Early Zionists Sought to Achieve Solidarity, Moral Development, and New Forms of Independence for the Jewish People

Jan. 13 2022

Revisiting the American scholar Ben Halpern’s seminal 1961 history The Idea of the Jewish State, Donna Robinson Divine sums up its central arguments, and reflects on their relevance today:

Substituting action for prayers gave Zionism its purpose. Work, rather than textual study, would be the vehicle for legitimizing possession, creating community and for transforming sites holy in scripture into a real-life place to call home. Zionists were builders, empowered less as individuals than as members of a kind of collective construction team.

Moving to their ancient homeland could, Zionists argued, lift Jews up to the possibility of a new kind of solidarity, moral development, and new forms of power to shape their own destiny. Building a national homeland would provide Jews with a new kind of redemptive enterprise that would be authorized by their own work and by the civic framework they were called upon to create.

Finally, because Ben Halpern’s penetrating study emphasized that Zionism joined idealistic expectations with empirical reality, it is not surprising to observe that Zionism greatest success—the establishment of a state in 1948—came not from the imaginative potency of its messianic myths but rather from its capacity to set priorities and to adhere to a timetable that had international resonance and produced significant global support. Thus, as Halpern argues, correctly I think, Zionism could not plow through the familiar nationalist ground on the issue of sovereignty. As he put it, Zionism regarded sovereignty “like any other national aim, either as end or means, according to circumstances.”

That Zionism is a mission of high moral purpose doesn’t mean the Jewish state can ignore the cruel realities of regional politics posing dangers to the country’s population if not to its very existence. That is why, whatever its policy failures, Israel cannot escape the judgment of its own citizens or of the Jewish people.

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Read more at Fathom

More about: History of Zionism, Jewish history

What Israel Can Offer Africa

Last week, the Israeli analyst Yechiel Leiter addressed a group of scholars and diplomats gathered in Addis Ababa to discuss security issues facing the Horn of Africa. Herewith, some excerpts from his speech:

Since the advent of Zionism and the birth of modern Israel, there has been a strong ideological connection between Israel and the African continent. . . . For decades, [however], the notion that the absence of peace in the Middle East was due the absence of Palestinian statehood prevented a full and strategic partnership with African countries. . . . The visits to Africa by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—in 2016 to East Africa and in 2017 to West Africa—reenergized the natural partnership that was initiated by Israel’s Foreign Minister Golda Meir in the 1960s.

There is much we share, many places where our interests converge. And I don’t mean another military base in Djibouti. . . . One such area involves the safety of waterways in and around the Red Sea. Curtailing contraband, drugs, arms smuggling, and other forms of serious corruption are all vital for us. . . . But the one critical area of cooperation I’d like to put the spotlight on is in the realm of food security, or rather food insecurity.

Imagine Ethiopia’s cows producing 30 or 40 liters of milk a day instead of the two or three that they produce today. Imagine an exponential rise in (organic) meat exports to Middle Eastern and even European countries, the result of increased processing, storage, and transportation possibilities. Cows today can have a microscopic chip behind their ears that sends messages to the farmer’s computer or mobile phone that tracks what the cow ate, what its temperature is, and what care it might need. Imagine a dramatic expansion of the wheat yield that can make Ethiopia a net exporter of wheat—to Egypt, perhaps in the context of negotiations over the waters of the Nile.

Israel has proven technology in all of these agricultural areas and we’re here; we’re neighbors. We are linked to Africa, particularly the Horn of Africa, in so many ways.

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Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Africa, Ethiopia, Israel diplomacy, Israeli agriculture, Israeli technology