January 25, 2014
Nothing New Under the Sun
DURING THE last hundred years,
At the beginning, it was ruled by the Czar, in an absolute monarchy with some democratic decorations, a “tyranny mitigated by inefficiency”.
After the downfall of the Czar, a liberal and equally inefficient regime ruled for a few months, when it was overthrown by the Bolshevik revolution.
The “dictatorship of the proletariat” lasted for some 73 years, which means that three generations passed through the Soviet education system. That should have been enough to absorb the values of internationalism, socialism and human dignity, as taught by Karl Marx.
The Soviet system imploded in 1991, leaving few political traces behind. After a
few years of liberal anarchy under Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin took over. He
has proved himself to be an able statesman, making
When we view these events, spanning a century, we are obliged to conclude that
after undergoing all these dramatic upheavals
What does that teach us? For me it means that there is something like a national character, which does not change easily, if at all. Revolutions, wars, disasters come and go, and the basic character of a people remains as it was.
LET US take another example, closer to us geographically:
Mustafa Kemal was a fascinating person. People who met him when, as an officer
in the Ottoman army, he was serving in
After the Turkish defeat in World War I, Mustafa Kemal set out to create a new
In 1934, when the surname law was adopted, the national parliament gave him the name "Atatürk" (Father of Turks). The people adore him to this day. His picture hangs in all government offices. Yet now we witness the reversal of most of his reforms.
Turkey is today ruled by a religious Islamic party, voted in by the people. Islam is making a major comeback. After staging several coups, the army has been pushed out of politics. The present leadership is accused by some of neo-Ottoman policies.
Does this mean that
ONE CAN cite examples from all over the world.
Some 220 years after the mother of all modern revolutions, the Great French Revolution, the frivolous adventures of the present French president are being compared to those of the Bourbon kings. Nothing much has remained from the times of the austere Charles de Gaulle, neither morally nor politically.
Italy has still not attained political stability, after the intermezzo of the
clownish Silvio Berlusconi. A much reduced
And so forth.
I LIKE to quote (again) Elias Canetti, the Nobel-prize writer claimed by
In one of his works he claims that every nation has its own character, like a
human being. He even undertook to describe the character of major nations by
symbols: the British are like a sea captain, the Germans are like a forest of
tall, straight oaks, the Jews are formed by the exodus from
Professional historians may laugh at such dilettantism. However, I believe that the injection of some literary insights into history is all for the better. It deepens the understanding.
ALL THIS leads me to the Jewish-Israeli metamorphosis.
It wanted to take a dispersed religious-ethnic community, born in ancient times, and turn it into a modern nation. To take masses of individuals from their homelands and natural habitat and transfer them physically to another country and another climate. To change the social status of each of them. To cause them to adopt a new language – a dead language that was brought to life again, a task no other people ever succeeded in accomplishing. To do all this in a foreign country inhabited by another people.
Of all revolutionary movements of the 20th century, Zionism was the most successful and enduring. Communism. Fascism and dozens of others came and went. Zionism endures.
But is Israeli society really Zionist, as it claims loudly and repeatedly?
ZIONISM WAS basically a rebellion against the Jewish existence in the Diaspora. In the religious sphere, it was a reformation more profound than that of Martin Luther.
All prominent Jewish Rabbis, both Hasidic as anti-Hasidic, condemned Zionism as
a heresy. The People of
And here came the Zionists, mostly atheists, and wanted to bring the Jews to the
When I was young, many of us went even further. We disclaimed the idea of a
Jewish State, and spoke instead of a
So where are we now?
Organized Orthodox religion has made immense inroads. The official Israeli definition of a Jew is exclusively religious. All matters of personal status, like marriage and divorce, are ruled by the Rabbinate. So is the menu of most restaurants. Public transport, on land and in the air, is halted on the Shabbat. Non-Orthodox Jewish religious denominations, like the “Reformists” and the “Conservatives”, are practically banned.
In a scandal that is rocking
Herzl, who promised to “keep the rabbis in their synagogues and the professional
army in their barracks” is surely turning in his grave on
BUT THESE are still relatively superficial symptoms. I am thinking of much more profound matters.
One of the basic convictions of Diaspora Jewry was that “the whole world is against us”. Jews have been persecuted throughout the ages in many countries, up to the Holocaust. In the Seder ceremony on Passover eve, which unites all the Jews around the world, the holy text says that “in every generation they arise to annihilate us”.
The official aim of Zionism was to turn us into “a people like all peoples”. Does a normal people believe that everybody is out to annihilate it at all times?
It is a basic conviction of almost every Jewish Israeli that “the whole world is
against us” – which is also a jolly popular song. The
International protests against our occupation of the Palestinian territories
are, of course, just another form of anti-Semitism. (The Prime Minister of
Does this mean that in
As the French say: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Or, as Ecclesiastes puts it in the Bible (1:9): “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be, and that which is done is that which shall be done, and there is no new thing under the sun.”