Martin Buber, 1958: Concluding Segment on Zionism and Israel

In this concluding portion of Martin Buber’s statement published in 1958 by Willliam Zukerman’s Jewish Newsletter, the Jewish philosopher (author of “I and Thou,” “Between Man and Man,” “For the Sake of Heaven,” The Prophetic Faith,” and other works) takes the long view, considering briefly the necessary condition for “no small peace” to be attained between “Jews and Arabs.” [I would say “Palestinians” so as not to conflate Palestine with the larger Arab world. Buber himself, didn’t avoid the more precise terms like some do as they try to distance the people from their historic land. -Jim]

With the ensuing 56 years of ongoing dominance by Israel of Palestine, trying to act with an eye to a future after the conflict abates — not because of exhaustion and devastation, but because of the presence of justice — is harder for everyone involved. Jews who do may be accused of telling Palestinians how to resist the worsening oppression they continue to suffer under. Palestinians can be attacked as Israeli collaborators, not supportive of some of the military tactics used by different factions in Gaza and the West Bank. They can also be targeted by Israel since and again Israel has attacked Palestinian peacemakers, nonviolent activists, and government officials and citizen diplomats.

What also strikes me was Buber’s sense of hope, already diminished, that led him to speak so strongly to other Jews as someone still attached to some ideal of Zionism. He pointed out that we were going about this all the wrong way, in 1958, choosing the wrong partners, driving down a road over the blind cliff of strife and colonial occupation. Looking over decades of writings, pamphlets, meeting reports, articles by Israelis, American Jewish leaders, Palestinian leaders of different factions and eras, different church observers from different denominations, and intellectuals of every persuasion, it is clear that for many a year, well-reasoning people were pointing out that this emperor had no clothes. As Chomsky often points out, speaking truth to power wasn’t necessary; power knows or could already know what’s up. But speaking truth to the people is vitally necessary and under-emphasized.


[See the image of Buber’s 1958 opinion piece at the end of this page. -Jim]:

“We, the small minority of the spirit, have tried to point to the simple truth, that no peace is any longer possible between Jews and Arabs unless it takes the form of cooperation and federation. No small peace can be attained any longer; no weak cheap peace that contains within itself the seeds of self-destruction. The Jewish-Arab situation today is the same as the situation in the rest of the world in this most critical hour in the history of mankind  [sic -Jim]. The greatest obstacle in this terrible situation is the fact that people are not communicating with one another, that anything one nation says to another is received with universal distrust. Nobody really talks to another. So-called political speeches on the world situation are sheer propaganda. There is no hope for this hour so long as we do not find a way really to talk to one another about common interests, the common hope, the common will, and then return to the world of politics and say the truth in common.”


Buber belonged to everyone, not just officialdom, so he could rise above attacks like no one else. Reviewing materials for Jewish youth in the U.S. and Israel from the 1960s to 1980s, it is clear that Buber didn’t succeed in convincing the Jewish community to broaden the range of allowable discourse about Palestine and Palestinians. Even when fuller debate has been advocated for by leaders of major rabinical organizations who wouldn’t have agreed with my analysis of racism and colonialism, little fruit was born, and what was, was attacked viciously or at times done anonymously out of fear.Buber_Zionism_Israel_1958

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