Rubinstein: From Herzl to Rabin

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VOL. 31

2001/02

No. 3
P. 110
Recent Books
Rubinstein: From Herzl to Rabin
FULL TEXT

    This book begins with a short introduction by Ehud Barak, a fact proudly announced as a major contribution on the front cover. It is prefaced by Arthur Hertzberg's longer tribute to the author and his work. This trio--Barak, Rubinstein, and Herztberg--indeed deserve one another. Each has propagated--one as prime minister, the second as a columnist in Israel, and the third as an essayist in the United States--the same ideology since the 1967 war, and this book is another of many attempts to encapsulate the essence of that ideology in a readable and concise manner. Similar attempts have been made by several Israeli intellectuals, in prose and fiction, as well as by pro-Zionist American Jews with prominent positions in the media and academia.
    Rubinstein's title connects two Zionist historical figures whom he, Barak, and Hertzberg admire: Theodore Herzl and Yitzhak Rabin. In between the political careers of these two men lies almost a whole century of Zionism, and Rubinstein is intrigued, rightly so, by such questions as What has changed since 1905 when Herzl died? What was achieved in Palestine? What in general was gained and what was lost in the course of Zionist history? But this is not a critique of Zionism; it is written with admiration, although with a sense that perhaps something has gone wrong over the years.
    Rubinstein identifies fully with Herzl's dream of creating a Jewish-European republic in the Middle East, on Palestine's soil. That this project meant--and still means--the uprooting of the indigenous population, the employment of colonialist policies and practices, and a constant alienation from the region as a whole never bothered Herzl, who visited Palestine only once and did not stay for long, nor does it trouble Rubinstein. After all, his second hero, Rabin, was not killed by local resistance or by a neighboring Arab but by a Jew. The Palestinians thus are no longer a problem or a challenge; rather, Zionism's success or failure depends wholly on its internal fabric and constitution. What Rubinstein does see as having changed through the years is this: Mainstream Zionism, a paragon of enlightenment, democracy and modernity, allowed extreme and fanatic margins to develop. The danger comes from the right wing of Zionism, where Jewish fundamentalism increased its power after the 1967 war and consequently now prevents Zionism from fulfilling successfully its mission of bringing enlightenment to the Jewish people and to the region as a whole. These Jewish fundamentalists are real sinners in Rubinstein's eyes for a particular reason: They, meaning mainly the illegal settlers of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, dare to claim that they are the successors of the early Zionist settlers. Many pages of this book are devoted to convincing readers that the New Zionist Right, as Rubinstein calls the settlers, is not just an aberration of Zionism but is totally alien to it.
    No less disturbing for Rubinstein, and hence also covered at length in this book, are the post-Zionists. In his view they are mainly Jewish intellectuals, representing a long genealogy of self-hating Jews, who willfully smear Israel's image abroad and collaborate with its enemies. Fortunately for Rubinstein, at least post-Zionists do not claim to be the successors of the early colonizers of Palestine, whom he admires so much. Part of his attack on post-Zionism appeared in his weekly column in Ha'Aretz. Rubinstein not only equates the Fascist Jews of the Right with the humanistic non-Zionists of the Left, but he also attributes similar powers of change to the two movements. Nonetheless, he is confident that mainstream Zionism, which he represents, will prevail. For him, Zionism is an ideology that envisions Israel as part of Europe, rid of most of the Palestinians it had occupied or incorporated in the past by confining them to a Bantustan ruled by Israel and surrounded by a huge, guarded wall. He is oblivious to the Arab traditions of the Jews who came from Arab countries but is loyal to capitalist models and ready to reach pacts with the neighboring Arab states.
    This vision was turned into a political platform by Barak and by his hero, Rabin. The Palestinian leadership was expected to help make this dream come true by signing at Camp David in 2000 a declaration ending the conflict with Israel. Although this book was written before the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada, Rubinstein continues to write for Ha'Aretz and expresses there--like many others on the Israeli Left--his disappointment with Yasir Arafat, who refused to succumb to Israeli dictates at Camp David. In his new articles, Rubinstein has added the Palestinian leadership to the list of party spoilers who, like the right wingers and the post-Zionists, prevent the materialization of Herzl's admirable plan of building a European and democratic Jewish republic in Palestine. But Rubinstein is not an extremist on the Right; the fulfillment of his dream does not require the destruction of the whole of Palestine because Israel needs to Judaize only 80 percent of the land to remain both a Zionist and a democratic state for ever.


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Ilan Pappé is a senior lecturer with the political science department, Haifa University.