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The God That Did Not Fail

There were also older, proto-Zionist constituencies, a bit more fragile, less grandiose, perhaps self-enclosed by doctrine or station or fright. They had been Zionists, or what would soon be called Zionists, long before the arrest of Captain Dreyfus, the event that roused Herzl from his Jewish slumber. These Jews had never believed that "the Jewish question" had really been solved. The persecution of the Jews was almost as old as the Jewish exile, and they were still in exile. These people had medieval blood libels and massacres in their very modern memories. Thus, they were not stunned, as Herzl appeared to be, by the cries of "death to the Jews!" on the streets of Paris and elsewhere in Europe.

In any case, Herzl did not invent political Zionism. Others had sown the seeds. A.D. Gordon and Leo Pinsker and Peretz Smolenskin are unknowns now, but they were titans in their time. The first "modern" Zionist was Moses Hess, who started out as a young Hegelian moving in the same revolutionary orbit as Karl Marx (who, though Jewish himself, reviled Hess because he was a Jew-- worse, a Jew who was a Zionist). And there were stray Zionist organizations and Zionist publications before Herzl--and, aside from the centuries-old communities of pious Jews in Palestine, there were even Zionists returning to Zion. Between 1881 (the year the pogrom became a matter of official Russian policy) and 1896, at least a dozen new Jewish settlements, a few of them thriving, had been established in Palestine by unlikely pioneers from Eastern Europe, supported largely by a new secular version of the old religious charities and by the generous (and closely monitored) subventions of the grandees, such as the Barons Edmond de Rothschild and Maurice de Hirsch. Still, it was a pathetic migration. When the Congress actually assembled in Basel there were in attendance five delegates from the Promised Land itself, where 50,000 Jews lived, up from 25,000 twenty-five years earlier.

Five delegates among nearly 200 men, and perhaps ten women, maybe a few more. We do not have entirely reliable lists. But there are photographs. Herzl's mother sat on the dais during some of the proceedings. (A Jewish mother's fantasy if ever there was one.) Still, not counting this matriarchal vestige, one has only to look, in Roger Shattuck's The Banquet Years, at the famous picture of a grand banquet in Paris in the late nineteenth century, altogether without women, to grasp how sharp a break this assembly of Zionists was, not only with the past of the Jews but with the present of all Europe. Of course, the gathering had nothing to do with gender; but the participation of women was only one of the more advanced qualities of the conference.

More impressive, perhaps, was that this was a gathering across social and economic classes. None of the legendary Jewish princes came, though Otto Warburg, of the great Berlin banking family, would soon join the cause and ultimately become head of the Zionist Executive. But, among many impecunious people, there were rich men in Basel, and their impact was to put practical proposals on the docket and to get them passed. Thus, a Jewish national bank was mandated by the delegates, as was an institutional vehicle for the purchase of land for Jewish settlements. Basel was a collusion of dreamers and pragmatists. And a collision, too: there were ill feelings between the two types, and these persist in their spiritual descendants in the Zionist camp a century later.

Though it evoked ridicule from some of his critics, Herzl insisted that the delegates to the Congress wear frock coats and white ties. The delegates from Berlin and Baltimore, from The Hague and Heidelberg, certainly knew this attire, but what about those who had traveled from Bobruysk and Vitebsk, from the indigent world of carters and fiddlers that we know from the paintings of Chagall? In Herzl's view, all of those assembled had to feel that the Jewish people were in Basel asserting their collective equality with other polities, and their appearance had to evince their gravity. Some compared the Congress to the Sanhedrin assembled by Napoleon, at which the Jews abjured their identity as a nation to become "Frenchmen of the Mosaic persuasion"; but Herzl conceived of Basel as the first Jewish parliament convened by the Jewish people themselves.

Still, the Congress, like Herzl's whole diplomatic strategy, was not a little focused on the gentiles. There were some clergymen attending as invited guests, a French baron, the founder of the Red Cross and, at one session, the president of Switzerland himself. There were great precedents for gentile enthusiasm for the Zionist project: from Julian the Apostate to Lord Shaftesbury, Lord Palmerston and the mad Lady Hester Stanhope. The romance of the Jewish return entered English fiction through George Eliot's influential Daniel Deronda, and through Tancred, the visionary novel by the convert from Judaism Benjamin Disraeli. There were Christian philosemites in other countries, too; but the British ones set the cultural context for Lord Balfour, who finally gave the Zionists the charter that Herzl coveted. (Barbara Tuchman, herself an impassioned Zionist, wrote a whole book on such people, called Bible and Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour.)

Of course, much of this was rooted in Old Testament Protestantism. But all the European powers were looking for leverage in the Holy Land, and some saw enterprising and industrious Jews providing it. In any case, the competition between these powers for influence was intense. It was even fought out archaeologically and architecturally in Jerusalem, "the prize of contending nations," as one visitor put it: a Bavarian hospital on Mount Scopus, an Anglican church across from what was once thought to be a Davidic remain, a Scottish hospice above the Valley of Gehenna, a Russian church in Gethsemane, a French convent abutting the Mount of Olives, these and many more, jockeying against each other by height of tower and grandeur of view. Piety was an expression of empire, of the thirst for strategic advantage.

In truth, what the Zionists wanted could be granted them only by the Turkish sultan. For this to happen, however, Herzl knew they needed European interlocutors or European enforcers: the Kaiser, Pope Pius X (whose hand he declined to kiss) and a succession of cabinet ministers, primarily British. There was also an American connection to the Ottoman Empire on whom Herzl tried his arguments. But the American minister to the Divine Porte turned out to be Jewish, not Christian, and less amenable. For several decades Constantinople was the Jewish seat in the American diplomatic corps, literally the only capital to which a Jew would be posted, and it was used to ensure the security of the precariously placed Jewish community of Palestine. But it was not used to advance Zionist goals.

Herzl's labors were the first exercise in shuttle diplomacy for Zion. The diplomacy to which Jews had become accustomed was the diplomacy conducted by Hofjuden, "court Jews" who interceded with local princes for the benefit of Jews as a whole, mostly in efforts to vacate or to delay some draconian edict. Herzlian diplomacy aimed at ending those demeaning interactions by securing from the powers the political independence of the Jewish nation.

His intentions notwithstanding, there remained something of the court Jew in his high-level interactions. Still, for a people who had so little experience with the worldly politics of sovereign states, Herzl's palace politics, although mendicant to prince, was an improvement on the past. Didn't the Jews have to unlearn their habits of dependence? Unlearn them they did, and rather quickly. But what of their spiritual regeneration? The fact is that the heroic impulse in Herzl left little psychological space for spiritual reflection. Or for learning. He himself was an unlettered Jew, relying on his tutors for the articulation of every intrinsic Jewish thought.

Herzl's easy way in the world kept him from despair or self-pity. Indeed, every rebuff seemed simply to strengthen him. But his self-confidence did not keep him from becoming a target, especially the target of a group of Russian Zionist intellectuals led by Asher Ginsberg, who renamed himself Ahad Ha'am, or "One of the People," which he was not. Ahad Ha'am saw the new Zionists as " a rabble of youth" and attended their Basel gathering as "a mourner at a wedding feast." From the beginning, Ahad Ha'am stood as a totemic figure for the Zionist opposition, for those who found practical matters more than a bit demeaning. Churlish and resentful at seeing the leadership of the cause seized by someone whom he considered superficial and even a false messiah--he referred to Herzl more than once as Sabbatai Zvi, the false messiah of the seventeenth century--Ahad Ha'am put his words as barriers to each of his nemesis's acts. What was he not against? Migration was a distraction. Land acquisition was a chimera. A national bank was a pecuniary pettiness. Such tangibles do not build a nation.

Unfortunately, history had seen to it that by 1897 all that the Jews had, as a people, were intangibles. It was precisely the tangibles that had to be devised. When Herzl died in 1904, the imperious Odessan wrote patronizingly that his opponent "gave us the Congress, the Organization, the Bank, the National Fund. Whether these are to be reckoned great achievements we cannot yet know." Yet, in truth and certainly so early, these were everything that the Zionist movement had produced and was palpable. These, and its diplomacy. And so Ahad Ha'am reviled what he called the "romance of diplomatic embassies ... interviews with prominent personages." Soon after the Congress, he wrote, as much to recommend himself as to diminish Herzl, "The salvation of Israel will be achieved by prophets not by diplomats." (Ahad Ha'am's biographer, Steven J. Zipperstein, has written that he was drawn to Ginsberg's life as he followed "Israeli events in the late 1980s with mounting unhappiness and some sense of tragedy." Had Ginsberg's more elevated ideas prevailed, maybe Zionism's encounter with the Arabs would have been less bitter. But Zipperstein found little support in his work for this intuition.)

Herzl could not see everyone he wished to see since many did not wish to see him. And from those he did see he rarely got what he asked. Most of them were not in the position to give. He had to make do with the Zionist fervor of the Grand Duke of Baden, who was the uncle of the Kaiser. And the Kaiser himself? That was another matter. Yet a diplomatic success was almost Zionism's undoing. This success was a strange unfolding. Herzl didn't see Joseph Chamberlain, the British Colonial Secretary, until 1902. But, when they met, various options filled the agenda: Cyprus, the Sinai, a Jewish colony in Egypt. It all came to nothing. A few months later, however, Chamberlain suggested Uganda. He didn't like Jews: "there is only one race I despise--the Jews...." There were too many East European Jews coming to England. East Africa was the place to take them in.

For the first time in history, a sovereign state had negotiated with a representative Jewish body for a political solution to the Jewish problem. This was not a minor triumph. The Sixth Zionist Congress made a gesture toward the British offer of Uganda. Like the British, oblivious to the native Africans, some Zionists preferred Africa to Palestine because of the absence of hostile Arabs. Others favored Africa because it was the only place available. A place of haven now seemed more pressing: the Kishinev pogrom had just occurred, a terrible carnage leaving forty-nine dead and 500 wounded. The Hebrew poet Chaim Nahman Bialik would soon write of this atrocity:

Arise and go now to the city of slaughter;

Into the courtyard wind thy way;

There with thine own hand touch, and with the eyes of thine head

Behold on tree, on stone, on fence, on mural clay,

The spattered blood and dried brains of the dead.

Still, the vague Uganda resolution passed only because Herzl spoke eloquently for it. It was clear that almost no one would go anywhere other than to Palestine. Bitterness ran deep among the Zionist rank-and-file. Herzl's closest ally, Max Nordau, was almost assassinated by a disenchanted young Zionist.

Already at this Congress in 1903, Herzl must have felt the folly of his Uganda proposal. "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither," he swore in the words of the Psalmist as the dejected assembly adjourned. But the failed Uganda gambit defined the borders of the territorial solution to the Jewish question. To be sure, not everyone was in agreement. The idea of an independent Jewish polity didn't logically require a particular place for its fulfillment. As long as Palestine was politically remote, then, there would still be new places proposed. Some favored the Pampas in Argentina, others Manitoba, still others Australia--all of them possible sites of Jewish refuge, but without meaning for the Jewish soul. Grasping the power of the Zionist idea among the Jewish masses, the Soviets desperately contrived their own competitive version of an autonomous haven for Jews: the Jewish Autonomous Republic of Birobidzhan, nestled in the Siberian vastness, with Yiddish its official language; at last estimate, there were less than 5,000 Jews, almost all aged, in this broken Stalinist artifact. And there still exists the Jewish Territorial Organization, founded in the wake of the Sixth Congress to support the Uganda alternative and which then proceeded to other geographical panaceas.

Nothing but Palestine would do. Palestine was not only a piece of geography. Palestine was also an idea, an idea known as Zion. Said one Zionist: "To us Palestine is not a distant bread basket but a homeland." It resonated to religious devotion and historical memory. By the time Herzl had forlornly turned to Uganda, the word "Palestina" was already on the lips of millions of Jews; and for many decades thereafter, when "Palestine" was uttered, the utterance was not by Arabs but by Jews: the Palestine Post, the United Palestine Appeal, the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, and so on. The Zionists discovered and invented modern Palestine. It is certainly true that there were Arab felaheen on the spot, but they lived in villages and not beyond them, and had little or no conception of Palestine as a country. Long after there were Arab nationalists riveted on Egypt and on what would later be Iraq and Syria, Arabs did not see in Palestine the realization of any collective Arab aspirations.

For 1,500 years and more, however, that is exactly what Jews saw in Palestine, and it is exactly what Herzl and the delegates in Basel saw. Moreover, they had a finely textured sense of the land, its possibilities and its needs. The first truly practical Zionist enterprise in Palestine was established in 1870, long before the First Zionist Congress, when French Jews opened an agricultural school at Mikve Israel. These Frenchmen did not consider themselves Zionists. Nor did the others who, with funds and aggressive technical assistance from imported European experts, followed this "productivization" paradigm. Their motive, Derek J. Penslar has written, was not precisely Zionism, but "an inchoate Palestinophilia." But this sentiment quickly became a transformatory Zionist program: working the land was not simply an economic activity, it was also moral regeneration.

In a sense, of course, Basel in 1897 was the consummation of small Zionist assemblies throughout Europe during the preceding decades, much as Philadelphia in 1776 was the consummation of little declarations of independence in the scattered colonies. It was Herzl's daring, however, to break out of the spare self-enclosures of virtue, to renounce abstraction and strike grand, concrete initiatives. The first session of the Congress was begun, appropriately and deliberately, with a religious practice. The believers and the unbelievers, the learned and the unlearned, the delegates from Algeria and Sweden, from Turkey and America, from everywhere, chanted together the haunting Shehecheyanu blessing: "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has kept us in life, sustained us and allowed us to witness this day." We are told that a tremor of emotion ran through the gathering. And then Herzl rose and declared: "We are here to lay the foundation stone of the house which is to shelter the Jewish nation." A few days later, he confided to his diary: "If I were to sum up the congress in a word--which I shall take care not to publish--it would be this: At Basel I founded the Jewish state. If I said this out loud today I would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years, perhaps, and certainly in fifty years, everyone will perceive it."

Are these the words of a megalomaniac? Maybe. But he was off by only nine months. Not quite fifty-one years after the First Zionist Congress, the troops of the British mandatory power withdrew, and David Ben-Gurion, the democratically elected leader of Jewish Palestine, proclaimed the independence of the State of Israel. The fifteen-minute founding ceremony ended with the resounding Shehecheyanu prayer, much as the Zionist odyssey of the Jews had begun with it half a century before at Basel.

Herzl had eight years in the limelight, eight years in the cause. He died in 1904, at the age of 44; and we have many testimonies to the press of Jewish humanity that massed at his funeral in Vienna. The movement that he founded went on, and on, to victory, but his own family collapsed. His embittered wife died three years later, at the age of 39. His daughter Pauline survived until her thirtieth year, when, a vagrant and a morphine addict, she expired in Bordeaux. His son Hans, uncircumcised and not a bar mitzvah either, dealt with his Jewish burdens by becoming in turn Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Unitarian and Quaker before returning to Judaism. When the news came that Pauline had died, he blew his brains out, just in time to be buried with her in the same coffin. Hans and Pauline's younger sister, Trude, survived, but lived for almost a quarter century of her life in a Vienna psychiatric hospital; in 1942, the Nazis transferred all of its patients to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where she died the following year. Her son, Stephen, Herzl's only grandchild, jumped off the Massachusetts Avenue bridge in Washington, D.C., in 1946. Herzl's most subtle biographer, Ernest Pawel, compares "the end of the Herzl bloodline" to "the inexorable fatality of a Greek tragedy." But it was Herzl's accomplishment that no inexorable fatality would any longer be the fate of his own people.


The odds against this extraordinary journey of a dispersed and despised people were enormous. No enterprise in nation-building is easy, but the circumstances of the Jewish nation were especially adverse. Except for the high rate of literacy among the Jews, they possessed virtually none of the common clay of modern nationalism. And their literacy did not necessarily work in favor of their ingathering. It wasn't simply that they were inordinately literate in the languages of others. It was also that they had several linguistic traditions of their own, at odds with each other historically and psychologically. These were languages of exile.

Benjamin Harshav, in Language in Time of Revolution, tells us that in the year of the Basel conference half the world's Jews lived in Russia and 98 percent of them declared Yiddish to be their native tongue. Yiddish was also the vernacular for many Jews living elsewhere in Europe and in America. Another 10 percent of the Jews who lived around the Mediterranean, descendants of the Iberian expulsions, communicated with each other in Ladino, an obscure but resilient language, and one which was slow to pick up modern currents like nationalism. Other Jews spoke the native languages of their places of abode. (In Iraq, where Jews had lived continually since the destruction of the First Temple in the sixth century before Jesus, they spoke Arabic, and they were intrigued by Arab nationalism and at best indifferent to emerging Zionism.) In 1880, and for two decades thereafter, no one really spoke functional Hebrew, though maybe 5,000 to 10,000 ideologically inflamed Jews read and wrote innovative versions of a tongue that had long been reserved for sacred and scholarly usage.

Of course, the contemporary convention that Hebrew had been dead before Zionism was not true. When the modernizers and the revivers embarked on their effort to get Jews to buy their groceries, give traffic directions and curse their neighbors in Hebrew, they found out just how rich and powerful this ancient language was. Literally every man (and many women as well) had studied the Hebrew holy texts and their Hebrew interpretations. Millions of Jews spoke thousands of Hebrew words in prayer three times a day. This intimacy of the time-honored Jew with Hebrew is surely one reason why the resuscitation of the language as the national tongue happened so quickly. Still, one shouldn't exaggerate. It was not uncommon to hear, on the streets of Tel Aviv in the early decades of this century, the greatest enthusiasts of Hebrew speaking among themselves in Yiddish. In Europe, the bulk of Zionist literature and most of the movement's periodicals were published in Yiddish. The Jews who cheered Herzl in Vilna cheered him in Yiddish. And most Yiddish speakers were neither Hebraists nor Zionists.

Aside from an extraordinary and subtle literature of European materials, Yiddish had its own "isms" attached to it, one of them being the delusion of a meaningful cultural autonomy in Europe, articulated in the minority rights treaties of the League of Nations legislated just before Hitler came to power. Yiddish was also the linguistic vehicle of Jewish socialists, who were persuaded that the solution to the Jewish question had to be not a Jewish solution, but a universal one, among the cruelest mirages of the era. The language was also the vernacular with which the pious Jews of Europe ran their quotidian and hermetic lives. Everybody sensed that for Zionism to succeed it would need one usable language, and the only plausible candidate for that role was Hebrew. But Herzl himself needed to be coached whenever he wanted to express himself in a symbolic Hebrew phrase.

Language was not the only problem. In Central and Western Europe especially, the drive toward assimilation robbed Zionism of precisely those Jews who were otherwise lured by the liberal idea of the nation and its promise of the rights of citizenship. The trouble was that the nations that drew them were the likes of Germany and Austria and France, not especially welcoming to strangers and where citizenship did not do away with the toxic encrustations of Jewhatred. Even in the East, more worldly and educated Jews from the middle and professional classes--to say nothing of the rich--somehow believed that the countries in which they lived could be the countries to which they truly belonged. Some Jews in Poland also persuaded themselves of this hopeless hope. The paradox of the emancipated Jewries, as David Feldman demonstrates, was nowhere more sharp than in England. There, Jews became nervous when men of government declared themselves sympathetic to Zionist aims. The aims of the Zionists seemed to sabotage the aims of the assimilationists, who had shed the separating practices of faith and the jarring signs of cultural difference to be like everyone else.

And more numerous than the emancipated Jews were those who, "with perfect faith," believed that they would be in exile until the coming of the Messiah. It is true that there were active religious Zionists who believed in a this- worldly return and in a divine redemption, and their numbers grew during the twentieth century. But the thrust of Jewish piety in the centers of Jewish population was hostile to Zionism. The pious were historically and theologically quietist, accepting God's portion as He determined it. And so the most Jewish Jews were deaf to the idea of Jewish self-determination. This barely understood but powerful strain among religious Jews persists today. In Israel itself there are fervent Jews who deny the legitimacy of the state, its creation having been, in their eyes, a blasphemous act; and their immediate ancestors kept the faithful in a state of frenzy against the Zionist heresy. Against anti-Semitism, they did virtually nothing: Jew-hatred was, in their eyes, a punishment for the sins of the people, like the exile itself. But God did not save the pious from the unimaginable, and many of them perished in the ovens.

Thus--given the upwardly mobile assimilationists, the mostly poor, "trust in the Almighty" religious and the Jews who sought relief in socialism and communism--the Zionists inevitably had to be drawn from a relatively small cohort of the Jewish population. Of course, the emergence of political Zionism drew converts away from the other political dispensations, especially among younger people. So, here and there, a city would suddenly brim with Zionist activity, and the community would never be the same. Still, Zionism was a mostly marginal venture. Did the communities in which Zionists were particularly influential behave differently from others before the catastrophe of 1939-1945? Some did. There was a particularly strong Zionist presence in Salonica, where, until the mid-'30s, some 65,000 Jews lived. In 1935 and 1936, seeing the ugly handwriting on the wall, 15,000 of these Jews emigrated to Palestine, and it was largely they who built the port of Haifa. (Of the remaining 50,000 Salonician Jews, 12,000 survived the war.) There were also many Zionists in the Free City of Danzig; and, in 1938, having experienced the depredations of Nazism despite the League of Nations' formal guarantees of freedoms in the city, the official Jewish community began the painful dissolution of its society 500 years old, an idea broached earlier by Revisionist Zionists. Braving the British blockade, some of these Jews made their way to Palestine. Other escapees to Palestine were interned by the Crown in Mauritius. Still others, seeking sanctuary in America, were on the S. S. St. Louis--not the only such desperate cargo--as it plied the East Coast of the U.S. Refused entry, they sailed back to Europe, to death.

Zionism did not save European Jewry. Still, as Walter Laqueur has written, Palestine would become the haven for more Jews than all other countries combined. The Holocaust seemed to bring a grim uniformity to the history of European Jewry. In death, the Jews were one. In life, the Jews had never really been one. Even in Europe, their histories varied widely. The political and cultural experiences of a Jew in Russia and of a Jew in Germany couldn't be more different, in expectations as well as in sensations. And the Jewries of the Arab world, and elsewhere in what used to be called the Orient, added to this already dizzying mix of the potential recruits to Zionism, men and women--and communities--with virtually no acquaintance with politics, no conception of rights, no knowledge of mechanized industry, no idea that Jews might be and think of themselves as secular. This, certainly, was not the case for Western Jewries. Many of these Jews had simply taken the idea of the nation out of Judaism. This, the oriental Jews had not done, although their notion of the nation was more historical legend than political intention. These Jewries were not even one racial group, at least on the physical surface. (Although three articles by Stanford Professor Samuel Karlin, et al., in The American Journal of Human Genetics show that, measured by fourteen genetic markers, "the Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Iraqi Jewish populations are consistently close in genetic constitution and, significantly, equally distant from ... the Arabs and non-Jewish German and Russian populations." But this is another matter.) These Jewries were at different levels of economic development, scientific consciousness and political ambition. Some Jews came from environments in which a Jew had to dismount his horse when an ordinary member of the society walked by. Other Jews, from other environments, expected to be elected parliamentarians (and by gentiles, yet).

Zionism had to appeal to all these Jews and all these Jewries. No national movement ever had so intrinsically complex a constituency. Not that nationalisms everywhere didn't have to straddle economic classes and social strata. But this again was different. Each of the dispersed Jewries had its own demographic pyramid, some mostly paupers, others mostly middle-class, some top-heavy with intellectuals, others top-heavy with shoemakers. What no Jewry possessed was a landed gentry, and almost no Jewry had a real peasantry. This gave the return to the land a romantic, artificial character. Still, much Zionist rhetoric premised the idea of redemption on the idea of toil in the earth. Or, as one Zionist leader put it, "When the Jew holds the plough in Palestine, the Jewish problem will be solved." And the social problem would be solved, too. Some Zionists were convinced, in fact, that the kibbutz simultaneously dissolved the moral predicament of hierarchical societies while normalizing the Jewish condition. Kibbutzniks were an aristocracy of poverty; they both provided norms for the wider community and had a harmonious relationship with the land.

Yet the real impediment facing Zionism was the land itself. It was a land on which very few Jews lived, a land which only a few Jews had ever seen, a land which most Jews knew only from texts. And texts, however vivid, are not eyes and ears, hands and feet. Other nationalist movements struggled for political sovereignty over lands in which their nation lived but over which another nation ruled. The Jewish land required a great voyage of faith and imagination. For Zionism to succeed, the people had to move. And, to move, they had to think of two millennia of experience in exile as abnormal, for Jews as individuals and for Jews as a people.

And there was another impediment on the land. There were Arabs there. The Arabs had the moral advantage of having been there first--first, that is, in modern times. But they were not there in enormous numbers, and many of them had arrived recently. They had crossed the invisible borders of the Ottoman Empire, from one sanjak to the next, districts of bureaucratic convenience rather than real polities, without any sense that they were going across the frontiers of this country to that. As Jewish economic activity increased in Palestine, so did the arrival of Arabs. But no Arab who went from what is now Syria to what is now Israel thought that he was migrating to another country: he was simply moving from one part of his world to a neighboring part in order to make a living. Even after the First World War, when the League confirmed the frontiers of mandatory Palestine, which was reserved for a Jewish homeland, the borders were both psychologically and physically porous. Of course, the local Arabs did understand that the Zionist project meant that fierce competition for land would ensue, and this recognition stimulated Arab resistance to Jewish settlement. So there was Arab terror against the Jews from the very beginning, and more conventional protest as well. Yet many of the actual leaders of this resistance, called the Arab Higher Committee, sold land to the Jews. This is an index of how thin Arab national sentiment was, and how little many Arab notables cared about the real-life anxieties of ordinary Arabs. But, in Arab politics, leaders do not apologize or explain.

Hostile to the Zionist undertaking though they were, the Palestinian Arabs were in no way a threat to it. Yes, they might burn a kibbutz's crops or kill a farmer in the field, but the main obstacles to the success of the Zionists were, first, that big-power diplomacy would abandon Zionism just as it had once sponsored it, and, second, that, in the period after World War II and after the establishment of the State, the armies of the surrounding Arab states might defeat the Zionist forces in combat. But the interest in Palestine of the neighboring Arabs was their own interest. When Egypt and Syria (and Jordan) fought Israel, it was as part of their own scramble for leadership of the Arab world. They never really did battle for Arab Palestine. They used anti-Zionism as a prop in their own political pyrotechnics. Had the outside Arabs ever won a war against Israel, Palestine would have been carved up by the victors, and its name would have evaporated into history. (This is just about what happened when the West Bank was annexed by Jordan and the Gaza Strip was policed by Egypt.) The Palestinian movement didn't come into its own until Egypt and Syria, whose people have yet to meet the industrial revolution, simply exhausted themselves in their ongoing conflicts with the Jews.

For the Zionists, however, the problem of Palestine had long been their encounter with the Arabs just over the next hill. There is a cliche that asserts that the Zionists did not see these Arabs in Palestine. Many of them didn't. But the truth is that Zionism was riven by internal struggles on how to see the Arabs and how to deal with them. Some of the luminaries of Jewish Palestine were bi-nationalists, Martin Buber most famously. In retrospect, a bi-national state seems merely an instance of loftiness in a tight spot. Still, the idea looked unimpeachable. That there would be one state for two nations struck roots in the Labor Zionist movement, the dominant stream among the Zionists, and even hard-liners occasionally toyed with the notion. It certainly appealed to the residual universalism of the socialist Zionists, a philosophical disposition always in tension with the exigencies of the national struggle. Since ideas were powerful weapons in Zionism, this bi- national possibility was never easily dismissible, and it tore at the Zionist heart. It also had practical consequences, most especially for the partition formula that early on seemed to be (as it does now for the West Bank) the obvious solution to the conflict. The bi-nationalists were against partition and wanted to avoid the inevitable separation of the two peoples that was its corollary. There were many Jews who favored the bi-national dispensation, and there would have been many more had there been any Arabs. Or, as one dovish Zionist wrote about bi-nationalism, "What is the point of reaching agreement between ourselves if there is no one on the other side?"

Other obstacles to Zionism included the previously prevailing standards of Jewish life. While some of these were traditional, many of them were revolutionary. Hadn't the Jews been among the most eager believers in the utopian ideas that would make the world a better place? Socialism, communism, even pacifism: moral codes from all of these worldviews had infiltrated into Zionism. (It was a Jew who, in these years, invented Esperanto.) So, despite itself, Zionism was hostage to the very ideologies from which it was trying to liberate the Jews. And it was hostage also to the idealisms that non-Jews wanted Jews to exemplify. Thorstein Veblen, for example, had written that one of the baleful normalizing consequences of Jewish nationalism would be that the world would lose its most powerful and permanent outsider critics, and some Zionists felt that this complaint struck deeply. At least one Zionist thinker took up Gandhi's counsel to the Jews of Germany that they stay in Europe to fight Nazism with satyagraha. Even Zionists did not completely shed the deep Jewish reluctance to act for themselves as other peoples do. Jewish history had made this reluctance seem moral.

Alas, Zionism did not bring the Jews of Europe to Palestine until more than half of them had been murdered. But at least a lesson had been learned: stateless Jews are defenseless Jews. The Jews would use force, if that is what it took to make them free. Zionism would overcome the internal odds.


At the very time that the Zionists were mounting their first Congress in Basel, two Jewish intellectuals were launching very different careers. In 1897, Rosa Luxemburg was on her way to Berlin to join her anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist comrades in what would later emerge as the Spartakus League. And, in 1897, Leon Trotsky--born Bronstein, but living under his first nom de guerre, Lvov--founded his original circle of clandestine revolutionaries. The utopian trajectories of these proudly un-Jewish Jews (Luxemburg once wrote in a letter that she had "no room in my heart for Jewish suffering") ended in famously dystopian ways. Shortly after the abortive putsch of the socialist revolutionaries in Berlin in 1919, Luxemburg was assassinated and became a legend. Trotsky went on to become a real and most cruel Pharaoh of the Soviet Union, and he, too, was assassinated, not by a fascist thug but by a true believer sent by Stalin to put an ice pick in his deviationist brain.

Who, in those early inflamed decades in the history of modern revolution, would have imagined that it was not the socialist revolution of the deracinated Jews, but the nationalist revolution of the reracinated Jews, that would come out on top? But the cause to which Luxemburg and Trotsky gave their lives is itself dead, and, in those redoubts where it still exists, it owes its existence increasingly to deals with the running dogs of capitalism. The cause, indeed, has become known as "the God that failed," after the title of a bitter book by six apostates from communism. In his contribution to that clarifying book, Arthur Koestler wrote that "I served the Communist Party for seven years--the same length of time Jacob tended Laban's sheep to win Rachel, his daughter. When the time was up, the bride was led into his dark tent" and turned out to be not Rachel but Leah. Jacob worked another seven years to win the hand he had first been pledged; but Koestler was spent and would do no more. He was through with Laban.

If socialism was the God that failed, then Zionism was the God that did not fail. I do not mean to say that Zionism was, or is, a God. It was too rambunctious, too contentious and too democratic to become an orthodoxy, and it consistently refused-- except in a few instances of internecine violence that scandalized the entire Jewish community--to meet heterodoxy with physical force. (It was partly for these reasons, no doubt, that Koestler became an idiosyncratic Zionist.) There are religious Zionists, to be sure, who regard the state, or the land, or their own chauvinism, as divine; but Zionism was not essentially a messianism. All that it insisted upon was freedom and security, which are supremely secular objectives. Indeed, if Zionism did not fail, it was not least because it was not a God. It was a morality, and a politics, of worldliness.

But Zionism was an ideology, emerging from among the high tide of ideologies; and its secular, worldly promise was certainly revolutionary. Of all the modern promises of transformation, Zionism is the only one to have accomplished what it set out to do--and to have done so with reasonable decency. The narrative of this century is cluttered with brutalized hopes, brutalized bodies, brutalized language. Socialism, communism, Third Worldism, pan-Arabism, even neutralism: all these isms, with their grandiose aims and their callous means, which conscripted many ordinary men and women and enticed so many intellectuals (and so many Jewish intellectuals) are already receding into the mists of time. Our children will scarcely know what they were; but the luck of our children will have been purchased at a fearful price.

Zionism was an ideology unlike other ideologies, even if its decolonization struggle looks very much like other decolonizations, in the Indian subcontinent, for example. The State of Israel was born when the Zionists sent the British packing (it was the Jews who sent them packing, not the Arabs); and, at that very moment, the British (and the French and the Belgians and the Dutch) were also packing elsewhere in Africa and Asia. Israel was an anti-imperialist creation. (Four imperialists were the vivid demons of my childhood in a Zionist home: Perfidious Albion, Colonel Blimp, John Bull and Ernest Bevin.) Is it still necessary to insist that the Jewish refugees who streamed into Palestine and later into Israel were not colonialists? Israel came into the world in the company of dozens of other states, some relatively homogeneous, some not, but all, unlike Israel, with their populations in place. The age of nation-building, of the great experiments in ethno-nationalism, had begun.

What happened with these great ventures in nation-building? The answer is not edifying. Most of the post-colonial states are multiple sectarian configurations. You have only to look at maps of Africa and of the Arab Middle East, to grasp that these straight lines and sharp angles follow neither nature nor population. Their boundaries splintered clans and tribes and sects into fragments across senseless frontiers, and then mixed them all up within frozen borders. Like the empires themselves, these new states seem to have been drawn in a fit of absence of mind, or of malice. States may be declared and proclaimed and celebrated into existence, but not nations. Nor is a nation formed simply because its discordant elements were once governed by a foreign power: a society must be founded on more than a collective grudge, on more than a memory of oppression. (Classical Zionism's "negation of the Diaspora," its desire to deny the Jewish experience of the dispersion, was a terrible cultural exaggeration, but it had the consequence of making this nationalism look forward as much as backward.) Elsewhere exiting imperialists' revenge on its colonials may well have been nationalism itself. It swiftly turned out that the tools of state power may serve the tribe as readily as the nation. Nigeria, the Sudan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Kenya, Pakistan, Indonesia: These are states, but are they nations? Even the fate of India is uncertain. Will it be able to weather its persistent, primal torments? Maybe; but only through a huge statist exertion. Other nation- states are withering away before us every day, right there on CNN. The former Soviet Union is an unstable prisonhouse of nations, the reality of which, for the sake of Boris Yeltsin, we dare not speak. And near the heart of Europe, a few hours from Venice and Vienna, a former nation-state has collapsed into ethnic cleansing.

So this is the background against which moral, historical and political evaluations must be made; and, against this background, who will not forgive Zionism, and the imperfect and even troubled state to which it gave birth, a centenary moment of self-congratulation?

The test that almost all the new states of the second half of the twentieth century failed is the test of pluralism. But consider the hundreds of thousands and then the millions who came to Israel. If they came for the same reason, they were not the same people. They were literate and illiterate, from liberal societies and illiberal ones, scientists and worshipers of relics, teachers of history and acolytes of wonder-rabbis, so diverse in origins, so split in habits, so different in traditions that the physical reunion of the Jews in the Land would appear more threatening to the oneness of the nation, which for so long had only been an abstract idea, than its continued dispersion. That they came to what they thought was a nation did not guarantee that a nation is what they would become, or remain. Before statehood, there was only the moral suasion of a voluntary collective to bridge the philosophical, cultural, economic and psychological gaps; and after statehood the chasms even seemed to deepen. There were dire prophecies of Israel divided, even of civil war. The thrust of all these prognoses was that the Jewish nation would not hold as a political entity, that the intrinsic and structural strains were too great for the fragile state to bear, that the prospects of Zionism would be undone by the Jews themselves. Yet none of this friction turned to real strife, even in conditions of extreme austerity. (The same cannot be said about the conflict between certain believers and unbelievers in Israel. A virulent strain of religious nationalism put a bullet in Yitzhak Rabin's back. But such fanaticism, contained and disdained, will no more tear the Israeli polity asunder than the right-wing militias will tear up America.)

And the success of the actual state can be traced to the character of the movement which begat it. No state has been better served by its visionaries and its pioneers and its founders. Let us put this, too, into perspective. Zionism may be the one national movement of the century that condemned--that physically and politically fought against--the terrorism of its own extremes. This refusal to murder innocents--the principle of restraint that was known as havlagah in the Jewish defense forces before the state and as tohar haneshek, or "the purity of arms," in the Israel Defense Forces--provided official Zionism with the moral equanimity necessary to make difficult tactical decisions. And these Jewish soldiers were operating in, and defending their community against, a brutal place. There has always been a tension between the norms of combat and the realities of combat. Sometimes the Zionist forces, and later the Israeli forces, did not withstand this tension, and the society proceeded toward a moral reckoning; but it is not an exaggeration to say that the Zionist militia, and later the Israeli army, has been a military with a conscience. And its people have been a people with a conscience. (The official Zionists, in an operation known as the saison, actually cooperated with the British in rounding up terrorists of the right.)

As it happens, there was always in political Zionism a dicey encounter between the realistic and the ideal, the practical and the abstract. An encounter, but not a contradiction. This was certainly true for the agricultural settlements and the kibbutzim that dotted the cartography of Palestine with working Jewish enclaves. They could not be just Tolstoyan colonies or Zionist versions of Brook Farm if they were to be truly productive or truly defensive. But they could not be just plain farms if they were to imbue their workers with a touch of the utopian spirit, without which these former city and town dwellers could not dredge swamps, clear rock, reforest the land and plumb in a forbidding desert for precious drops of water. And they would also have to be alert to the danger of Arab marauders. The early stockade-and-watchtower settlements demanded sacrifice, and sacrifice required a transcendent meaning. In Palestine, then, socialism and Zionism met in a felicitous match.

The idealism of the Zionist pioneers had its practical refractions in the Diaspora. With its blue-and-white boxes displaying a Holy Land of indistinct borders, the Jewish National Fund, which bought land from Arabs (usually for very high prices), and also sustained a massive undertaking of the planting of trees, established an almost palpable personal tie between Jewish youth and Eretz Yisrael. Here is how the historian Simon Schama remembers this from his own English childhood: "I was gumming small leaves to a paper tree... Every sixpence collected ... merited another leaf. When the tree was throttled with foliage the whole box was sent off, and a sapling, we were promised, would be dug into the Galilean soil, the name of our class stapled to one of its green twigs. All over north London, paper trees burst into leaf ... and the forests of Zion thickened in happy response. The trees were our proxy immigrants, the forests our implantation... All that we knew was that to create a Jewish forest was to go back to the beginning of our place in the world, the nursery of the nation."

If Zionist agriculture in Palestine (and Israeli agriculture thereafter) fed more people than anyone had imagined the land could support; if it developed an export food and flower economy and eventually created high-tech agronomic tools which, when sold abroad, made farming the land in Israel a competitively unproductive venture for Jews; if Jews came to flourish as farmers and soldiers--all this was because Jews had effected a transformation in themselves. In Palestine, and then in Israel, the self-image of the Jew as a passive actor in history was gradually retired. A new and intensely practical conception of historical agency was put in its place. How could it be otherwise? It had become a fact that Jews were writing their own history in a land of their own. This is finally what is meant by what Schama elsewhere called "the Zionist style of existentially muscular fact creation. '"

Even in the Diaspora, Zionism implied the appearance of a different and more assertive Jew. Zionism gave the Jews of exile the daring to fight back when anti-Semitic thugs attacked on the street. Michael Berkowitz, the cultural historian of Jewish nationalism, has shown how the credo of Muskeljudentum, muscular Jewry, first enunciated by Max Nordau, became a widely practiced social phenomenon in a cult of nature and through athletics and gymnastics. There were Jewish dueling societies and Jewish olympics named after Jewish heroes: King David, the Maccabees, Bar Kokhba and the generic Lion of Judah. The Jews were not only emerging from the ghetto, they were also no longer behaving as if these "gentile pursuits" were alien activities. They included even Franz Kafka, that quintessential neurasthenic artist who studied Hebrew and planned to emigrate to Palestine: his biographers trace his own frenetic physical exercise to a fashion among young Zionists in Prague. Or, as one of them writes, "By linking Zionism and body building ... Jews could build bodies as a preparation for the settlement of Palestine." Fortunately, there were more successful enthusiasts of the healthy body in Jewry than Kafka.

Zionism began as a threat to assimilated Jews; but for many Jews it turned out to be their road back to Judaism and back to the Jewish people. This does not sound exciting or controversial these days, when there are very few anti- Zionists. But Zionism's demand of "normalcy" for Jewish life was a revolutionary demand and the occasion of a great inner struggle. The most important of the returnees to Jewish consciousness by way of Zionism was undoubtedly the "people's lawyer," Louis Dembitz Brandeis, who, even while serving as associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, involved himself in the political, financial and intellectual struggles of the movement, and its agricultural and industrial arcana. (The campaign against his nomination mounted by A. Lawrence Lowell, the president of Harvard, is a strikingly ugly tale.) He would not resign the court to take the official helm of the World Zionist Organization because he wanted to demonstrate that there was no contradiction, as one of his biographers has written, between remaining " attached to America while working for a Jewish homeland in Palestine." In any case, he had already headed the American Zionist movement and was a decisive participant in the crucial wording of the Balfour Declaration. (Brandeis also put an early Zionist stamp on this magazine through his friends among its editors, Felix Frankfurter in particular.) Brandeis was a territorially hard- line Zionist; and, if anybody can be said to have swung the Jewish masses of America to Zionism, it is he. His own ease with Zion became that of others.

The assimilated virtues also emigrated to Palestine with the Zionists. In their universities, before the state and after, there were rich academic programs to study the other, especially the Arabs. (Scholarship on Islam and on the world around Israel has been much deepened by scholars who for most of their lives were not allowed to see the objects of their studies.) Into the desert, surrounded by cultures hostile to the West and its values, the Zionists brought Mill and Mozart, Curie and Conrad. These affinities put the Jews at odds with their neighbors. Israel is a Levantine country, but the country and its schools measure their performance by decidedly un-Levantine standards of literacy, numeracy and sensibility. Consider a melancholy index of cultural migration: the import of pianos to Palestine. According to a social history of music in Jewish Palestine, in 1931, before Hitler, sixty- seven pianos were brought into Palestine. In 1933, the year the Nazis came to power, 216 pianos arrived; in 1934, 294; in 1935, in crushing crescendo, 372. When Jewish migration was restricted, there was little Jewish cargo: in 1939, fifty-four pianos; and in 1941, twenty-one. After that there were few European Jews alive, with pianos or without.

Zionism had foreseen this unfolding history, not in its gruesome details but in its general outlines. Europe was doomed soil for Jews, and even the well-intentioned and well-positioned liberal European polities would look away when the flames of anti-Semitism spread across the continent in their most virulent form. But it is important to understand that the Jews are not the creation of the anti-Semites. The Jews were a people before they called themselves a nation; and they called themselves a nation before the catastrophe. This is one of the oldest truths about Jewish identity: it is an autonomous selfascription. A Jew in sixteenth-century Budapest felt that he had more in common with a Jew in sixteenth-century Cairo than with a non-Jew in sixteenth-century Budapest. No, it was not the Jewish understanding of the Jewish predicament that was transformed by the catastrophe. It was the non- Jewish understanding of the Jewish predicament. For most gentiles, it took the catastrophe to accept that their Jewish neighbors, patriotic Americans and loyal Frenchmen though they were, were not only different in some unspecified ways but belonged also to another nation.

No, that is not precise. There were many Jews who did not wake up to the Jewish difference until it was too late. The Zionist intuition of Jewish fate was tragically uncommon. "Only now," wrote Stefan Zweig, "did the bankers from their Berlin palaces and sextons from the synagogues of orthodox congregations, the philosophy professors from Paris and Rumanian cabbies, the undertakers' helpers and Nobel Prize winners ... the just and the unjust ... the baptised and the semi-Jews understand, only now were they forced...." Forced into what? Understanding that their enemies thought they were alike? Had they grasped their kinship earlier and on their own, more Jews would have gone to Palestine when there were more Jews to go. Surely it is an incontrovertible (and heartbreaking) proposition that had more Jews recognized the essential truth of the Zionist analysis of Jewish fate the destruction of Jewish life in Europe would not have been as enormous as it was.

The terrible, terrible irony of Zionist history is that its dream was fulfilled only when there were so few European Jews to rescue. Conventional wisdom has it that, were it not for the Shoah, Israel would not have come into being. Quite to the contrary, in my view: if there had not been a Holocaust, in which some 6 million Jews perished, there would have now been in the world not 13 million Jews but scores of millions. But there would still have been anti-Semitism in Europe, even in the absence of a Judeocide. So the blockade of Palestine would have been run, and the gates of Palestine been stormed, not by thousands but by millions of Jews, from Central Europe and Eastern Europe and the countries of Islam. Instead of the more than 600, 000 Jews in the Yishuv after the Second World War, there would have been many times that number. It was, in any case, not the United Nations that brought the British Mandate to a close, but the Yishuv, or the determined and self- determined Jewish community in Palestine. It was Zionism that created the Jewish state. (And it was the Zionists who defeated the Arab armies.) The more numerous the Jews in the world and in Palestine, the more irresistible would have been the creation of the Jewish state.

Returning Jews were the psychological lifeblood of the country, an ongoing confirmation of its purpose: first, from the displaced persons' camps in Europe and the detention camps in Cyprus where the British imprisoned the survivors seeking admission to Palestine; and then the magical migrations from Yemen and Morocco and Iraq; and then the little Jewries of Bukhara and Kurdistan and India; and then the migrants from here and there, in no particular pattern; and, at the last, the transfiguring arrival of more than 750,000 Jews from the Soviet Union, Jews who would otherwise soon have been lost to their people; and these immigrants followed by the long-separated but stubbornly Jewish Jews of Ethiopia. Some of these groups are lower on the social scales than others, and too many immigrants to Israel continue to experience discrimination; and yet this state's genius for absorption is unrivaled. This has been a great romance: of a people with a country, of a people with each other. Not unlike what the delegates imagined 100 years ago at Basel.

Yet those delegates would not recognize in present-day Israel the visions that Herzl had conjured up for its future. No matter. The state is, by any contemporary standard, a success. Like Britain, without the advantage of a constitutional text, its highest court has crafted a system of justice continually at odds with the democratically subversive tyrannies of democratic majorities. When the court freed John Demjanjuk because he may have been merely a brutal guard at a concentration camp, Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals wrote in these pages: " It will surely become a model of how a court confronting a difficult and painful subject ought to comport itself. Jews can take pride that Judaism's age-old commitment to the rule of law did not waver... Subtly woven into the common law woof of the Israeli Court's opinion are the warp threads of talmudic law. The willingness to admit any evidence--even that of highly doubtful reliability--so long as it helps the accused...." Kozinski writes that even our Supreme Court under Justices Warren, Brennan and Marshall would have reached a different result. This may not be prudent of Israel's judges, but it is exquisite.

It is a little tiresome, for some, to hear that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. But Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. It is also the only modern society in the region. Not so long ago Israel was a pitiable place. No longer. Its per capita GDP is roughly equal to the United Kingdom's, despite the enormous burden of its military footing and the costs of immigrant integration, and despite a big drain owed to inefficient and cumbersome state-held businesses. Depending on whose numbers you use, Israel ranks on the GDP index in the mid-teens in the world. Although there is growing income disparity, Israel retains its status as a relatively egalitarian economy. In a 1993 projection of future competitiveness, for example, the Union Bank of Switzerland puts Israel third most favorable in the world, behind South Korea and China and ahead of Singapore, Japan and the United States. Israel shows the single strongest resource growth in the world, this being measured by fixed investment relative to GDP, research and development expenditures relative to GDP, and human capital growth, which is understood as a combination of spending on education relative to GDP and average school enrollment rates per capita. Indeed, according to UBS, Israel spends fully a fifth of its national output on education. (It is also, according to a recent study, among the least corrupt countries in which to do business.) On August 6, 1997, The Wall Street Journal reported that "Tech Takes Hold in Ancient Jerusalem. A high- technology paradise is being built on sacred ground." This is newspaper hype; but Israel is already a center for computer, communications and bio-tech research, as well as a producer of high-end products for the most advanced engineering and scientific projects in the world. The gap between Israel and its neighbors has never been greater, and it will grow because the Arab world failed to use its oil wealth to transform its economies, and it is now in no position to do so. Pity the societies in which modernity is denounced as an evil.

There is no greater measure of the success of Zionism, finally, than the phenomenon of post-Zionism. What really gnaws at the post-Zionist scholars and writers is the spectacle of a Jewish society in which Jews are not always brooding about cosmic questions, in which they sit at cafes, dance in the moonlight, eat good food, make piles of money, chatter on cell phones, have film festivals--all of the activities of an unafraid and unanguished people. The post-Zionists claim that Israel is complacent, devoid of a self-critical temper. They want to deconstruct and to demythologize the old narrative of Zionism and its successes (the sort of narrative that I have just told). In their rage to modernize, didn't the Zionists offend the sensibilities of the Jews of the East? Didn't Jewish soldiers sometimes beat up on innocent Arab town-dwellers and even drive some of them into another part of historic Palestine? The answer to these questions, and to others, is "yes." Israel is a strong state, and it has fought wars, and it bears the responsibility of power--which is to say, Israel is not innocent. The Jewish state has committed acts that it should not have committed, just like every other country, including the United States. But Zionism permits us to admit this without flinching. Indeed, post-Zionism is a great tribute to Zionism, for it is the natural consequence of the open, wakeful, contrarian spirit that characterized Jewish nationalism from the start. Israel is not an evil state, and the post-Zionists are not prophets without honor: what we are witnessing is the continued "normalization of the Jewish people," to use the old Zionist slogan. Israel must feel pride where pride is right and regret where regret is right; but it must feel a tinge of pride also about its regret.

Now the revisionists are embarked on a campaign to change the national anthem. Its words--and its melancholy key of C-minor--appeal, they say, only to Jews.

Within their hearts,

Jews' souls yearn

Looking eastward

An eye beholds Zion ...

No Arab can kindle to those words. The post-Zionists say that the song known as the Hatikvah, or "The Hope," excludes Arabs from the national discourse. Never mind that this must be the most unwarlike anthem in the world. There is a kernel of truth in what the critics say. But they purchase their point at the price of a healthy realism about their state, about politics in general. The fact is that Israel is a Jewish state, in the way that other states are the sovereign expressions of other peoples; and it is a state that includes minorities. Those minorities may feel alienated from the national myth and the national anthem. But surely their alienation is not the whole story. There is also the matter of their civil and political enfranchisement. What a minority loses in symbols, it gains in rights. Or are we to prefer a state and a society that is ethnically and religiously homogeneous? The sensitive revisionist souls who want to do away with the Jewish national anthem live in a world in which the only alternatives are an empty universalism or a totalizing particularism. But Israel is a different kind of experiment: a democratic multiethnicity. No, Israel's democracy, from the standpoint of its Arab citizens, is not perfect. But who will be so foolish as to suggest that the experiment has failed? Anyway, the great conflict is not over yet. Despite Madrid and Oslo, the relationship between the Arabs of Palestine and Israel is still warlike. And not even a vast withdrawal of Israel from the territories will affect the conflict in its depths. It is too old, and it is sanctioned by each and every demagogue on the Arab street.

The Zionists brought to Zion at least three advantages. The first was pragmatism, practicality, a willingness to compromise. Their state is itself a monument to compromise: the Zionists took what they could get, and renounced the map of their dreams, because the Jews were in misery, and this was intolerable. Practicality is sometimes a form of morality. And at a time when population transfers were "solving" other national disputes, such as those between Turkey and Greece and between India and Pakistan, the Zionists did not for a moment think that Palestine couldn't be shared.

The second advantage was that the Zionists came with a confident notion of what their nation was, a confidence springing from the fact that this was the nation that more or less invented the idea of peoplehood. This people and the idea of this people have always been tied to one land. The Jewish attitude toward Jerusalem (and Palestine) was not merely nostalgia. Nostalgia is what some Jews may still feel about what they once had, say, in Spain or in Poland or in Baghdad. But Spain and Poland and Baghdad were addresses, not ideals, as Avi Erlich argues in his provocative book Ancient Zionism. Similarly, the Arabs lost much in historic Palestine and in Jerusalem; but there is no sacred Muslim ideal of these places. The fact is that, for a thousand years and more, Muslims prayed in the direction of Mecca and Jews prayed in the direction of Jerusalem. And there is no secular ideal attached to Palestine either, as there is a secular ideal of Zion.

The third advantage of Zionism was the advantage of the modern. For this reason, Zionism was a genuine revolution in its region. Was modernity a foreign, Western import, as the critics like to say? Of course. That is why it worked. It did not mistake authenticity for backwardness. And so it traumatized its neighbors not only with nationalism, but also with science, with industry, with agriculture, with the whole gleaming consumerist oasis that it devised. And these chasms will not be easily bridged, even if peace ever comes. For the fear of the modern is always accompanied by envy; and this envy fires bullets from guns and activates bombs. The fanatics of faith, the "martyrs" and those who cheer and weep for the martyrs, do not wish only to stop the advance of the Jews; they wish also to stop the advance of the moderns. But the Jews and the moderns are in the land to stay. Herzl said that the Zionist goal was to have the Jewish people "live at last as free men on our own soil, and in our homes peacefully die." The first of these aims has been achieved. The second will be a long time in coming.

By Martin Peretz