Imagine if you will a direct descendant of Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson with an impeccable pedigree penning an op-ed in the New York Times saying the author of the Gettysburg Address or Declaration of Independence would be turning over in his grave if they could see what Barack Obama has done to their beloved Constitution. That’s something like the op-ed Zeev Smilansky wrote in today’s Haaretz, portraying the moral abyss into which contemporary Israel has sunk. Here is how Avner Cohen described him in his Facebook feed:
The author is true Israeli nobility, a descendant of a Zionist “Mayflower” family, his father was one of the most prominent Zionist teachers who laid the foundation of Israel’s education system, his Dad was a famous author, professor and once a Knesset member, and he and his brother contributed much to Israel’s security.
Before quoting portions of his powerful essay, a word of context: Smilansky’s grandfather, (also named Zeev), was a pioneer of the First Aliya. His uncle, Moshe, also a First Aliya founder, launched the first Jewish agricultural union and was a discple of cultural Zionist, Ahad Ha’Am and founder of Brit Shalom. His father was the beloved author and Knesset member, Yizhar Smilansky (pen name, S. Yizhar) who was one of the most popular author’s of the post-1948 period. In the early 1950s, he wrote the seminal anti-war novella Khirbet Hiza, about his searing military service during the War. Yizhar pere was nothing less than Israel’s moral-literary conscience, serving a similar role to David Grossman today. The difference being that what Yizhar wrote and said had real and wide societal impact. Whatever Grossman’s literary reputation or powers of moral suasion, he has little impact on Israeli society as a whole.
The younger Smilansky, like his uncle Moshe, owns a winery where he produces fine Israeli wine (within the Green Line). Here are some of his pungent thoughts on the wasting away of the Israeli State and the Zionist dream:
…The people in my immediate circle…regard everything that is happening beyond it [the Green Line] as a terminal illness.
It was not always like this. We loved to visit the West Bank in the past, but no more. Today, this land is one of moral turpitude, a blot on the family’s record, a historic disgrace. In the West Bank, the State of Israel has become an apartheid state, where our children carry out war crimes on our behalf; where the concept of population transfer has become a reality; where (in a sickening twist of history) the Jews have become a master race that is on a lofty and well-protected pedestal while the Other – the Palestinian – has no rights, no identity, and can be trampled upon by any soldier, any member of the Shin Bet security service – in fact, by anyone with a blue identity card.
Whenever the Jews have turned to the path of physical force, it has invariably ended in unforgettable catastrophe. One of the most prominent of those catastrophes was the Bar-Kokhba revolt, which was encouraged and supported by Rabbi Akiva and which led to the almost complete destruction of our people. In other eras, we Jews developed many different and sophisticated tools that enabled us to survive as weaklings among the powerful: study, enlightenment, patience, an understanding of the mighty forces surrounding us and the development of the ability to maneuver and survive in the midst of those forces. In the era of the Enlightenment, the Jews were able to build on these foundations and to excel in science, medicine, literature, music, political science, economics, law and commerce. There were many tools in the Jewish toolbox, but the use of force was not one of thom.
Today, the situation is different. The toolbox has emptied; gone are the wisdom, the patience, the moderation and the shrewdness. What has, however, remained is crude, brute force, seeking an outlet. The Six Day War of June 1967 was the greatest disaster that has ever befallen on the State of Israel, because it led Israelis to believe that physical force is the only lens through which the world should be viewed. The combination of being a bully and a victim at the same time has become Israel’s trademark and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is its spearhead.
For the government and, apparently, for the majority of the Israeli population…people and human kindness are not part of the Jewish toolbox…What should you do when you realize that your country, your homeland, your beloved land has become a frightening, sickening monster, has become one of those states that caused you to thank your lucky stars that you were not one of their citizens – the Bosnias, Somalias, Burmas and Rwandas, with all their war crimes, ethnic cleansings and racial segregation?
Over the years, I have been weaned from a total identification with the State of Israel. When my eldest son reached the age of 18, I realized (painfully) that he would have to be drafted into the Israel Defense Forces. A few years later, when my youngest son reached induction age, I tried very hard not to decide for him. Today, I am not sure what advice I would give to an 18-year-old Israeli who is on the threshold of being drafted.
I am not some deranged leftist who supports the Arabs. I love Jews, I love Zionists, I love my land, the Land of Israel. As a Jew, I want Israel to be a model state; a light unto the nations; a center of science, culture, economic activity, health services, justice, equality and morality…
Israel has become a leper state that is viewed by others with disgust; ; a state that is systematically sabotaging the Zionist project and is turning it into another fleeting – and sad – episode in the gloomy history of the Jewish people.
I propose that we learn another language – in addition to the language of force…
There will be Israeli apologists who will dismiss Smilansky as just another self-hating Israeli leftist. There can be no doubt that the views of liberal Zionists like Smilansky do not carry the freight they used to. Israel of today is a land in which the coarse and brutal rule. The Smilanskys are a nostalgic throwback to another era.
But despite all this, when you lose the Smilanskys its as if America lost the heirs of Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Kennedy. Imagine that one the dynastic scions of America’s great leaders turned his back on America and said he wanted nothing more than to learn Dutch and get the hell out? Imagine such a person saying the Constitution had become a sham, the American dream was dead, and everything that made living in the country worthwhile had turned to poison.
That’s the sort of message Smilansky has for latter-day Israelis. As a country there’s no doubt that Israel can survive for decades or maybe a generation divorced from all the values its founders cherished. But as a “house divided,” to quote Lincoln, “cannot long endure,” so a nation divorced from its raison d’etre cannot long endure.