restricted access The New Historians and the Failure of Rescue Operations During the Holocaust
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Israel Studies 8.3 (2003) 25-64

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The New Historians and the Failure of Rescue Operations During the Holocaust *

Tuvia Friling

Background: Post-Zionist Discourse in Israeli Historiography

The debate between "new" and "establishment" historians and between "critical" and "conventional" sociologists is now in its third decade. It is a fascinating and fertile polemic which is primarily the expression of maturation in a splintered national identity. 1 The polemic has historical and ideological roots that have accompanied Zionism since its inception, and includes critiques of Judaism which evolved into a modern political and social criticism. 2 New historical and sociological methodologies also contributed to the core of the debate and the inner logic of the reconstruction of the past and its contemporary interpretation. This critique often focuses on Zionism's principles, aspirations, accomplishments, and disappointments.3

Some Post-Zionist critics view the Jewish national movement as an illegitimate and anachronistic historical phenomenon erroneously conceived; others attack Zionism's utopian dreams; still others criticize the hard-won achievement of these utopian aspirations. But even Zionism's most implacable critics acknowledge it as the only Jewish ideological movement in the last two centuries that actually succeeded in realizing most of its goals. 4

Post-Zionism may be summarized as the negation of Jewish nationalism in its present manifestation. Instead of Zionism, Post-Zionists advocate an "ordinary, normal country" where Israeli nationalism is limited to minimal borders, and its Jewish social and moral uniqueness—even in its secular manifestations—is abandoned. Post-Zionism proposes a society detached from its cultural traditions, messianic longings, and prophetic visions. It argues for a deepening of Israel's "normalization" through the [End Page 25] nations and its spiritual integration based on equality with foreign cultures. Post-Zionists look forward to the day when Israeli society will be based entirely on universal morality, strict rationalism, and the individual's total independence of the national collective. At this point, they claim, Israel will be liberated from particularism, tribalism, ethnocentricity, irrationalism, and collective myths. No longer will the country be plagued by the hagiography of legendary sages, holy stones, hallowed sites, and basic national symbols reflected in a constructed cultural heritage, historical consciousness, and the myths of the founding fathers.

Post-Zionism in these manifestations rejects any claim to hidden threads that link historic Jewry to today's still crystallizing nation-state and to the Jewish nation in Israel with its Diaspora brethren. Post-Zionism severs the nation's cultural ties from its sources and detaches the Hebrew language from its ancient roots and historical developments. 5

Post-Zionism offers Israeli society an alternative political agenda, one that reforms historical Zionism by transforming Israel into a liberal, rational, enlightened country along the lines of revolutionary France but without the totalitarian, dictatorial manifestations of its new "republics" of Robespierre or Napoleon. The Post-Zionists seem to advocate a multi-national, multi-cultural society like that which emerged—or was intended to emerge—in the United States, but without the sacredness of the constitution, flag, 'Mayflower,' 'Promised Land,' and the indigenous peoples who were relegated to reservations. The Post-Zionists imagine a universal, democratic society divorced from the unique historical circumstances that define all societies and cultures. They also imagine a multi-cultural society where no ethnic group or national tradition is privileged. Israel would be "a state of all its citizens" where state-propagated, superficial, and exhausted Jewish nationalism would disappear in the vastness of the Arab expanse. 6

The new Post-Zionist state would annul the Law of Return, the Law of the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish National Fund, and other legislation designed to guarantee Jewish hegemony in the only Jewish state in the world. It would become a state where specifically Jewish national symbols, such as the Star of David on its flag, the menorah (traditional candelabra), Hatikva, the national anthem, would be removed from their ancient "promise."

A long list of Zionist concepts and terms: exile, Diaspora, historical rights, the Zionist link to Eretz Israel, immigration (aliya), land redemption, Jewish state, the War of Independence...