Zion­ism for the peo­ple

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - ES­SAYS KEITH KAHN-HAR­RIS

ASHER GINS­BERG, the in­flu­en­tial Zion­ist thinker bet­ter known by his pen name Ahad Ha’am (“One of the peo­ple”), died in 1927, long be­fore the state of Is­rael had come into be­ing. No one can know what he would have said about the na­ture of the po­lit­i­cal Zion­ism that tri­umphed in 1948 and about the state that it built.

That is con­ve­nient, as it al­lows Ahad Ha’am to be ad­mired and even claimed as a sup­porter by a swathe of peo­ple across the Jewish po­lit­i­cal spec­trum. As a “cul­tural” Zion­ist whose vi­sion was to build not a state but a kind of cul­tural hub, and as some­one who had harsh t hi ngs t o s a y about the Zion­ist move­ment’s ig­no­rance of Pales­tine’s Arabs, his work at­tracts to­day’s post-Zion­ists and crit­ics of Is­rael.

But he was nonethe­less a Zion­ist who up­held the land of Is­rael as the Jews’ an­ces­tral home and, as such, there are streets named af­ter him in Is­rael to­day.

Read­ing the beau­ti­ful Words of Fire: Se­lected Es­says of Ahad Ha’am, (Not­ting Hill Edi­tions, £14.99) we can at least understand why those who hold a wide range of views on Zion­ism would wish to em­brace him as one of their own.

Even reprinted from decades-old trans­la­tions into English, as th­ese es­says are, Ahad Ha’am’s prose sparkles with clar­ity and insight.

His love for both the Jewish peo­ple and for hu­man­ity as a whole shines through. Who wouldn’t want him on one’s side?

As a critic of to­day’s Is­rael, Brian Klug, who in­tro­duces and edited the col­lec­tion, em­pha­sises Ahad Ha’am’s com­mit­ment to jus­tice and his “prophetic” crit­i­cisms of po­lit­i­cal Zion­ism.

But he also wishes to “release” Ha’am from the la­bel of “cul­tural Zion­ist” in or­der to high­light the breadth of his vi­sion and his writ­ing. It is in­deed a very spe­cial es­say­ist who can make now ob­so­lete con­trov e r s i e s s e e m vivid and rel­e­vant to our day. One ex­am­ple of this is the es­say Na­tiona l i s t s a n d t h e Di­as­pora, which con­tests the “Di­as­pora na­tion­al­ism” of Si­mon Dub­now in a man­ner that re­veals fresh ways of think­ing about to­day’s Di­as­pora-Is­rael re­la­tion­ship.

This col­lec­tion is part of spe­cial­ist es­say pub­lisher Not­ting Hill Edi­tions’ se­ries en­ti­tled The Clas­sic Col­lec­tion. Oth­ers in the se­ries in­clude Wil­liam Ha­zlitt and Os­car Wilde.

It is a fit­ting trib­ute to Ahad Ha’am that some­one who wrote for a tiny au­di­ence in a lan­guage that, at the time, very few peo­ple spoke, should be el­e­vated to this pan­theon.

His love for the Jewish peo­ple and for hu­man­ity as a whole shines through He had harsh things to say about the Zion­ist ig­no­rance of Pales­tine’s Arabs

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