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A Frontpage Exchange Over "Jewish Anti-Semitism" By: P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, September 24, 2004

(Below David Hornik critcizes Steven Plaut's Frontpage article “Jewish Anti-Semitism.” Plaut's response follows. -- The Editors)

Contra Plaut

By P. David Hornik


Steven Plaut, an eloquent writer and a great asset for Israel and for truth, published here last Wednesday an article called “Jewish Anti-Semitism.” It contains a lot of truth but is debatable in some of its points and emphases. Plaut castigates the secular-Zionist enterprise, which began in the 19th century, as a failure that culminated in the Oslo debacle and an Israel ridden with Jewish self-hatred. The core of his argument can be found in this passage:


“The failure of secular Zionism is one and the same with the crisis of  “Israeliness.” Oslo has shown how shallow and empty is the whole enterprise known as secular “Israeliness.” In its bid to replace traditional Jewish identity with civic Israeliness, with Hebrew-speaking consumerism and post-Jewish  civil patriotism, secular Zionism has in fact created a bizarre new entity riddled with confusion regarding its own identity, increasingly dominated by defeatists and “post-Zionists” exhibiting virulent self-hatred and self-abasement, willing to blame itself for all of the problems created by Arab aggression and fascism, and all too willing to sacrifice its national interests  upon pagan altars of political correctness.”


Slightly later he asserts: “No Israeliness well-anchored in Jewishness could have sanctioned a set of policies based on the proposition that violent anti-Semitism was somehow the fault of the Jews and the result of mistreatment of others by Jews.”


The basic premise here, to be sure, is borne out by Israeli opinion studies, all of which find that Osloite, leftist, self-blaming attitudes are more prevalent in the secular part of the population, less so in the part defined as “traditional,” and least so in the religious (i.e., Orthodox) part. Still, I believe Plaut's harsh characterization needs some leavening, for reasons that I can group under four headings.


[1] Israel is not just a “secular Zionist” experiment; it's a democracy.


Plaut:The main manifestations of the Leftist Ascendancy have been the universities and the media, but other institutions, such as the Supreme Court, the intelligence services, and much of the officer class in the military, have also come under its sway.”  


Except for the officer class in the military, this sentence from Plaut's article could be applied verbatim to America. At no point in the article does Plaut compare Israel to other democracies and ask whether some of its problems fall within a larger category of democratic malaise. Secular Zionism is not a factor in America, but that doesn't prevent the country from being beset with such phenomena as Michael Moore, John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, Howard Dean, Noam Chomsky, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, blatant leftist indoctrination in the universities, an “imperial judiciary,” a CIA ridden with self-doubt and appeasement—and so on and so on, ad nauseam.  


And across the Atlantic, the virulently anti-American and anti-Israeli British Left is doing its best to end that country's involvement in Iraq while often marching arm-in-arm with Islamofascists. Again, one can't blame this on secular Zionism. And if we look further north, east, and south, we find that in the democracies of Western Europe there is little need for a “Leftist Ascendancy” because the forces of pacifism, secularism, and sucking up to enemies have long since prevailed. One wouldn't guess from Plaut's article, which nowhere tries to put Israel in this larger context, that in 1985 a book appeared called How Democracies Perish that perceptively analyzes the tendencies of democracies—as a class—toward denial of harsh realities and suicidal appeasement of enemies.


None of this is to deny Plaut's link between secularism and leftism, which the American and European cases bear out, generally speaking, just as the Israeli one does. What he does not explain is how Zionism fits into the equation if democracies that have nothing to do with Zionism exhibit similar maladies. In other words, his article presumes that the problems he describes are specifically Israeli, Jewish, or Zionist ones, and never looks at the possibility that they're instances of a much larger trend.


[2]  Anger vs. understanding: A matter of emphasis.


I have no quarrel with Plaut's point that Israel in the 1990s sank into a calamity called Oslo for which it had itself to blame. I do have reservations about his anger at Israeli society's role in allowing this to happen, and think there's room for more empathy and forgiveness.


Thus, Plaut writes that in the 1990s “there emerged inside Israel a movement of mass Jewish anti-Semitism,” and, later:


“The most fundamental question for this new Post-Oslo era requiring clear answers is how Israel could have allowed itself to pursue the Oslo peace process in the first place.  The answers are very likely to point to the central role of Jewish anti-Semitism and self-hatred.”


To begin with, we are in the realm of psychology here; it's hard to say whether Shimon Peres, Yossi Beilin, and subsequently Yitzhak Rabin pursued Oslo out of “Jewish anti-Semitism and self-hatred” or, instead, mere shallowness, submission to world opinion, dreams of political glory, or—not to be gainsaid—despair about the conflict. I lived in Israel throughout the 1990s, most of the time working as editor in a left-leaning research institute, and was not aware that I was surrounded by a mass anti-Semitic movement. I heard a lot of slurs by left-wingers against Judaism, religious and right-wing Jews, Israel's alleged nefarious role in world politics, and the like—all of it (again) strikingly similar to the way the American Left tends to view Christianity, religious and right-wing Americans, America's alleged evil role in the world, and so on. While it was socially difficult for me as a right-winger in that research institute and elsewhere among leftists, I never felt hated just because I was a Jew—something I did experience at times in the U.S.

But apart from the left-wing politicians and the chattering classes, what about the Israeli populace in general during that period? For one thing, only about half of them supported Oslo; still, one might ask how even half of them could have kept supporting it amid the ongoing reality of terror and regimented hatred in the newly constituted Palestinian Authority. As Plaut views it:


“The national policy of self-abasement was accepted with equanimity by much of the Israeli public, hoping against hope that the Osloid politicians promising light at the end of the appeasement tunnel would prove correct. The very same nation that had defeated the Arab hordes in 1948-9, in the Suez Campaign, in the Six Day War and in the Yom Kippur War, now morphed into whining defeatists.”


And, later:


“After centuries in which Diaspora Jews maintained the most militant sorts of pride and self-assurance even while being mistreated, despised and humiliated, here were the Israelis of Oslo, possessing one of the great armies of the world, abandoning all pride and explicitly promoting self-humiliation.”   


Yes, these are harsh words. At the same time that Israel defeated Arab forces in those wars, its sons were dying young in battle. By the 1990s, this was a fear that—along with terrorism—hung heavy over Israeli society. Did the Oslo supporters, being mostly secular, show less fortitude than the religious, premodern Diaspora forebears I assume Plaut is referring to? Perhaps, but one should not overgeneralize here; I have met quite a few traditional (semi-observant) and even a couple of Orthodox Israelis who put their hopes in Oslo for a time and were in no way self-hating Jews. What made Oslo all the more plausible to many was that fabled military figures like Rabin and Ehud Barak assured the public that the territorial concessions were compatible with Israel's security.


Moreover, at no point does Plaut allow that ruling over the three million hostile Arabs of the territories constituted, and still does, a genuine problem. Instead, he says derisively that “Israeli politicians . . . mouthed the post-modernist gibberish . . . about how Israelis needed to stop ruling over another 'people.'. . .  If no Palestinian people had ever existed in history, Israeli politicians were determined to invent one for peace.” I don't know if Plaut views the Arabs of the territories—without Oslo—as posing no problem at all for Israel; since later he says that, before Oslo, “the most that Palestinian Arabs could hope for would be a limited autonomy in parts of the 'occupied territories,'” it sounds more as if he thinks some sort of solution was required.


But as of the early 1990s, it's not clear that there was any chance of those Arabs accepting autonomy, much less a "limited autonomy," for the foreseeable future. That does not mean, of course, Israel should have pursued a “solution” that was much worse than the problem by creating a genocidal entity on its borders. The point is that the distress many Israelis felt, and feel, about controlling the population of the territories is perfectly compatible with Zionist, democratic, and Jewish principles. Israel should not “solve” this problem by committing suicide or sacrificing its own rights and religious-historical attachments; but the distress over the situation, as one of the factors behind Oslo, does not deserve derision.


[3] What's the alternative?


As mentioned, secular Zionism is the main culprit in Plaut's article. Although he never says so explicitly, the clear implication is that religion must be the remedy, or at least “an Israeliness well -anchored in Jewishness,” which, in the context of his article, implies some degree of religiosity. But there are two problems here. One is that Plaut never suggests how this is to be achieved; an article so strong on criticism might have offered more on remediation. Second, the article looks only at shortcomings of Israel's secular sector, while—by omission—giving its religious sector carte blanche. That sector, though, especially its ultra-Orthodox or haredi component, does not necessarily project an admirable picture to secular Israelis. Although the haredi community has moved somewhat closer to the mainstream, with more men serving in the army or learning professions, those numbers remain small; most haredim still lead a cloistered life, keeping the Zionist state at arm's length while depending on its largesse.


Indeed, many, probably most, secular Israelis who do embrace religiosity do so by becoming haredim; is that what Plaut is advocating? A haredi state would not fight Arab terrorists and armies in the first place and, unless it changed drastically, would not survive two hours in the Middle East.


Much different is Israel's national-religious community, which forms the backbone of the political right wing and is heavily represented among settlers, army officers, and elite soldiers who are willing to go the extra mile for their country. But that community, too, has its problems; from the Jewish Underground of the 1980s through Baruch Goldstein, Yigal Amir, and current threats against Ariel Sharon's life, it keeps producing a fanatic, violent fringe that most of the national-religious denounce but do not seem to know how to curb. That phenomenon, too, has something to do with ambivalence, and in some cases worse, toward Judaism among Israel's secular majority.


More generally, Plaut does not mention the difficulties that Orthodox Judaism, as a way of life incorporating many premodern elements, poses for people raised in modern secularism. He castigates the original Zionist impulse as having been a form of assimilationism all along; I view it, instead, as (among other things) an endeavor to put Jewish life on a national footing by Jews most of whom were no longer psychologically capable of at least many aspects of Orthodox practice and belief. And whatever weaknesses secular Zionism now undeniably manifests, it is not the only Israeli trend to show weaknesses; I still see mutual respect, and a stress on the positive, as the best bet.


4. An exaggerated picture.


If my quotations from Plaut's article so far give a very unfavorable picture of present-day, secular-Zionist Israel, they of course represent only a very small part of the article. I have tried here to balance at least some of the negativity. Yet Plaut's own earlier-quoted reference to a “Post-Oslo era” suggests that he, too, sees Israel as having put the worst Oslo days behind it.


Indeed, the signs of that are considerable, from the trouncing of the Osloite parties in two consecutive elections to the perseverance under the savage terrorist assault of the “second intifada” to the army's recent tactical successes in combating that terror. If “secular Zionism” had really been in as spiritually and ideologically bankrupt a condition as Plaut alleges, it is hard to see where the strength for this perseverance—in a society that indeed shows no sign of turning toward traditional religion—would have come from. And for now secular Zionism appears to have overcome, at least to a considerable extent, the leftism it sank into during the 1990s.


While usually agreeing with 80-100 percent of what Steven Plaut has to say, in the case of this article I only agreed with about 50 percent, and I have tried to explain why. I wish him a Shana tova and hope he keeps manning the barricades ad mea v'esrim.




Contra Hornik

By Steven Plaut

I thank David Hornik for his comments, and, while he and I have some minor differences in opinion or at least in emphasis, I continue to regard him as one of the best journalists in
Israel and the Jewish world.

He is of course correct that the US and
Europe have their analogues to the Israeli self-hating Left.  But the difference is that the mindless Lefts in other countries do not represent clear and present acute existential dangers to their countries, but merely entertain diversion. 

Israel's very existence has been placed in jeopardy thanks to its mindless Left.


I am not sure how much difference it makes if it is true, as Hornik insists, that Beilin and Peres initially pursued "Oslo" out of stupidity and not out of Jewish self-abasement. 


Even if that were true, the very fact that the same people are TODAY still pursuing their "Oslo" strategy of Israel appeasing its way to peace says volumes.  Twelve years of daily empirical proof that they were wrong yet they still pursue the same failed "concept".   This cannot, in my opinion, be attributed to naiveté alone.

Yes, the general Israeli populace largely supported the
Oslo misadventure and still gives lip service to the need to negotiate new deals with the terrorists, new deals the same Israelis are certain will be violated by the Arabs.   The Left took cynical advantage of the exhaustion and psychological weaknesses of the public to shove Israel off the Oslo diving board. Yes, I blame the leaders of the country more often than not coming from the Left - and not the general public.

Hornik writes: "at no point does Plaut allow that ruling over the three million hostile Arabs of the territories constituted, and still does, a genuine problem."  I allow that it is a problem. Granting autonomy or statehood to these same people is a far, far GREATER problem and a self-destructive impulse on
Israel's part.  The terror was not stoked by Israeli occupation of Palestinians but rather by the REMOVAL of Israeli occupation of the Palestinians.  

Of course Hornik is correct that the Palestinians were unwilling to accept any "limited autonomy", but that is because the Israeli government signaled to them that the Jews were on the run and that by sticking to terror and violence the Arabs could win the whole farm. Unlike Hornik, I do not see the anti-modernist "haredi" lifestyle as the only conceivable alternative to secularist Zionism.

I sure hope Hornik is correct that
Israel is past Oslo and recovering its sanity, but I am far less optimistic and in any case the jury is still out.



David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Jerusalem whose work has appeared in many Israeli, Jewish, and political publications. Reach him at pdavidh2001@yahoo.com.


Steven Plaut teaches at the University of Haifa and is author of The Scout, Gefen Publishing House.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at pdavidh2001@yahoo.com.

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