Saturday, March 21, 2015

800 Words: The Origins of Shoah Bet - Part 1

Chapter XVIII

By 2015, the rational postwar liberal was not quite deceased, but he was very much a dying breed, and he could almost sympathize with the worldview of Prime Minister Netanyahu. For every moment from its founding to the unspeakable manners of its destruction, the State of Israel was an encircled, besieged state; never a refuge from Diaspora but an extraordinarily compromised part of it.

For the entirety of its existence, Israel was a state that strove mightily to be a democracy, yet with every year it seemed to fall farther short of its goal. This Jewish country which never contained more than a few million Jews was encircled upon every side by three-hundred million Sunni and and Shia Muslims, and every poll indicated that the vast majority of their neighbors, at times nearly a unanimous majority, viewed Israel as an enemy combatant whose very existence should be extinguished at the nearest possible opportunity by any and all means.

Like every country, Israel was enabled to exist because of an unspeakably terrible original sin, and its original sin was to forcibly and violently relocate more than half a million native Arabs into still tinier corners of its tiny territory. Jeffrey Goldberg, a famous journalist of the time, posited the analogy that twentieth century Europe of the was a burning building out of which the Jews had to jump lest they be destroyed, and they fell onto an innocent bystander on the street - the Palestinians. It was a horrific act born of the most extreme desperation, enabled by more prosperous Arabs all too willing to allow violence upon their impoverished brethren for their own benefit, perpetrated by Israelis mostly with regret, sustained and consented to by most Israelis with a fervent hope for its eventual end. But colonization born of desperation is still colonization. Israelis grew ever more comfortable with this arrangement with each passing generation, and as Israel grew into one of the most reliably prosperous countries for business in the entire world, she saw no reason to compromise her prosperity for a people who never passed up an opportunity to pass up an opportunity. If generations of Arab despots in every Arab country were categorically unwilling to embrace greater political freedom for their Arab citizens, why should Israel embrace greater freedoms for her own? Had any neighboring state been a functional democracy for any period, they could have absorbed a Palestinian population as hungry for opportunity as anyone in the world had ever been.

At the twenty-first century’s commencement, nearly half the world’s countries suffered from authoritarian rule, and many more had authoritarian leanings that threatened their democracies at their very foundations. But not a single one of these countries earned more than a fraction of the international approbation continually heaped upon Israel - a state that always imagined herself democratic to the marrow. Israel’s actions vacillated between extreme principle and extreme opportunism, its leaders were everything from lions of liberalism to war criminals, yet criticism and censure of her remained at the highest possible level for the entirety of her lifespan.

The original Zionist dream was built upon sand both literally and figuratively. It is a fool’s errand to create a parochial state that is absolutely committed to the primacy of one religion over others, yet also to the most liberal values of secular democracy. But the doomed attempt to fuse these two concepts was the only way in which millions of Jewish lives would ever be saved, for a time at least. The tension between Israel’s religious dictates and secular aims was the tension which enabled the unprecedented worldwide prosperity of the Jewish people. No longer were Jews a people without a land, and after two thousand years, there was finally a dear price to pay for persecuting Jews.

At the same time that Israel was a triumph for Jews, it was a triumph, perhaps the ultimate triumph, of liberal principles. In nearly every conceivable sense, Israel was the vital center of worldwide discourse - geographically positioned at the absolute cross section between Asia, Europe, and Africa; politically positioned at the exact center between secular values and religious, legally positioned at the exact place between a liberal democracy and an authoritarian dictatorship; economically positioned between capitalism and socialism, and historically having a strong claim at being both the most obviously colonized and most obviously colonialist people on Earth. Upon every issue which the world debates, modern Israel was the ultimate experiment to see if the modern world, with all its contradictions, could long endure. Israel, alleged to be an exclusionist society for every day of its existence, was in its way the most pluralistic country in the world.

Absolutists of nearly all stripes - Islamists, pan-Arabists, Christianists, Libertarians, Marxists, Socialists, Libertarian Socialists, Libertarian Communists, Anarchists - decried Israel for its many sins with a viciousness it reserved only for Zionism as though Zionism was a more totalitarian ideology than any of theirs. Most of them claimed that their motive was human rights, but in fact, their enemy was the permissive modernity that allowed a state as contradictory as Israel to exist. Such worldviews cannot allow for accommodations to pragmatism, and therefore the Jewish state always struck a terrible wrench into their absolutist worldviews. Zionism was always a practical compromise to reality, an ideology as corrupt as any other, allowed to govern a country only because the world is too imperfect to allow any other way to maintain the Jewish people’s security. And for a time, Zionism did ensure that the Jewish people remained fundamentally safe from persecution.

Because of its many contradictions, Zionism was a venture destined to fail from its inception. But so long as it was permitted to exist, the modern world, with all its permissiveness, its imperfect liberties and equalities, knew that it could survive and fight another day to better itself. Jews have long been the petri dish by which the world could gauge its health. A society that allows this consistently overachieving people to flourish is a healthy one, a society that segregates its Jews is an underachieving society, and a society that kills Jews is killing itself. When a society mistreats its Jews, it is not long before every other underclass is still more mistreated. Judaism, a portable religion grounded not in faith and authority, but upon book learning and debate, has always been the yeast by which all the societies which make space for them are allowed prosperity far greater than they would ever have had without them.

1 comment:

  1. One of the interesting consequences of an increasingly non-religious America will be its future support for Israel. Younger generations who have no personal experience with religion may wonder why we pour billions into a nation based on a militant monotheism of 5000 years ago. If the only support for Israel in the future comes from the Apocalyptic Christian Right, I'd say that's a pretty narrow - though potentially dangerous - base of support. Further, we face an increasingly pluralistic American society that includes Asians who have little connection to the Judeo-Christian story, as well as many Africans and Arabs who know the story but don't consider it theirs. The United States in the 21st century will be a far cry from the predominantly white Catholic-Protestant world of the 1940's and 1950's when our post-World War II efforts on behalf of the Jewish Diaspora began.