Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Supporting the national struggles of small peoples

As this summer's Hezbollah war ended, an article scathing of Israel's elites appeared in Haaretz by Ari Shavit calling for Israel to adopt a new 'intellectual discourse'. In this eloquent and thoughtful piece Hillel Halkin in Commentary says that Israel's new 'intellectual discourse' must affirm its faith in a nation state with a natural affinity for minorities and small struggling peoples everywhere.

"The Jews are among the oldest of the world’s nations. And because nations are thorns in the side of empires, the Jews have been disliked by imperial powers just as much as they have been disliked by other nations among which they have lived. They have always fought for the right to be themselves, whether politically in the Roman Empire, spiritually in the religious empire of the Catholic Church, or socially in the nation-states of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment Europe. And that fight has also been, even if Jews did not historically think of it this way, for every other people’s right to be itself, too.

"The nation-state is the only reliable vehicle in modern times for preserving the heritage of a people. If Israeli intellectuals were to reflect on this, they might dwell less on the solitariness of their fate and more on its commonality with the fate of others.

"There is an irony in the fact that Zionism, initially because of its association with the British Mandate, and then because of close U.S.-Israeli relations, has become regularly associated with Western imperialism when the true imperial forces in the Middle East have always been, instead, Arabism and Islam. These, starting with the Arab conquest of the area in the 7th century, have imposed a uniformity of language, culture, and religion wherever they have spread. In recent decades they have sought to crush the Kurds of Iraq and the Africans of southern Sudan, to repress Berber culture in North Africa, to attack the Copts of Egypt and the Nestorians of Iraq—and to destroy the state of Israel.

"A “new discourse” among Israeli intellectuals might concern itself with Israel’s relationship to such minorities, as to minorities everywhere. It might ponder Israel’s natural affinity with the national struggles of all small peoples, some of whom—the Tibetans, for example—have cultures every bit as unique and rich as that of the Jews. On his visit to Israel earlier this year, the Dalai Lama, with little protest from the public or from Israeli intellectuals, was cold-shouldered by Israel’s government because of pressure from the Chinese, who have regularly sold arms and given support to Israel’s enemies. Yet the Tibetan leader has spoken often about how, in their struggle for cultural and religious survival, the Tibetans have found inspiration in the Jews. There is reason for rue when he has been able to see in a Jewish state what a Jewish state does not see in itself."

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