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Monday, September 10, 2007

How Israelis could be so blind to their reality

I'm sure that a lot of you who have been reading about recent events here must be wondering: How could Israelis elect a government whose first priority is the creation of a 'Palestinian' state? How could Israel's Jewish Agency have decided to bring halachic (Jewish religious law) non-Jews to Israel to fill a 'quota'? How could Israelis have elected a government that seeks to expel Jews from land that God says belongs to the Jews?

It's important for you to understand the difference between Jewishness and 'Israeliness.' To that end, I think it's important for you to read this article. It's way too long for me to put here in its entirety. So I'm going to give you a small excerpt and then suggest that you read the whole thing.
One of the greatest ironies of Jewish history is that secular Zionism of the nineteenth century was formulated precisely for the purpose of offering an alternative to the assimilationism and "self-hatred" of the Diaspora. It arose as a response to both asismilationism and anti-Semitism. Who then could have dreamed that it would itself magnify anti-Semitism, giving birth to a particularly malignant form of Jewish anti-Semitism within the Jewish state itself, and lead to a bizarre form of Israeli "Post-Jewish" assimilationism in Zion?

Until very recently, it was widely presumed that the one unqualified success in resolving the dilemma between Jewishness and modernity was achieved in Israel. Secular Zionism represented a blending of modernity with Jewishness that involved neither the assimilationism of the radical reformers in the Diaspora nor Orthrodox rejectionism. It achieved this in the formation of Israeliness, which was a new phase of identity for Jews who lived in their own Jewish state (here) Israeliness was ever-so-modern, with high-tech industries cropping up everywhere like mushrooms, with European standards of living and lifestyles, with prestigious universities and scientific institutions, not to mention a military of legendary prowess. All this in a state whose raison d'etre was its Jewishness, its serving as a national home for Jews.

Certainly, Israeliness had its problems, not least of which was a dubious, if not outright hostile, attitude towards Jewish tradition. Israel's intellectual, journalistic, academic and artistic elites have long displayed a deep animosity to matters of religion and to religious people, an antipathy shared by parts of the broader secularist population. This was fanned in part by resentment at the powers of the politicized religious Establishment. Anti-Orthodox bigotry has long been the primary form of bigotry in the country, escalating after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a religious law student.

Beyond hostility to religion and tradition, Israeliness also had other dubious roots. There was always a strong "Canaanite" trend present in Israeli society, especially among its intellectual elite, which insisted that Israelis were a new "post-Jewish" nationality and ethnic group altogether. (The "Canaanites" were a movement of Israelis in the 1950s and thereafter who attempted to detach Israeliness from Jewishness and create a new "non-denominational" Hebrew-speaking "nationality" of Israelis, one that could encompass the Arabs as well.) As such, these new "Israelis" had little in common with Diaspora Jews and even less with Diaspora history.

Many an Israeli Jew insisted that he had far more in common with the Druse and Bedouins of the country than with some Orthodox Jew in Brooklyn. One of the many forms of backlash against Diaspora Jewishness was a ferocious hostility to Yiddish. Another was a wave of demonization of Orthodox Jews in Israel and the emergence of single-issue political parties devoted to bashing the Orthodox.

In the first decades of its existence, the celebration of "Israeliness" in Israel took many forms, including those that downplayed the role of Jewishness in the state. The Israeli school curriculum at secular schools, where the majority of Israeli children attend, was largely stripped of Jewish content. Jewish history in the typical Israel school ended at Masada or with Bar-Kochba and then mysteriously rematerialized at the first Zionist Congress in Basel. Jewish religion, other than the Bible, was eliminated almost altogether from the curriculum, except in the religious schools. The result is that today many an Israeli teenager cannot complete the sentence that begins with the words "Shma Yisrael", and few can correctly explain what the Amida is.

The celebration of Israeliness was also widely believed to offer the ultimate path towards resolution of Arab-Jewish differences. After all, there was no reason why Arabs could not follow the example of the more "Canaanite" Jews and embrace with enthusiasm the new Israeliness, an Israeliness that would transcend religion and pre-Israeli ethnicity or religion.

National challenges and "Canaanitism" aside, until recently few would have questioned the basic conclusion that Secular Zionism had succeeded where all other attempts to bridge Judaism with modernity had failed. The state of Israel may have been filled with certain self-delusions and immense national problems, but Israelis were not assimilating into some alien gentile ethnicity or nationality like Diaspora Jews; they would always remain Jews, even if only Jews knowing little about Judaism. Hebrew was their everyday language of communications. Jewish holidays were the bank holidays. Jewish symbols were the symbols of state. Moreover the Secular Zionist merging of Judaism with modernity appeared to be stable for the very long run. It was not threatened by modernity even in its most extreme forms.
Like I said, read the whole thing (the author is Professor Steven Plaut). And when you're done, check the date. Even I was surprised at that.


At 3:15 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

"Israeliness" is why I didn't make alyah. While I hope that I would have the courage to commit kiddush hashem were I on the rack,or the pendulum, I and most" isralis" would switch from israeliness to catholicism faster than shit through a goose.
maybe thats why there are so many yordim.


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