Israel Studies 6.2 (2001) 107-117
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"Hazono Shel Hazony,"or "Even If You Will It, It Can Still Be a Dream"
David N. Myers
In one of the best book reviews ever published, the philosopher Robert Paul Wolff performed a diabolically clever trompe l'œil on Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind. 1 Rather than present the book as the sober meditations of a learned scholar of the classics, Wolff imagined The Closing of the American Mind as a work of fiction, written by Saul Bellow and featuring a cranky University of Chicago professor named Allan Bloom as its protagonist.
I must confess that, when reading Yoram Hazony's The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel's Soul, 2 I am reminded of the Bloom satire. This is not only because Hazony has a Bloomian (read conspiratorial) fear of the devious designs of liberal academics. Nor is it his considerable powers of reductionism that grind down complex and often disparate chunks of history into a neat pile of dust--all the easier to blow away with glee. It is also because Hazony was educated and intellectually formed in the United States in the midst of debate over The Closing of the American Mind, and hence smack in the middle of the "culture wars" between the academic left and right. The result is that The Jewish State bears the deep imprint of a 1980s-style, American neo-conservative sensibility and sense of mission. When transposed onto the Israeli cultural landscape, this stamp seems inauthentic, like an elaborately designed coat of arms for an arriviste.
As a work of history, which it purports to be in part, The Jewish State is deeply flawed--to the point that the reader often has an easier time imagining it as a work of fiction. In this regard, it is tempting to consider Yoram Hazony as a younger Israeli version of Saul Bellow's Allan Bloom (who has now been given full novelistic honors in the recent Ravelstein 3). The fictional Hazony would make a splendid foil to the protagonist of Philip Roth's Operation Shylock. 4 In that masterpiece of self-referentiality, the main character masquerades in Israel as a famous author named Philip Roth, discrediting the latter by loudly espousing the idea that the Jews [End Page 107] of Israel should be restored to their home countries in the Diaspora. We might imagine that Saul Bellow invented a hero named Yoram Hazony as a fictional rebuttal to Operation Shylock. In contrast to Roth's Diasporist gadfly, the Hazony of The Jewish State is an earnest and ardent Zionist neo-classicist, harking back to the halcyon days of old--in particular, the fin-de-siècle era of Theodor Herzl--in order to wage war against the anti-Zionist nihilists of today.
It would be quite consoling if Hazony were a mere literary creation of Bellow, a sophisticated weapon in a literary joust involving two titans of American Jewish fiction. Alas, this is not so. Yoram Hazony is very much with us, serving as president of an organization known as the Shalem Center, whose inspiration and sustenance are owed largely to the right-wing American Jewish businessman Ronald Lauder. Together with the staff of the Shalem Center, Hazony has written a book that is--according to one of his publishing patrons, Martin Peretz of The New Republic-- 5 "bracing." Bracing perhaps, although I would prefer to describe it as touching in its sentimentality, disturbing in its methodology, and breathtaking in its audacity.
What is touching in Hazony's book is the desire to reclaim the one and true Zionism. What are disturbing and breathtaking are the lengths to which Hazony goes to attempt his reclamation. Had he left well enough alone and simply proclaimed his own affinity for Herzlian Zionism, it might have been possible to ignore him. But Hazony has written a book that is, by title and intent, a grandiose evocation of the canonical text of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl's Der Judentstaat...