Rabkin delves deep into the Russian Yiddish
roots of Israel and brings together many startling facts that suggest there was a much better option for Palestine and the Jews, one
that was scuttled by secular Jewish fanatics inspired by their
experiences before and after the Russian revolution. What is Modern Israel is packed with fascinating quotes and historical tidbits. Some of Rabkin's insights from his book and a lively podcast interview.
*He decries the use of 'holocaust' in depicting the tragedy of WWII, as it is a religious symbol, and the deaths were hardly a burnt offering to some god. Rabkin uses 'genocide'. He also insists that it is not the "Jewish lobby" and "Jewish state", but the Zionist lobby/state, as most Jews are not Zionists, certainly not approving of Israel's bombings, invasions, and illegal settlements. The lesson of the genocide for Zionists was 'be strong and kill and hound suspected antisemites.' For Rabkin, it is the opposite: a rejection of Zionism and Israel as a Jewish state.
*Israel is a stark example of demodernization, something that is happening around the world in different ways, as a reaction to the weakness of secular multiculturalism. Marshall McLuhan just uses 'tribal' to describe the larger 'global village' return to 'oral' cultures, which as in preliterate society, were tribal "politically engaged, emotionally charged, tightly woven".** But demodernization is effective to juxtapose the wildly modern nature of Israel as a opposed to what I call postmodern states in the current geopolitical order. It still has an independent foreign policy, like the US, and unlike Canada and Europe. Combine this 20th-century Jewish racist form of premodern tribalism with high tech, and you have a recipe for disaster.
*The violence of the Russian revolutionary traditions both before and after the 1917 revolution saw Jews at the forefront of the social upheaval and transformation. Jews suffered the most as a group from discrimination in Tsarist Russia, but at the same time, largely embraced the secularization process, which saw the weakening of religion as the foundation of social life. They partook of the anarchist assassinations of political leaders, including Tsar Alexander II, and Nicolas II. Stalin's deportations of Tatars, Chechens and others during WWII were a template for Jabotkinsky's project to rid Palestine of its natives. Though Stalin turned against Israel in 1948, he looms large in Israeli history.
*Rabkin compares the artificial creation of a new capital for Russia under Peter the Great, St Petersburg, to Israel's creation of a new capital, Tel Aviv, and the construction of a new state, as built on slave labour and without regard to the environment or traditions. Critics of both projects forewarned of the unviability of these ambitious schemes.
Ben Gurion wrote an ode to Lenin, and Begin was an NKVD agent. Israel is a Russian/communist Jewish creation, despite the fact that once Soviet military aid was no longer necessary, Israel dropped its intimate links with the Soviet Union. (Eat crow, Stalin.) All the prime ministers have been Russian. They despise the Mazrahi Arab Jews (let alone the Arab Muslims).
Israel's postwar twins
Rabkin could have gone a step farther to see how other news states being born in 1948 were faring. The partition of the Raj into India Pakistan in 1947 was one of the worst nightmares of the 20th century, thanks to the British. Instead of one (socialist) secular state, Britain relied on a Machiavellian 'divide and conquer' to scuttle any socialism and to keep the two warring states beholden to it. Indefinitely, as it turns out. And the permanent state of war between India and Pakistan led directly to the US meddling that gave rise to al-Qaeda and now ISIS.
Yugoslavia, like Israel in 1948, broke ties with Stalin, both for their national independence and independent building of socialism. Both paths were supported by the US as keystones to its Cold War Great Game strategy, but they quickly diverged. Yugoslavia distanced itself from the US and made peace with the reformist Khrushchev, staying true to its socialist principles. Israel increasingly abandoned the romance of communism, symbolized by the kibbutz, embedding itself in the US-dominated imperial order as the enemy of socialism.
Yugoslavia was genuinely socialist, which meant a nonracist society, where the formerly hostile Slavs, Croats, et al, lived in peace, integrating as a society in economic and social terms, while maintaining their ethnic identities. When the socialist bloc collapsed, Yugoslavia descended into civil war. Israel's ethnic time bomb still ticks, but can't avoid a collapsed at some point, its blatant racist identity ensuring it will never be fully accepted by the rest of the world.
*Soviet Jews who came en masse after 1990 easily assimilated in Israel because of their acceptance of the state of Israel as largely secular, and much like other western states. They were used to a state with a heavy hand and not much opposed to treating the 'brown' natives as second class. They were white and brought their secular racism with them. I argue that the Soviet Jews were a mixed blessing to Israel, bringing many who were not even Jews and in any case far more interested in going to the US/Canada, opting for an Israeli passport merely as a way out.
In fairness to the Soviet Union, 'browns' were treated equally with 'whites', the latter including Jews. In fact, this was resented by those lurking 'white' Russian racists, who saw/see themselves as superior. The weak racism of Soviet life was not anti-Jewish (until Israel fomented unrest and pressured the West to push the Soviet Union to allow its Jews to emigrate). On the contrary, the subtle racism of Jews as the 'chosen people', a tribe unto itself, is in line with traditional white racism, and accounts today for the extreme racism that Muslims encounter in Israel today, as well as Israel's flirtation with the European neo-fascists.