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August 1, 2013 10:51 am

Self-Respect: The Unrealized Vision for the Jewish State

avatar by Brandon Marlon

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Theodor Herzl.

In the nineteenth century, Theodor Herzl and other political Zionists shared a vision for a Jewish state that would allow the Jewish People to regain their self-respect after almost two millennia of national homelessness. Would Zionists like Alkalai, Kalischer, Mohilever, Hess, Pinsker, Pines, Nordau, Reines, Bar-Ilan, Ahad Ha’am, and Bialik see in modern Israel the dignity they craved for their people? After 65 years of Jewish political independence, unfortunately, it remains rather doubtful.

What, then, would a self-respecting Jewish state look like?

To be sure, it would not look like a nation that does not exert sovereignty over its heartland; that during wartime engages in repetitive rounds of combat instead of decisive victories; that releases busloads of bloodstained murderers for a single soldier or as a “gesture” of peace; or that engages in negotiations of any kind at any time with wolves in wolves’ clothing, envoys of a culture of hatred.

Leo Pinsker wanted Jews to “rise manfully to our full height.” And, indeed, for the most part the individual Jew no longer needs to stoop like a weary ghost wandering between shtetls and ghettos, or plead like a beggar on his knees. But is the State of Israel not routinely stooping before its international adversaries, not perennially begging for foreign aid, UN votes, and recognition of its rightful capital  from its apparent allies?

Just as anti-Semitism made the leap from the singular Jew to the sole Jewish state, so too have the Jew’s individual frailties scaled up to the national level. Just as the Jewish person was subjected time and again to persecution, violence, and expulsion, likewise is contemporary Israel persecuted by the UN and BDS movement, subjected to violence in recurring wars and intifadas, and threatened with expulsion from the face of the earth by Arab terrorists, Iranian madmen, and Palestinian Authority representatives fantasizing about dropping nuclear bombs. How much has Jewish political sovereignty substantively changed for world Jewry?

Berl Katzenelson maintained that Jews were “unvanquished by 2,000 years of dispersion,” but perhaps he did not live long enough to recognize the lingering psychological effects that Jewish immigrants imported into Israel from sundry lands. Ahad Ha’am felt that self-respect belonged to the spiritually advanced, but Herzl was more to the point in knowing that “long-term prisoners do not willingly quit their cells.” This is key to the problem: factually speaking, Israel’s exile endured much longer than the period of its independence. In terms of duration, the First and Second Jewish Commonwealths are only half as long as the Jews’ bitter and scattered sojourn.

Just as a dispersed people is despised, so too a self-disrespecting people is plagued. While there is much to be said for a productive dynamic between an intense center (the Land of Israel) and a great periphery (the lands of the Diaspora), it is the homeland that must remain the hub with diasporic spokes extending into the outward world. And if the hub is weak and conflicted, wracked with guilt, hesitant and tentative, unsure of itself, beholden to others for its daily bread, and fashioned by internalized perceptions from foreigners, then the progress of a people gradually grinds to a halt.

Ludwig Lewisohn averred that Jewish tepidness, ignorance, and lack of strong affirmation “according to knowledge and feeling” constituted the deepest ‘Jewish Problem’. Indeed, if every Jew, or at least every Israeli Jew, had profound knowledge of Jewish heritage and heartfelt feeling for Jewish identity, the State of Israel would be in better shape than ever before. If Israeli leaders lucidly understood that peace-for-peace is the only sustainable formula for permanent rapprochement with Israel’s neighbors; that no peace can possibly be made between a society glorifying compromise and a society glorifying jihad; and that no amount of land concessions could ever placate those who would begrudge Jews a single dunam of soil, then Israel would at long last be on the road to recovering its self-respect.

Rav Kook believed “we are stronger than all the cultures of the ages and more enduring than all the permanencies of the world.” But are we stronger than our own crippling inhibitions? Are we strong enough to eschew the dust of the Diaspora, to dispense with our mental baggage at Ben-Gurion border control and emerge from the psychological ghetto? Historically, Jews have always been their own greatest enemy.

Authentic autonomy truly arrives long after political independence and military might have been (re)generated; only those with self-respect can count themselves genuinely sovereign. For Jewry, this envisioned state remains unfulfilled.

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  • David Hoffman

    In The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel’s Soul (2000), Yoram Hazony explains how the sources of today’s problems were implanted in Israel’s political and cultural DNA before her birth, by forces opposed to the vision of an unbowed, politically independent Jewish state. These deluded individuals (including some very famous people) equated Jewish powerlessness with moral authority. They wanted a tiny, non-sovereign Jewish “homeland” in Eretz Israel as the fulfilment of the Balfour Declaration. Although they failed in this matter, their ideological descendents — who hold key positions in Israel’s cultural elite — continue to weaken her national resolve. Israel needs a kind of “gene therapy” to remove the influence of this element. Whether this is even possible or not, remains a question.

    • Samuel Dinkels

      Thank you. I am going to read the book you recommend. Why does Israel as a nation constantly bow down without any sense of self respect?

  • rivky

    Noevil9 says “Aggression , occupation, segregation, concrete walls, separate roads, check points on every corner, soldiers with machine guns going to their homes and in public places with them and oppressing other people will only lead to more racism, discrimination and continuous wars, but will not make and bring to reality the Jew that those first Zionist had in mind. ” – which self identifies him as an ant-semite.
    It is the Arab lies about segregation, occupation, discrimination, and their barbarous, oppressive, racist Islamist religion of jihad, chronic terrorism, ideological apartheid, idealized, arrogant, ethnic cleansing, that forces Jews to protect themselves as best they can, and in accordance with the Jews’ civilized ideology.
    Jews behave civilly with Arabs in Israel, and too civilly with those of the Arabs who lie and take pride in behaving in a manner that is truly uncivilized, but in accordance with the Arabs’ barbarous Islamist ideology.
    As Mr Marlon suggests : a self-respecting state is not “a nation that does not exert sovereignty over its heartland; that during wartime engages in repetitive rounds of combat instead of decisive victories; that releases busloads of bloodstained murderers for a single soldier or as a “gesture” of peace; or that engages in negotiations of any kind at any time with wolves in wolves’ clothing, envoys of a culture of hatred.” Jews should start offering peace only in exchange for peace.

  • Jacobite

    Israel and its History is simply amazing, the world will soon reflect in sorrow for what they have done to a people that become a Nation lead from slavery.
    They will find peace,dignity and respect only when they remember and turn back to the G-d that rules and controls all Rulers and Nations.
    Political Israel will remain this way until then.

  • I wholeheartedly disagree with the views of Noevil, because it doesn’t matter how much Israel tries to accommodate and negotiate with Palestine, which they have done for years and years, it will never be enough.

    With all the ongoing threats from the Arab world in general about the annihilation of all Jews what position does that put Israel in?? They have no alternative but to never be put into the same position as they were with the Nazis – where they didn’t fight back as they were taken to the Gas Chambers.

  • Horatio

    Well, well, Noevil9, not sure the words that spill from your mouth make any sense at all. What are you really trying to say? Or are you merely here to complain about Jews? Do you look to others to provide you with the means to partake of food, shelter, and safety? What have you done to impart security and safety to the nation of Israel? Do you think getting down on your knees before God and crouching low before your enemies after you destroy your neighbor’s fence will stop the arab blade from cutting your throat after it cuts the throat of your neighbor? Do you believe you will be saved from extermination if only you can find a way to force a greedy and arrogant arab to take pity on you? I assume you speak as a Jew and your words do not spill from the mouth of a self-serving arab in service to the British Foreign Office, and thus assuming you are a Jew or a Jewish Israeli we ask whether you think you are, being a Jew, more of a ‘light unto the world” than any other moral and ethical person whose faith in God is equal to yours and who honors his duty to protect his children within the boundaries of a secure nation? Or might you be one of those Jewish Universalists who fosters the belief that within every Muslim breast beats the same heart as that of a little Jewish boy; a little boy who can be shamed into “behaving properly?” And therefore you, glorying in your Jewish Wonderfulness, demand that everyone but Muslims disavow their boundaries and place their faith in the myth that a hungry lion will disown his need for lamb chops when a fat lamb lies down at its side?

  • Noevil9

    You know why? The attempt must have been done possibly in the wrong manner and principals, could be the reason. It could have started right but by todays standards, is ending wrong? The real new Jew could be created with the vision of those who deeply cared about the fate of the Jews. Not just changing the image in perception. They must have meant, the core behavior of “some Jews” that made the reputation and image of the Jews, what made them want to change it in the first place. As it must have been the reason, or part of the reason, that brought many disasters to the Jewish history and being for over 2500 years or so. You are not happy today, but yet you are focusing on making the Jew and his utopian home, more aggressive and war like monster, more than what is Israel portrayed as, in todays world. That is the wrong path, and you want your people to dig deeper in it. Not a good advise! Aggression , occupation, segregation, concrete walls, separate roads, check points on every corner, soldiers with machine guns going to their homes and in public places with them and oppressing other people will only lead to more racism, discrimination and continuous wars, but will not make and bring to reality the Jew that those first Zionist had in mind. Not the Jewish people ,nor any other people need such a thing as it will destroy the society from within.

    • James Crozier

      When the Israeli’s finally won independence in 1948 it was accomplished despite the Arab League trying to prevent it’s creation using arms. There never has been an honest offer of peace.
      God willing some day there may be.
      I won’t hold my breath
      p.s.–just because people say its so doesn’t mean it is.
      pp.s.–the Jews were there before the Christians or the Muslims.

    • James Crozier

      ppp.s.–I am a Christian

    • Anonymous

      The article explains quite a lot, but your comment ignores the facts. What you think you know has nothing to do with the truth or reality. In order for you to better understand what the article is about, you first have to learn the facts. You won’t find them in the NY Times or any lefitst controlled media in the US or Israel. If you were Jewish, I’d then advise you to learn Torah & Jewish values, because today, that is what Israel’s leaders neglect, which has resulted in Israel’s current, avoidable situations. I can’t sugar coat it any more. Maybe you can understand this. Israel’s internal enemy(not the illegal occupying Arabs) are the minority elite, corrupt leftist Jew-haters & Torah deniers who have infiltrated the government & courts at the highest levels with the aid of the media. They are well financed by mostly foreign leftist NGOs. The politicians get elected by fraud, bribery, extortion, false propaganda, and lies. They do not work for the people who elect them, but for foreign interests, who are all enemies of Israel. The politician is only motivated by their greed for money & power. And they make the rules. Only when Israel gets Jewish leadership, not JewNO’s, then most of Israel’s conflicts & problems will be speedily resolved. Because most of Israel’s problems are just symptoms from tolerating that enemy within. Such as the problems with illegal Arab and African infiltrators & terrorists, the ethnic cleansing of Jews from their land & the destruction of their homes, the govt support & finance of terrorists, the exclusion of Jews from Jewish holy sites, the violations of Jew’s human rights, using taxes paid by Jews to finance their own murders, etc… In fact, by their actions alone, there is no bigger delegimizer of Israel’s right to exist than Israel’s very own(actually leftist NGO owned) corrupt government & Sodomite High Court. Perhaps my blunt wording helps you understand a little more reality.

    • Efram Paul

      Spoken like a true anti-Semite. Concrete walls, separate roads, check points, soldiers in public, and segregation were all forced on Israel. The “concrete wall,” was the result of thousands of innocent Jews being murdered by barbarians. The wall has stopped this. Is it nice? No. Would most Israelis like it gone? Yes. But is it necessary? Yes. Not because of Israeli aggression, but because of barbarians murdering people in the street. As for occupation, the West Bank was legally a part of Israel until the partition of 1947. Prior to this, Israel had officially included the West Bank for the rest of the century and, historically, for all time. The partition was a compromise because of strong Arab hatred of Jews. The ‘occupation’ occurred because three times Israel was attacked, and three times it conquered the land that should have been part of it in the first place. The first two times Israel did what the world now demands, given all the land back with no peace treaty. The third time Israel said no land without peace. As the barbarians teach their children from birth to hate Jews and Israel, and that all Jews are apes and pigs, the idea that these vermin will ever give Israel peace is a fantasy. What you, and all Jew haters everywhere, fail to see (or, rather, fail to want to see) is that Israel wants to be a land of peace. Palestinians are treated by Israeli doctors, even those who seek to destroy Israel and are wounded in the process. Israel actually aides its own enemies, while they call openly for its destruction. Arabs in Israel have greater rights than they do in any Muslim country. What you wrote as “aggression,” is self defense. If you disagree, then invite terrorists onto your property, introduce them to your children, and applaud when they murder the children. That is what you demand of Israel. Neither you, nor any other crypto-Nazi will accomplish this.

      • Bathsheva Gladstone

        Well put, Ephram. Thank you.