Thursday, May 6th | 24 Iyyar 5781

August 15, 2019 2:45 am

Reconsidering Israel and ‘The Virtue of Nationalism’

avatar by Harold Brackman


An aerial view of the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Last year’s political best-seller, Yoram Hazony’s The Virtue of Nationalism, may now face some rough seas. In the wake of recent massacres by fanatics on both ends of the American spectrum, and the boast by usually level-headed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he is on the verge of making Israel “a global power,” there are some problems with Hazony’s book that should be pointed out.

First, his compulsion to squeeze every nation, even the US, into the same mold leads him to deny what is truly unique about America: that its rooting in a particular place and past is less defining than its founding on the universal ideals of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These ideals have made it possible for immigrants of all sorts from everywhere in the world to participate in the alchemy of becoming Americans, no matter where they were born or the language or religion of their parents.

Hazony’s asides that Mormon Utah, because of polygamy, was once not quite American, and that New Mexico has too many Spanish-only speakers, do not reflect well on his ethno-nationalist vision of patriotism.

David Ben-Gurion was right to cut through the Gordian Knot of perennial Jewish conflicts with Arabs and Muslims in order to achieve Israel’s independence in 1947-1948. While some cultural Zionists were wrong to hesitate in getting on board the statehood express, most ultimately reconciled themselves to “Jewish nationalism,” just as the founders of the Jewish state imbued Israel with a large measure of the humanistic ideals of liberal Zionism.

Furthermore, nationalism is not the be-all and end-all. Without being rooted in the proper values of justice and democracy, nationalism is not always something to be proud of. This is something that Hazony fails to consider.

Hazony’s earlier The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel’s Soul (2000) is a history of Zionism that had the advantage of looking backward. But it should have been more generous toward cultural Zionists’ contributions to modern Israel. Today, an ever-changing Jewish nation cannot afford to ignore the richness of our past in shaping Israel’s future as a model among the nations.

Harold Brackman is co-author with Ephraim Isaac of From Abraham to Obama: A History of Jews, Africans, and African Americans (Africa World Press, 2015).

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