Reprinted from Gush Shalom
Someone remembered that in a remote part of Africa there was a small community of Jews, who owned all the diamond mines and were immensely rich. The government chose their most effective money-raiser and sent him there.
The man realized that the fate of the state was resting on his shoulders. He assembled the local Jews and gave them The Speech. About the pioneers who left everything behind to go to Palestine and make the desert bloom, about their back-breaking labor, about their lofty socialist ideals.
When he was finished, there was not a dry eye in the room. Returning to his hotel, he knew that he had given the speech of his life.
And indeed, the next morning a delegation of the local Jews knocked on his door. "Your words made us feel that we are leading an unworthy life," they said. "A life of luxury and exploitation. So we decided unanimously to present the mines as a gift to our workers, leave everything and return with you to Israel to become pioneers!"
DAVID BEN-GURION was a real Zionist. He believed that a Zionist was a Jew who went to live in Eretz Israel. Even a president of the World Zionist Organization was not a Zionist, if he lived in New York. He was adamant in his convictions.
When he traveled to the United States for the first time as Prime Minister of Israel, he was asked by his advisors what his message would be. "I shall tell them to leave everything and come to Israel!" he retorted.
The advisors were shocked to the core. "But Israel needs their money!" they exclaimed. "We can't exist without it!"
A battle of consciences ensued. At long last Ben-Gurion was overcome. He went to America, told the Jews that they could be good Zionists if they donated generously to Israel and gave it their political support.
After that episode, Ben-Gurion was never the same again. His basic convictions had been destroyed.
The same happened to Zionism. It became a cynical slogan, to be used by anyone to push his or her agenda. Mainly it became an instrument of the Israeli leadership to subjugate world Jewry and mobilize it for their national, partisan or personal aims.
To come back to the story: there could be no greater catastrophe than for world Jewry to pack up and come to Israel. The immense power of organized US Jewry, the vast majority of which gets its orders from Jerusalem, is essential to the existence of the state.
I WAS thinking about all this when I read, over the weekend, a thought-provoking essay by the popular leftist Israeli writer, A. B. Yehoshua, who is almost alone among top Israeli writers in not being an Ashkenazi. His father belonged to an old Sephardic family in Jerusalem, his mother is Moroccan. This makes him, in today's slang, a Mizrahi ("Easterner").
In his essay Yehoshua makes a distinction between nationalism and Zionism. According to him, these two are not melded into one, as people in Israel are led to believe, but two different entities "welded" together and in constant conflict with each other. "Zionism" plays a dubious role in this duality.
In today's Israel, this is a daring theory, bordering on heresy. In ancient Rome, people were burned for less. Like saying that God and Jehovah are two different deities. But to my mind this is a construction of obsolete terms. By now, we can dare to think much further. Is Israeli nationalism really even welded to non-Israeli Zionism?
I MUST remind the reader again that to begin with, the great idea of Theodor Herzl had nothing to do with Zion, in the literal sense (a hill in Jerusalem).