To speak of “world Jewry” in 1983 or any other year is a little reckless. For one thing, the very term “world Jewry” conjures up uncomfortable associations with the myth enshrined in the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, according to which the Jews secretly run the world through an international committee of their richest and most powerful leaders. Jews tend to smile wryly at the mention of this paranoid estimate of their power. Halevai, they say; would that it were so. Or, alternatively, knowing its potential for arousing literally murderous hostility, they rush to demonstrate that there is no such entity as world Jewry and no such body as the Elders of Zion. Alas, they say, if we were so powerful, how is it that we could not prevent Hitler from slaughtering so many millions of our people?
Still, neither mordant Jewish humor nor defensive Jewish anxiety has succeeded in putting the myth of the Elders of Zion to rest. Indeed, not even irrefutable scholarly proof that the Protocols were a forgery of the czarist secret police has been able to block the circulation of that extraordinary document. At this very moment, in the year 1983, millions of copies of the Protocols are in print and are freely distributed throughout the two main centers of anti-Semitism in our day: the Soviet world and the Arab world. Yet even in the West—and yes, even in the United States—one finds traces of the myth in the minds of many who would laugh at the literalism with which it is spelled out in the Protocols, and who are by no stretch of the definition anti-Semitic. Only the other day, for example, I heard of a German politician with a history of anti-Nazism, and a record of friendliness toward Israel, who regularly inquires of prominent Jewish visitors, “Was gibt’s mit dem Weltjudentum?” (“What’s world Jewry up to these days?”)
Most, or perhaps all, Jews know that, for better or worse, there is no such entity as world Jewry in the sense suggested by that question. Whether they bewail as dangerous their evident inability to unite for the purposes of concerted action, or whether they glory in it as a measure of diversity and pluralism, Jews understand that it remains a fact—one of the stubbornest facts of Jewish life.
And yet, and yet, in recent years there has seemed to be an exception. Since 1948, Jews everywhere, in every country, of every degree of religious observance, of every political stripe, have more and more come together on one major issue: the state of Israel. Before 1948—before, that is, the state of Israel actually came into being—there were severe, bitter, even fratricidal disagreements as to whether a sovereign Jewish state in Palestine, or the Land of Israel, to use the name by which Jews have traditionally known it, was a good idea. These disagreements began to fade in the face of the reality of the new Jewish state, though they did not entirely disappear. There were Orthodox Jews who looked upon the Jewish state as a blasphemous anticipation or “forcing” of the messianic age; there were Reform Jews who looked upon the Jewish state as a regression to tribalism; there were socialist Jews who looked upon the Jewish state as a monument to reactionary bourgeois nationalism.
But these anti-Zionist Jews were divided among themselves and in any case added up to a relatively small minority which was then further depleted by the Six-Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Each of those two wars caused severe casualties in the ranks of the anti-Zionist Jews. And in addition to eroding the animosity of the anti-Zionists, these two wars also had a profound effect on the previously indifferent or apathetic. Confronted with the possibility that, with the memory of the Holocaust still hideously fresh, yet another major Jewish community might be wiped off the face of the earth, the vast majority of Jews everywhere in the world rose up and said No. This time, if God forbid it were to happen, it would happen against the concerted effort of all Jews everywhere to do whatever they could to prevent it.
And so we entered upon a period in which, for the first time in centuries, it became possible to speak, with a degree of plausibility and with all due respect for the limits of the phenomenon, of such an entity as world Jewry. In Israel itself, despite passionate political and religious divisions, a proud and happy unity prevailed on the fundamental question of national security and the measures needed to insure the survival of the state against all those in the Arab world and elsewhere who were determined to destroy it. In the United States, where the largest single Jewish community in the world was and is still located—it was and is nearly twice the size of the second largest, the Jewish community of Israel—the splits of the past faded into near invisibility where Israel was concerned. Israel, said the sociologist Nathan Glazer, had become the religion of American Jews. American Jewry, I myself added, had become entirely “Zionized” in at least the minimal sense that perhaps 99 percent of the community now actively supported the idea, and of course the reality, of a sovereign Jewish state in the Land of Israel.
Even more remarkable was the upsurge of enthusiasm for Israel in countries whose Jewish communities had not previously been notable for Zionist sentiment, not even in the minimal sense of believing that a sovereign Jewish state was a good idea. France (now with the fourth largest Jewish community in the world) was a striking example. Traditionally, French Jews tended to regard Zionism as (in the words of the sociologist Dominique Schnapper) “an unfortunate confusion between a religion and a national movement.” This “well-known resistance to Zionism” did not necessarily preclude a certain sympathy for Israel as a refuge for Jews unlucky enough to have been born in countries other than France. Nevertheless, “The founding of Israel and the 1948 war had no effect on most French Jews.” The Six-Day War, however, worked an even more dramatic transformation on French Jewry than on the Jews of America. Even the most highly assimilated French Jews were aroused by this reminder that the very existence of the Jewish people was being called into question once again, and the result was to eliminate the last vestiges of hostility and indifference to the fate of the Jewish state. Thus the vast majority of French Jews came to agree with the proposition that “the survival of the state of Israel is the one burning issue for all Jews in the post-Auschwitz era.”
The effect of the Six-Day War on Soviet Jewry was perhaps the most striking of all. Here was a Jewish community, the third largest in the world, whose ties to Jews in other countries had been forcibly cut by a totalitarian regime. That regime, moreover, was in league with Israel’s enemies, who were in those days making no attempt to conceal their active desire to wipe the Jewish state off the map and drive its inhabitants into the sea. Zionism itself was a dirty word in the Soviet lexicon; in fact, there is evidence that the idea of stigmatizing Zionism as a form of racism—an idea later endorsed by the UN General Assembly—originated not in the Arab world but in the Kremlin. Yet in spite of these circumstances, the Jews of the Soviet Union by all accounts were aroused to a sense of passionate solidarity with those criminal Zionists, the Jews of Israel. During the Vietnam war, I once remarked to a Soviet dissident that many Soviet intellectuals seemed sympathetic to the South Vietnamese and the Americans. “No,” he said, “not many; all.” So it evidently was with the sympathies of Soviet Jews first in the Six-Day War and then in the Yom Kippur War. They were all on the side of Israel.
A similar development occurred everywhere in the world where Jews still lived. One of the early Zionist thinkers, Ahad Ha’am, had predicted that if a Jewish state came into existence, it would have room only for a fraction of the Jewish people, while for the majority who would remain in the Diaspora it would serve as a “spiritual center.” This prophecy certainly seemed to have been more clearly vindicated than Theodor Herzl’s vision of an end to anti-Semitism and the insuring of Jewish security through the “normalization” of the Jewish people in their own sovereign state. Indeed, it was the very failure of the Jewish state to make the Jewish people—first and foremost its own inhabitants—more secure that contributed to the realization of Ahad Ha’am’s prophecy. For the threat to Israel’s existence—a threat made visible and credible to everyone in 1967—served to put Israel at the very center of Jewish consciousness in the Diaspora.
To be sure, this was not exactly what Ahad Ha’am had in mind in speaking of a spiritual center; his idea, a secularized version of the ancient prophecy that the Torah would go forth from Zion, was that a resurgent Jewish culture would spread from the Jewish state to the Diaspora. But what happened after 1967 was not so far removed from this vision as might appear at first glance. Thus the new experience of solidarity with Israel led in many cases to a new interest in Jewish culture and even to a degree of Jewish religious observance. Everywhere Jews, especially young Jews who had never shown any interest in these things before, began studying Hebrew and Yiddish and Jewish history and attending religious services. Assimilation became unfashionable. To quote Mme. Schnapper again: “Today, in Italy as well as France, the assimilationist view, according to which Judaism is just one religious denomination among others, is defended by no more than a minority of Jews.” What Mme. Schnapper says of Italy and France is equally true of the United States and, I would guess, of most (if not indeed all) Jewish communities in the rest of the world.
With the supreme exception of Emil Fackenheim, I do not believe that the significance of this extraordinary development has as yet even begun to be appreciated. There was something awesome about it, something not easily comprehended by ordinary categories of contemporary understanding, something touched by the miraculous. First came the Holocaust: an experience so terrifying, so degrading, so humiliating that it might well have left the survivors—I mean not only those few who survived the death camps but all Jews everywhere who escaped this genocidal conspiracy against them—utterly demoralized and therefore ready to collapse and say Enough. Instead the opposite occurred: a reassertion of the will to live.
In making this assertion, very few Jews, whether in Israel or in the Diaspora, thought of themselves as performing a religious act. Nevertheless this is precisely the conclusion to which a serious theological reading of their behavior must lead. In the eyes of Judaism, God, for His own inscrutable reasons, chose the Jewish people as a vehicle for revealing the Law to all the world; consequently, their existence as a people is in itself a religious imperative: the Jewish people and the Torah are one, says the Talmud. It was because the Jewish will to live in defiance of Auschwitz asserted itself most concretely and most decisively through Israel that Fackenheim could ascribe such overriding religious significance to the state and its survival.
Yet no sooner had this will to live manifested itself than, once again, a genocidal conspiracy was mounted against it, this time in the form of a military threat by the Arab states. This time, therefore, the Jewish will to live could only prevail if the Jewish state proved capable of enforcing it by military means. No one, least of all Ahad Ha’am, ever foresaw that the most brilliant institution of a reestablished Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel would turn out to be not its universities or its yeshivot but its army. But this is what the will to live dictated, and this is what the Jews of Israel, against all expectation and against the pacific habits and instincts of the past two thousand years, set about to create. Gershom Scholem, who as an Israeli and the greatest Jewish scholar of our age was in himself alone a one-man fulfillment of Ahad Ha’am’s dream of a resurgent Jewish culture in Israel, nevertheless once said in conversation: “The Jews are a talented people and talent goes where it is needed; in our day in Israel it was needed in the military and so it went there.”
It was not, however, until the Six-Day War that the world learned how successfully the Jews of Israel had poured their talent into the military. In the weeks leading up to the actual outbreak of hostilities, with Nasser and other Arab leaders promising to destroy the state and drive its Jewish inhabitants into the sea, there was no good reason to anticipate the eventual outcome. And so Jews everywhere trembled. But they did more than tremble. They rose up to declare that they would do everything in their power to insure the survival of the state of Israel. As statement after statement made clear, moreover, they were expressing this determination not in a philanthropic spirit or even in a spirit of fraternal concern, but rather out of the conviction that their own survival as Jews was linked to the survival of Israel. Everywhere in the world, spontaneously, without mutual consultation, and all at once, Jews affirmed their acceptance of what Fackenheim called the commandment of Auschwitz, the 614th commandment, the commandment that negatively forbade the giving of posthumous victories to Hitler, and that positively declared: “There shall be Jews.” Like their forefathers at Sinai, these Jews of the 20th century responded to the voice of Auschwitz by answering: “We will do and we will hear.”
It has often been said that the elation experienced by so many Jews at the brilliant Israeli victory in the Six-Day War unleashed a spirit of arrogant triumphalism both in Israel and in the Diaspora. I have always believed this to be a philistine calumny based on willful blindness to the true meaning of Jewish elation in the immediate aftermath of the Six-Day War. To the extent that it was triumphalist, it echoed the grateful emotions expressed in the Song of Moses, or, to bring it historically closer to home, a sentiment familiar even to assimilated or unlettered Jews from yearly recitation at the Passover seder, one of the few traditional religious practices that is still more honored in the observance than in the breach. “In every generation,” we read in the Passover Haggadah, “they rise up to destroy us.” This was the lesson learned, or rediscovered, in 1967, especially by American Jews for whom the preceding twenty years had been a veritable Golden Age of Security, a period of safety and prosperity unparalleled in the entire history of the Diaspora.
The verse I have just quoted from the Haggadah ends, just as the Song of Moses begins, with thanks to God who, says the Haggadah, delivers us from the hands of those who rise up in every generation to destroy us. Did the Jews of the generation of 1967 learn or rediscover that part of the verse as well? Some members of that secularistic generation certainly did: there was a dramatic rise in the number of “returnees” to religious observance. In France, Mme. Schnapper writes that “. . . the emotions aroused by the Six-Day War caused many Jews . . . to find their way ‘back to Judaism.’ ” The same thing happened in Israel, in the United States, and in other countries too. Of course, these returnees were only a small minority. Yet I believe that even many who did not openly and consciously credit God with the victory of 1967 experienced intimations of the miraculous in the deliverance. If there was triumphalism in that experience, it was closer to awe than to arrogance.
Besides, there was an undercurrent of anxiety coursing through and dampening the elation. For in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, it began to become clearer and clearer that Israel was losing the sympathy and support of leftists and even liberals everywhere in the world. Jews were accustomed to hostility from the Right, but hostility from the Left came as a bewildering shock from which many Jews have still not recovered and to which they have been unable to adjust.
In any case, such triumphalism as there was in 1967 enjoyed only a very brief run. A mere six years later, the Egyptians and the Syrians launched a surprise attack, which demonstrated that the victory of 1967 had not rendered the lesson of 1967 obsolete. They were still rising up to destroy us. The Jewish resolve to hear and obey the commandment of Auschwitz thus had to be reaffirmed at the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War; and it was. Indeed, the Yom Kippur War elicited an even greater outpouring of Jewish support for Israel than had been the case in 1967.
The period in which, for the first time in centuries, one could speak of a united world Jewry, was, then, born out of one war and strengthened and matured in another. The question that confronts us today, fifteen years after this new age of world Jewry was inaugurated, is whether it was brought to an end by yet another war: the war in Lebanon of 1982.
During the war itself, the answer to that question was loudly proclaimed to be Yes. In the United States, scarcely a day passed without a story in the newspapers and a feature on television informing us that there was now a split in the Jewish community. Statement after statement streamed out of the mouths of prominent Jews who criticized the Israeli invasion of Lebanon as everything from an unwise resort to force to an act of imperialist aggression. Intense as this American Jewish criticism of the war was or seemed to be, the critics were or seemed to be even more vociferous and passionate in England. Evidently, so hard was it to find an articulate Jewish defender of the Israelis in England itself that a television network there had to import an American—me—to provide a bit of balance when it staged a discussion of the war by Anglo Jewish intellectuals. But the most dramatic reports of a split came from within Israel itself. For the first time, so the world was told, significant numbers of Israelis were dissenting from their government on an issue of national security, even to the totally unprecedented point in some cases of refusing to fight.
Given all this, it would have been reasonable for an innocent observer to conclude that at least half the Jewish world had suddenly turned against Israel—certainly on the issue of the war in Lebanon and perhaps even on the issue of the Israeli position in general. After all, here were the Israelis being daily stigmatized even in respectable circles of opinion as no better than the Nazis, and the Jews seemed more intent on proclaiming their “anguish” over what the Israelis were presumably doing in Lebanon than on leaping to the defense of Israel against these disgusting libels.
This impression could only have been strengthened by the Jewish reaction to the massacre by Arab Christians of Arab Muslims in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. On any sane scale of moral judgment, the Israelis would have ranked at the bottom of the list of those responsible for this act of vengeance in a long chain of internecine blood feuds between one group of Arabs and another. Yet when everyone in the world began talking as though Israelis, rather than Arabs, had been the guilty party, what did we see and hear from the Jews? We saw mass demonstrations against the government within Israel, and we heard of statements by one Jewish leader after another in the Diaspora which sounded suspiciously like confessions of Jewish guilt.
Such, at any rate, was the message conveyed by the media. The media were intent on finding evidence for the view that a previously united Jewish community was now split. One can only speculate on why they were so eager to make this into so big a story. My own guess is that a combination of motives was at work here. As longtime believers in the theory that Israel is the main obstacle to peace in the Middle East, they had a clear political interest in persuading Washington that there was now an opportunity to put various kinds of pressures on Israel: if the Jewish community was split, the political costs of turning on Israel were obviously much reduced. In addition to this political interest, they also had a moral interest in finding Jewish cover for their own attacks on Israel: if Jewish leaders and, still better, Israelis were denouncing Israel as a fascist country and the war in Lebanon as an act of criminal aggression, this made it easier for others to say such things, and worse, without exposing themselves to charges of anti-Zionism and even anti-Semitism.
But what about the Jews who allowed themselves to be used as vehicles for the message of a split being conveyed by the media? The first point to make about these Jews is that they constituted a small minority. Judging from the polls and other indicators like the increased level of contributions to the United Jewish Appeal, the vast majority of Jews remained firm in their support of Israel.
No doubt the size of the majority varied from country to country. In the United States, nearly 90 percent of a national sample of Jews in a 1983 study described themselves as “pro” or “very-pro” Israel. I have seen no comparable studies of the West European Jewish communities, but I would guess that the pro-Israel majority in France was somewhat smaller than the American and that in England it was smaller still. Nevertheless a reasonable estimate would be that the support of perhaps 85 percent of the Jewish people throughout the world for Israel was unshaken by Lebanon. By this I mean that whether they liked Menachem Begin or not, whether they were for or against his policies on the West Bank, and even whether they had doubts about the wisdom of going into Lebanon or not, the great majority of Jews refused to be morally bullied into “joining the jackals,” to borrow the image used by Senator Daniel P. Moynihan in characterizing the anti-Israel pack at the UN and elsewhere who have been trying for so long to delegitimize Israel by branding it a criminal state. Against enormous pressure from the surrounding environment to add their voices to the cacophonous chorus of attacks on Israel, the majority of Jews summoned the moral courage to hold firm.
Ironically, however, it was not these Jews who were celebrated for courage. It was rather the Jewish critics of Israel who, when they were not congratulating themselves on their own courage (or comparing themselves to the ancient Hebrew prophets), were being congratulated by the columnists and editorialists and TV commentators for daring to speak out. Now, as it happens, a good many of these critics lived in university towns or worked in professions like journalism in which criticizing Israel was a species of conformity to prevailing opinion. No courage was required to attack Israel in Berkeley or Cambridge or Ann Arbor, or in the offices of the New York Times and Newsweek and NBC; in such places it took courage, a great deal of it, to defend Israel. I will grant that someone like the executive director of a Jewish community center in the Midwest did need courage to attack Israel. But that only confirms the main point I am trying to make: which is that the great majority of Jews remained staunch in their support of Israel during this enormously difficult period—a period when as Jews they were made to feel more isolated and morally beleaguered than at any time in living memory.
In short, there was no split in the sense or of the dimension suggested by media coverage of world Jewry’s response to the war in Lebanon. But in saying this, I do not mean to suggest that Lebanon had no effect on the Jews. Lebanon did have an effect. The effect was wildly exaggerated and misinterpreted by the media. Nevertheless, it was real and may yet turn out to be consequential.
I would summarize it by saying that Lebanon brought about a resurrection—or, if one prefers language more natural to the contemporary ear—a return of the repressed. The corpse that was resurrected, the repressed that returned, was Jewish anti-Zionism.
I said earlier that the three main forms of Jewish anti-Zionism—Orthodox, Reform, and socialist—suffered a near-fatal blow when the state of Israel was founded. They were, one might say, rudely thrown into the dustbin of history by its verdict in favor of Zionism. But like a number of other inhabitants of that fabled bin, they managed to remain surprisingly vital in one form or another for the next twenty years. Although most Orthodox Jews made their peace with Israel, splinter groups like the Neturei Karta continued to regard the state as a blasphemous abomination. Most Reform Jews also made their peace with Israel, but traces of the old anti-Zionist tradition could still be detected here and there in a certain sourness toward Israel, in the grudging quality of support for the state, in the tendency to blame Israel for anything that might go wrong in its relations with the United States and even with the Arab states.
All this came out clearly in 1956, when a substantial number of Jews joined the Eisenhower administration in condemning the Israelis for their part in the Anglo-French Suez campaign and applauded Eisenhower when he forced them to give up the territorial gains they had made in the Sinai. One could see the same sourness toward Israel in the harping on Israeli responsibility for the Palestinian problem, even in the days before the creation of the PLO when the Palestinians were still regarded by themselves and everyone else as refugees, not as freedom fighters, and when Jordan still held the West Bank and Egypt still held the Gaza strip.
A similar set of traces could be found among Jewish socialists and the many intellectuals who, though no longer socialists, had remained in some sense on the Left. Of course, for the first thirty years of its existence, Israel had a socialist government, and this in itself did much to blunt and coopt opposition from the Left. Yet the old uneasiness with Jewish nationalism, the old feeling that statehood was the wrong solution to the “Jewish problem,” never quite disappeared—not even, I think, in Israel itself. Lenin (or was it Plekhanov?) once said that the Bundists—the anti-Zionist Jewish socialists of Eastern Europe who differed from other Jewish socialists in believing that secular Jewish culture was worth preserving—were really Zionists at heart, Zionists who were afraid of seasickness. Yet it would be just as accurate to say that the socialist Zionists were really socialists at heart, socialists who were not afraid of seasickness. In other words, their commitment to Jewish statehood was predicated on the belief that the Jewish state would justify itself in the eyes of socialist values. By becoming a model of socialist virtue, it would demonstrate that socialism and Zionism were beautifully compatible. There was thus an element of ideological conditionality in the Zionism of the socialist Zionists. The inescapable logical implication of their position was that a Jewish state (unlike all others) had to justify its existence by developing a certain kind of society and behaving in a certain specified manner.
Within Israel itself, the day-to-day realities of life in a living polity vastly outweighed the theoretical conditionality in the Zionism of the socialist Zionists. Moreover, the responsibilities of governing and conducting foreign policy in a murderously hostile environment, and being forced to fight one war after another simply in order to remain alive, had the enormously healthy effect of clearing their minds of any lingering traces of the notion that a Jewish state had a special obligation to earn its right to exist. In the Diaspora, however, where these influences were absent, support for Israel among Jews on the Left did remain conditional to one degree or another. So long as Israel behaved itself in ways that they could easily approve, they would be on its side; let Israel make one false step, however—false, that is, from their point of view—and they would begin to reconsider.
My contention is that the war in Lebanon became the occasion for just such a reconsideration. More precisely, it became the occasion for going public with a reconsideration that had been brewing since the accession of Menachem Begin to power in 1977. As a disciple of Jabotinsky and a product of the Revisionist wing of the Zionist movement, not only was Begin not a socialist; he was not a man of the Left at all. To the political and intellectual establishment in Israel, which was made up almost entirely of men of the Left, Begin was a hated figure. Indeed, the feelings of the Israeli establishment toward him bore a striking resemblance to the feelings of the liberal establishment in America about Richard Nixon. Liberal hatred of Richard Nixon had deep roots, going all the way back to his role in the Hiss case; similarly with the hatred of Begin in Israel, which went back all the way to the ideological and political wars of the pre-state period between the Labor Zionists and the Haganah on the one side and the Revisionists and the Irgun on the other. In America this hatred of Nixon as the ancestral enemy was widened and deepened by the chagrin of the liberals over his success in mobilizing the so-called “silent majority” to usurp the power that they were convinced rightfully belonged to them; so too in Israel, the socialist Zionists were in a heightened rage over Begin’s success in riding the Sephardi and the Orthodox vote to power over them.
In my opinion, it is impossible to understand the unprecedented protests and the street demonstrations provoked in Israel by Lebanon without taking into account the role played by this ancestral hatred of Begin. In America, an effort was made to use Vietnam as a weapon against Nixon; in Israel, an effort was made to use Lebanon as a weapon against Begin. In America, Nixon was finally toppled not in an election but by an investigation; in Israel an effort was made to topple Begin in the same way after the massacres in Sabra and Shatila.
Within Israel, then, Lebanon became a weapon in a partisan political struggle. Yet so deep were the roots of this struggle, and so wide were its implications, that the opposition sometimes found itself talking as though its own commitment to Jewish statehood had once again become conditional. I say as though because I do not believe that anyone in Israel, except perhaps for a few isolated individuals, was ever actually driven by hatred of Begin or by opposition to the war in Lebanon into a change of mind about the value and validity of Jewish statehood. Yet when fear began being expressed by Israelis for the future of democracy in Israel, when epithets like “fascist” began being hurled at Begin, and especially when a line like “In our matzah is the blood of Palestinian children,” could appear in an Israeli poem, encouragement and credence were given to those Jews in the Diaspora who had seen in Lebanon a confirmation of their growing doubts about Zionism—that is to say, about the value and validity of Jewish statehood.
Some of these people had become grudging supporters of Israel in 1948; others had come around as recently as 1967 or 1973. Moreover, unlike the opposition in Israel, most of them had implicitly attached conditions to their support for Israel. So long as Israel’s survival was imminently threatened, they would rally to its side; and so long as Israel followed policies they could wholeheartedly approve, they would defend it against the ideological assaults of its enemies. As Lebanon showed, however, if Israel resorted to arms when its total destruction was not the immediate alternative to war, their support could not be counted on. Nor were they prepared to stand fast against the relentless efforts of the jackals to define Israel as a criminal state, to rob it of legitimacy and therefore of the right to exist. For these conditional supporters of Israel, what the Six-Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973 had done, the war in Lebanon of 1982 had undone.
For a handful, Lebanon undid everything: these few actually joined the jackals themselves and openly repudiated the entire Zionist project. In such cases, the repressed that returned was the old socialist idea that Zionism represented an outburst of reactionary bourgeois nationalism. But in most cases, the repressed that returned was not quite so wholesale or so radical. It took the more limited form of certain ideas and attitudes that had been elements of one or another traditionally anti-Zionist position.
While the war in Lebanon was still going on, for example, two Jews, one English and one French, independently said to me that they had been so disaffected by Lebanon that they no longer had the stomach to defend Israel. Nor did they agree with me that the destruction of Israel would in all probability mean the final disappearance of the Jewish people from history. There had been Jews before Israel came into being, and there would be Jews if, God forbid—and each of them took care to say “God forbid”—Israel were destroyed. For their part, they meant to devote themselves to the needs of Jewish life in the Diaspora.
These two ex-Zionists were, whether they realized it or not, rediscovering an element of the Bundist heritage. In similar fashion, those Jews who saw in Lebanon proof of Israel’s failure to become a “light unto the nations” were knowingly or not echoing one of the major themes of the anti-Zionism that once upon a time dominated the Reform movement whose opposition to Jewish statehood derived theologically from its emphasis on the universalist mission of the Jews.
Given this revival of Jewish anti-Zionism, can we today, as 1983 draws to a close, still speak, as we could during the previous fifteen years, of a united world Jewry? In politics, a majority on the order of 85 percent for all practical purposes spells unanimity. This is why the persistent reports of a split in the American Jewish community failed in the end to undermine congressional support for Israel. Whatever the media might say, the politicians knew from their own soundings that Jewish voters would still reward them at the polls, and through financial contributions, for supporting Israel, and would still oppose them if they turned against Israel. But that, I fear, does not dispose of the matter, even in the political sphere.
Within Israel, the opposition has an unquestioned right to attack the government and to criticize it vehemently both on specific policies with which it disagrees and on its general conduct of affairs. Israel is a democratic country, and those Israelis who call their government fascist do not seem to realize that their freedom to do so is itself the most vivid demonstration of the ludicrousness and the intellectual irresponsibility of the charge. But there is something else they do not realize. They do not realize that abandoning all restraint in attacking the government is more than a democratic right: it is also a luxury. Even a country as powerful as the United States can hardly afford the unrestrained exercise of this right in the face of an aggressively expansionist Soviet empire. Thus the spread of a point of view which, as Mayor Edward Koch of New York recently put it in speaking of his fellow Democrats, “sees the United States as the major cause of the world’s ills,” seriously hampers American efforts to resist Soviet expansionism and therefore ultimately endangers our own security. And if this is so where a superpower like the United States is concerned, it is all the more so of a small and infinitely more vulnerable country like Israel. I do not suggest that the answer is a legislated restriction on free speech either here or in Israel. What I am suggesting is that Israeli oppositionists ask themselves whether their country, living as it does on so narrow a margin of security, can afford the luxury of an opposition that knows no self-restraint. If the idea that (to quote Mayor Koch again) “America is what’s wrong with the world” is both false and dangerous, the idea that Israel is what’s wrong with the Middle East is no less false and even more dangerous.
In addition to speaking thus bluntly to those of his fellow Democrats who have been attacking the United States, Mayor Koch on a different recent occasion had some harsh words to say about those of his fellow Jews who have been attacking Israel. For this he was in turn attacked as a McCarthyite by a prominent journalist who had not previously been notable either for his love of Israel or for speaking as a Jew. Indeed, it is a measure of the hostility to Israel in the souls of a number of public figures who in the past, to put it mildly, never called attention to their Jewish origins that they have been willing to make the ultimate sacrifice of identifying themselves in public as Jews in order to lend greater credibility to their attacks on Israel. It was one of these newly emerged inhabitants of the Jewish closet who cried Mc-Carthyism in response to Koch’s criticism.
The same cry of McCarthyism has been heard from other Jewish critics who plaintively ask for the right to speak their minds about Israel in general or Begin in particular, as though anyone had been silencing them. The reality, of course, is that the views of these critics have been trumpeted on the front pages and the op-ed pages of all the major newspapers and broadcast to all the world on all the major networks. Not only have they been given a hearing far out of proportion to their representative weight and influence within the Jewish community; they have also been scrupulously accorded equal time in discussions within the Jewish community itself. Nevertheless they have the chutzpah—in that respect, at least, they are very good Jews—to complain about being muzzled.
To make matters even more bizarre, these great believers in the value of frank and open criticism of Israel cry McCarthyism whenever anyone engages in frank and open criticism of them. Yet if they are driven by conscience to attack Israel, I am driven by conscience to attack them, and I ask them to ask themselves whether they are willing to accept responsibility for spreading the notion that Israel is “what’s wrong” with the Middle East and thereby encouraging unilateral pressures that can bring no other peace to Israel but the peace of the grave.
In sum: from a strictly political point of view, the resurgence of Jewish anti-Zionism is at the same time relatively unimportant because it influences only a small minority of Jews, and potentially dangerous because it lends a highly visible measure of added plausibility to the campaign against the legitimacy of Israel.
From the point of view of world Jewry, however, the resurgence of anti-Zionism is a much more serious development. In the pre-Auschwitz age, the arguments advanced by various kinds of Jewish anti-Zionists against the idea of Jewish statehood were not only powerful; they were in many instances stronger on paper than those of the Zionists. Surely, for example, the opponents of Zionism among the Orthodox had a better case than Orthodox supporters of Zionism when they said that according to the Torah a Jewish state in the Land of Israel could only lawfully come into being with the coming of the Messiah. Thus when, in Chaim Grade’s great novella, The Rebbetzin, which is set in an East European shtetl in the early 1930’s, a rabbi sympathetic to the Zionists is angrily likened both to the Sadducees and to King Jeroboam, the charge is sustained by the most learned of the rabbi’s colleagues.
But of course Grade is pointing here with the dramatic irony provided by hindsight to what might be called an instance of prophetic projection. For if anyone today can be compared with the Sadducees and with King Jeroboam, it is Orthodox anti-Zionist zealots like the Neturei Karta. Consider: the Sadducees were pious Jews—many indeed served as High Priests in the Temple—who did not agree with the Pharisees that the Oral Law in its entirety had been revealed to Moses at Sinai along with the written Torah. To my mind, this was a more plausible position than the one taken by the Pharisees, but history decided otherwise. History decided that Jewish survival depended upon total acceptance of the religious authority of the Talmud, just as history had earlier decided in favor of the equally implausible idea that only in Jerusalem could sacrifices be performed. Because it disagreed with this idea—so the Bible tells us—the northern kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam split with the kingdom of Judah and eventually disappeared from Jewish history; and because they disagreed with the idea that the debates of the rabbis of the Talmud were no less divinely inspired than the words of the Torah, the Sadducees in their turn disappeared from Jewish history. So too the pious anti-Zionist Jews of today who declare (in the words of the Neturei Karta) that “the Zionist state has no legitimate right to exist,” and who denounce it as “blasphemous and heretic” [sic], are cutting themselves off from the mainstream of Jewish history and will very likely either go the way of the ten lost tribes and the Sadducees or will survive as a separate sect like the Samaritans or the Karaites, once part of the Jewish people but no longer so.
If Jews whose observance of the 613 commandments is likely to be outweighed in the scale of Jewish history by their repudiation of the 614th, what shall we say of Jews whose Jewishness involves a lesser degree of religious observance or none at all? Take, for example, those Jews who were drawn back or even introduced for the first time to Judaism and Jewish culture by their concern over Israel in 1967. Will the smattering of Hebrew they have learned, or the Friday-night kiddush they have begun to recite, or the synagogue services they sporadically attend survive the slashing of the lifeline to Israel? Unlike the anti-Zionist Orthodox zealots, the post-1967 returnees to Jewishness who have now turned against Israel probably will not end up as a separate sect cut off from the living body of the Jewish people. Instead, they will in all probability lapse back into an assimilationist mode and disappear in that way from Jewish history.
Because the Jewish people, already tiny in size even before it was decimated by Hitler, can ill afford such fallings-off, the resurgence of anti-Zionist ideas and attitudes is an ominous development. If these ideas and attitudes should spread within the Jewish communities of the world, they would pose the double threat of simultaneously strengthening the enemies of Israel from without and weakening Jewry from within. The central issue, then, is whether they can be expected to spread.
I for one believe that they have for the time being done their utmost and that they are unlikely to go any further. After all, Lebanon provided Jewish anti-Zionism with its first real opportunity since 1948 to stage a comeback. But not only was it the first; it was probably the best that could be hoped for. Here was a war started by Israel in a situation in which survival was not the immediate stake—Israel’s first “war of choice,” as it came to be called. Here was Israel being portrayed everywhere as an aggressor, a murderer of helpless civilians. And here, therefore, was a vivid vindication of the old anti-Zionist warnings against the evils of nationalism that would flow from Jewish statehood. All this was happening, moreover, in a cultural climate heavily biased against the use of military power by any Western nation or any ally of any Western nation—a bias fully shared by Jews, most of whom remained sympathetic to the left-of-center political forces which had been growing more and more pacifist in outlook since the Vietnam war. Yet even with so golden an opportunity to exploit, the new anti-Zionism made amazingly limited inroads.
What this tells us about world Jewry in 1983 is that it has passed the first serious test of its resolve to obey the commandment of Auschwitz. Before Lebanon, obedience was easy. Israel was surrounded by an alliance of Arab states openly dedicated to its destruction. There was no ambiguity about the danger and no disagreement about the means required to deal with it. Then the Arabs changed their tactics. To their own peoples they still proclaimed that their intention was to wipe the state of Israel off the map, but now they let it be known through hints and whispers into the ears of Western statesmen that if only Israel agreed to a Palestinian state on the West Bank ruled by the PLO, they would agree to live in peace with Israel. With this shrewdly calculated shift—and with a little help from oil—the Arabs introduced an element of uncertainty into the minds of Israel’s friends, including of course the Jews. To make what had formerly been clear even fuzzier, there was the fear among Jews everywhere that Israel would be unable to remain either Jewish or democratic if it held onto the West Bank and either had to absorb or rule over a million unwilling Arabs.
It was into these doubts and fears and ambiguities that the war in Lebanon erupted. Yet in spite of everything, hardly any Jews anywhere lost their nerve. They understood that Lebanon was not an isolated episode, but yet another front of the unrelenting war against Israel which the Arabs have been conducting since 1948. They understood that Israel had a perfect right to secure its northern borders against military assaults by the PLO. They understood that Israel had no less perfect a right to go on the military offensive. They refused to believe that the Israelis were indiscriminately bombing and shelling civilian targets. They were horrified by the comparisons made between the Nazis and the Israelis, and they were appalled by the almost complete absence of protest against these and other anti-Semitic canards.
All this signified that the great majority of Jews everywhere in the world found the moral courage to hold firm against overwhelming external pressures and insidious inner doubts. Thanks to Israel, world Jewry is still a reality in 1983. Like Israel itself, it has emerged from the ordeal of Lebanon in a somewhat bruised condition, but it has come through. And it has served notice that it will not be bullied or cajoled into forgetting that in our generation Jews are above all else forbidden to give posthumous victories to Hitler, and that in our generation this means above all else that Jews are forbidden to do anything that might strengthen the hand of those who have risen up to destroy the state of Israel.