After the funeral of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar, and then the anti-Arab racist riots in Jerusalem, and now after what appears to be the politically motivated murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir it should be clear that an organized state and moral community demands not unity as such, but rather bright red lines between law, civil society, and human dignity versus racist incitement, revenge hysteria, lynch mobs, and political murder. “They sanctify death, we sanctify life.” Meant to distinguish enemies from friends, unworthy comments such as these presented by Prime Minister Netanyahu at the funeral of three Israeli murdered teenagers only incite the very acts of revenge that the Prime Minister will then have to condemn.
Thinking about red lines and the murder of Muhammad Hussein brings back to mind the unequivocal condemnation by then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who after the 1994 massacre of Muslim worshippers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, denounced the perpetrator of the act, Baruch Goldstein, as if in a writ of religious excommunication, “You are not part of the community of Israel… You are not part of the national democratic camp which we all belong to in this house, and many of the people despise you. You are not partners in the Zionist enterprise. You are a foreign implant. You are an errant weed. Sensible Judaism spits you out. You placed yourself outside the wall of Jewish law… We say to this horrible man and those like him: you are a shame on Zionism and an embarrassment to Judaism”
When he had the opportunity, it was Prime Minister Rabin’s failure not to act with the same force conveyed by these words against the settlement in Hebron. But the words were the right ones, simple ones spoken by a political leader who did not shirk moral and political responsibility in responding to acts of hatred and murder. I don’t expect much from the current government of Israel, just chaos as what, for Israel, was once a comfortable status quo threatens to disintegrate into murder and mayhem. That is the “price tag” paid for the failure to come to terms with the Palestinian national movement and with the own reserves of racism at the heart of Zionism as a political ideology and national project.
These comments have nothing to do with anti-Zionism. It’s about competing national forms and political formations. About Zionism and non-exclusive liberal values, I wrote here the following about Theodor Herzl and what he called “the New Society” in his utopian novel, Old New Land. They are worth revisiting now in the current climate:
“No matter how prejudiced, his thought was liberal to the degree to which he believed that the success of Zionism depends upon cosmopolitan values. In his novel, Herzl opposed to narrow nationalists who would claim the entire ‘New Society’ as entirely their own. David Littwak, Herzl’s prototype of the young Zionist in the novel, propounds that the New Society owes its origin not to nineteenth century ethnic nationalism but to nineteenth century pioneers in cooperative life in England, Germany, France, and Ireland. This New Society is envisioned at peace with its neighbors, networked to Cairo, Damascus, Beirut, and Baghdad. Opposed to religious privilege, Littwak proudly declares, ‘Religion had been excluded from public affairs once and for all. The New Society did not care whether a man sought the eternal verities in a temple, a church or a mosque, in an art museum or philharmonic concert.’ It was not even a state, but rather a cooperative association composed of affiliate cooperatives. In the end, Littwak warned his fellow citizens that ‘all your cultivation is worthless and your fields will revert to barrenness unless you foster liberal ideas, magnanimity, and a love of mankind.’”