Commentary Magazine


What Price Israel? by Alfred M. Lilienthal

Anti-Zionism as Ideology
What Price Israel?
by Alfred M. Lilienthal.
Regnery. 274 pp. $3.95.

 

Ideology is thought that has suffered hardening of the arteries. It is what happens when the terrible simplifiers that Burckhardt warned us about get hold of a tradition and squeeze it into a closed system. The anti-Zionist tradition of classical Reform Judaism in America was represented by such thoughtful men as I. M. Wise, Kaufmann Kohler, and Samuel Goldenson. What Price Israel? is that tradition shrunk and distorted into an ideology.

When those men spoke about Jewish history or religion their interpretation or their emphasis could be disputed, but not their knowledge. In this book boner follows boner, page after page; the learning of the tradition has been succeeded by the pretentious ignorance of the ideologue. What would the Protest-Rabbiner, in this or any other country, have said about a statement that the Jews of the Book of Esther were “Judaist Persians”? For that matter, what would they have said about a book on contemporary political affairs which confuses Ernest Bevin and Aneurin Bevan?

It is characteristic of the ideologue that he has a low opinion of the intelligence of the ordinary run of men. That is why the author could allow himself to list Iran as an Arab country, immediately after telling us that “the Arab Land contains between 50 and 55% of the estimated crude oil reserve of the world.” He must know that Iran is not an Arab country, a grade-school student knows that. He makes it an Arab country to enhance the importance of “Arab oil” and to lay the blame for the West’s trouble in Iran at Israel’s door, expecting that his sleight-of-hand will not be noticed. Ideological tendentiousness leads him to omit any suggestion that part of the responsibility for the wretched situation of the Arab refugees belongs to the Arab governments. British scholars and churchmen who have long favored the Arab cause have condemned the Arab governments for cynically exploiting the plight of the refugees. We must assume that the author knows about this exploitation too, that he does not mention it because it would weaken his case against Israel and her American friends, and that he thinks of his readers as being too dull or uninformed to spot the omission. The same sort of thing can be said about his account of the recent history of the Jews in Iraq.

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For your true ideologue, ends always justify means. Among the means used in this book is calumny. The author accuses a deceased high official of the United States government of a very grave offense, and gives no evidence for the accusation. He mentions Hitler and Weizmann in the same breath as racists. He describes a dissenting ambassador as “burying Count Bernadotte even before the UN mediator was killed by Zionist terrorists.” He insinuates, despite Menahem Begin’s denial, that the commander of the Irgun Tsevai Leumi was a Soviet agent. (If anything, Begin is a reactionary chauvinist.) Such an insinuation is calculated to suggest that the establishment of Israel was a Soviet plot, as is the application of the terms “front” and “fellow-traveler” to Israel’s friends. The paragraph immediately following, with its hints of mysteries, secrets, conspiracies, disloyalties, and all manner of sinister doings, is typical. “This book has been written, against the concerned counsel of many who are close and dear to me, because I feel I owe a duty to my country above any duty I owe my friends. The question What is a Jew? is now intimately tied to the more important question ‘How can we hold the Middle East? ’ My determination to complete this book was strengthened by the knowledge that no American Christian could, nor any Jew would, write it. Some of my material has been the subject of whispers, and I decided it was time that muted talk be brought to the surface and be debated.”

The author’s excursus on the Khazars deserves special mention. He likes the theory—if it can be dignified with such a name—that European (and consequently American) Jews are mostly descended from this vanished Turkic people, whose rulers were converted to Judaism more than a thousand years ago. This notion has been advanced by the Arab League as a rebuttal of the Zionist argument that the Jews have a historical right to Palestine. In the United States the Khazars are a staple, not of anti-Zionist, but of downright anti-Semitic propaganda.

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Reality is the great enemy of ideology’s Truth. Consequently ideology must abolish reality by ignoring it or denying it or standing it on its head. Jewish Palestine has been a major answer to the needs of persecuted Jews in the last twenty years. A man like Rabbi Irving F. Reichert, who may be said to represent the authentic tradition of anti-Zionism, concedes this reality and is grateful that persecuted Jews were able to find a home in Israel. (This does not prevent him from continuing to regard the Zionist program and philosophy as retrograde and cautioning against a too great emphasis on Israel in the thinking and activity of American Jews.) The author of this book does not concede the reality; he evades or denies it.

The anti-Zionist tradition, because it based itself on universal humanitarianism, wanted for the Arabs the human rights it wanted for all men. Anti-Zionist ideology, on the other hand, sympathizes with the Arabs only as they are opponents of Israel and Zionism. The author of this book, who has much to say about the injustices that Arabs have suffered in the struggle over Palestine, is otherwise quite unmoved by Arab needs or aspirations. He blames the United States for being anti-Arab on the Israel issue, but he does not blame us for being anti-Arab on the Tunisian issue. For North Africa he is interested only in an “amicable compromise”; his sole complaint is that our friendship for Israel makes us unacceptable as “a conciliator.” The Neo-Destour movement (one of the few really promising movements in the Arab world) protests not against America’s friendship for Israel, but against our approval of colonialism where it has the least excuse for being.

It loses us Arab support in the Middle East, the author writes, when Americans draw “sweeping . . . analogies between recent Soviet policies [the Prague trials and the accusations against the Moscow doctors] and the anti-Semitism of Hitler,” because “nothing could please the Soviet Government more” in its attempts to win the Arabs over than to be called anti-Semitic by America. To reason that our frustration of justified Arab demands in North Africa does not hurt us in the Middle East, but that our condemnation of Soviet anti-Semitism does—this is the crazy logic of ideology. So is the denunciation of the successful Jewish effort to obtain restitution and indemnification from Western Germany. In the author’s eyes this is racism; the German state is the rightful heir of the Jews it murdered.

He laments the damage that he thinks Zionism and sympathy for Israel have done to Judaism. But what’s Judaism to him, or he to Judaism? He likes Toynbee’s characterization of Zionism as “a fragment of a fossil,” the fossil being Judaism. Contemplating “the history of Judaism—an experience in which the religious substance and the nationalist shadow blend most confusingly,” he finds that “in historic reality, Judaism has shrunk to a nationalist rite” and that “the ‘chosen people’ concept smothered universality.” We conclude that he is at his most consistent when he approves Koestler’s definition of the Jewish alternative (though he blurs Koestler’s second term): go to Israel, or stay where you are and stop being Jews. It is not hard to imagine what a Kohler would have said about all this.

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Nowhere does this book show its astigmatism more than in its notion of America and Americanism. American Jews are warned not to have “a foreign policy separate from that of Methodists or Episcopalians. The country cannot afford such a dichotomy.” But Americans know that Methodists and Episcopalians do have separate “foreign policies” in this sense, just as the Lutherans and Catholics have. In the great debate between interventionists and isolationists before Pearl Harbor, most Episcopalians were on the interventionists’ side and most Lutherans on the other side. Methodists and Catholics have rather different foreign policies on the issue of posting a United States ambassador to the Vatican. When Catholic diocesan newspapers print on their front pages the text of the agreement between the United States and Franco for bases in Spain, that is one indication of a Catholic preference in United States foreign policy. Episcopalians are as characteristically Anglophile as Irish Catholics are Anglophobe. The predilection of most American Jews for Israel is very much the same kind of thing, and so is the mistrust of most American Jews for Germany. There is nothing wrong, much less sinister, about it. So far from being un-American, it is very American. The author underrates American respect for diversity.

One reads the book, puts it down, and wonders. Surely it is possible to be critical of Israel’s handling of the Arab problem, and to oppose Zionism as a doctrine and a movement, without backing into this dead-end, in this dubious neighborhood.

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