Friday, July 13, 2012

Ersatz Israel 2

"Whereas the new immigrants and their leaders, Dr Weizmann and Mr Brandeis and all the rest, had nothing of their own, even to force. The leaders talked so much of the Jewish nation and of Jewish culture that it was not seen that they had neither of these things in their baggage. They brought culture with them, but it was not Jewish: they brought Jews with them who proceeded to regenerate Palestine in a way any Occidental might have employed.

"They made great play of their introduction of Hebrew, which they caused to be made into an official language. On the very postage-stamps of Palestine they had the words 'Eretz Israel' ('the land of Israel') placed. But it would have been nearer to truth if the inscription had been 'Ersatz Israel.' They might talk Hebrew, but there was not a Hebrew deed done by them; they had, in a sense, to translate all their acts into it. The Hebrew with which they covered the surface of the National Home was like one of those figures in eighteenth-century farthingales which some people use to cover their telephones. That appliance, in fact, might well serve as an illustration of what, under their veil of Hebrew letters, the political Zionists represented. They were as utilitarian, progressive and scientific as telephones, and not a whit more national. In those early 'twenties the immigrants no more brought to Palestine the first fruits of a distinctive culture and civilization than these would have been brought there by the imposition of 31,000 telephone instruments.

"Nor, during the years which have passed since then, have their successors contributed the overdue crop. Just the reverse. As their numbers and power in the country have increased, all they have done has been to suck more and more national life out of it. Their institutions have grown more and more extraneous, to culminate in their monstrous Tel-Aviv, a great false hump strapped on to the shrinking back of Palestine.

"There are over 100,000 Jews in Tel-Aviv and none but Jews in it, yet it is as much a Jewish city as is London by Aldgate, or any other 'Jewish Quarter' in any other Western metropolis. In these 'Jewish Quarters' who but the Jews have been assimilated? The Kosher notices, the shop signs in strange characters, all the emblems of the sort meeting the eye, are nothing to set against the anglicization of Aldgate's denizens. Jewish life in the 'Jewish Quarter' has no doubt its faithful core, but for ever-increasing thousands it becomes a matter of a few labels, a few dishes of food, a round of Saturday sabbaths approximating more and more each year to the dechristianized Sunday sabbaths of the enveloping multitudes.

"Tel-Aviv is the embodiment of these conditions. It is nothing but the largest of all 'Jewish Quarters,' and, since its inhabitants come from so many sources, possibly the least individual, least nationalist, most heteroclite of any.

"This is a staggering thought, when it is remembered that by their own title, falsified though it be, the political Zionists were imposed upon Palestine in order to install there a thoroughly Jewish national civilization. Despite all their ability they have been unable to produce anything of this save here and there some of its unwarranted outer symbols. The truth is that their ability has no Jewish character, and only aims at producing the common occidental type of public works and places of instruction and of entertainment. The university, the technical schools, the laboratories, the experimental farms, the friendly societies, the discussion-groups, the symphony orchestras - they have them all, and a host of like institutions.

"The National Home has even blossomed into 'lidos' in the Hyde Park manner, imitations of imitations. As an ingenuous British Jew said to an acquaintance of mine, to whom he was discoursing enrapturedly of developments on the Zionist rivieras, 'It's wonderful what they've done in a few years. It'll soon be like Ramsgate.' Precisely.

"Nothing but Ramsgate indeed in its least Kentish aspect or some Central European spa was ever to be expected. In trivial and minor things the National Home population always has had the mentality and the practices which have corresponded to those of its leaders in weighty and major things. The Zionist leaders summoning Mr Ormsby-Gore to heel, the Zionist scientist spending long vigils at his experimental bench, the Zionist schoolmasters in their classrooms, the Zionist industrialist popularizing some product, the Zionist shopkeeper arranging some spring or autumn sale, the Zionist builder, lawyer, or commercial agent - all are part of the familiar socio-political circle in which our Western world gyrates, and gyrates till its dingier rims appear. Thereabouts, in Palestine, overfleshed women, dowdily nude, sunning themselves in shorts, form a section of circumference accustomedly vulgar to ourselves, but impious and ever rankling to the Christians and Moslems of that land.

"In major matters or minor, in meritorious or meritless or indifferent things, these people, these political Zionists, have shown themselves in fine capable of establishing in Palestine an up-to-date community, but from the start incapable of establishing one that was Jewish.

"Like so many other things, this deficiency of theirs has remained hidden, or unmentioned. It may be that to mention it now will only provoke the retort that to condemn the political Zionists because they are not national is unfair. The one thing which they are trying to achieve, it will be said, is this very nationalism, and if they have not achieved it immediately that is because of the enormous handicap upon them. Dispersed about the world, they have not been in a position to acquire any form of culture except the non-Jewish culture of the particular place in which one group or another of them has lived. For whatever task they may undertake their equipment is un-Jewish, and it is unreasonable therefore to expect them to transform their holdings in Palestine into a centre in all aspects Jewish at once.

"The plea is plausible, but is no answer to the charge. Evidently enough the political Zionists could only bring with them to Palestine an un-Jewish equipment (considering this now, for argument's sake, as in involuntary act of theirs). But what they could have brought with them, what it was necessary they should have brought with them for any sort of self-justification, was the Jewish spirit. If they were what they said they were, Jews and nothing else, they were bound to possess this; it must be automatically in their keeping. With the Jewish spirit directing them, their practical handicap of un-Jewish education would not have mattered, for the spirit would have shone through in their own new, untrammelled surroundings. From those first days of 1920 it would have manifested itself in open compunction if this or that handicap forced them into developing their unique National Home in any commonplace international way. However fine the work they might accomplish in the international style, they would have been dissatisfied with working thus. They would have been trying continually to alter their manner of work. They would have given voice to their discontent too, for their natural feelings must have welled up in them altogether beyond containing.

"That was an acid test of their genuineness: would they show compunction? It was a test in which, them and since, they have failed. Not compunction but contentment has marked their attitude from the beginning. They have been self-satisfied to think that their National Home reproduced so exactly the chief institutions of the countries in which they were born or in which they made their way. They have been proud of their carbon-copies of all the latest gospels, and have said so. They have vaunted the perfect parallelism of their lectureships and of their statistical bureaus and of their board-rooms with those most recently established in the West.

"Besides, their attitude to the surviving Jewish culture was proof in itself of their lack of the Jewish spirit. They were determined to compel those rabbis and layfolk who clung to this culture to subject it now to the political Zionist doctrine. 'We are being compelled to making common cause with these false Zionists,' Chief Rabbi Zonnenfeld protested to me when I came to Jerusalem and met him. 'The Government aids and abets them by declaring that their must be a single Jewish Community in Palestine representing all Jews, and that one under the control of the so-called Zionist Organization. We are to sit with people who desecrate the Sabbath, we, who are the true moral foundation of Zionism. In Palestine alone we number four thousand fathers of families, the delegates of at least a million Orthodox of the Ashkenazi in the world.'

"This was the major compulsion, this driving of the Orthodox into the service of a profane ideal. In much the same way, the Hebrew tongue was driven into the service of political propaganda. The politicians scored a point by using Hebrew as the common tongue. Gentiles thought it a proof of their innate Judaism. But for the Orthodox, for the true Zionists, Hebrew was a tongue sacred to prayer, too sacred to be debased to ordinary uses. For common intercourse they mostly used Yiddish or such Western tongues as they knew. But now the immigrants were compelling the use of Hebrew for everything. They were like innovators devalorizing poetry by driving everyone to shop and to gossip in pseudo-Shelley or practical-Keats.

"But it was not the restored Hebrew of the immigrants which contained the Jewish spirit, it was the Hebrew of the altar and the Yiddish of the Orthodox. Their Yiddish had become the vehicle of Hebrew thought, which was the soul of Jewry. The Hebrew of the immigrants, the Hebrew of the politicians, the Hebrew of the Zionist Organization, was on the other hand full of Yiddish thought. That is to say that at its best it was used by them for the grafted ideas, the part-Germanic, part-British, part-American, part-Danubian theories which they professed. Their Hebrew was the dialect of professors and of publicists in all tongues, unnational.

"Thus, then, in outlook and in act, the new immigrants, the political Zionists, showed themselves not the heirs but the changelings of Israel. Far from being anything national to Palestine, they did not even know their own true nationalism when they encountered it there amidst their pre-War population. To them it seemed nothing but an archaic religiosity." (pp 413-17)

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