Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Jewish Century

Commentary on the Yuri Slezkine bool The Jewish Century.

Slezkine's attitude toward the Soviet Union is ambivalent at best. He dedicates The Jewish Century to his grandmother, who was imprisoned under the czar, immigrated to Argentina, returned to Russia in 1931 to help build socialism and in her old age, he says, "considered most of her life to have been a mistake." Plainly, a latter-day Bolshevik he is not. But while he regards the Soviet experiment as a failure, he believes "the Jewish century" presented the Jews with a series of choices, none of them completely satisfactory. They could lose themselves in the Mercurian transformation of imperial Russia. They could immigrate to the United States, a country founded by Protestant Mercurians in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and take their place alongside all the other Mercurianized immigrant groups as part of a general celebration of American "diversity" and "ethnicity" (however bogus those terms may be). Or they could turn Zionist, move to Palestine and become tillers of the soil, Apollonian peasant warriors in a world struggling to leave all that behind.

The first choice led to a dead end when Stalin's neo-Apollonian Russification policy led to a resurgence of anti-Semitism. The second has led to Bush, while the third has led to permanent warfare in an ethno-chauvinist state that Slezkine describes as "the sole Western survivor (along with Turkey, perhaps) of the integral nationalism of interwar Europe." The very concept of a Jewish state, he adds, is the contemporary equivalent "of such politically illegitimate concepts as 'Germany for the Germans' and 'Greater Serbia,'" while "the rhetoric of ethnic homogeneity and ethnic deportations, tabooed elsewhere in the West, is a routine element of Israeli political life." American and Israeli Jews should not automatically assume that their choice was the right one.


As one might expect, Sachar ends his book with a tribute to Israel, whose military prowess, he says, has led to a net improvement in conditions for Diaspora Jews from Western Europe to Argentina. This may indeed be the case, although, as he also admits, the situation has hardly been as clear-cut for Jews in the Muslim world and the former Soviet bloc, where Israel's role may have been to their net detriment. But conditions have changed since the 1950s and '60s, when Israel was seen as a model social-democratic state, filled with sunburned kibbutzniks and Soviet-style pioneer youth. As Palestinian resistance has stiffened, Diaspora Jews have found their fortunes tied to a heavily militarized right-wing state whose ethnic policies are increasingly reminiscent of interwar Poland or Romania. If Jews benefited from the good will shown toward Israel before the 1967 war, the question is whether they will suffer from growing revulsion felt for it afterward. Anti-Semitism is the anti-Zionism of fools, but there are a lot of fools in the world, and all too many of them are falling into it already. It is morally catastrophic that a people who once allied with the most advanced, democratic currents in the world should now find themselves in bed with the most backward, e.g., all those "Christian Zionists" running around in Bush's America. Remarkably, the Jewish question is no closer to resolution at the start of the twenty-first century than it was at the start of the twentieth.

While this is a fine analysis, it doesn't look at the other side. It doesn't look at who have been forced to fight to preserve the existence of this state without really understanding what they are doing or why they are doing it.


Anonymous ayelet said...

You say the book is by Yuri Slezkine, then in the last paragraph switch to Sachar. Do you mean Itzak? What do you mean?

12/15/2005 06:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Slezkine’s book was being pushed hard by the Jewish community when it came out last year. Kevin Macdonald wrote an interesting essay on it at VDARE--


12/16/2005 02:31:00 PM  

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