Zionism's Bleak Present
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
"We are all Keynsians now," Richard Nixon famously asserted just as the economic theories of John Maynard Keynes fell into disrepute. Likewise, one could have said with similar confidence in 1989, as Israel's existence reached wide acceptance, "We are all Zionists now." No longer.
Count the ways Israel is under siege: from Iranians building a nuclear bomb, Syrians stockpiling chemical weapons, Egyptians and Saudis developing serious conventional forces, Hizbullah attacking from Lebanon, Fatah from the West Bank, Hamas from Gaza, and Israel's Muslim citizens becoming politically restive and more violent.
World-wide, professors, editorialists, and foreign ministry bureaucrats challenge the continued existence of a Jewish state. Even friendly governments, notably the Bush administration, pursue diplomatic initiatives that undermine Israeli deterrence even as their arms sales erode its security.
Let's suppose, however, that the country muddles through these many problems. That leaves it face to face with its ultimate challenge: a Jewish population increasingly disenchanted with, even embarrassed by, the country's founding ideology, Zionism, the Jewish national movement.
As developed by Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) and other theoreticians, Zionism's call for a sovereign Jewish state fit the political context and mood of its time. If Chinese, Arabs, and Irish sought to establish a national state, why not Jews?
Indeed, especially Jews, for through nearly two millennia they had paid the greatest price of any people for their political weakness, having been expelled, victimized, persecuted and mass murdered as none other. Zionism offered an escape to this tragic history by standing tall and taking up the sword.
From its inception, Zionism had its share of Jewish opponents, ranging from the Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox) to nostalgic Iraqis to reform rabbis. But, until recently, these were marginal elements. Now, due to high birth rates, the once-tiny Haredi community constitutes 22 percent of Israel's current first-grade class; add to this the roughly equivalent number of Arab first-graders and a sea-change in Israeli politics can be expected about 2025.
Worse for Israel, Jewish nationalism has lost the near-automatic support it once had among secular Jews, many of whom find this nineteenth-century ideology out of date. Some accept arguments that a Jewish state represents racism or ethnic supremacism, others find universalist and multi-cultural alternatives compelling. Consider some signs of the changes underway:
To top it off, Arabs are moving these days in the opposite direction, reaching a fever pitch of ethnic and religious bellicosity.
As a Zionist myself, I watch these several trends with foreboding about Israel's future.
I console myself by recalling that few of today's problems were evident in 1989. Perhaps in 2025, Zionism's prospects will again brighten, as Westerners generally and Israelis specifically finally awake to the dangers posed by Palestinian irredentists, jihadists, and other extremist Middle Easterners.
Mar. 26, 2008 update: I offer updates and counter-evidence at "Are Zionism's Prospects So Bleak?"
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