Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Dreams of Achievement, Nightmares of Domination

David Brooks, in writing about the developing Israeli high-tech economy, made a comment that Jeffrey Goldberg liked:
Israel’s technological success is the fruition of the Zionist dream. The country was not founded so stray settlers could sit among thousands of angry Palestinians in Hebron. It was founded so Jews would have a safe place to come together and create things for the world.
I disagree with two minor points here: Jewish people have a right to "a safe place", whether they "create things for the world" or not. All people have that right, including, of course, the Palestinians. And when Brooks speaks of "stray" settler's "sitting", he glosses over an ugly fact: while most West Bank settlers almost certainly did "stray" into the settlements, drawn by promises of inexpensive real estate and government subsidies, a hard core of ideological settlers, including some in Hebron and the Hebron Hills, most certainly did not "stray"; they came with the purpose of claiming the land. And claiming the land, in this instance, means ethnic cleansing.

But Mr. Brooks and Mr. Goldberg have expressed a very important truth: the Israelis who dream of creating new knowledge and new products best embody the hopes of Zionists and of everyone who wishes Israel well. The handfuls of ideological settlers in Hebron and similar on the other hand, contribute little more to the world than the nightmare of sectarian conflict and slow-motion ethnic cleansing.

Speaking of an even deeper division and a greater evil in American life, Abraham Lincoln said "a house divided against itself cannot stand". The way of looking at life, and of living it, that drives the settlements in Hebron conflicts with the way of life in the Tel Aviv high-tech cluster in a fundamental way. These ideals cannot both define life in Israel; one of them will have to yield.

I have already made it pretty clear that I prefer the world view of the high-tech cluster in Tel Aviv. Aside from my own belief in the value of knowledge, and aside from the ugly violence the ideological settlers inflict on their neighbors, including children, I fundamentally disbelieve the idea behind many of the settlements: that the establishment of a Jewish state covering all the territory ascribed to it in the Bible will bring about some basic change in the human condition. I regard this as magical thinking, something at odds with not only the scientific world view behind Israeli technological achievements, but also at odds with most Christian and Jewish traditions. The idea that establishing dominance by force will somehow clear the way for the Creator to act in history, as some Jewish millennialists appear to believe, and as many "Christian Zionists" claim, makes human action, violent human action, a precondition for the divine response.

In other words, this ideology imposes human choice in a place which above all calls for humility. A magic spell or a computer program can embody the phrase "my will be done", but in appealing to the Creator, a prayer must ultimately say "Thy will be done".

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