Martin Buber: Old Zionism and Modern Israel (1956)

I turn now from Bertrand Russell to another giant of the 20th century who saw the futility and immorality of war and acted consistently with their beliefs, feelings and sense of faith–Martin Buber.

Very few of Allan Solomonow’s articles are as old as this, but what the Jewish philosopher wrote in William Zuckerman’s Jewish Newsletter in 1958 was reprinted and circulated in 1983 by Matt Jones and Wisdom Train.

I look forward to sharing this piece of wisdom and insight over the next few days, but I also want to preface myself.

I used to take great solace in the ideas and struggle of the early bi-national and cultural Zionists. Given the terribly militarist policies of the State of Israel, the merely learning about the existence of Judah Magnes, Henrietta Szold, the Yishuv, Martin Buber and Ahad Ha’am was a relief for me. But I stopped raising the issue of the more benign strands of early Jewish nationalism or Zionism. Maybe Buber’s piece will help me sort out my feelings and contradictions.

I am against nationalism and include Zionism in that negative class. If I put myself aside and see that nationalism exists regardless of my feelings, then I feel that Jewish nationalism is as fair as any other, and as unfair.

When religious primacy is added in, I want to consistently support those seeking liberation from states with official religions that mete out special privileges and punishments on that basis. Israel must not see itself as exempt from this problem. It moved me to see Buber speaking out about this in 1958!

My point really though, is that the existence of the early Zionists doesn’t seem that relevant anymore. They lost, as Buber notes. As a Jewish activist committed to ending the longstanding abuse and robbing of Palestinians by my people, I don’t mean to hold up these pioneers as a way of saying, “I’m with them. We’re not all bad!” I bring up this history because such ideas are vitally important and precious to extoll. Too few, but people DO stand up, and we must not act like it doesn’t happen.

We’re not the first to struggle, to want peace, to point out that the emperor has no clothes. We must harken back and act radically, from the roots, and that means tapping into the wisdom we want to channel and manifest in the world today, for a tomorrow that is different than the past, with more justice and peace.

So here is a bit of Martin Buber’s piece on Israel and Zionism from 1958.

“What I felt sixty years ago, when I joined the Zionist movement, is essentially what I feel today. I joined this national movement because it was not called Jewish nationalism but Zionism. Zion is not just a symbol of national power and national survival, but a great symbol of the fulfillment of a great Messianic hope of humanity. This is the hope of humanity in the process of becoming, of being born–a humanity consisting of many peoples with the people of Israel, as the Prophet Isaiah said, leading the other people, and with Zion as the center. This humanity must begin with one people living in justice and love with its neighbors, and the neighbors with their neighbors, and so forming a great humanity encompassing all of mankind [humanity -Jim]. I believed that this nationalism would not go the way of all the others–beginning with a great hope and then deteriorating, decaying, becoming collective egoism, even daring, like Mussolini, to call itself a sacro egoism, as if a collective egoism could be more sacred than the egoism of any individual.

In tomorrow’s segment, Buber talks of the connection of means and goals. In the third installment he has some strong words about the “effects of Hitlerism” on the on Jews, Zionism and Palestine. Finally, he pointed out the grave need for cooperation between Palestinians and Jews. -Jim


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