Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Is it Important that American Jews Identify with Israel?

On the margins of the discussion described in the previous post, Pinchas Rosenne told of a recent public lecture given by Hillel Kook. Kook, also known by his alias Peter Bergson, was a very colorful figure who emigrated to Israel three times and left twice, joined the Irgun but quarrelled with Menachem Begin, worked with Ben Hecht but quarrelled with the leaders or American Jewry during World War II, was elected to the first Knesset but left politics in disgust, and generally didn't fit in. He also came from an illustrious rabbinic family. In 1957, he was once again living in the US, visiting Israel, and generally being critical. Yet his particular criticism, assuming Rosenne was quoting him accurately, has a timeless ring to it [p.12]:
He had expected us to create a normal country here. Instead we're doing all sorts of things that are inexplicable to America's Jews. First, we've set up a theocracy so the Americans hate us. He personally had been in favor of setting up a "Vatican-Sanhedrin" but only on a limited area. Instead the whole country has become a theocracy. Second, we're not assisting the refugees, nor do we care about them. The world can't accept that. This country has become totalitarian and fascist... We must be a normal country, and comprehensible to the world. Just as the individual Jew wasn't comprehensible to his environment and therefore was hated, so the Jewish State is also not comprehensible to the world.
To which Minister of the Interior Israel Bar Yehuda responded sharply:
If we must choose being understood or being the owners of our home, I prefer us to be the owners of our home. Of course, if we can have both that would be best.
1957, yes?

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