On Wednesday, the American journalist and humorist P.J. O’Rourke died at the age of seventy-four. An idiosyncratic and independent-minded conservative, O’Rourke used his biting wit not only to achieve hilarity but also to demonstrate truths about politics and society in ways few more serious writers could. He attributed some of his own intellectual development to friendships with Jews during his childhood in Toledo, Ohio. While he was slower than some to see the justness of Israel’s cause, he did eventually, as is evident from this November 2001 report on a visit to the Jewish state in the spring of that year, at the high of the second intifada. Dispensing with the cliches and pablum that clutter much Western journalism on the subject, he instead reflects on “the absurdity of Israel’s being an ordinary place.” Then he visits the Yad Mordechai kibbutz, and is struck by the power of Zionism’s commitment to particularity:
For those who dislike ideology, the great thing about kibbutzim is that they’re such a lousy idea. Take an East European intelligentsia and make the desert bloom. One would sooner take Mormons and start a rap label. But Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, three quarters of a mile north of the Gaza Strip, passed the test of ideology. It worked—something no fully elaborated, universally applied ideology ever does.
I’d never been to a kibbutz. I don’t know what I expected—Grossinger’s with guns? A bar mitzvah with tractors? Some of my friends went to kibbutzim in the 1960s and came back with tales of sex and socialism. But you could get that at Oberlin, without the circle dancing. I’m sure my poli-sci-major pals were very little help with the avocado crop. Anyway, what I wasn’t expecting was a cluster of JFK-era summer cottages with haphazard flower beds, sagging badminton nets, and Big Wheel tricycles on the grass—Lake Missaukee, Michigan, without Lake Missaukee.
Yad Mordechai was founded in 1943 on an untilled, sandy patch of the Negev. The land was bought from the sheikh of a neighboring village. And there, in the common little verb of the preceding sentence, is the moral genius of Zionism. Theodor Herzl, when he set down the design of Zionism in The Jewish State (1896), wrote, “The land . . . must, of course, be privately acquired.” The Zionists intended to buy a nation rather than conquer one. This had never been tried. . . .
This is the second wonderful thing about Zionism: it was right. Every other “ism” of the modern world has been wrong about the nature of civilized man—Marxism, mesmerism, surrealism, pacifism, existentialism, nudism. But civilized man did want to kill Jews, and was going to do more of it. And Zionism was specific. While other systems of thought blundered around in the universal, looking for general solutions to comprehensive problems, Zionism stuck to its guns, or—in the beginning, anyway—to its hoes, mattocks, and irrigation pipes.