Yesterday I shared the beginning of a piece written by the late, great Jewish sage and philosopher Martin Buber in 1958 entitled “Old Zionism and Modern Israel.” In it, Buber expressed guarded optimism about Zionism despite his general concern about nationalism morphing into fascism. Martin Buber believed that the powerful good of Jewish teachings could free Zionism from the pitfalls of other nationalisms. He also articulated the problem of exceptionalism. As we pick up his piece today, he starts out reaffirming his faith in the Jewish people to be able to stave off a “collective egoism” that is used to undermine “the egoism of any individual.” He goes on to note that Jewish migration to Palestine come from different motivations: community or colonialism. -Jim
[continued from “Old Zionism and Modern Israel” by Martin Buber, Jewish Newsletter, 1958.]
“This hope that I had sixty years ago, I maintain today in my heart, notwithstanding what occurred and what occurs. I am now no less a Zionist, in this sense of Zion, than I was then. I had to endure many disappointments, but in every hour I felt that this hard way, this way of error is the way to fulfillment. The ways of history are ways of disappointment and bitterness–ways of the spirit’s being vanquished again and again, yet ending with its victory. None of us young men of that time thought about mere survival, and no one thought about historical rights. We had to go back to Palestine in order to determine the contents and the forms of our own life, not for our own sake but for that hope which the prophets called Zion.
“As long as the means used to attain an aim are in their very nature opposed to this aim, the goal attained will deteriorate and become more like the means than the original aim. This is the great danger for Israel today. When we returned to Palestine, the decisive question was: Do we want to come there as an ally, as a friend, as a brother, as a member of the coming community of the peoples of the Near East, or as the representatives of colonialism and imperialism? This discrepancy between aims and means, between the goal and the way to achieve it, divided the Zionists into people who wanted to get from the great powers particular political concessions and people, mostly young men, some of them my friends, who simply wanted to be allowed to work in Palestine together with their neighbors, for Palestine and for the future.
“What was then begun in Palestine by the people called pioneers, Chaluzim, was a kind of work the like of which I do not know in history. The people who went to Palestine went there because they could not find meaning in and fulfillment of their lives in any other place. This great work that went on by selected and devoted persons was the work of building, not a political state, but a great human collective community, with their neighbors helping them and being helped by them, and together developing a common political expression in which they and we could find fulfillment. The evolutionary collective action could not always be carried out in perfect peace with the Arabs, but in general it was based on good neighborly relations between a Jewish village and a neighboring Arab village, between Jews and their Arab neighbors.”