Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Origins of Zionists vs. Palestinian

At last week's rally, I had an interesting conversation with the Palestinian intellectual, Prof. Rashid Khalidi. He has a thesis about where Zionism went wrong.

Zionist immigration from Europe to the Land of Israel is understood as distinct waves of arrivals, or aliyot. The first aliya in the early 1880s was precipitated by the reactionary and punitive policies of Russian Tsar Alexander III. According to Khalidi, the Zionists of the first aliya wished to be integrated into the multi-cultural Ottoman Empire, of which Palestine was a part. Our Eastern European forbears were famously multi-lingual.  Living in the multi-ethnic Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires was good training for life within the Ottoman Empire.

Not so, the second  - and much larger - aliya that began in the wake of the pogroms of 1905-6. These young men and women built the institutions that culminated several decades later as the State of Israel. David Green (Ben-Gurion) was just one of the leaders who emerged from the second aliya.

This group sought to impose a separate national, Jewish identity on Palestine. According to Prof. Khalidi, this was the beginning of Jewish domination at the expense of the majority, native population of Palestinians.

The relationship between mono culture, nationalism and language is of interest here. The battle for the supremacy of Modern Hebrew began, in earnest, with the second aliya. Interestingly, while the first aliya, launched an early version of spoken Hebrew (with the iconic myth of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda as the father of Modern Hebrew), their version of Hebrew was superseded by that of the second aliya. Hebrew culture in Europe had continued to develop independently of Palestine. These second aliya Zionists brought with them their own Hebrew, which, due to their numbers, overtook that of the first aliya.

There is a debate among left of center Jews about where Zionism went wrong. Liberal Zionists usually point to 1967 and the Occupation of the West Bank. Progressives, such as Martin Buber and his followers today date the souring of the Zionist project to the 1940 and Ben Gurion's so-called "statist" agenda.

But there were others such Martin Buber's disciple and Zionist executive, Hans Kohn, who saw the writing on the wall in the 1920s. They were concerned that Zionism had no plans for engaging the indigenous Palestinians in a common vision for sharing Palestine. Kohn resigned his post at the Zionist Jewish Agency in Jerusalem and moved to the United States. He said: "my children will be American." Buber disagreed, and when he fled Germany in 1938, he moved to Jerusalem. Even though he campaigned against Ben Gurion in the late 1940s, Martin Buber chose to stay and live out his days in the State of Israel.

I expect Hans Kohn would agree with Rashid Khalidi's judgement of the second aliya.

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