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 “...one 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.
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.