Fundamentals: Zionism is the God that Didn't Fail
- I came across an article by Martin Peretz entitled The God that did not fail (Zionism) that may be a diamond in the rough. It was written in 1997, perhaps to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Basle Congress that founded the Zionist movement. Peretz makes the point that communism, or as he calls it, "socialism" was, in the words of Arthur Koestler, "The God that Failed." Instead of a new world of democracy and equality, it brought despotism and mass executions. For the Jews in particular, the failure of communism to bring about the longed for status of equality was a particularly bitter disappointment. The little fragile Zionist movement did not fail however. Peretz wrote:
Who, in those early inflamed decades in the history of modern revolution, would have imagined that it was not the socialist revolution of the deracinated Jews, but the nationalist revolution of the reracinated Jews, that would come out on top? But the cause to which Luxemburg and Trotsky gave their lives is itself dead, and, in those redoubts where it still exists, it owes its existence increasingly to deals with the running dogs of capitalism. The cause, indeed, has become known as "the God that failed," after the title of a bitter book by six apostates from communism. In his contribution to that clarifying book, Arthur Koestler wrote that "I served the Communist Party for seven years--the same length of time Jacob tended Laban's sheep to win Rachel, his daughter. When the time was up, the bride was led into his dark tent" and turned out to be not Rachel but Leah. Jacob worked another seven years to win the hand he had first been pledged; but Koestler was spent and would do no more. He was through with Laban.
If socialism was the God that failed, then Zionism was the God that did not fail. I do not mean to say that Zionism was, or is, a God. It was too rambunctious, too contentious and too democratic to become an orthodoxy, and it consistently refused-- except in a few instances of internecine violence that scandalized the entire Jewish community--to meet heterodoxy with physical force. (It was partly for these reasons, no doubt, that Koestler became an idiosyncratic Zionist.) There are religious Zionists, to be sure, who regard the state, or the land, or their own chauvinism, as divine; but Zionism was not essentially a messianism. All that it insisted upon was freedom and security, which are supremely secular objectives. Indeed, if Zionism did not fail, it was not least because it was not a God. It was a morality, and a politics, of worldliness.
But Zionism was an ideology, emerging from among the high tide of ideologies; and its secular, worldly promise was certainly revolutionary. Of all the modern promises of transformation, Zionism is the only one to have accomplished what it set out to do--and to have done so with reasonable decency. The narrative of this century is cluttered with brutalized hopes, brutalized bodies, brutalized language. Socialism, communism, Third Worldism, pan-Arabism, even neutralism: all these isms, with their grandiose aims and their callous means, which conscripted many ordinary men and women and enticed so many intellectuals (and so many Jewish intellectuals) are already receding into the mists of time. Our children will scarcely know what they were; but the luck of our children will have been purchased at a fearful price.
He summarizes the history of Zionism in his own way, including everything from the grand to the trivial (Herzl's mother sat on the dais with him at the first Zionist congress). In summarizing, he captures important ingredients in the success of the Zionist movement, such as pragmatism and willingness to compromise on non-essentials:
The Zionists brought to Zion at least three advantages. The first was pragmatism, practicality, a willingness to compromise. Their state is itself a monument to compromise: the Zionists took what they could get, and renounced the map of their dreams, because the Jews were in misery, and this was intolerable. Practicality is sometimes a form of morality. And at a time when population transfers were "solving" other national disputes, such as those between Turkey and Greece and between India and Pakistan, the Zionists did not for a moment think that Palestine couldn't be shared.
The second advantage was that the Zionists came with a confident notion of what their nation was, a confidence springing from the fact that this was the nation that more or less invented the idea of peoplehood. This people and the idea of this people have always been tied to one land. The Jewish attitude toward Jerusalem (and Palestine) was not merely nostalgia. Nostalgia is what some Jews may still feel about what they once had, say, in Spain or in Poland or in Baghdad. But Spain and Poland and Baghdad were addresses, not ideals, as Avi Erlich argues in his provocative book Ancient Zionism. Similarly, the Arabs lost much in historic Palestine and in Jerusalem; but there is no sacred Muslim ideal of these places. The fact is that, for a thousand years and more, Muslims prayed in the direction of Mecca and Jews prayed in the direction of Jerusalem. And there is no secular ideal attached to Palestine either, as there is a secular ideal of Zion.
The third advantage of Zionism was the advantage of the modern. For this reason, Zionism was a genuine revolution in its region. Was modernity a foreign, Western import, as the critics like to say? Of course. That is why it worked. It did not mistake authenticity for backwardness. And so it traumatized its neighbors not only with nationalism, but also with science, with industry, with agriculture, with the whole gleaming consumerist oasis that it devised. And these chasms will not be easily bridged, even if peace ever comes. For the fear of the modern is always accompanied by envy; and this envy fires bullets from guns and activates bombs. The fanatics of faith, the "martyrs" and those who cheer and weep for the martyrs, do not wish only to stop the advance of the Jews; they wish also to stop the advance of the moderns. But the Jews and the moderns are in the land to stay. Herzl said that the Zionist goal was to have the Jewish people "live at last as free men on our own soil, and in our homes peacefully die." The first of these aims has been achieved. The second will be a long time in coming.
I say it is a diamond in the rough, because Peretz includes a few ideas that are not necessarily accepted by all Zionists or all supporters of Israel. Not everyone will agree that American or British Jews belong to a different nation for example; not everyone will be happy with the claim that Palestinian Arabs were mostly migrants who entered Palestine in fairly recent times, and certainly not everyone will be happy with his seeming blanket condemnation of socialism. The dismal failure and excesses of Stalinism and Maoism did not discredit the idea of socialism, any more than the rise of Fascism discredited capitalim in general.
For all his faults, however, Peretz reminds us of essentials of what made the Zionist movement "work" when other ideologies failed.
Don't miss this one: http://www.zionism-israel.com/ezine/Zionism_God_History.htm
Copyright 2006 by Ami Isseroff. Posted at http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000229.html where your comments are welcome. Distributed by ZNN - (Subscribe - send email to znn-subscribe@ yahoogroups. com ). Please forward this message with this notice to help support Israel and Zionism.