With the left growing ever more hostile toward Israel, some left-leaning Jews have looked to forgotten strains of Zionist thought that advocated a binational state in Mandatory Palestine, or transforming the Land of Israel into a “Jewish national home” without an actual state. Yet, Donna Robinson Divine argues, these alternatives—measuring by their own standards—only show that the creation of Israel has been an incomparable success.
How credible is it to give new life to the Zionism that had, for one reason or another, reservations about struggling for an actual state? Cultural Zionists cautioned against placing too much emphasis on a “Jewish state, rather than on the state of Jews and of Judaism” in the words of their most eloquent exponent, Ahad Ha’Am, who died in 1927 in a Palestine ruled by Great Britain.
Would a cultural Zionism propose dismantling the state that gave Hebrew the resources to become not only a modern literary language, but also the vocabulary for daily life? A reverential esteem for Ahad Ha’Am’s Zionism certainly did not deter Chaim Weizmann from securing global backing for a national home as a predicate for establishing a Jewish state. The very propositions underlying cultural Zionism contributed to the success of establishing the new Jewish state.
Reviving the Hebrew language was an instrument to transform a people once defined by their religious traditions and law into a nation bound together by shared, albeit often newly invented, mores. The creation of a culture whose literature and ideas were expressed in Hebrew, and whose ancient laws and rituals could be translated into national traditions, was the groundwork for a state offering Jews something Zionists believed could be found nowhere else—the opportunity to take advantage of the modern world. The homeland was almost as much about language as about land. It’s difficult to believe that [a mere] “homeland” could generate the same cultural fulfillment as the state has already delivered.