Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Next Jewish Diaspora: Another Approach to Eretz Yisrael

Like other pieces posted in this blog, this is a speculative piece, based upon general reading, and offered for purposes of thought and discussion. The important thing, for me, is not so much to be right or wrong, as to express a viewpoint that seems to arise from my learning to date. As always, I welcome constructive comments.

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The Jews were dispersed, we are told, in the first century A.D. Sometimes, in the following centuries, they enjoyed relatively comfortable and accepting circumstances in one or another of the countries of Europe; at other times, it was actually safer and more congenial for them to live in certain Muslim countries, or elsewhere.

The state of Israel was founded after World War II, to provide a home to which the people of the Jewish diaspora might return. There, those who did return planted and built. They revived their ancient language. They achieved many amazing successes, not least of which was the creation of a safe place in which, they hoped, they would never again have to fear an experience like that of the Nazi Holocaust.

For decades, based upon its own achievements, and with substantial aid from Jewish and Gentile sources in America and elsewhere, Israel vastly overmatched its neighbors in military and financial terms. To varying degrees, those neighbors seem to have resented the existence of Israel for assorted reasons, including general-purpose racial, cultural, socioeconomic, and/or religious hostility and specific anger at the taking of land on which Arab people had made their homes for a period of nearly two thousand years.

The effort to hold that land, and to safeguard the people, compelled governments and individuals, in Israel, to take steps that some found distasteful – that some even considered incompatible with the founding purposes of the state. There was arrogance and cruelty; there was callous disregard for the lives and fortunes of Arabs. There were stealings and displacements; there were murders and massacres. Israel became a nuclear power, surely not united in a desire to kill hundreds of thousands with the push of a button, but preferring and intending that outcome, if necessary, to maintain security.

Yet wolves remained at the door. Indeed, it seems the wolves have become stronger and more numerous. The Israeli soldier who would shoot a kid for throwing a stone at him may now find that someone out there is shooting back. As the years pass, Israel’s military opponents in the region continue to develop increasingly destructive capabilities. Technology continues its march. Regardless of what happens with Iran’s apparent efforts to develop nuclear weaponry, it does not appear possible to preclude forever the effective use of similar weapons. Ultimately, it seems likely that someone will find a way to employ a weapon of mass destruction in Tel Aviv.

There is a saying about putting all of your eggs in one basket. Paradoxically, it would seem unwise for Israel’s supporters to pour all of their resources into the preservation and enhancement of Israel, as that term is presently construed. Capital, once spent, cannot be retrieved and re-spent elsewhere, and that is as true of political and social capital as it is of the financial kind.

It would be unfortunate if, for example, numerous prominent world leaders and opinionmakers came to equate the cause of Israel, or its best ideals, and the historical circumstances and values of the Jewish people, with the worst excesses of a particular Israeli government. Usually, it seems, managers of famous brands recognize that those brands retain their value, not by cheapening them through wholehearted association with the worst of atrocities, but rather through distancing them from the occasional, inevitable excesses of having too much power, or of using one's power poorly.

That is, at some point it may seem prudent to convey the message that the land of Israel is but the manifestation of something more valuable and enduring. Such a message would facilitate continued support of the idea, even while the manifestation mutates or is revised to meet contingencies.

Obviously, millions of Israelis, and their supporters, are not just going to wake up one morning and say to themselves, “Hey, let’s forget this and try something else.” They will surely continue to insist upon putting on their brightest uniforms and marching in lockstep, like 18th-century British troops confronting ragged, relatively camouflaged American revolutionaries. Some lessons are learned and relearned the hard way.

But there may be some who are willing to consider that strategies of the diaspora, learned in the Middle Ages (and before) and still practiced by some non-Israeli Jews today, may represent the more practical long-term approach, in a world that may never fully accept them and that is, at present, not sufficiently dedicated to their possession of a homeland of their own. There surely are some, that is, who believe that the ideal time to make an investment is not when you want it to be the right time, nor even when it seems like it could possibly be the right time, but when you have reliable information that it definitely is the right time. And that is simply not an apt description of how things lie at present.

In this world, some achievements come about through perseverence and determination. Sometimes you have to push. But in other instances, the harder you push, the worse the problem becomes.

If I recall correctly, there was a lot of talk about Eretz Yisrael – about recreating or recovering the entire Kingdom of David, in a modern-day Greater Israel – around the time when Menachem Begin was in power. My impression is that the tide has gone out. I don’t hear so much talk along those lines anymore. It seems to be more broadly recognized that, within our lifetimes, the state of Israel is not going to control much more territory than it does now.

But there may be another way. For example, it is commonly noted that many Jewish people have achieved statuses of wealth, power, and success in the United States. They did not achieve this by coming here and fighting a war against the Christian majority. It does not seem likely that they will ever develop and achieve a plan for making this a Jewish nation; then again, perhaps that is not necessary. Without the assistance of any such plan, millions of American Christians have voluntarily gravitated toward the idea that theirs is a Judeo-Christian heritage. And I have to guess that the acreage owned by Jews in the U.S. surely exceeds that owned by those in Israel.

In response to the Holocaust, the postwar generation of Jews vowed, “Never again.” There was a certain naivete in that, insofar as it implied that they would succeed where their ancestors had failed. Of course there will again be persecutions of Jews, just as there will be persecutions of other minorities – more so in the case of Jews, perhaps, because often they manage to stand out.

A future generation of Jews – responding in less knee-jerk fashion to the experiences of the Holocaust and of other persecutions, past and prospective – may reflect that they can best contribute to a Greater Israel, wherever located and however constituted, by taking an approach that is not military, not geopolitical, not racist, and otherwise not such a visible and (to many) objectionable target. Why create enemies, and why persuade them to band together against you? It makes no sense, not when you have alternatives.

It seems that there could be alternatives, at least for purposes of speculative discussion. If aboriginal peoples of North America are able to obtain recognition as legitimate tribes and nations in their own right, for instance, then native semites of the Middle East may someday be able to petition for meaningful recognition of their own right to govern themselves. Granted, the Navajos are not permitted to own nuclear weapons; but they do not seem to need them. Their reconquest by the United States Army is virtually unthinkable now. Or, in a different scenario, there may someday be general public acceptance, throughout the United States of Arabia, of one’s Judeo-Islamic heritage. Or if nobody knows or cares whether people of Norwegian extraction may have quietly acquired large contiguous landholdings in the north-central U.S., then perhaps someday nobody will really care if a bunch of Jews have bought up a chunk of the Mediterranean coastline, in the interests of creating their own version of a cultural theme park.

Such speculative developments could take centuries. Again, though, which is better: to invest all of one’s fortune right away, acquiring vast lowland holdings just before the hurricane, or to bide one’s time and make the very best of one’s resources toward a sustainable outcome?

Again, many are committed to Israel as they presently conceive it. To the extent that they get around to reading these words, they may hate me for saying them. One hopes, though, that some policymakers think long and hard about where this road leads. Things look rather scary for Israel now, and trends in weaponry are not favorable.