Why Zionism Succeeded Where Other “Isms” Failed

Feb. 18 2022

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.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Israeli society, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Kibbutz movement, Second Intifada

 

Europe-Israel Relations Have Been Transformed

On Monday, Israel and the EU held their first “association council” meeting since 2012, resuming what was once an annual event, equivalent to the meetings Brussels conducts with many other countries. Although the summit didn’t produce any major agreements or diplomatic breakthroughs, writes Shany Mor, it is a sign of a dramatic change that has occurred over the past decade. The very fact that the discussion focused on energy, counterterrorism, military technology, and the situation in Ukraine—rather than on the Israel-Palestinian conflict—is evidence of this change:

Israel is no longer the isolated and boycotted outpost in the Middle East that it was for most of its history. It has peace treaties with six Arab states now, four of which were signed since the last association council meeting. There are direct flights from Tel Aviv to major cities in the region and a burgeoning trade between Israel and Gulf monarchies, including those without official relations.

It is a player in the regional alliance systems of both the Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean, just as it has also become a net energy exporter due to the discovery of large gas deposits of its shoreline. None of this was the case at the last council meeting in 2012. [Moreover], Israel has cultivated deep ties with a number of new member states in the EU from Central and Eastern Europe, whose presence in Brussels bridges cultural ideological gaps that were once much wider.

Beyond the diplomatic shifts, however, is an even larger change that has happened in European-Israeli relations. The tiny Israel defined by its conflict with the Arabs that Europeans once knew is no more. When the first Cooperation Agreement [between Israel and the EU’s precursor] was signed in 1975, Israel, with its three million people, was smaller than all the European member states save Luxembourg. Sometime in the next two years, the Israeli population will cross the 10 million mark, making it significantly larger than Ireland, Denmark, Finland, and Austria (among others), and roughly equal in population to Greece, Portugal, and Sweden.

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Abraham Accords, Europe and Israel, European Union, Israeli gas