Last night, participating at the Gala Opening of the Jewish Media Summit in Jerusalem, I was given a booklet. It even had the imprimatur of the Wold Zionist Organization with this cover logo:
The essence is
Welcome to Diaspora-Israel Day – a worldwide festival of Jewish Peoplehood on the 7th of Cheshvan! We invite you to celebrate your partnership in the wider Jewish world and to mark the deep bond between Jewish communities around the globe and between these communities and Israel –
But before we deal with some of the issues this program idea raises, let us return to the matter of George Steiner who is quoted on page 3 of the booklet.
The odd thing is that Steiner thought of his father as thinking that
Jews were endangered guests wherever they went
and as for his relationship with Zionism and Israel, there is this there as well:
...Steiner has held up the diaspora as an ideal: "He's always had a non-Zionist view of Jewish history. He refuses to buy into Jewish nationalism, and believes Jewish creativity is essentially a diasporic condition." Steiner says: "I've tried at personal and professional cost to warn against nationalism in Israel and the treatment of Palestinians; to say that because of what we are, there are things we can't do. The extremists spit in your face; others say, 'Shut up in your beautiful house in Cambridge.'
And please read this essay on Steiner.
As I noted above, the 28-page Tractate which was placed in our hands last night carries a motto from Steiner:
Trees have roots, men have legs and are each other’s guests...The Jew has his anchorage not in place but in time...Six thousand years of self-awareness are a homeland.
That is actually stringing two different utterances/writings together. A bit fuller version is this:
To show that where trees have roots, men have legs and are each other’s guests...The Jew has his anchorage not in place but in time, in his highly developed sense of history as personal context. Six thousand years of self-awareness are a homeland.”
Actually, there is an even fuller quotation of the first part of his words which were published in ‘A Kind of survivor’ (pp.132-3), see here, and they appear as:
Nationalism is the venom of our age. It has brought Europe to the edge of ruin. It drives the new states of Asia and Africa like crazed lemmings. By proclaiming himself a Ghanaian, a Nicaraguan, a Maltese, a man spares himself vexation. He need not ravel out what he is, where his humanity lies. He becomes one of an armed, coherent pack. Every mob impulse in modern politics, every totalitarian design, feeds on nationalism, on the drug of hatred which makes human beings bare their teeth across a wall, across ten yards of waste ground. Even if it be against his harried will, his weariness, the Jew – or some Jews, at least – may have an exemplary role. To show to show that where trees have roots, men have legs and are each other’s guests
"Venom"? "Drug of hatred"? And the Jew is not to be nationalistic?
The quoted section also appears here as
But to me trees have roots, and humans have legs, which is an immense advance. We are each other's guests as we move across the earth. This vision of Judaism runs roughly from Jeremiah to Trotsky, another one of the greatest figures of Jewish internationalism
The second part of the quotation, of which Rabbi Nir Barkin and Smadar Bilik, the Tractate's collectors and editors leave out the bit of "in his highly developed sense of history as personal context" is from another source, see here.
In short, not only have Steiner's words been chopped up and bereft of context, but placing an ambivalent anti-nationalist Jew as a pillar of wisdom, the team is directing its learners in a non-Zionist direction.
Even Amnon Rubinstein wrote of "George Steiner's Zionist Heresies" that
It is the Jews' otherness, their alienation and the absence of a territorial patrimony that explains, in George Steiner's view, their contribution to civilization. The homeland of the Jews is the book, not the soil.
If they are celebrating Diaspora Existence Day, that is one thing. If that is what the Reform Movement wants to do, a bi gezundt.
But that the WZO is finding or sponsoring this?
Is the Reform Movement backing out of Jewish nationalism, as it first did?
Or should they have selected this from a speech he made
"Israel is an absolute miracle, a dream out of the inferno that was realized as though with a magic wand. Now it is the safe haven for Jews. Should trouble arise again - and it will arise - one day maybe Israel will give shelter to my son and to my son's sons."
What is going one with this initiative?
Well, here is one major issue: Jewish history is turned on its head.
This is what is asserted in the Tractate:
The nation's heritage begins its story outside the Land of Israel and its formative history is one of a series of ongoing migrations to and from the Land.
A Zionist, of course, would view that as a non-historical reality.
Yes, Jews left and came to the Land of Israel. And yes, Abraham the Patriarch did come, as urged by his vision, from modern-day Iraq, to the Land of Canaan. But Jewish history is one of Land-anchored events, religious commandments and customs and practices and the ability to be a nation rather than a community or, as Steiner would wish it to be, Jewish individuals.
Is this an underground effort to re-alter Jewish life agendas?
The Tractate quotes many sources that support, as it were, a Diaspora existence but what seems to be missing is all the actual historical experiences that mitigated against Diaspora existence. The word 'Holocaust' appears once, in a biographical note of a Rabbi born in "the pre-Holocaust period". The term 'anti-Semitism' does no appear and neither does 'pogroms'.
This is Jewish history and Land of Israel-Diaspora relations?
So, who in the WZO was responsible for this?