- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 12, 2000

When I was a little boy, my orthodox father had me memorize a Hebrew phrase: "Kol Isroel chaverim," or, all Israelis are comrades, brothers. Having just finished Yoram Hazony's "The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel's Soul" about today's Israel, a shattering experience, I am almost persuaded that the phrase today should read, "Kol Isroel s'onim," or all Israelis are enemies of each other.

Mr. Hazony's book, which at times sounded like the Old Testament's "Book of Lamentations," raises a fearsome question: Is the 52-year-old Jewish state on the same road to oblivion as the Soviet Union or South Africa? Are the Jews of Israel doing to themselves what five wars with their Arab neighbors could not? Israel's problem may not only be achieving peace with its neighbors but also achieving peace between Israel's warring factions.

Reading the book, I recalled a passage from Gertrude Himmelfarb's essay in The National Interest titled "The Dark and Bloody Crossroads: Where Nationalism and Religion Meet." It could well be the epigraph to Mr. Hazony's explosive book:

"It is one of the bitter ironies of history that now, when the newer nationalities are becoming more aggressive and brutal, the older ones are becoming more diffident and passive, reluctant to affirm the legitimacy of their own civic, pacific mode of nationalism, let alone to impugn the legitimacy of the despotic, tribal mode that is now emerging."

I don't recall what nationalisms Miss Himmelfarb had in mind. Her evocative words, however, certainly fit Israel today, and Mr. Hazony's documentation affirms them. For the war of words between the Zionists like Mr. Hazony and the post- (or anti) Zionists, concentrated in the faculty of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, is of a character which should make the Palestine Liberation Organization beam with pleasure. If the concept of "declinism," so popular among American academics, may not quite apply to a flourishing America, it most assuredly applies to Israel today. For as Natan Sharansky, the Russian migr who has become a political force in Israel, has written: "The challenge facing the Jewish state is not securing it from external enemies but rather preventing its internal disintegration."

And Mr. Hazony, who sees "the dissolution of the Jewish state" as a distinct possibility, confirms Mr. Sharansky's diagnosis with these ominous words: "The Jews of Israel are an exhausted people, confused and without direction." The confusion arises from the "systematic attack from its own cultural and intellectual establishment," namely, the post-Zionist school, on Israel's raison d'etre.

The seeds of a possible dissolution, says Mr. Hazony, were planted long before 1947, the year when the United Nations General Assembly voted for establishment of a Jewish state in the land of Israel. Famed Jewish intellectuals and civic leaders like Hannah Arendt, Martin Buber, Albert Einstein, Hans Kohn, Judah Magnes, Gerschom Scholem and Felix Warburg strongly opposed establishment of a Jewish political state, a sort of Fortress Israel, because they feared statehood's corrupting influence on the citizens of the sovereign state.

The assured sense of national identity for Israelis, says Mr. Hazony, is disappearing under the unrelenting pressure of the anti-Zionist coalition which seeks repeal of the Law of Return, whereby any Jew who moves to Israel is automatically granted citizenship; amending "Hatikvah," the national anthem, so that it loses its particularity and introducing an Arab symbol on the national flag as well as the star of David; minimizing the role of Jerusalem, the Western Wall and the Passover Seder; reducing the strength of the Israeli defense forces and cutting out Jewish nationalism courses and readings in the public school curriculum. In other words, transforming Israel into a binational state.

The author, 35, married and father of six children, lives in Israel as an orthodox Jew, although he spent most of his early life in the United States. A onetime speech writer for ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he later organized a conservative think tank, the Shalem Center in Israel.

The major thrust of the book is against the post-Zionists. However, there is another group in Israel whose fissiparous activities threaten Israel's future as a democracy. I refer to the ultra-orthodox religio-political zealots such as Rabbi Ovadia Yossef of the Shas Party who last month announced that the 6 million Holocaust victims were reincarnated sinners who got what they deserved. And there are others like him. These ultra-orthodox rabbis have followers, as the widow of the assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin would attest.

"A nation is a moral essence, not a geographical arrangement," said Edmund Burke. Mr. Hazony's book raises an important question: Is Israel the "moral essence" it once was? His answer: Israel will have to reinvent itself ,and there isn't much time.

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