BAP on Israel's Problem
Some on dissident right troll about Israel as ethnostate or unapologetic nationalist state. It’s stock argument on the non-neocon right. It’s very strong. There is yet no answer to this trolling at least from those who would support Israeli nationalism but use extreme and immoderate language—“Nazis,” “nativists”—to refer to the same in other parts of the world. Richard Spencer confounded an Israel apologist with this argument in public, and it was a great embarrassment for the upholders of this double standard. (Spencer, who is not my fan, nor I his, must be given this credit nevertheless, and it must also be said: he was physically attacked soon after this episode, swamped with antifa).
There can’t in principle be an exception for Israel, or any acceptable reason for the idea: “nationalism only in Israel”. But this isn’t whole story and there is value beyond trolling in thinking about Israel’s foundation and Israel’s troubles. One can learn from its problems. It isn’t as healthy and vibrant a nationalism as some think.
To understand the Israel problem is important to look at Israeli history and its founding. The problem is that its founding principles are in theory no longer accepted either inside or outside the country. But they’re rejected for different reasons by Israelis and by liberal Westerners. Israeli nationalists are in the difficult situation of trying to set this right somehow.
Israel was founded in the ideology of Herzl as Ashkenazi supremacist state. Some in Israel still desire this. The idea of Herzl was simple: the Jews seemed to him to be an exceedingly gifted people in many areas, and very creative, but their potential was squelched by having to live in others’ countries where they were oppressed and where furthermore they were degenerating into an unacceptable creature. Herzl and the early Zionists largely agreed with the anti-Semites on the bad way that diaspora Jews had turned out, especially in the Ashkenazi world, at least from a moral and physical point of view. Max Nordau, an early Zionist, was also a promoter of eugenics and was an avowed racialist. Israel as an independent nation would correct these faults: Israel would make vigorous and courageous men out Jews again. Not Woody Allen, but Moshe Dayan and Samson were to be the models of the Israelis in the 20th Century.
More important, Herzl’s new state of Israel would free up Ashkenazi creativity and allow them to shine finally: but is important to remember here what he meant by shine. For Herzl, the shining of the Ashkenazi was to be an entirely European shining. With maybe certain qualities of its own: maybe is possible for example to hear in Mahler this or that Jewish sensibility, but he is a European composer through and through, inconceivable outside European civilization, and for Herzl and those like him, the early founders, Israel was to be a shining exemplar of European culture and European civilization. Israel’s contributions were to be to European science and culture, and Israel itself an extension of European civilization, an outpost of European colonialism. This attitude is especially marked in Nordau and others like him. The brilliance of the Jews is taken to be the brilliance of the Ashkenazi who became what he was because of Europe; the history of the Yemenite or Georgian Mountain Jew or other such is unedifying and shows what Jews would have been without European civilization and European culture. In Herzl’s words from his manifesto on the Jewish State, when he is considering the advantages of Palestine versus Argentina as a refuge:
We should [in Palestine] form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism. We should as a neutral State remain in contact with all Europe, which would have to guarantee our existence. The sanctuaries of Christendom would be safeguarded by assigning to them an extra-territorial status such as is well-known to the law of nations. We should form a guard of honor about these sanctuaries, answering for the fulfilment of this duty with our existence. This guard of honor would be the great symbol of the solution of the Jewish Question after eighteen centuries of Jewish suffering.
Ashkenazi creativity aside, it should be emphasized that for Herzl, as for later Zionists, Israel was to be a solution to the plight of the average Jew, and the Jewish common man, not for the benefit of the Jewish leadership.
To this early strain of Zionism was later added another that introduced however only minor modifications from a public relations point of view: that of the kind of ethnic nationalism that became powerful in central and eastern Europe in the early 1900’s and through the 1930’s. Out of embarrassment this is often called, uncomfortably, socialist nationalism but the distinctions between this and German national socialism are trivial at least in the case of Israel.
The main organ of this was the Hashomer Hatzair youth guard movement, openly modeled on the German Wandervogel youth movement, and indistinguishable from other nationalist European scouting movements of the time. In the intellectual and political work of men like Jabotinsky and Abba Ahimeir, and organizations such as the Irgun and the Palmach, this strain had its full development: and Jabotinsky was proud above all that the Ashkenazis were proving to be the colonial people par excellence, the consummate European colonialists. (In this sense, as a colonial, settler, and conquering enterprise, closely tied with the British Empire, Israeli socialist nationalism is entirely unlike Kurdish or Basque varieties of the same, and can’t be easily aligned with the international left…and in practice it’s never been really aligned with the international left but with the colonial settler right, e.g., South Africa.) The purely theoretical distinction between leftist socialist nationalism and rightist German national socialism was never very clear anyway, and Israel’s specifically colonialist version places it much closer to the German type.
I must repeat a historical peculiarity: both these strains of Zionism, that of Herzl, and that of later Jewish national socialism, had tremendous contempt for the weak Jewish diaspora shtetl being, and leftists to this day resent them for “perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes”. It is alleged even by some on both the left and the right that the Zionists worked together with the Nazis to promote migration to Palestine, which was, by the way, the original intention of the Nazis themselves until Britain closed the sea ways. The point man for this collaboration would have been Adolf Eichmann, a man fluent in Hebrew, whose role in World War II is then said to have been somewhat distorted by the mainstream accepted version of history. That is to say, it seems that Israel targeted him later in Argentina not for his supposed role in the murder of millions of Jews (there were several other more prominent living in South America and elsewhere that Israel could have targeted), but because he had knowledge of this intimate collaboration. This isn’t the place to treat this problem, but there is plenty of evidence for it. Consider, for example, just one very small peculiarity that can never be explained away: Eichmann’s strange situation in Argentine Nazi society, his very low and marginal status in that society at the time Israel apprehended him. He was foreman at a Mercedes factory, living in extreme poverty in a hut outside town without electricity, and openly under his own name fearing no retribution.
In any case, the main two currents of Israeli or Zionist secular nationalism were the two: Herzl and his vision of an Ashkenazi supremacist colonial state where the Jews would be free to contribute at the heights of European civilization and culture; and the second, east or central European Yiddish national socialism, based on the ideology of national socialism in almost every point, and founded on the need for racial survival, for living space, and on a pride of the Jews as among the finest colonialists, to use Jabotinsky’s own words.
Whatever protestations exist abroad, anyone who has known Sabras furthermore knows their extreme pride at having dispossessed the Arabs of their land. This Israel is therefore a part of European world civilization. In its colonial aspect it is an extension of the Anglo colonial project and can be understood in multiple ways, physical, spiritual, intellectual, as an outgrowth of the British Empire. In its national socialist strain, of Jabotinsky and Abba Ahimeir, it is an outgrowth of a later European ethnic or racial nationalism that was both in theory and in practice opposed to English internationalism or globalism, but not, however to the colonial aspect, nor to a European civilization from which it continued to draw spiritual and intellectual legitimacy as well as physical support.
Among Israel’s first champions are those like Richard Meinertzhagen, flamboyant English adventurers and Arabists of the type Nietzsche at one point praises as men who replenish vital spirits within civilization: “exploration is an excuse…” Such men didn’t particularly like Jews from the diaspora and only changed their mind in the Sinai and Palestine. The cooperation between such extremely English adventurers, neo-Richard Burtons, and the early Zionists was important and was recognized by the Israelis themselves, who continue to see them as great men and champions of their cause. In this and other ways, Israel is but a foothold and leftover of the British Empire. This cooperation was stupidly ended by America during the Suez Crisis.
Israel has become a “spiritual anachronism.” It is a nation very much of the 1930’s and has been scrambling to find a justifying principle, or at least some public relations principle, outside of that world that is now gone.
In the Third World, Israel is hated because it is perceived as a Western and white colonialist state, not because it is specifically Jewish. This is the way it has always been perceived and denounced in the third world and in the Arab world. In fact, the Jews had quite good relations with Arabs and Muslims before the foundation of Israel, and in history were frequent collaborators against European civilization as, I hear, at Toledo, at Marseille, and elsewhere. And it is for this collaboration that the Jews of Spain in part were punished (the other reason is more interesting, and has to do with the converso priests’ attempted modulation of the Catholic teachings, a matter I will treat another time). But modern Israel is hated as a white settler supremacist state, whatever the attitudes of the diaspora Jews may be in their own countries.
Here exactly is Israel’s problem. Israel is a European colonial state dependent on a civilization that now at least in rhetoric abhors explicit “settler colonialism.” Worse even: the moral foundation of the “liberal world order,” that is “Western civilization,” after World War Two is rejection of Nazism and in particular it is founded on the international laws implicit in the Nuremberg trials. The definition of evil, the opponent, of the Western world is national socialism; a national socialism that is the dominant intellectual strain in Israel’s foundation. Israel has been given an exception under Nuremberg—indeed it is the only state after 1945 to be given such an exemption.
It’s easy to come up with all kinds of arguments here that this isn’t true: that, for example, Israel has a supreme court that is quite leftist and that often checks the executive. That furthermore, such an institution is anything but Nazi; that Arabs are allowed to serve in parliament, that they enjoy a higher standard of living than in Arab countries, and so on. I would add even worse things: the Western rot of globohomo and sexual license, and many other such things, have hollowed out Israeli society as much as anywhere else. It’s very far away from its period of healthy nationalist scouts in shorts planting orange trees and singing over campfires. It’s very far from a healthy nationalist society, whatever both Israel skeptics like Steve Sailer believe, and Israel defenders like Hazony proclaim. These are all nonsequiturs. Israel’s reason for existence continues to be the reason it was founded: it is a state founded for the sake of racial survival. As such it doesn’t matter that it experiences cultural decay, political instability, or that it has grafted on some other institutions, borrowed from Western liberalism, which it had to borrow primarily for public relations purposes, and which all Israelis recognize as alien and as part of what makes them weaker, not stronger. Its spiritual foundation and reason for existence is national socialist through and through, and it is in the realm of the spirit that the fight I’m discussing here is taking place.
The problem the well-promoted neo-grifter Yoram Hazony faces, which I’ve sketched out so far, exists in Israel itself and has existed at least for twenty or thirty years. The Labor movement that inherited one part of secular Zionism discredited itself during the Second Intifada. Netanyahu’s strain is that of Jabotinsky and Abba Ahimeir. There are also religious parties that want religious policies enacted. Israelis had no more patience with the left or with approaches to Western liberalism after the Second Intifada. Western liberalism was firmly rejected in Israel in the 2000’s as much as it was rejected in Russia in the 1990’s, for different reasons, but ultimately because both saw it couldn’t solve an existential crisis. But the problem in Israel, as elsewhere, was deeper than this, and had to do with a spiritual crisis as well: the public ideology of the state became no longer accepted, or at least, it inspired no further enthusiasm.
The nihilism that came upon Israel during the Second Intifada in particular is hard for Westerners to grasp. I remember meeting left-wing Israeli immigrants at the time who talked like Schmitt and who were relieved that they could talk frankly, finally, to an avowed nihilist nutcase like myself. Others who weren’t on the left told me the settlers on the West Bank felt broken and were hoping for a messiah. In this terrible condition arrived various apologists: Alan Dershowitz was an apologist for Israel, and sought to make the case that only the New Left could provide a moral defense of Israel. The tiresome arguments about Israel as a beacon of human rights are still repeated now, but convince no one. His argument is totally rejected inside Israel itself, however, and Hazony as well as the Netanyahu wing is as supreme there as Orban is in Hungary or as Netanyahu’s friend Putin is in Russia.
What they seem to have settled on eventually was a kind of “religious Zionism.” I don’t pretend to understand it, and from what I can see it’s exceptionally poorly thought out, but public principles have to correspond to feelings, not to intellectual demands, and there’s no feeling like the desire for survival. Israel is hardly a theological state now, nor could it be unless it is ruled by judges of the Talmudic law. But public authorities as well as the people at large seem to have settled on a religious flavor, if not exactly a full or clear religious justification, let alone a pious religious life, for Israel’s existence. A religious state looks like Iran; it doesn’t look like Orban’s Hungary, Putin’s Russia, Salazar’s Portugal, or Netanyahu’s Israel.
It is interesting to think in this connection about the much-vaunted role of “Biblical religion” in promoting strong government. Israel has a relatively easy time justifying itself in a religious way, but not as easy as some think. The unity of the Jewish religion with the Jewish nation has often been remarked upon. But the question of establishing an actual state is a little different: the religious authorities in the modern Jewish nation—I speak now not of modern Israel but of the Jewish nation as it’s existed in known history since around 600 AD or so—are not the Captains of Spinoza’s “ancient Hebrew Republic,” not military leaders or kings, but priests, rabbis. The Karaites, who follow directly the Torah and not the rabbis, used to be many in number but were almost bullied out of existence by the Talmudic Jews. And if earnestly pursued, the establishment of a “religious state” in Israel would empower a council of such rabbis at the expense of actual leaders. It was always the criticism of traditional secular Zionists—the ones, after all, who founded Israel not waiting for religious deliverance—that it was precisely the rabbis, the priests, that had corrupted the Jewish nation to weakness and that made impossible its ability to establish a state. It was the religious organization of the Jewish nation that made it powerless according to the founders of Israel (perhaps it is for this reason that Hazony keeps talking Torah, which is hardly ever directly read in Jewish religious tradition, and never Talmud, which is to his people what the New Testament, or even the catechism, is to traditional Catholics).
The truly religious fanatics in Israel don’t serve in the military and are resented by the rest of the population: insofar as Israel is a “religious state,” it is so only in a symbolic way, where religion is used as a matter of social utility or public relations or as inspiration for identity. That is so only from the point of view of public government: in private, there is a religious Orthodox revival worldwide among Jews, and especially in Israel, and the piety there is genuine. But a religious population, however good it may be for the preservation of public morality and as a buttress to a strong state, doesn’t make the state itself religious, nor its reasons for existing.
Putting cat back in the bag is very hard; cats don’t like! Hazony’s “religious Jewish nation” has been tried before, in the diaspora, and was rejected by secular Zionists for a reason. It is powerless. Similarly, Hazony would like to promote a Protestant “religious nationalism” in the Western nations and in America specifically, a Protestantism that no longer exists. Even if this militant Protestantism of the past still existed—is he counting, still on the evangelicals?—its relationship to the main concerns of nationalists in the West now is unclear. Hasn’t evangelical mobilization already been tried under Karl Rove? Why does Hazony think that pushing Karl Rove’s neocon-evangelical alliance is the path forward and is “nationalist,” when it led to the manifest disasters of the Bush years?
What does religious state have to do, for example, with mass Third World migrations? Finally supposing the solid Protestant nationalism of the past could be revived in the West, its relationship to Talmudic Judaism now and also historically is a complete fantasy—and insofar as an evangelical-Jewish alliance is promoted it relies on the former’s total ignorance of the Jewish religion as it’s existed for centuries. But in any case that “religious nationalism,” such as it was, existed already according to Hazony and, if so, it was insufficient to confront liberalism. It lost that struggle. What concretely is Hazony offering that is different from the failures of the past?
It is not out of perversity that the modern right rejects a religious approach, but because of traditional religion’s demonstrable inability to oppose liberalism and communism or indeed to provide any coherent political organization at all. Again, this is true for Hazony’s nation as well…secular Zionism was adopted out of felt political necessity. And for all the fears about “Islamic radicalism” the example of ISIS among many others shows that when given the chance to lead, it’s politically extremely weak and in fact much weaker than secular Arab nationalism and Baathism. It’s easy to imagine that a “religious state” must be very powerful for people who don’t study history of actual states. A religious state must surely be so certain in itself, so fanatical, that it must be strong? But no. Islamic radicalism has been promoted by factions in Israel because it is indeed so much weaker than secular Arab nationalism when given leadership.
For Hazony and his modern Israel, “religious Zionism” is little more than a pep talk—at most it is not an idea of state or of the meaning of Israel or of nationalism, but an electoral strategy. It means in practice next to nothing but an alliance between the racial socialism of the Jabotinsky wing of Netanyahu and the religious parties in Israel who are needed for a coalition; and this “alliance” amounts to Likud throwing out the occasional bone to the religious demands of the Mizrahi and other Jews, who are genuinely religious in their private and social lives. Without religion the Mizrahi Jews would indeed come apart as a people, but not for reasons usually said.
The right, the true Right which found its roots in Nietzsche’s radical philosophy in the early 20th Century, never really thought to look to the Bible to solve the problem of state and religion, and certainly never thought to look at the dispossessed and stateless rabbinic Jewish nation as a model. In truth, neither did the Zionists, as I keep repeating: they rejected that model of existence entirely. The true right of which I consider myself also part, the Nietzschean new right after 1900, found inspiration rather in Shintoism, and it is for this reason that they had and continue to have so much respect for Japan historically. In the person of the Emperor, Shintoism solved finally and completely the problem of unity of religious and national political life. The Japanese thinking on sonnoron, of reverence for the Emperor that reached its peak in the 19th Century, and all the practices that came from this, are the perfect model of national political life and national identity to a man of the right.
The only thing like it that had existed in our world was the Roman Emperor, but even that only in certain very brief periods; and also somewhat in the theory of sovereignty developed by the Byzantines. Otherwise the entire “Biblical” framework for relationship between religion and political life has often proven very unstable, whether in European history or Jewish history, and it has led to political weakness as much as political strength. It has empowered religious authorities and critics at the expense of secular necessity as often as it’s given religious legitimacy to the ruler and the state. It’s been nearly impossible to predict where the Biblical model of political life will lead, and in our present circumstances it has no relationship whatsoever to a workable model of sovereignty, and certainly not in the Christian world.
The mention of the Roman Empire brings up the enduring source of Western self-understanding. The West has understood itself as Rome or as heir to the Hellenistic project of Alexander’s followers, which Rome also inherited. Western nationalism didn’t abandon Roman models in favor of Biblical or “Davidic” ones, as Hazony or his friends pretend in order to construct a nonsense story about “religious nationalism.” The Western theory of national sovereignty has roots older than Westphalia, and emerges in the high Middle Ages in struggle between Pope and Emperor. It is in “Ghibelline” political thought and in Machiavelli that the idea of a mobilized people on the Roman model is resurrected in full. European princes after about late 1200’s or so and especially in Italy began to understand themselves as Caesars in their own domain: hence the many varieties of Kaisers and Tsars all over Europe.
The Ghibelline theory of state that is root of modern national state closely mirrors the Byzantine theory of state and secular sovereignty, which is ultimately based on Roman law and possibly on Aristotelian ideas through a different channel. The pretensions of some sovereigns, like the French, to “Davidic” this or that was window dressing, like claiming descent in the Trojans and so on. Modern republican nationalism in France and America understood itself with reference to Roman models of state and law, or otherwise to Medieval traditions of liberty, common law, and Germanic tribal law or bonds of fealty. There’s no historical basis for claiming that principles of Western government, national or not, are to be found in the Bible, “Hebrew” or not, as much as its spiritual life may have been. The only religious state in the Thirty Years’ War was the Anabaptist revolt of Munster (they became the Amish after they were crushed and are now peaceful, though still LARPing as Jews much like Hazony and other “white nationalists” admire).
On the personal level, Hazony is a “political theorist” as an academic and like many people of color has likely felt slighted by having to study old white men and “them homo Greeks” as the root of Western political thought. His output, such as I can tell, is directed toward idea of “We Wuz Kangz”: it wasn’t you see Plato, Aristotle or Cicero who discovered principles of Western governance, let alone (shiver) Rousseau, Locke or some German (!) but the “Hebrew Bible.” It was really the Jews, you see, and them philosophers were possibly also secretly Jews. Leo Strauss or at least some of his followers have a similar attitude, though slightly more subtle. In this same way, Hazony has preserved an identity of grievance and a historical mythology of Israel as just a nation minding its own business that imperial “bullies” have always picked on out of perversity and sadism. (Serbs and other Balkanoids have a similar attitude by the way).
Hazony sees the Roman model—to which all Western peoples have looked up to—as his antagonist and enemy. As in Nietzsche, he understands the Jews as the eternal and mortal enemies of Rome, that is, of the West. Abba Ahimeir was an avowed Jewish national socialist and called himself a Fascist. He was the mentor of the Netanyahu family and also I believe the intellectual idol for Hazony: like Hazony, Ahimeir modeled his opposition to British colonialism in Palestine on the ancient Jews’ opposition to Rome. His organization Brit HaBirionim was named after a group of rebels against Roman rule. Hazony has himself openly stated, going far back and on many occasions, that the model he believes in is Roman globalism versus Israeli or Judaean nationalism, that is, Ahimeir’s conception. With this scheme, which he may genuinely believe in, he means to oppose the current incarnation of Western globalism, based on ideas of international law and human rights, through which Israel could eventually be declared an outlaw state for its unabashed colonialism, its pursuit of living space, its avowedly racial foundations, and its plentiful de facto and de jure discrimination of racial and religious minorities. It is this element in the West, its continuing worldwide or imperial ambitions, that is Hazony’s external concern, as much as buttressing a “religious Zionism” idea is his internal concern.
What then to make of all these efforts to modulate Western nationalism at this turning point? I believe that Zionists of Hazony’s bent, those of the Netanyahu faction, don’t really care what politics exist in the West as long as they promote a frame of mind favorable to Israel. In practice, Hazony would promote open white nationalism if he thought he could, or whatever—anarchosyndicalism, constitutional monarchism, distributism, ice cream nationalism, and so on. It doesn’t matter. Maybe they liked my book too, who knows? People who think Hazony is an existential antagonist who wants to negate the ethnic basis of America as such are as wrong as those who think he has any fundamental interest in America’s welfare. He’s fundamentally indifferent. But I do think white nationalism has been covertly promoted by this faction online since 2015. I can’t prove it but for those who have been trolling since that time, it’s been obvious. Israeli nationalism and white nationalism are the same thing. As I have argued many times, white nationalism isn’t your friend, and it’s not even white: it’s a small-time ideology unlike liberalism, which is a form of white supremacism that scares Hazony’s faction. But a broader acceptance of white nationalist principles in the West would be to Israel’s advantage. I don’t know what percentage of white nationalist trolls online have been Israelis or Israeli NGO-based, but it’s been significant since 2015…it’s Israel, not Russia that has been doing this, if anyone has. And that’s OK. Some are very good people.
In principle, Western nationalists should be indifferent maybe to Israel as well. Disengagement from Israel and from the Middle East should be the path forward: if Israel wants to commit suicide, or if it wants to set up a neo-Canaanite empire from the Nile to the Euphrates, let it do as it will. Let that region have its own history. But in practice we face severe opposition from Jewish organizations in the West and Jewish leadership in the West. It hardly matters to me if Israelis are “based nationalists” in their own country (they are not). Their cousins in the West, on who Hazony and Netanyahu could have some influence, are possibly the most effective anti-nationalist faction of any, phenomenally aggressive and very well organized. A confident American nationalism would demand that men like Hazony and his funders first of all solve this problem for America before they try to modulate America’s vision of itself or make demands regarding Israel’s international standing. There is already a war simmering between the Netanyahu faction and the Jewish left and financial diaspora, and this is good…we should encourage it. But where possible, in private, American patriots should lean on Hazony and especially his donors and handlers to call out, in public, and denounce and disavow the anti-nationalist Jewish leadership in America and Europe. And these must be called out as Jews, namely Hazony, his funders, and Netanyahu should openly say that these very destructive organizations and individuals are a shame to the Jewish nation and are disavowed, and call upon average Jews in the West to reject them.
But in the end this whole debate…it’s also a matter of overkill. Hazony’s theory is convoluted overkill to avoid the obvious and although I went on some tangents here that I thought readers might find interesting, you don’t need to know about Biblical or Greek theories of state, nor about medieval history or the history of Israel, to confront the main problems facing Western nations at this moment. These are very clear and simple: mass migration, which is the signature matter; deindustrialization; and engagement in losing wars and interventions. Hazony & co.’s focus on “religious nationalism” is a nonsequitur in theory; and in practice, again, an evangelical-neocon coalition has already been attempted and, with Trump, has been rejected.
Solving these problems doesn’t require a return of “Biblical statehood.” Somehow secular Japan manages not to have these problems. I don’t see how a religious theory or indeed any kind of theory is necessary to simply stop doing idiotic and self-defeating things. You shouldn’t need to convert America to “traditional Tel Aviv Protestantism” or “CIA-edited Catholicism” to say, “We don’t want to admit a million Sudanese to groyp our daughters.” To the extent you need a religious belief, in such matters at least, it’s only to arrive at the opposite: cultists, for example, like David French have a Gnostic religious belief in antiracism and the justice of oligarch-funded Sudanese and Oaxacan rape…normal people don’t need religion one way or another to see that’s bad; you simply need to want to survive, and simply need to feel entitled to secure the means of your survival.