Thursday, March 27, 2014

Amos Oz on nationalism and Zionism

Hey chaverim--I used this text (which we read on kaveret) in a J Street peula about the meaning and complications of a Jewish state/any nation-state based on an identity. For me, this really nicely reflects the challenges of understanding Zionism in the context of nationalism.
This is the place to make my first shocking confession -- others will follow. I think that the nation-state is a tool, an instrument, that is necessary for a return to Zion, but I am not enamored of this instrument. The idea of the nation-state is, in my eyes, “goyim naches” - a gentiles’ delight. I would be more than happy to live in a world composed of dozens of civilizations, each developing in accordance with its own internal rhythm, all cross-pollinating one another, without any one emerging as a nation-state: no flag, no emblem, no passport, no anthem. No nothing. Only spiritual civilizations tied somehow to their lands, without the tools of statehood and without the instruments of war.
But the Jewish people has already staged a long-running one-man show of that sort. The international audience sometimes applauded, sometimes threw stones, and occasionally slaughtered the actor. No one joined us; no one copied the model the Jews were forced to sustain for two thousand years, the model of a civilization without the “tools of statehood.” For me this drama ended with the murder of Europe’s Jews by Hitler. And I am forced to take it upon myself to play the “game of nations,” with all the tools of statehood, even though it causes me to feel (as George Steiner) like an old man in a kindergarten. To play the game with an emblem, and a flag and a passport and an army, and even war, provided that such war is an absolute existential necessity. I accept those rules of the game because existence without the tools of statehood is a matter of mortal danger, but I accept them only up to this point. To take pride in these tools of statehood? To worship these toys? To crow about them? Not I. If we must maintain these tools, including the instruments of death, it must be not only with glee but with wisdom as well. I would say with no glee at all, only with wisdom--and with caution. Nationalism itself is, in my eyes, the curse of mankind.
--Amos Oz, 1982

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