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Re: "Memoir As Utopia," by Nachman Ben-Yehuda (December 2011).

In support of my claim in The Moral Lives of Israelis: Reinventing the Dream State that the Zionist movement was "messianic," which Nachman Ben-Yehuda emphatically denies, I could quote a dozen sources, beginning perhaps with the philosopher Leo Strauss and Baruch Ben Yehuda, who penned the History of Zionism: The Movement for Renaissance and Redemption in Israel, and ending with a recent book by the Israeli sociologist Oz Almog, who wrote in The Sabra: The Creation of the New Jew that "most Zionist spiritual and political leaders ... sincerely believed that the Zionist enterprise was a kind of 'building of the Third Temple." Indeed, when ultraorthodox Jews in Israel demanded that Israel's first prime minister explain why, if Zionism was the incarnation of the Messiah, did they not begin construction on the holy temple, Ben-Gurion did not wave off the moniker but replied--look about you, this entire state is the Third Temple.

The argument is important if only as a way of underscoring the need for a fully humanized concept of agency that can be embodied and, if it is, could--albeit with great difficulty--empower Israelis to redirect Israel from the theocracy to which R seems headed (and with which Ben-Yehuda has apparently made his peace) to a secular cosmopolitan state in which secular Jews, Muslims and Christians and self-consistent orthodox Jews could coexist as easily as they do in Canada. Jews in the middle--a thousand varieties of orthodox and secular lite--would indeed need to be brought around. But the fact that Ben-Yehuda believes this project is well-nigh impossible and that my wish to return to Herzl's vision state is a fantasy means that he, like the old shied Jew, has lost not only the faith that the pioneers had in spades but large swaths of his imagination.

Nachman Ben-Yehuda Is not of course entirely to blame, in large measure his is the legacy of living in Israel, experiencing the interminable frustration of an immature democracy and a parliamentary system that allows parties who are there not to reason but to demand and Invoke God as the last word on issues that are entirely unrelated to divinity. But then again, the good professor would probably discover more energy to deal with the complexity of Israel by simply wasting less time bashing fellow Israelis whose evil ways he does not really believe are so evil. I have given a great deal of my life to Israel, have lost many friends in its wars and I am sorry that Nachman Ben Yehuda feels he needs to defend the country and its complexity from the likes of me.



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Title Annotation:Letters and Responses
Author:Berlin, David
Publication:Literary Review of Canada
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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