The con­se­quences of 1948 are still un­clear

Sixty years on, the shock of Is­rael’s foun­da­tion is still im­pact­ing on Chris­tian, Mus­lim and Jewish thought


FROM TIME to time, cer­tain events “shock” his­tory, bring about a rup­ture in con­ti­nu­ity, and throw the fu­ture on to a rad­i­cally new tra­jec­tory. This event can be short or stretch over gen­er­a­tions, ran­dom and ac­ci­den­tal or built into the very dy­nam­ics of his­toric pro­cesses, some­times tak­ing the form of an ex­tra­or­di­nary per­son and other times an ag­gre­ga­tion of events. Il­lus­tra­tions in­clude the so-called Ax­ial Age from 800 BCE to 200 BCE, dur­ing which revo­lu­tion­ary think­ing in China, In­dia, the Mid­dle East and the Oc­ci­dent cre­ated a new hu­man self-un­der­stand­ing and per­cep­tion of its place in the cos­mos; Napoleon Bon­a­parte; the found­ing of the United States of Amer­ica; Sig­mund Freud; and many more. Such shocks to his­tory take a long time to work them­selves out, but they do con­sti­tute foun­da­tional phe­nom­ena, with the more ex­treme ones in­au­gu­rat­ing new eras.

The found­ing of the state of Is­rael 60 years ago, against the back­ground of the Euro­pean En­light­en­ment and the Jewish Haskalah (En­light­en­ment) and soon af­ter the Shoah, clearly con­sti­tutes such a shock to his­tory, the more pro­found and long-term con­se­quences of which are not yet clear. The main di­men­sions of this shock, which in­ter­act and re­in­force one an­other, in­clude a shock to Chris­tian­ity, a shock to Is­lam and shocks to Ju­daism and the Jewish peo­ple.

Sixty years is much too short a time for the mean­ings and the his­toric sig­nif­i­cance of the shock to be­come un­der­stand­able; this re­quires gen­er­a­tions. But some con­clu­sions can al­ready be drawn, and add up to the con­clu­sion that the fu­tures of Is­rael and of the di­as­pora will be shrouded in deep un­cer­tainty for at least an­other 60 years, with both thriv­ing and col­lapse dis­tinct pos­si­bil­i­ties.

To ex­plain this con­jec­ture and ex­plore its rad­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions, the na­ture of the shock and its main di­men­sions must be un­der­stood. Let me start with the shock to Chris­tian­ity, which is pro­found though in part ob­scured by the de­creas­ing im­por­tance of re­li­gion in pub­lic and private af­fairs, which it­self may well be tem­po­rary.

Chris­tian the­ol­ogy, in all its ver­sions, un­til re­cently re­garded the Jews as guilty of killing God in its hu­man in­car­na­tion and there­fore con­demned them to ex­ile and suf­fer­ing un­til they con­vert to Chris­tian­ity or they are sent to hell — un­less saved by the mercy of Christ — on judg­ment day. This dogma was a main ba­sis for per­se­cu­tion, un­til the En­light­en­ment re­duced the sig­nif­i­cance of re­li­gion and pro­vided some ba­sis for tol­er­ance.

But the su­per­fi­cial­ity of that par­tial ac­cep­tance was demon­strated by wide­spread par­tic­i­pa­tion in Nazi Jew-cleans­ing in oc­cu­pied coun­tries, which should be mainly ex­plained in terms of deeply held be­liefs about the guilt of the Jews and their con­se­quent in­fe­ri­or­ity.

Then came Zion­ism and its tri­umph, the es­tab­lish­ment of the state of Is­rael. Para­dox­i­cally, Chris­tian be­liefs in Eng­land aided this suc­cess by pro­vid­ing an al­ter­na­tive sce­nario, ac­cord­ing to which the re­turn of the Jews to the Promised Land re­alises the will of God and will ul­ti­mately lead to their ac­cep­tance of Chris­tian­ity.

But this was a mi­nor­ity view which does not di­lute the over­all shock ef­fect on Chris­tian­ity of the Jewish peo­ple sud­denly suc­ceed­ing in over­com­ing their con­dem­na­tion to eter­nal pun­ish­ment and es­tab­lish­ing a thriv­ing state of their own in the Promised Land, where Je­sus and his Apos­tles had founded the “true re­li­gion” su­per­sed­ing Ju­daism.

Parts of Chris­tian­ity over­came the shock, thanks to feel­ings of guilt for the Shoah and for not hav­ing done more to save Jews; the hi­er­ar­chi­cal struc­ture of the Catholic Church, which en­abled will­ing Popes to re­verse long-held dog­mas; and the fur­ther de­cline of the im­por­tance of re­li­gion. How­ever, this is only part of the nar­ra­tive. It is hard to ex­plain cur­rent an­tisemitism and mil­i­tant anti-Is­raelism in Europe other than as deep-rooted re­ac­tions to the suc­cess of the Jews and Is­rael in de­bunk­ing the be­lief that they are con­demned to eter­nal pun­ish­ment for hav­ing mur­dered God.

The fu­ture of Chris­tian re­ac­tions to the shock is wide open. Some streams, es­pe­cially in the USA, fol­low the pro-Zion­ist views of some Bri­tish states­men and strongly sup­port Is­rael, prob­a­bly with the con­vic­tion in mind that this is all part of God’s plan to bring about the re­demp­tion of Jews by be­com­ing be­liev­ers in Christ.

How­ever, if Chris­tian­ity be­comes again more in­flu­en­tial in pub­lic af­fairs and private life, which is a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­ity, new waves of hos­til­ity to the very ex­is­tence of Is­rael as a Jewish state are very likely, as fore­shad­owed by wide­spread neg­a­tive feel­ings to­wards Is­rael in Europe which can­not be fully ex­plained in terms of hu­man­i­tar­ian pro-Pales­tinian val­ues or real po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests.

The sit­u­a­tion with Is­lam is dif­fer­ent, in part bet­ter and in part worse. Is­lamic the­ol­ogy al­ways ac­cepted the Jews as “Peo­ple of the Book” and re­garded them all-in-all with less hos­til­ity than did Chris­tian­ity — which was re­garded as semi-pa­gan be­cause of its be­lief that God be­came a Man.

But Jews were re­garded as treach­er­ous and as sin­ful for re­ject­ing Is­lam and con­demned to in­fe­rior sta­tus — and were treated ac­cord­ingly. At the same time, the ar­eas of his­toric Is­rael were viewed as part of the Land of Is­lam. The con­di­tion of ex­ile was seen as the just pun­ish­ment of the Jews, as well as a re­sult of their in­ca­pac­ity to main­tain a state and de­fend it.

Then came Zion­ism and the es­tab­lish­ment and thriv­ing of Is­rael as a Jewish state. And, still more of a shock, the Jews won war af­ter war against the Arabs and con­quered Jerusalem with its Is­lamic holy places, thus re­vers­ing Is­lam’s suc­cesses in de­fy­ing the Chris­tian Cru­saders. All this as Is­lam con­tin­ues to play a ma­jor and in­creas­ing role in pub­lic and private life and in large parts be­comes more and more fun­da­men­tal­ist.

The re­sults are ob­vi­ous: states which fol­low rai­son d’etat in­ter­ests can ac­cept Is­rael, at least as a tem­po­rary fact, and even sign peace agree­ments with it. But re­li­gious lead­ers and masses can­not do so, other than per­haps as a tem­po­rary ex­pe­di­ence un­til Mus­lims be­come strong enough to ex­pel the Jewish in­fi­dels from the Land of Is­lam.

Again, the fu­ture de­pends on de­vel­op­ments con­cern­ing the im­por­tance of re­li­gion in pub­lic af­fairs to­gether with pos­si­ble changes in re­li­gious dog­mas. How­ever, not shar­ing in any way feel­ings of guilt for the Shoah, re­gard­ing the West as an ad­ver­sary, striv­ing to re­gain the past glory of Is­lamic states as global pow­ers, and wide­spread doubts about West­ern-type moder­nity — all add up to a long-term fu­ture of hos­til­ity to­wards the state of Is­rael and ef­forts to undo the shock of its suc­cesses.

This out­look is dis­mal and re­quires Is­rael and the Jewish peo­ple to adopt a grand-strat­egy of try­ing to re­duce Is­lamic hos­til­ity, through com­pro­mises on Jerusalem for ex­am­ple, while main­tain­ing the ca­pac­ity to de­ter, and if nec­es­sary de­feat, any Is­lamic hos­til­ity.

But things may change: hu­man­ity as a whole is mov­ing into a new era with many shocks sure to come; and dog­mas of the past may be­come noth­ing more than ar­ti­facts of his­tory in the fu­ture. How­ever, at best, this will take one or two gen­er­a­tions at least, mak­ing the next 60 years ex­tremely dan­ger­ous for Is­rael. Even if op­ti­mistic sce­nar­ios on peace agree­ments be­come re­al­ity, their su­per­fi­cial ground­ing makes them pro­vi­sional, re­quir­ing Is­rael to main­tain a honed sword ready for ac­tion.

Quite dif­fer­ent but even more com­plex is the shock ef­fect on the Jewish peo­ple it­self. Hav­ing ex­isted and oc­ca­sion­ally thrived lo­cally for about 2,000 years, get­ting a state — quite sud­denly in terms of his­toric time — is a quan­tum leap into un­known di­men­sions.

Crit­i­cal are at least three open-ended ques­tions: What does it mean to be a mod­ern demo­cratic Jewish state? What will and should be the na­ture of re­la­tions be­tween Is­rael and the di­as­pora? And what will be the im­pacts on Ju­daism and the Jewish peo­ple as a whole of hav­ing again, af­ter a hia­tus of 2,000 years, a Jewish state and of not be­ing a peo­ple in ex­ile — for in­stance, on Jewish iden­tity and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, de­mog­ra­phy, se­cu­rity and cre­ativ­ity?

It is not dif­fi­cult to con­struct sce­nar­ios of thriv­ing and de­cline for Is­rael and the di­as­pora, and — with very low but not zero prob­a­bil­ity — also col­lapse, in the 21st cen­tury. But the ac­tual tra­jec­tory of Is­rael and the Jewish peo­ple into the fu­ture is wide open.

Much de­pends on global and re­gional de­vel­op­ments on which the Jewish peo­ple has lit­tle in­flu­ence. More de­pends on the Jewish peo­ple it­self. But in or­der to achieve a real im­pact for the bet­ter on the fu­ture af­ter the his­toric dis­con­ti­nu­ities, a num­ber of re­quire­ments must be sat­is­fied, in­clud­ing: un­prece­dented lev­els of cul­tural, spir­i­tual and re­li­gious cre­ativ­ity; out­stand­ing Jewish-peo­ple and Is­raeli state­craft; ex­cel­lent grand-pol­icy craft­ing and im­ple­men­ta­tion; and a mul­ti­tude of spir­i­tual, or­gan­i­sa­tional and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers of the high­est qual­ity, sorely miss­ing at present.

Also needed is a lot of con­struc­tive de­struc­tion of be­hav­iour pat­terns, be­liefs, struc­tures and sel­f­un­der­stand­ings which fit­ted the con­di­tions of ex­ile and in part the first 60 years of the state of Is­rael, but which be­come in­creas­ingly dys­func­tional and en­dan­ger the fu­ture in­stead of as­sur­ing long-term thriv­ing.

Thus, clearly in need of re­struc­tur­ing are Is­raeldi­as­pora re­la­tions — so that they be­come more of a part­ner­ship be­tween equals, a new syn­the­sis be­tween a Jewish state and a demo­cratic one while hav­ing a large Arab mi­nor­ity — and de­vel­op­ing Jewish-peo­ple state­craft so that if fits the re­al­i­ties of hav­ing a pow­er­ful state faced by dan­ger­ous longterm threats and com­plex op­por­tu­ni­ties. All th­ese are de­mand­ing and also painful tasks which are just start­ing to be faced, and their suc­cess re­quires crit­i­cal masses of cre­ativ­ity and wis­dom which can­not be taken for granted.

How­ever, first of all we must re­alise that the heroic suc­cesses of the Jewish peo­ple in state-build­ing dur­ing the last 60 years (and also in build­ing thriv­ing di­as­pora com­mu­ni­ties) can­not be re­lied upon by them­selves to guar­an­tee a thriv­ing fu­ture. Neg­a­tive sur­face phe­nom­ena in­di­cate some of the dan­gers, such as as­sim­i­la­tion, de­mo­graphic prob­lems in Is­rael and lead­er­ship weak­nesses.

But the cru­cial con­sid­er­a­tion is that the shock ef­fects of es­tab­lish­ing the state of Is­rael can pro­duce deep and long-last­ing boomerang-ef­fects. Th­ese re­quire ur­gent and mas­sive counter-mea­sures grounded in an un­der­stand­ing of the his­toric pro­cesses pro­duced by that shock. Such in­sights are lack­ing in con­tem­po­rary Jewish peo­ple and Is­raeli dis­course, which is dom­i­nated by cur­rent events and there­fore lacks the pen­e­tra­tion, un­der­stand­ing and long-term vi­sion needed for en­sur­ing a thriv­ing fu­ture. Pro­fes­sor Ye­hezkel Dror is the found­ing pres­i­dent of the Jewish Peo­ple Pol­icy Plan­ning In­sti­tute and a mem­ber of the Wino­grad Com­mis­sion which in­ves­ti­gated the Sec­ond Le­banon War

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