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Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Jerusalem Diarist

Anniversary Present by Martin Peretz
The New Republic: The founder of modern political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, died at the age of 44 on July 3, exactly a century ago. It is not a date marked ostentatiously in Israel. After all, his achievement is taken for granted by most Israelis, and it would be odd if it were not--given that the Jewish state has turned out to be almost precisely the secular success Herzl envisioned. But many Europeans still can't absorb this reality. In fact, it rather sticks in their craw. A few weeks ago, for example, Michel Rocard, a former prime minister of France, pronounced the very creation of Israel a "mistake," although he apparently doesn't think that of any of the piteously failed states surrounding it. And, perhaps from the French perspective, Israel has indeed been a mistake--it has certainly been an impediment to French neocolonial interests among the Arabs.

Great Britain was, for a time, Zionism's essential partner, through the Balfour Declaration, which was confirmed by the League of Nations, and in the early years of the Mandate, conferred on the United Kingdom by the League. But, long before the Brits started appeasing the Nazis, they were already appeasing the most intransigent Arabs. (The Arabs didn't yet term--or even imagine--themselves Palestinians until 1967, when they fell under Israeli rule, which explains why Jordan was able to rule the West Bank and Egypt the Gaza Strip almost without indigenous Arab challenge during the 18 years before they lost the Six Day War. By contrast, the Palestinian nomenclature was used by and about the Jews until they achieved independence in 1948. An old ditty from my childhood went: "If you like salami, join the Jewish army; fight, fight, fight for Palestine.")

Now, many Brits feign concern that Israel is not really the Zionist utopia some Jews--but certainly not they--hoped it would be. It is especially odd to read, on the centenary of Herzl's death, a lament for the eroded utopian vision of Labor and kibbutz Zionism (a dream Herzl did not share) in an article by Harvey Morris in the July 3 edition of the echt capitalist, ergo non-Edenic Financial Times of London. After all, a quintessential lesson of the modern era is that utopianism is, itself, a mortal danger to the good society.

In his essay, Morris is struck not by the normal variety of life in Israel, but by three extreme representations: a politically alienated leftish painter, a messianic West Bank settler, and an idiosyncratic workman who calls himself a Palestinian Jew. Altogether, these may represent 5 percent of the Israeli population, probably less. He also writes about the usual "social tensions--between rich and poor, secular and religious, Ashkenazi and Sephardi," which he says are expressions of the "follies" of Zionism rather than instances of quotidian differences everywhere. But the greatest folly of the Zionists, according to Morris, is "the failure to recognize the rights of the other nation that exists in their midst."

continue . . .
Martin Peretz is editor-in-chief of TNR.