Right of Reply: Blood, soil and Michael Freund

If Freund believes that this land belongs solely to the Jews, where does that leave the Arab minority?

September 24, 2008 22:00
Right of Reply: Blood, soil and Michael Freund

Theodor Herzl 88. (photo credit: )


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Of all the criticisms that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert very much deserves, his telling the far right to wake up to reality is not one of them. Olmert told his cabinet last Sunday that the dream of a Greater Israel was impractical and delusional. Jerusalem Post columnist Michael Freund condemned the comments in his September 16 piece "Reverse the process of 'de-patriotization.'" His reasoning, however, relied on a rather extreme combination of religion and nationalism, an ideology that would leave little room for democracy and human rights. Freund told his readers that he does not "think it is a flight of fancy to believe in the promises that God made to our biblical forebears - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - that this land would be ours and no one else's." Freund believes in the divine right of Jews to continue to control all of Greater Israel. Replace a few words here and there and Freund's piece could very well have been written by someone from Hamas. As the Hamas Charter states: "The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Wakf consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgment Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered; it, or any part of it, should not be given up." If Freund believes that this land belongs solely to the Jews, where does that leave its Arab minority? If he wants to keep the territories in perpetuity, what should be done with the 4 million Arabs who live in the West Bank and Gaza? Freund thinks his vision is the true Zionist vision, when actually he betrays the very idea of Zionism articulated by Theodor Herzl and David Ben-Gurion. Herzl and Ben-Gurion wanted a Jewish and democratic state, one that would respect the rights of its non-Jewish inhabitants. Freund finds the Jewish possession of land more important than a society based on freedom and law. BEN-GURION SPENT World War I in America and developed a profound respect for American democracy, and later in life became acquainted with the British Parliament; he would model the Knesset in Parliament's image. Herzl likewise envisioned a European, liberal and democratic Jewish state. His novel Altneuland contained an Arab character named Reshid Bey, who lived as a complete equal among his neighbors. In his piece, Freund called for a renewed patriotism, and as a first step suggested an annual "Land of Israel Day." In his words, the "holiday would be devoted to celebrating the land and our eternal bond with it" and would emphasize "the Jewish people's attachment to this holy soil." This attachment he places on people and soil points to an extreme form of nationalism, one that bears a frightening resemblance to the "blood and soil" variety of nationalisms that proved so destructive throughout the 20th century. Herzl built his idea of political Zionism against the intellectual background of the Romantic period of the 19th century. Romantic thinkers of the time wrote of the ties of blood, of history and of language that bound together peoples and nations. Similar to the idea of the German Volk, Zionism intended to gather a people divided across political borders, a people that shared blood and a culture, into a state to nurture that common culture. The Romantic period foresaw states based on national feeling, group membership, engagement with tradition and the preservation of peoplehood - all worthwhile traits for any political entity. However, Herzl tempered his political dream with the ideals of the Enlightenment, hoping to create not only a Jewish state, but also a free state. THE ENLIGHTENMENT thinkers - John Locke, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson - wrote of states based on liberty, liberalism and the rule of law. Such states would guarantee the rights of minorities and equality before the law, and Herzl ascribed to his Jewish state the best of both the Enlightenment and Romantic eras, a child of these two parents. Hence Herzl specifically reminded his readers that Arabs would share full equality and rights in the Jewish state. When Romantic nationalism dropped the Enlightenment from its worldview, the catastrophic events of the 20th century ensued. The fascist movements of Europe placed the nation and its people above the individual, and any individual who did not fit exactly into the national ideal was marked. Michael Freund's idea of a spirit that binds the Jewish people to the land, reminds one of the "blood and soil" theories, popularized by Nazi thinker Richard Walther Darré, which espoused a similar bond between the Germans and the German soil. Faith, blood, people and soil - for Freund they are all wrapped together in a biblical super-narrative. Such themes also come together in that most hideous of Middle Eastern fascist movements, Ba'athism. Ba'athism's founding thinkers, the Syrians Sati al-Husri and Michel Aflaq, composed a Koranic super narrative of Arabism, soil and Islam. They wrote of an Islam as the great cultural and intellectual achievement of the Arab people, and it in turn formed a symbiotic relationship with Arabism, such that they flowed from one another, locked in an eternal embrace. FREUND FORGETS the Enlightenment half of Zionism, the one that guarantees the dignity of the individual, while it is Zionism's Romantic half that encourages the culture and pride of the Jewish people. Freund need only look around him, and he will see that Arabs clean Israeli floors, build Israeli houses, mend Israeli roads and then scurry back to their homes under the watchful eye of a fearful population - indeed, Israel has much work to do to live up to its Enlightenment heritage. This land belongs only to the Jews? No, this land has Arab memories too. If Freund wants to keep the territories, then the Zionism of Herzl and Ben-Gurion would have to give them citizenship and voting rights. That of course would seal Israel's fate as a Jewish state, Zionism's other legacy. Real Zionists know that Israel cannot hold onto the territories. But if Freund's vision of Zionism should come to pass, Israel would cast not a "light unto the nations," but rather a shadow. The writer is pursuing a master's degree in Middle East studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

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