Swazo, Norman K. “Renouncing the Territorial Impulse of Zionism: An ‘Unorthodox’ Commentary,” Newsletter of the Concerned Philosophers for Peace, Vol. 26.2 (Fall 2006)
Students of Middle East policy who are observers of the scene of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute have long had a tendency to see the State of Israel as the proper vanguard of a post-Holocaust Jewry intent on ‘Never more!’ being faced with the prospect of genocide.1 To sustain ‘Jewish powerlessness’ (of the sort European Jews experienced prior to WWII and during the Nazi genocide), the contemporary Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim argues, is to indulge “in a moral luxury.”2 Fackenheim, an avid supporter of Zionist ideology, recommends to all post-Holocaust Jews a “614th Commandment:” “they are forbidden to give Hitler posthumous victories”—Jewish survival being paramount, even if Jews are “unable to believe in a ‘higher purpose.’” Hence, for him, the survival of the State of Israel is a sine qua non to the future of Jewish existence.
For Fackenheim, whatever is to be said of “the state’s Jewish essence” is to be “democratically decided,” like the 1950 Law of Return, the insistent sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem consequent to victory in the 1967 war, or the exclusion of Palestinians in their claim of a right of return and rehabilitation. Fackenheim shall not speak of “the Messianic dream,” long cherished in Jewish faith: “The Messianic Jerusalem is beyond the sphere of the political. It is therefore also beyond the scope of political philosophy.”
Yet, the reality of more than fifty years of armed conflict in the region raises serious questions about the validity of the Zionist impulse that originated and sustains political commitment to the State of Israel today. We in America tend to forget that the supposed ‘vanguard’ of post-Holocaust Jewry had and yet has its detractors among Jews themselves who envision an ‘other Israel’ in the interest of Judaism and legitimate civil society and out of concern for the true spirit of a people charged to be a light to the world and to see in contemporary humanity the children of Avraham.3 To question the existence of the State of Israel, especially in light of high crimes committed under the Sharon administration (not to mention the most recent decisions of the Olmert administration), is no ‘anti-Semitic’ thought. It is, instead, a fundamental recognition of the fact that Zionism and Judaism are twain, and that the State of Israel is itself a manifest primary cause of anti-Semitism in the post-WWII world. Fackenheim has it wrong: So long as we sustain the atrocities of the Israeli government, as it (like the USA) insists on exception to a host of UN Security Council resolutions and applicable international law, we sustain a significant injustice to that portion of the world’s Jewry who would all too quickly surrender the State of Israel in the interest of a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli and broader Israeli-Pan Arabic dispute. In contrast to Fackenheim, Albert Einstein had it right even as he rejected the invitation to lead the State of Israel. His foresight speaks to a timely anticipatory assessment of tragic consequences to the Zionist impulse, when he said:
I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state. Apart from the practical considerations, my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain—especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already had to fight without a Jewish state.4
For all those who, themselves Jewish, see the history of the Middle East for what it has been (even as they condemn terrorism on both sides, thereby including in this condemnation state terrorism, for which the State of Israel is unquestionably guilty), it is high time to rethink the question of what it means to give Hitler ‘posthumous victories’ in the face of ‘State of Chutzpah.’ Let us not acquiesce in the modern myth that the modern state is a benign and beneficent entity, thereby essential to the life of a people.
It is the continuity of Judaism and the Jewish people that is essential, not some long-ingrained but mistaken commitment to ‘the imaginary geography’ according to which a land is somehow the dominion of a sovereign people. Ahad Ha-Am (pen name for Asher Ginzberg) said it precisely:
Apart from the political danger, I can’t put up with the idea that our brethren are morally capable of behaving in such a way to men of another people; and unwittingly the thought comes to my mind: if it is so now, what will be our relation to the others if in truth we shall achieve “at the end of time” power in Eretz Israel? If this be the “Messiah,” I do not wish to see his coming.5
But, surely, one must remind again and again when memory fails or events blur the truth: Zionism is not Judaism, and Judaism—not Zionism—will rightly say: Ani ma’amin beviat ha mashiach—I believe in the coming of the Messiah—for here, wholly, centrally, and invincibly, is the spirit of the Jewish people sustained, no matter the vicissitudes of human power. Farewell to sovereignty, in deed …
Norm Swazo specializes in ethics in international affairs and has published on themes of world order and global policy. He is currently editing a volume on culture and human rights as well as publishing articles on ethical issues in international health research. He is professor of philosophy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
1. In case one reading this commentary should object to my remarks as a position taken by one not Jewish, the fact is that I myself am Sephardic Jewish in heritage, descendent of Jews (then having the surname “Suasso” and “Suaso/Suazo”) exiled from Spain and Portugal during the Spanish Inquisition.
2. Emil Fackenheim, “A Political Philosophy for the State of Israel,” in his Jewish Philosophy and Jewish Philosophers (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996).
3. See Edward C. Corrigan, “Jewish Criticism of Zionism,” Middle East Policy Journal, Winter 1990-1991, Number 35. Also see Norman K. Swazo, “The Neturei Karta’s Ethical Challenge to ‘The Metaphysics of False Redemption’ in the State of Israel,” Disputatio Philosophica: International Journal on Philosophy and Religion, No. 1, 2003, pp. 103-145. For more recent yet historically continuous dissent on Israeli security policy, see public pronouncements by Gush Shalom (“The Peace Bloc”), which has long taken a stand opposed to a “‘national consensus’ on misinformation” within the State of Israel [website: http://gush-shalom.org/english/intro.html]. See, for example, the Gush Shalom commentary by Uri Avnery, “State of Chutzpah,” in English translation at http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/channels/avnery/1157833797 and in Hebrew at http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/he/channels/avnery/1157833739 (dated 09 September 2006; accessed on this date). The recent armed conflict between the Israeli military and Hezbollah in Lebanon in particular manifests Israel’s (and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s) chutzpah, says Avnery, as he reminds of the aptness of a statement by Winston Churchill with reference in this case to Olmert: “The right honorable gentleman sometimes stumbles on the truth, but he always hurries on as if nothing has happened.”
4. Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years (New York: Philosophical Library, 1950), p. 263.
5. Corrigan, note 2.