The Echoes of Zionist Legends
What might Zionism's pioneers say about October 7th and its aftermath?
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The State of Israel is now 75 years old, yet there was a time when only a handful of Jews (so to speak) passionately believed in Zionism, let alone those who were gifted enough to bring its vision to life.
I’ve been thinking about what Zionist legends would say regarding October 7th and its aftermath, both in Israel and across the Jewish world, so I looked up some of their famous quotes, and here’s what I found:
Shmuel Yosef Agnon, an Austro-Hungarian writer, would tell us: “Tears won’t saturate the dead and weeping will not raise him from his grave, if he has one. We should do for the living what we are unable to do for the dead.”
Menachem Begin, Israel’s sixth prime minister, might add: “Israel is still the only country in the world against which there is a written document to the effect that it must disappear.”
Moshe Sharett, the country’s first foreign minister and second prime minister, would say: “The state of Israel must, from time to time, prove clearly that it is strong, and able and willing to use force, in a devastating and highly effective way. If it does not prove this, it will be swallowed up, and perhaps wiped off the face of the earth.”
Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s fifth prime minister, would make clear that “Israel has an important principle: It is only Israel that is responsible for our security.”
Golda Meir, Israel’s first and only female head of government, would emphasize that “we’re not the only people in the world who’ve had difficulties with neighbors; that has happened to many. We are the only country in the world whose neighbors do not say, ‘We are going to war because we want a certain piece of land from Israel,’ or waterways or anything of that kind. We’re the only people in the world where our neighbors openly announce they just won’t have us here. And they will not give up fighting and they will not give up war as long as we remain alive. Here.”
“Never mind,” Joseph Trumpeldor, cofounder of the Jewish Legion, would say. “It is good to die for our country.”
Abba Eban, the country’s first Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations, would advise us that “to succeed at the negotiating table, it is sometimes necessary to be obdurate and tenacious. But this is bad for the image. To succeed in image-making, it is better to be always flexible. It is important to be popular, but even more important to be alive. If you are alive, you can work hard to reconstruct your popularity, whereas if you are dead, you will be conspicuously popular during the funeral oration. But the consolation will be transient and brief.”
Yitzhak Shamir, the seventh prime minister of Israel, would tell Eban that “Israel has had a very bad history with the United Nations, and whoever cares for himself in Israel distances himself from that organization.”
Max Nordau, cofounder of the Zionist Organization, would scold these so-called humanitarian organizations by saying: “How dare the smooth talkers, the clever official blabbers, open their mouths. Here they hold jubilant peace conferences in which they talk against war. But the same righteous governments, who are so nobly, industriously active to establish the eternal peace, prepared, by their own confession, complete annihilation for six million people, and there was nobody, except the doomed themselves, to raise his voice in protest — although this is a worse crime than any war.”
Leon Pinsker, a Zionist activist, would agree with Nordau by adding: “The world has yet long to wait for eternal peace. Meanwhile, nations live side-by-side in a state of relative peace, secured by treaties and international law, but based chiefly on the fundamental equality between them.”
“But it is different with the people of Israel,” Pinsker would add. “There is no such equality in the nations’ dealings with the Jews. The basis is absent upon which treaties and international law may be applied: mutual respect. Only when this basis is established, when the equality of Jews with other nations becomes a fact, can the Jewish problem be considered solved.”
Ze’ev Jabotinsky, a Revisionist Zionist leader and cofounder of the Jewish Legion, would say: “Our peace-mongers are trying to persuade us that the Arabs are either fools, whom we can deceive by masking our real aims, or that they are corrupt and can be bribed to abandon to us their claim to priority in Palestine, in return for cultural and economic advantages. I repudiate this conception of the Palestinian Arabs.”
“Culturally they are 500 years behind us,” Jabotinsky would add. “They have neither our endurance nor our determination; but they are just as good psychologists as we are, and their minds have been sharpened like ours by centuries of fine-spun logomachy. We may tell them whatever we like about the innocence of our aims, watering them down and sweetening them with honeyed words to make them palatable, but they know what we want, as well as we know what they do not want.”
Ahad Ha’am, the founder of cultural Zionism, would disagree with Jabotinsky, saying: “We are used to thinking of the Arabs as primitive men of the desert, as a donkey-like nation that neither sees nor understands what is going around it. But this is a great error. The Arab, like all sons of Sham, has a sharp and crafty mind. They will not easily step aside.”
Hence, Theodor Herzl, the father of political Zionism, would say: “The Jewish question still exists. It would be foolish to deny it. It is a remnant of the Middle Ages, which civilized nations do not even yet seem able to shake off, try as they will. Where it does not exist, it is carried by Jews in the course of their migrations. We naturally move to those places where we are not persecuted, and there our presence produces persecution. This is the case in every country, and will remain so, even in those highly civilized.”
David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, would add: “Anyone who does not see what Jewry is facing is blind and is neither a Jew nor a human being. Our future depends not on what others will say, but on what the Jews will do.”
Rabbi Yitzchak Yaacov Reines would agree, saying: “Each and every Jew should consult his heart and recall all that has passed and occurred to our fathers in this land, and how they sacrificed their lives and their blood was spilled like water upon it.”
Yona Bogale, the director of the Beta Israel education network in Ethiopia, would add: “We have suffered for our Jewish faith for thousands of years. These sufferings have been terrible and many.”
Yigal Alon, both Israel’s deputy prime minister and a general in its military, would remind us: “When a people does not honor its past, it lives in a present of little substance and faces a future clouded in doubt.”
Speaking of history, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, one of the founders of religious Zionism, would explain that “the Second Temple was destroyed because of causeless hatred. Perhaps the Third will be rebuilt because of causeless love.”
Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, known for reviving the Hebrew language, would implore that “if we wish that the name Israel be not extinguished, then we are in duty bound
to create something which may serve as a center for our entire people, like the
heart in an organism, from which the blood will stream into all the arteries of
the national body and fill it with life.”
Chaim Weizzmann, the first president of Israel, would remind us that “Jews insist on Israel” despite all the undeveloped countries we could settle in more conveniently, because “that is like my asking you why you drove 20 miles to visit your mother last Sunday when there are so many old ladies living on your street.”
Henrietta Szold, the founder of Hadassah (the Women’s Zionist Organization of America), would caution: “We must not only protect the country from foreign exploitation, but we must protect ourselves against our own worst enemy: the tendency to complacency.”
“Self-complacency is the companion of ignorance,” Solomon Schechter, President of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, would add.
Jacqueline Kahanoff, an Egyptian-born Israeli writer, would wonder: “Perhaps in our own time, we would witness the undoing of Europe’s dominion, the fall of all its barracks, and even perhaps, a return to the Promised Land. What would we do in that world which would be ours?”
“Look, we have existed for 4,000 years — 2,000 years in the Diaspora, in exile,” Shimon Peres, the eighth prime minister and ninth president of Israel, would say. “Nobody in the Middle East speaks their original language but Israel. When we started 75 years ago, we were 650,000 people. So, you know, we are maybe swimming a little bit against the stream, but we continue to swim.”
Moshe Dayan, the Israeli Defense Minister during the 1967 Six-Day War, would tell us that everything is going to be okay, because we’re not alone. “Our American friends offer us money, arms, and advice,” Dayan would say. “We take the money, we take the arms, and we decline the advice.”