The End of Zionism

With all due humility and modesty I want to announce that the
post below is probably one of the most important posts you'll
ever read in talk.politics.mideast. There, that should take care
of the levity for the day.

It is a message I posted to someone on another network, and sums
up a whole lot of reading and thinking I've been doing about the
Mideast and Israel for a few years now. Previous discussions here
in TPM, particularly interactions with ardent pro-Israel
partisans, helped clarify my thoughts.

For a number of years now I've been noticing with increasing
attention the remarkable resemblances between Zionism and earlier
episodes of messianic (and always disastrous) outbursts in Jewish
history, but wasn't quite prepared to make the leap that Zionism
as a whole fit the model. I thought that the dangerous messianic
elements were mostly on the religious right, and could be safely
isolated. But the more I read, the more I realized that
messianism permeated the Israeli left as much as the Israeli
right, and that the entire Zionist enterprise is fundamentally
messianic in its outlook and foundations.

The collapse of Communism (the 20th century's premier secular
messianic movement), the failure of the Israeli kibbutz
movement, the rush to proclaim Menachem Schneerson the Messiah,
the rise of Kahanism, and an unceasing succession of blunders by
the Israeli government starting in the 1973 war and continuing
most recently in the Demjanjuk fiasco have all combined to lead
me to the conclusion that something is so seriously awry with the
Zionist experiment that it does in fact exhibit all the traits of
previous failed messianic movements in Jewish history.

What really confirmed me in this conviction was reading five
books one after the other, and digesting all the information
interactively and seeing all the implications:

Golan, Matti. With Friends Like You: What Israelis Really Think
About American Jews. New York: The Free Press, 1992. Translated
from the Hebrew by Hillel Halkin.

Leibowitz, Yeshayahu. Judaism, Human Values, and the Jewish
State. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Roth, Philip. Operation Shylock: A Confession. New York: Simon &
Schuster, 1993.

Segev, Tom. The Seventh Million: The Israelis and The Holocaust.
New York: Hill and Wang, 1993.

Sicker, Martin. Judaism, Nationalism, and the Land of Israel.
Boulder, CO. Westview Press, 1992.

Earlier here I tried to stimulate, without success, some serious
discussion about four of the books. If you want to get an idea of
how I reached my conclusions, try reading them and do some
creative thinking about what you've read. Attached below the post
is a longer list of books which collectively provide an
articulate explanation of why Zionism's future is bleak indeed.

If you want the really short course, just read the Martin Sicker
book. Surveying thousands of years of failed messianism in a few
hundred pages is a real education, and puts mere decades of
Zionism into perspective.

I can imagine the howls of outrage or mirth the assertion that
Zionism is defunct will arouse, but that is entirely predictable
and not interesting. I am not particularly motivated to debate
the subject one way or the other, although I will read with
curiosity valuable insights, as opposed to polemics, anyone might
contribute to my, ahem, prophetic, shall we even say, messianic
pronouncement. For me, the essential debate is over. All the
angry back and forth that is going on here and elsewhere about
who is right and wrong concerning this and that incident between
Israel and its neighbors is just so much noise and is missing the
big picture. Trying to figure out what is going on in the Mideast
and the Israel-Arab conflict was for me an exercise in solving a
knotty and fascinating intellectual problem. Once the problem is
figured out, it no longer excites one's attention.


[Post to Mary Weiss]

I've radically changed my views about Israel and the Mideast
conflict since we last chatted. Back then I was advocating
positions, with my usual visionary foresight, that have been
adopted by the current Israeli government. I was slightly ahead
of my time. Now I believe--make that KNOW--that Zionism may well
prove to be the greatest calamity for Jews in world history to
date, and will most certainly fail as a movement and a physical
state. Israel may not even last out the decade. Jews will come to
regret the day that Israel was ever founded. It doesn't matter
what policies Israel adopts--left, right, center, whatever. Jews
will be weeping and gnashing their teeth over the fact that they
foolishly saddled themselves with the need to support and defend
a physical Jewish state in the middle of a region which hates
that state. All the old anti-Zionist arguments that Jews
themselves hashed over before the founding of Israel are going to
come to the surface again, and the original Jewish anti-Zionists
are going to look like prophets. Theodore Herzl will come to be
seen as notorious a failed prophet as Karl Marx.

The reason? Zionism is a false messianic movement, a well-known
phenomenon in Jewish history. It is built on air, fantasies, and
intoxication, not solid ground. These messianic splurges always
end up in catastrophes for Jews, and Zionism looks like it will
be the granddaddy of all these fiascos, for hundreds of reasons
which I could document for you at length. But you know the main
reason yourself if you examine your heart: ask yourself why you
don't live in Israel. Then you'll know why so many Jews want to
leave Israel.

Trust me, Marty, it is over. Sometime during the last year or
two, deep in the secret soul of Jews, of history, of the world,
Zionism died, expired. Zionists will continue to go through the
motions, engage in angry and self-destructive arguments with
fellow Americans and others who criticize Israel: you know the
whole drill. But at the core, the ball game is over. The more
that Jews get locked into the position of defending a state they
don't want to live in, and don't even believe in, the more pain
and difficulty they are going to cause themselves.

The best advice anyone could give to Jews who really cares about
them--not all of them, to be sure, but some of them--is to begin
to make preparations now for dissolving the state of Israel that
are maximally advantageous for Israelis and Jews in general. Once
that is accomplished, then sit down and figure out why you keep
getting suckered in by self-destructive messianic movements, and
then fix the problem through some form of cultural self-analysis
and psychotherapy. Then get on with doing what you do best in a
modern pluralistic society like the U.S.--make art, make science,
make products, make friends, be happy, be self-fulfilled, etc.,
and just generally get on with making productive lives free of
the need to pursue a collective or ethnocentric messianic mission
of any kind, divine or secular.

If this doesn't happen, it seems certain that Israel will be
heading for a mess that is beyond your wildest dreams. Those who
will be taking the deepest pleasure in Israel's continued
existence will be the world's most virulent anti-Semites.

I know you won't believe a word I am saying, and will react
defensively, but that's ok. I know what I know. And I only say
something like this with the utmost gravity and care, after a
tremendous amount of reading, thought, and conversation. I know
what I am talking about, and I came to these conclusions very
reluctantly, in fact resisted them with all my might, since they
are so disturbing. I mainly want to get this statement down on
the public record somewhere, in part for the ego gratification of
being recognized as one of the first people to figure this out.
Once you get a handle on the key features of false messianism, of
any messianism for that matter, and do a match against all the
developments that have been going on Israel virtually since it's
founding, the truth becomes crystal clear. The coming collapse is
visible in Israel's every action and word.

One important point to keep in mind is that people who have been
bitten by the messianic bug NEVER know when the house is about to
cave in: that is one of the key traits of messianism: it destroys
your ability to read objective reality clearly. The mind of the
messianist--whether that of one of the leaders of the revolt
against Rome, or one of Sabbatai Sevi's followers, or one of Karl
Marx's disciples, or Menachem Schneerson's, or David Koresh's, is
clouded by a kind of drug which is able to ignore or distort
every fact relevant to his or her true situation. All messianists
are essentially mad, at least for the duration of their fever.
After every messianic binge comes the vicious headache: what the
hell were we up to?

What is the essence of messianism? Eventually your bullshit
catches up with you.

It wouldn't have made a damn bit of difference, by the way, if
the Arabs in the region had welcomed the state of Israel with
open arms. In fact if that had been the case, Israel would have
gone under much sooner. The Mideast wars, with their effect in
uniting Israelis against a common external enemy, have served as
a distraction to keep Israelis from dealing with their underlying
internal problems, all of which revolve around the
self-destructive tendencies inherent in all forms of messianism.

At some point the leaders of world Jewry are going to sit down
and ask--if they haven't already--on the whole is the state of
Israel a net positive or a net negative for the world's Jews? Is
it improving our health, wealth, reputation, peace of mind,
physical security, and good relations with our neighbors, or is
it damaging them? If Israel has become a significant net
negative, and there is no realistic prospect of improving the
situation, is there any point in continuing to maintain it, or
like a business gone permanently bad, should we just put it to
rest and get on to more fruitful matters?

Zionism, just like Communism, and for much the same reasons, is
intellectually, morally, spiritually, psychologically,
ideologically, and economically bankrupt.

Zionism, like Communism, attempted to build a society in a
top-down fashion by imposing a rigid ideology and theory on an
unmalleable physical situation. Successful nations grow
organically from the bottom up, emerging naturally from and
cooperating with the facts on the ground.

All successful enterprises are fundamentally pragmatic and
bottom-up. All messianic movements in the world are doomed to
failure because they are top-down and over-ideological in their
essential nature. The curse of messianism is the curse of
ideology and theory on a megalomaniacal scale.

This ideology is no more. It has ceased to be. It's expired and
gone to meet its maker. This is a late ideology. It's a stiff.
Bereft of life, its rests in peace. If you hadn't nailed it to
the perch, it would be pushing up the daisies. It's rung down the
curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-ideology.

In any case, enjoy the laugh--I can't guarantee I'll find the
time to participate in this conference at any length to provide
the long version of these insights. But after you laugh, give a
little serious thought to what I am saying. I just may be right.



Reading List

Avineri, Shlomo. Moses Hess: Prophet of Communism and Zionism.
New York and London: New York University Press, 1985.

Friedman, Robert I. The False Prophet: Rabbi Meir Kahane: From
FBI Informant to Knesset Member. Brooklyn: Lawrence Hill Books,

Golan, Matti. With Friends Like You: What Israelis Really Think
About American Jews. New York: The Free Press, 1992. Translated
from the Hebrew by Hillel Halkin.

Harkabi, Yehoshafat. Israel's Fateful Hour. New York: Harper &
Row, 1988.

Leibowitz, Yeshayahu. Judaism, Human Values, and the Jewish
State. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Leshem, Moshe. Balaam's Curse: How Israel Lost Its Way, and How
It Can Find It Again. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989.

Lustick, Ian S. For the Land and the Lord: Jewish Fundamentalism
in Israel. New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1988.

Roth, Philip. Operation Shylock: A Confession. New York: Simon &
Schuster, 1993.

Scholem, Gershom. Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah. Princeton,
New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1973. Translated by R. J.
Zwi Werblowsky.

Segev, Tom. The Seventh Million: The Israelis and The Holocaust.
New York: Hill and Wang, 1993.

Sicker, Martin. Judaism, Nationalism, and the Land of Israel.
Boulder, CO. Westview Press, 1992.