social class). It may be contrasted with individualism. (Consise Encyclopedia)
Collectivism holds that, in human affairs, the collective—society, the community, the nation, the proletariat, the race, etc.—is the unit of reality and the standard of value. On this view, the individual has reality only as part of the group, and value only insofar as he serves it. (Leonard Peikoff)
* Lord Acton: “By liberty I mean the assurance that every man shall be protected in doing what he believes; his duty against the influence of authority and majorities, custom and opinion.”
* E. E.Cummings: “To be nobody but yourself — in a world which is doing it’s best, night and day, to make you like everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.”
* Marcus Aurelius: “The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”
* Friedrich August von Hayek: “The principle that the end justifies the means is in individualist ethics regarded as the denial of all morals. In collectivist ethics it becomes necessarily the supreme rule.”
* Jean-Francois Revel: “A human group transforms itself into a crowd when it suddenly responds to a suggestion rather than to reasoning, to an affirmation rather than to proof, to the repetition of a phrase rather than to arguments…”
* Walter E. Williams: “How does something immoral, when done privately, become moral when it is done collectively? Furthermore, does legality establish morality? Stalinist, Nazi, and Maoist urges were legal… Legality, alone, cannot be the talisman of moral people.”
* Edmund Burke: “The tyranny of a multitude is a multiplied tyranny.”
* Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “The main thing is to have a soul that loves the truth. Truth requires constant repetition, because error is being preached about us all the time, and not only by isolated individuals but by the masses. In the newspapers and encyclopedias, in schools and universities, everywhere error rides high and basks in the consciousness of having the majority on its side.
* Thomas Jefferson: “If I could not go to Heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”