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Should Jews leave Israel?

By David Fisher - posted Monday, 19 January 2009

The US, Israel and Australia were all strong enough to chase the people living there from their land. The Australian Aborigines and the American Indians pose no threat to the continued existence of those countries. However, Israel may not be strong enough to survive a war of continued attrition. With the Palestinians and their Arab allies against them eventually they'll probably lose. The numbers are against them. If they survive as a nation it will be at the price of becoming a garrison state like Sparta. Such a state can maintain humanitarian values with great difficulty.

Our Jewish past is largely a tragedy, and the state of Israel is a continuation of that tragedy.

The Dreyfus' trial of 1894 aroused in Herzl the realisation that there was no place in much of the world for a Jew to have the rights that all humans should have. Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the only Jewish person in the French Army General Staff, had been charged with spying for Germany. Jews were second class citizens even in civilised France which had promoted the “Rights of Man”.


At the time of Dreyfus a Jewish state made good sense. There were analogs to Dreyfus in the US and Russia. Leo Max Frank was falsely convicted of the rape and murder of a young girl. New evidence cast doubt on his guilt, but he was lynched. Mendel Beilis was put on trial for ritual murder in Russia and was eventually freed.

The continuing persecution of Jews culminated in the Holocaust, an expression of the hatred promoted by Christianity mainly in its Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox versions. Herzl wanted to create a state where Jews could live a life free of prejudice and be able to pursue any occupation they could qualify for.

The state Herzl envisaged differed from the existing Israel in being more like Switzerland. There would be no national language, but Jews would gather in enclaves where they would keep the culture of language of the lands they had come from. Early Zionism was primarily a secular movement. Most religious Jews opposed Zionism. Their position was that if God wanted the Jews to return he would see to it so human action was unnecessary. Now Hebrew has been revived as a living rather than solely a liturgical language, and many religious Jews are ardent Zionists.

A remnant of Jewish survivors joined those already in Israel to form a new state. The new state of Israel bravely fought off its enemies. Citizens of the new state produced marvels in science and literature. Israelis have won eight Nobel prizes. Jews can walk in pride.

Myths have been restored from the dustbin: one of the myths is that of Masada. The siege of Masada had largely been forgotten in Jewish thinking, so it was recreated from largely non-Jewish sources. Bernard Lewis told the story of the recreation of the myth in History - Remembered, Recovered, Invented.

The zealots at Masada fought bravely but finally committed mass suicide in preference to being overwhelmed by the Romans and having their survivors put into slavery. The story of the siege of Masada disappeared from Jewish consciousness and has been resurrected from non-Jewish sources to become part of the ideology of the state of Israel. That is unfortunate as Masada contributed nothing to Jewish survival. The loss of Jerusalem, the Temple and the Jewish state did not mean an end to the Jewish people. It was Yochanan ben Zakkai who held the key to Jewish survival.


Many Jews today equate the state of Israel with the Jewish people. Yochanan ben Zakkai knew better. He knew Jewishness was in ethos, learning, tradition and religion and not in territory. Yochanan ben Zakkai was a Pharisee, one of a group of Jews who have been maligned in the New Testament. The Sadducees whose existence was bound up with Temple worship disappeared as a separate entity with the fall of the Temple. The high priesthood came to an end, and the rulers of the house of Herod ceased to be spokesmen for the Jewish people.

Yochanan ben Zakkai did not believe the Jewish people could live by the sword and established a basis on which they could survive. The nations who opposed the Jews at that time have disappeared long ago, and Jews are still around so his insight appears valid. He opposed the war with Rome and, according to tradition, had himself smuggled out of the besieged Jerusalem in a coffin. The Romans conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and ending the existence of the Jewish state.

Yochanan ben Zakkai got permission from the Emperor Titus to establish a school for the study and exposition of traditional lore. This was established at Jabneh (Jamnia). Eminent scholars gathered round him. The sanhedrin was reconstituted with members chosen for erudition rather than influence or wealth. With the fall of the Temple the synagogue became the centre of Jewish life.

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About the Author

David Fisher is an old man fascinated by the ecological implications of language, sex and mathematics.

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