17 July 2015
Dear Senator Webb,
I was delighted to learn that, after several months of exploration, you’ve decided to seek the Democratic nomination for president. This would be a perfect moment to correct one of the great anomalies of American history:
There has never been a Marine president.
Army generals and colonels: no shortage there. Junior naval officers: a half dozen since 1961 (if you insist on counting LBJ). Even a couple National Guardsmen. But no Marines. As we say in Yiddish, “a Shande für die Goyim.”
“A scandal before the Nations.”
Now to the purpose of the letter:
From time to time, I’ve sent you memos and copies of my columns and posts on Israel, pieces containing information and ideas that you won’t normally find in the policy papers and briefing books. I claim neither academic expertise nor practical experience in Israeli affairs. I write only as a citizen of two great nations who have lost their way; who face many common problems; and who might be able to help each other in the quest for new ways of keeping faith with what we are and might still become.
The original secular Zionist vision, as crafted by Herzl, Nordau, Pinsker and others, saw a Jewish Homeland and sovereign State as more than a final refuge in an eternally antagonistic world. The Jewish State would be a vibrant, contributing part of that world; the very magnitude of the accomplishment would go far toward making anti-Semitism vanish. As Herzl wrote in the peroration to The Jewish State:
“The world will be liberated by our freedom, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind.”
All that “Start-Up Nation” preening to the contrary, it hasn’t happened yet. For if Israel is to take its place in the world, as the world of the 21st century is, we must do more than export widgets & apps & natural gas, pop culture, prefab celebrities (we do a lot of that) and press on with our self-assumed mission of delivering “Light unto the Gentiles.” Read here: political and moral lectures arrogantly bestowed upon a world that has never shown much interest in receiving them, and grows ever more hostile to such emanations now.
Why hasn’t Israel taken her place?
Because Herzl’s Zionism got hijacked. The received narrative explains that there are “many Zionisms,” and indeed there are. Some look inward, others outward; some look in no direction at all. But if Zionism in the world is to have any meaning beyond the religious, the pseudo-religious, the ethnic, and the left-over socialist enthusiasms of generations and worlds past, it is Herzl’s vision that must be recaptured and fitted to the era now upon us.
Herzl wrote that, in his Jewish State, the rabbis and the soldiers would receive all due honor and respect. But they would stay in their synagogues and barracks except when needed. The requirements of physical survival and the rise of religious Zionism, especially after 1967, turned the soldiers and the rabbis into political oligarchs. Then, after decades of economic tsuris, much of it self-inflicted, when Israel rightly moved away from the dead hand of socialist bureaucracy, another oligarchy arose. The tycoons. The dominating families. And crime and corruption and cronyism, hardly uncommon during the Labor years, flourished in new and, in some ways, deadlier forms.
And so Israel, still physically threatened but now a going concern, entered simultaneously – how very Israeli – two antithetical eras.
One, the “post-Zionist” era, wherein Israel would become a prosperous, liberal, deliciously decadent little Mediterranean state that wasn’t mad at nobody and presumed to lecture nobody. We’ve made significant progress here.
The other, perhaps called the “New Zionist” era, devoted to the Redemption of The Land (Territories and Territories-Plus) and the transformation of Israel into some sort of military-religious theme park. To put it bluntly: The latest iteration of the old “People that Dwells Apart” motif, this time with nukes and mini-empire. We’ve made, alas, significant progress here, too. And to many of this vision’s adherents, Israel’s increasing isolation in the world disturbs not at all. Indeed, for many reasons, ranging from the religious to the pyschopathic, they welcome it.
Thus Israel today, two visions as incompatible as those of the American North and South prior to the Civil War. And holding it all together: Prime Minister Netanyahu, whose consistent policy has been to make no fundamental changes, solve no fundamental problems, endanger no uneasy balance. Just let it all ride and if the world doesn’t like it . . . the world doesn’t vote in Israeli elections.
He hasn’t been entirely wrong to let matters slide. Amos Oz once wrote that “The Jewish people has a great talent for self-destruction.” Certainly, the Jewish people have shown, historically, no great aptitude for political independence and self-government. And we are a violent folk, given to zealous fratricide as well as more mundane depredations. A violence always just beneath the surface, always ready to explode.
So perhaps Mr. Netanyahu is right, short-term, not to stir up the ancient animosities or rile excessively the current sects and claques. So he may be wise to content himself with statesmanlike (and sometimes not-so-statesmanlike) posturing, while he lets the two competing visions co-exist as best they can, and kicks all else down the road.
But what happens when you come to the end of the road? And at the end of the road there’s a global mob that designs your non-existence.
We’re going to find out, soon enough.
Next Tuesday, 21 July: A compelling New Zionism and Its Relationship to America.