Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ersatz Israel 1

Political Zionists like to present themselves as the true representatives of Judaism, and their creed, political Zionism, as a sort of vital ember that had for centuries been smouldering away within this ancient faith, waiting (improbably) only for the likes of Herzl, Weizmann, and Ben-Gurion to fan it into the flames of the toxic settler-colonial power trip we see wreaking havoc today in Palestine.

In fact, political Zionism, while paying lip service to, and exploiting at every turn, traditional Judaism, is nothing more than an aping of the ethno-national volkisch movements of 19th century Europe. As such it is the very antithesis of traditional Judaism.

Few outside the ranks of anti-Zionist religious Jews have so beautifully nailed the artificiality and inauthenticity of political Zionism quite as well as JMN Jeffries. Here, in two parts, is his polemic on this theme, taken from Chapter 24 of his majesterial analysis of the Palestine problem, Palestine: The Reality (1939). Chapter 24 is appropriately (and wickedly) titled Ersatz Israel:

"The 31,000 immigrants of 1919-23... restored the Jewish population to about its pre-War level. Therefore, as has been said, there was nothing so much in their numbers to alter the status of the Arabs. It was their new footing which altered that. It was this arrival of the Jewish immigrants 'by right and not by sufferance,' as Mr Churchill was to define it, which destroyed the status of the Arabs, who found themselves changed in a flick from being the owners of their home to being one of a pair of lodgers in it...

"Hitherto the Turks had been their landlords indeed, but the key of the house had been the Arabs' and the Arabs' only. Now the Arabs were presented with latchkeys to their own hearths, Zionist strangers were given identical latchkeys, and in a day or two were pointing out the rooms in which they had been born.

"There was this too. The immigrants of the early 'twenties brought with them ideas and schemes of life which were incompatible with their own pretensions. Later on, as their numbers grew, these ideas and schemes, developed and propagated, were to threaten the extinction of Arabism. For the moment what they signified was, of all things, the extinction of any Jewish national sense there might have been in Palestine, and of any basis of unity there might have been there between Jews and Arabs.

"The political Zionists often enough advise attention to the good terms on which the pre-War Zionists of Palestine had lived with the Arabs. They add that if it were not for the intrigues of various interested parties these good relations would have continued with themselves. The Arabs draw a different moral from the same fact. They point out that the pre-War Jews were on pretty good terms with the surrounding population primarily because they made no attack on the position of that population, and secondly because their ways and customs fitted in reasonably well with the ways and customs of the land itself. 

"What follows from this deserves every consideration. The ways and customs of the pre-War Jews, which thus fitted into the Arab scheme of things, were essentially Jewish. Therefore when Jews were real Jews and real Zionists, Zionists by devotion and not by 'right,' they were acceptable enough to the Arabs (the question of peril through mass migration not having arisen). When Jews, however, clamoured to enter the Holy Land as though it was theirs by title, yet the moment they were inside behaved as non-Jews and erased or hid the Scrolls of the Law beneath voters'-lists, by-laws of the G.F.J.L. (General Federation of Jewish Labour), agenda for Rutenberg company meetings and other such Occidental commonplaces - then the Arabs would have nothing to do with them. They could accept into their midst Jews who had some national character. They would not accept the new Zionist immigrants who had no national character at all, yet were full of bold and outrageous claims based upon something which they did not possess, and presented Trades-Union certificates and Directors' reports as the insignia of Moses.

"The pre-War Jews had held traces of cousinship with the Arabs, but they had never tried to make capital out of this fact, nor indeed had mentioned it at all. But cousinship had been pressed incongruously upon the suffering Feisal by Jews of the new type, such as Dr Weizmann and Professor Frankfurter and various gentlemen from New York and Boston, who had no trace of it. The Weizmanns and the Frankfurters were men of ability, but when they proffered themselves as 'cousins of the Arabs' they were ludicrous.

"The immigrants of the new 'mandatory' disposition, certainly all those younger ones who set the note for the attitude of the Zionist mass, were of this Frankfurter type, though they did not come from the United States. Mostly these young people came from Eastern Europe, but were hardly at all Eastern. They were European in a generalized way, without territorial connections but breathing the ideas in the European air. There had been indeed not so much physical side to their lives. Theirs was a disembodied existence, with no real home save in what was thought or spoken. They had grown up in books, and they lived in speeches.

"Jewish Palestine, as they found it, did not please them in the least. They thought of the old P.I.C.A. or Rothschild colonies, founded by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, parasitic. They found even such self-supporting farm-settlements as Zichron Jakob or Petach Tikvah not at all to their taste: I was to hear the latter called an 'agricultural ghetto.' As for the Jews of traditional type, the Jews of the 'Wailing Wall' and of the pockets of survival round Safad, they thoroughly despised them.

"The Jews of the 'Wailing Wall' were found good enough by them, it is true, as a means to an end, as living evidence for their claim of historic succession. But that was for the benefit of the outer world. Amongst themselves the newcomers hardly regarded their predecessors as alive. They looked on them as faded parchments employed as proof of pedigree, or as fossilized strata on which they had to gain a foothold ere rearing on the site their own brand-new, blue-print, political, lucus a non lucendo Zion

"Some of the apologists of this Zionism, aware of the deadly self-contradiction in its spurning of traditionalism, tried to mask this as a breaking-away from the subserviance and squalor of the ghetto. That excuse will not do. If the newcomers had but set their faces against dirt and overcrowding, there would have been no criticism to make of them, of course. But what they set their faces against was the distinctively Jewish life which lay beneath any superficial dirt and overcrowding.

"It was in squalid passages and peopled tenements and small dark synagogues that the Jewish ideal had persisted at its purist and most individual. This was the experience, not of the Jews only, but of all subjected clans or nations or races. Their national life continued in the houses of the poor and the conservative. The men afterwards called national liberators or revivers came respectfully and lovingly to the homes of the traditionalists, caught from them the vital breath, drew deep of it and exhaled it in power.

"It was not so in Palestine. The political youth who now began swaggering in by right wanted no feeble breaths from the chinks of the past mingling with their modern air-conditioning. They were Zion, or rather Zion was or would have to be what they were. It was take-it-or-leave-it for the spirit and the sanctuary. Once the ancestral deposit in Jerusalem had served its documentary purpose, they had no use any more for the bearded and ringleted Orthodox, who found themselves discarded and driven for self-preservation into violent dissensions with their very determined supplanters.

"So while the new Zionists, in the early 'twenties, outside of Palestine were making all possible capital out of Jewish tradition, inside Palestine, on the other hand, they were doing their utmost to relegate to limbo the pre-War Jews, the only Jews who represented tradition. These latter were appealing continually for redress against the politicians' endeavours to reduce their status, to contaminate their customs, to force them into politically-framed representative bodies. Petitions from them flowed to the Administration, to the Home Government, to the League of Nations, to private visitors of mark even, in a continuous stream.

"Their supersession betrayed the falsity of the whole political Zionist movement. If there was such a thing as the Jewish nation it was the traditional Jews who represented it. The other kind of Jews had, it is true, a vast deal of achievement to their credit. The history of Western civilization was alight with their names. As poets, musicians, thinkers and - in the material order - as men-of-business, they had been amidst the principal makes of of that civilization. There was no branch of it to which they had not contributed. But they paid the penalty of being whelmed by what they created. The Disraelis, Heines, Rubinsteins and Einsteins vanished as Jews in the Western world which they helped to construct.

"But the religious observances, the ways of life, the writings of the traditional Jews - that was something other men had not got, something the West had not absorbed, a separate culture. To have forced this on the Arabs would have been wrong, but at least it would have been something individual to force." (pp 410-13)

To be continued in the next post...

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