Reinventing Israel in Argentina
Every year, of the 75,000 young Israelis who complete their military service, it is estimated that around one third leave everything behind to go backpacking. The nomadic ramble through Southeast Asia and South America in that indeterminate period between youth and adulthood is hardly unique to Israel, but it takes on its own characteristics at the end of mandatory service — a break from order and a getaway from the confines of a small state under siege.
While one can escape Israel, one cannot escape Israeliness. On the road, for linguistic, cultural and emotional reasons, Israeli backpackers have come to constitute their own community. Along the so-called “hummus trail,” as Dor Glick reported for Ha’aretz, there has built up “a chain of laid-back refuges in which the sacred tongue rules in loud tones and the de rigueur item of clothing is a T-shirt signifying the conclusion of an army training course.”
While Israeli backpackers have been criticized for showing “flagrant disregard for local customs,” the hummus trail is a natural expression both of belonging to a distinctive identity and the wish for the familiar and familial in most unfamiliar surroundings. Even thousands of miles from Tel Aviv and Haifa, Israelis cannot help but seek out and find one another.
Omri Herzog has noted that, in Israeli literature, there is a place for the journey of self-determination and self-discovery. “There, in the exotic expanses of the backpacker world, Israeli heroes may deal with repressed traumas and inadequate concepts of self,” he writes. “They can understand and forgive their families, loved ones and sometimes also themselves; against the background of bustling foreign cities and remote villages they find the strength to love, rehabilitate themselves and connect to those they have left behind.”
Did Dreyfus Affair Really Inspire Herzl?
The idea that the trial of Alfred Dreyfus inspired Theodor Herzl to write “The Jewish State” is “simply not true,” Shlomo Avineri declared in a pointed, fluent, and well-received lecture that opened the first full day of London’s Jewish Book Week on February 23.
Discussing his biography of the father of modern Zionism, “Herzl: Theodor Herzl and the Foundation of the Jewish State,” Avineri asserted that through examining Herzl’s diaries and letters, he concluded that the Dreyfus affair did not preoccupy Herzl’s thoughts at that time. Only in hindsight would the fate of Alfred Dreyfus come to be seen as a pivotal moment both for European Jewry and the history of the Zionist movement.
Rather, the background to “The Jewish State” was the collapsing scenery of 19th-century Europe and specifically the Austro-Hungarian Empire which had, up until that time, been “the best country for Jews in Europe” and had been referred to as the “goldene medine,” even before the United States. Emancipation began towards the end of the 18th century, while in the 19th century the Emperor Franz Joseph I obtained the moniker “Froyim Yossel” from his Jewish subjects who during his reign became more equal members of his multi-national, multi-ethnic empire.
During the 1890s, however, “nationalism threatened the unity of the Austro-Hungarian Empire,” while the advent of democracy resulted in the emergence of “racist, populist, and anti-Semitic candidates” for office. This affected Herzl’s city of Vienna, where Karl Lueger of the Christian Social Party won municipal elections in 1895 by decrying “corrupt liberalism” and charging that Jews controlled the Austrian economy and the press.
Lueger’s campaign indicated that part of this disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and of Europe more generally was the emergence of anti-Semitism as a reaction to Jewish emancipation. This anti-Semitism, Avineri writes in “Herzl,” “stressed the ethnic and racial character of the Jews, not their religion.” Moreover, “it was not their suffering and weakness that sparked the new hatred — it was their success and their power, whether real or imagined.”
What Herzl saw, Avineri said, was that this new anti-Semitism was “deterministic” since there is “no way out” of a Jewish identity that is in the blood. While emancipation had demolished the physical walls of the old ghettos, opening up industry, commerce, and the professions and granting Jews new political and social rights, the Jews of Europe “found themselves in a new ghetto without walls — an invisible ghetto” but a ghetto nevertheless.
Yasmin Qureshi MP
Thursday, January 5, 2014
Yossi Klein Halevi and the Nature of Dreams
Israel, as Amos Oz once observed, was born out of a spectrum of dreams and visions, blueprints and masterplans. Some complementary, some contradictory, these dreams represent the federation of ideas that compose Zionism. Where these dreams quarrel with one another, there is the basis of political debate in Israel today.
In Like Dreamers, Yossi Klein Halevi examines the history of two dreams in particular: the kibbutz movement, that utopian ‘attempt to transcend human nature, replace selfishness with cooperation,’ and religious Zionism. Secular kibbutzniks and religious Zionists ‘disagreed about God and faith and the place of religion in Jewish identity and in the life of the state.’ Yet, Klein Halevi observes: ‘For all their differences, religious Zionism and the secular kibbutz movement agreed that the goal of Jewish statehood must be more than the mere creation of a safe refuge for the Jewish people. Both movements saw the Jewish return home as an event of such shattering force that something grand – world transformative – must result.’
Klein Halevi cleverly and compellingly uses the lives of seven paratroopers – participants in the battle for Jerusalem during the Six Day War – to trace the development and ultimate decline of these two dreams. For it was June 1967 that brought religious Zionists and secular kibbutzniks together – ‘everyone had a share in the victory’ – before they would eventually part ways in the following months and years.
June 1967, for Klein Halevi, is the beginning of the end of the kibbutz movement. Those aligned with Mapam and Hashomer Hatzair lost their faith in the Soviet Union and Marxism. The Labour establishment of which the kibbutzim were part was exposed as corrupt and were caught off-guard on Yom Kippur 1973. ‘All the institutions and leaders I grew up believing in have failed,’ Arik Achmon of Kibbutz Netzer Sereni says. ‘The system that I was sure was foolproof has failed in every way.’ Materialism, individualism, and the occupation undermined utopianism and communal life, while Menachem Begin attacked the kibbutzniks as ‘millionaires with swimming pools.’
After 1967, religious Zionists perceived themselves to be the new pioneers: first in re-establishing the kibbutz of Kfar Etzion that was destroyed by the Jordanians in 1947; then, in forming new settlements in Samaria such as Ofra, Kedumim, and Elon More: ‘This time the movement would be led by religious Jews. There was no choice but to step into the void left by the depleted kibbutzniks. A movement of the faithful. All those who understood that Zionism was not about refuge but destiny, redemption.’