The Secular Zionist Crisis
In addition to the difficulties that we all suffer and grieve
-- the deaths, murders and worldwide antisemitic attacks --
the remaining secular Zionists are going through an
ideological crisis. Professor Amnon Rubinstein, a former
minister of justice, current MK (Meretz) and university
professor, recently wrote: "A hundred years after opening the
Zionist gate, secular -- not religious -- Jewish nationalism
is suffering a great crisis. The sheer power of the Moslem-
Arab hatred for Israel and its Jews forces despair into our
hearts. When Arafat said "No" to the proposals of Barak and
Clinton and began his bloody intifadah, the first to be hit
was the secular Jewish public that believed, for the most
part, that a solution of two states for two peoples would
bring peace and security. For nationalist, secular Jews, the
ideal of peace is vital not just for the material promise
that it holds, but because it allows them to stick with their
Jewish nationalism and at the same time their universalist
" . . . The crisis of secular Jewish nationalism is a genuine
crisis. Signs of it are in evidence in the media, in
academia, in every place that Israelis meet. . . . It is also
natural and heart-rending."
The events of the last decade, beginning with the peace
agreements at Oslo and the White House lawn through the
offers of former prime minister Ehud Barak at Camp David for
a Palestinian state and the outbreak of new violence less
than two months later that has still not ended, have brought
the social and historical assumptions that drove the secular
Zionist movement into question. Their philosophy was that the
foundation of a "normal" state and the minimizing of
particularist Jewish elements would lead to the acceptance of
the Jewish people as just another nation among many.
The depth, breadth and power of the Palestinian and Arab
hatred have called these fond hopes into question or perhaps
even buried them for good. The obvious rise of worldwide
antisemitism even in the "enlightened" West has shown that it
is not just an Arab phenomenon but, at least in some form, it
has very broad echoes.
Jewish nationalism was supposed to take the place of Jewish
religion and Jewish learning as an idea and an ideal. But
Jewish nationalism cannot even explain why the Jews are
hated, much less provide a reasonable framework for dealing
with it. The persistence of antisemitism leads those whose
hopes were focused on the State of Israel as a solution to
the Jewish problem to nowhere.
Professor Rubinstein notes: "The faxes and phone calls that
come in are not divided into [political] Right and Left, but
into religious and secular: the former are not shaken by the
threat of terror, but the secular express deep despair."
Peace will only come when all of us return to our roots and
our common heritage. Chazal have given us the keys to
understanding the source of the hatred in our unique heritage
and mission, which gives us the moral strength to bear our
burden as well as the basis for living with our non-Jewish
neighbors in peace by honoring and respecting them. When we
understand that our primary responsibility is to remain true
to ourselves and our heritage as embodied in the Torah, then
we have a sound and time-tested basis for living in peace and
mutual respect with our non-Jewish neighbors.
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