Ariel Center for
Policy Research



NATIV   ■   Volume Fifteen   ■   Number 3 (86)  ■  June 2002   ■  Ariel Center for Policy Research




Van Paassen: The Forgotten Ally

H. David Kirk

All good history is revisionist: it revises, adds to, and clarifies our understanding of the past. However, not all revisionist history is good history. Such bad revisionist history is found in David Irving’s Hitler’s War. Amazingly, there is also bad revisionist history written by Jews in Israel. Israel’s “new historians” like Tom Segev, who also call themselves “Post-Zionists”, have been questioning the justice of Zionist claims to the land, and they generally denigrate Israel’s achievements in war and in peace.

Lately, a new but very different Israeli revisionist writer has made a debut with The Jewish State, The Struggle for Israel’s Soul. Yoram Hazony returns to the ideas that led to the creation of the state and to the troubles that had to be faced and overcome in its creation. There we discover an early “Post-Zionist” philosopher in Martin Buber and even a somewhat revised picture of David Ben-Gurion, the state’s founder.

Hazony’s indictment of post-Zionist ideology has been well received. Reading his book is a bit like taking an advanced course with a spell-binding lecturer with whose subject you are only superficially acquainted. It leaves you breathless, trying to keep up, but also troubled, especially at the end. How to put it all together? Hazony’s dismal analysis of Israel’s troubles ends on this strangely hopeful note:

It seems to me that (writers and thinkers) could even now return to...establishing the idea of the Jewish state on solid foundations, that it might actually become the guardian of the Jews and a strength to them.

The contradiction between the dark theme and the hopeful ending reminded me of Orwell’s essay, “Good Bad Books”, in which he says “ can be...excited or even moved by a book that one’s intellect simply refuses to take seriously...” The truth is, I had been excited about Hazony’s book and taken it seriously, but something seemed wrong. Could I have been reading a good book from which something essential was missing?

Where was David Ben-Gurion’s nemesis Vladimir Jabotinsky and the latter’s struggle for a Jewish army? Where were Hillel Kook (alias Peter Bergson) and Pierre van Paassen, principal activists in America for a Jewish army? It is disconcerting that Hazony left out the story of the remarkable activities of the young Irgunists from Palestine. Did he do so because of Ben-Gurion’s hatred of the Irgun?

Whatever the reason, for this reader that omission made an otherwise admirable book seriously flawed.

That flaw has important implications for today. While Israel lacks strong voices of approval abroad, her enemies make ever greater propaganda strides against her. Hillel Kook’s publicity campaign of the 1940s, undertaken against great odds, could serve as a paradigm for Israel’s hasbara today.

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