Theater of Cruelty

Israel's neurotic state

In Search of Israel. The History of an Idea
14. May this year marks the 70 anniversary of the proclamation of the State of Israel. Historian Michael Brenner takes a closer look at the complex and, in part, contradictory basis of its existence.


The two-state solution, which in many people's opinion is the only way out of the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, came first on the table in the middle of the 1930s. And it did not come as a planned strategy, but as an action necessitated by the circumstances.

When Israel marks the 70 year of statehood this month – and the Palestinians can look back on 70 years as refugees – it is natural to look back, and then the long and crooked development up to today appears as something of a winding down. The ideological basis for the Jewish nation state is Zionism, but this is far from being a unambiguous movement with a fixed goal. It has never been, and it is undoubtedly one of the reasons why the result – the Israel that we see today – is in many ways an indefinable size.

Ideological disagreement and ambiguous development. In his latest book, German historian Michael Brenner, a professor of Jewish history and culture at the Ludwig Maximilian Universität in Munich, draws on the many strands of this ambiguous development. He goes the logical way by starting with Theodor Herzl, the Austrian journalist who wrote his pamphlet in 1896, The Jewish state. Here he sets out his visions for a Jewish national home, and it has become the starting point for political Zionism, which once and for all would have to put up with the prevailing anti-Semitism of the time.

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However, Herzl is no longer ready for the saliva. He mentions Palestine as a possible location, but is also in Argentina, and on the whole he keeps his description on the very general level.

About seven percent of Israel's Jewish population lives outside the country.

He didn't stand alone either. The following year, he was confronted by another Jewish journalist, Asher Ginsberg, who viewed Zionism as a spiritual meeting place rather than a political community. So the starting point was in the form of ideological disagreement about what it was all about, and the picture only got even more complicated as many different factions began to discuss what such a state should look like. Neither Herzl nor Ginsberg imagined a fully independent state, and others were in favor of some form of autonomous unity or a protectorate under the British crown. Secularism was the basic idea, but with this as a starting point, the Jews were to be just one of several equal people in some form of confederation. The physical dimensions of the case were also not a given case. Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky, who stands as the ideological origin of today's Likud party, was an early proponent of a Greater Israel, which also included large tracts east of the Jordan River, but he insisted that there should be complete equality for all, regardless of religious or ethnic background. For example, he used Belgium as a model for binational coexistence.

A group called the Canaanites went a step further. In their view, the Jews who settled in the country should immediately cut off any connection to the rest of the Jewish people. With the new state, they would have to separate themselves as an independent group of people and be allowed to integrate into the region under Middle Eastern conditions.

Two-state solution. This ideological cloth blanket considers the author an important part of the accident that began to take shape with the introduction of the two-state solution in the middle of the 1930s. Then, with increasing concern, the local Palestinians had seen Jewish immigration seize, and since the Zionist leadership did not provide a clear and coherent plan for coexistence, a general strike was quickly launched, which quickly turned into open rebellion.

The chance was missed and already here we also see the reason why Israel actually stood ideologically weak in the fate of 1967. When the six-day war in June of that year changed the map radically and the country with one had become an occupying power, one was paralyzed with the messianism with which the religious groups now advanced. We are talking about the settler phenomenon.

The inner conflicts of Zionism. Brenner's argument is that the secularism of the Zionist currents had never found a common position, and individually they had all used the Jewish tradition as elements of their self-understanding. Thus, the first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, was declared a secularist, which, however, did not keep him from constant references to the biblical prophets in his rhetoric. The later leader, Menachem Begin, was equally secular, but did not hide his admiration of ancient King David.

And here we come to what Brenner considers the real dilemma. Theodor Herzl wanted to put anti-Semitism to life, and that could only be done by the Jews becoming a normal people, just like everyone else. But only a few of the Zionist ideologues could detach themselves from the problematic duality inherent in the Jewish people's alleged duty to be an example to other peoples. The chosen people that we read about in the Old Testament. Right from the start, this excited legs for the normality, which has therefore never occurred.

Zionism is far from being a unambiguous movement with a fixed goal.

Instead, the stagnant conflict with the Palestinians has become the backdrop for the state's first 70 year of life, and this is attributed, first and foremost, to the many internal conflicts in the Zionist idea itself. And yet he ends up concluding that a certain kind of normality has nonetheless existed. Life in Israel is not simple. The climate is hot, and the political climate even hotter, and it has, especially in recent decades, caused many young Israelis to move elsewhere in the world. In doing so, they have resumed the volatility, or "the neurotic state," as Israeli author AB Yehoshua calls it. About seven percent of Israel's Jewish population lives outside the country's borders; Thus, Berlin today has a Jewish population of about 30.000, a large proportion of whom are Israelis. The normality of this lies in the fact that foreignness and restlessness are no longer something specifically Jewish, but that the mobility in the Western world today is so great that exile communities of similar scope are rather the norm than the exception.

But this does not explain that Zionism, since its inception as a modern national movement, has moved in many different directions and still has a problem finding common ground. And this is very much an original explanation for Israel's first 70 year as an independent state.

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Hans Henrik Fafner
Hans Henrik Fafner
Fafner is a regular critic in Ny Tid. Residing in Tel Aviv.

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