Last week the Monitor, noting the publication of a new collection of essays from the tendentious post-Zionist historian Avi Shlaim, reflected on the damage inflicted by post-Zionism on Israel’s international reputation and, more important, Israel’s collective consciousness.
Academic acolytes of post-Zionism can talk all they want about how a confident, mature nation deals openly with the alleged dark elements of its past, but the truth is that in their eagerness to demonize their country they represent the very apotheosis of confidence and maturity.
Indeed, they resemble nothing so much as the Galus Yid so fiercely scorned by Israelis of an earlier vintage. It is the Galus Yid, after all, who according to classic Zionist ideology is forever condemned to an existence of supplication and self-denigration, slavishly agreeing with and appeasing his enemies, even to the point of internalizing all the worst stereotypes and epithets they hurl his way.
Given the ease with which post-Zionism infected Israel’s body politic, one is forced to conclude that the era of muscular and unapologetic Zionism was but a brief interregnum in the long history of Jewish weakness and insecurity – and it becomes easier to comprehend how the majority consensus in Israel shifted rather quickly from flat denial of the historicity of a “Palestinian Arab” nation (a notion Arab leaders themselves vigorously opposed in the years leading up to and immediately following the creation of Israel) to mute acceptance as indisputable truth all claims of Palestinian nationhood.
And yet that particular shift in Israeli public opinion, swift though it was, rates as positively sluggish when compared with the breakneck pace of Israel’s resuscitation of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which in 1991 appeared ready to breath its last.
Vilified in the West for its enthusiastic support of Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War; strapped for cash thanks to the demise of one sugar daddy (the Soviet Union) and the disgust of another (Saudi Arabia); and increasingly viewed by rank and file Palestinians as hopelessly venal and self-serving, the PLO was on the brink of long-deserved oblivion.
Hardly had the hearse backed up to the grave, however, when the funeral was abruptly canceled – unbelievably enough by Israel itself, which almost single-handedly brought Yasir Arafat back to political and diplomatic life, buffed his image, and convinced the international community to open its coffers and replenish his bank accounts.
By 1993 the transformation was complete. In a matter of months Arafat had gone from being scorned as the planet’s most infamous terrorist to being feted as a Nobel-caliber statesman, all under the auspices of an Israeli government that, in a display craven enough to make even the most hopeless Galus Yid proud, pleaded on bended knee for no one to take seriously Arafat’s continued penchant for anti-Semitic rhetoric and graphic calls for Israel’s destruction.
And so it came to pass that even when Arafat was videotaped issuing fiery calls in Arabic for jihad and the shedding of Jewish blood, Shimon Peres stood in the Knesset and told the world the tapes must somehow have been doctored by the enemies of peace.
There really is no parallel to the phenomenon witnessed by the world in those years: A small country, surrounded by enemies who given the chance would tear it to pieces like a pack of ravenous wolves, rehabilitating as its “peace partners” the most ruthless killers of its women and children while flagellating itself for every lie ever told by those who pined for its destruction.
Against the backdrop of such boundless naiveté and relentless self-criticism did the New Jew of Zionist ideology metamorphose into the Galus Yid of Zionist mythology. The wide-eyed wonder of young Israeli soldiers at the Western Wall in 1967, captured for eternity in David Rubinger’s iconic photograph, suddenly seemed hopelessly passé, as did the emotional reference in Hatikvah to “a free nation in our land.”
It took forty-plus years of statehood, but the old Zionist spirit of moral certainty and national pride had, by the mid-1990s, given way to a new ethos, one of cringing embarrassment and deepening doubt.
And while post-Zionists and Israeli leftists in general were mortified by Arafat’s rejection of the sweeping concessions offered by Ehud Barak at Camp David and Taba, and even more so by Arafat’s launching of a second intifada, the harping on Israeli culpability, instigation and oppression have continued to this day, nowhere more shrilly and adamantly than in the opinion-shaping precincts of Israeli media and academia.