Monday, September 29, 2008
Alliance of the zealots
Assaf Wohl condemns attack on leftist professor, but thinks he too is part of Israel’s fanatical camp
Hello Professor Sternhell,
I was greatly saddened to hear about the attempt to physically harm you. I will start by saying that my words here are not meant to encourage an attack on you or, heaven forbid, justify what already happened. Such incident is intolerable and just like any other sane person I hope that law enforcement authorities will properly deal with the attackers. Yet from here on, I view myself as being exempt from the obligation to condemn what had happened throughout my piece; instead, I will address the issues in a to-the-point matter. Well, Professor Sternhell, it appears that we disagree in respect to identifying the danger threatening the State of Israel. Your statements show that you view the settlements as the root of all evil in our country. I, on the other hand, believe that the eternal danger to our state and people comes in the form of well-known zealots. They are the ones who since early on in Jewish history made sure to ruin, time and again, any attempt to build a national autonomy; and you, Professor Sternhell, display obvious signs of belonging to this zealot genre.
Zealotry is not the exclusive territory of the religiously devout. Anyone who ever visited a university knows that, as opposed to the yeshiva world for example, the proper academic approach will always aim to address the words being uttered, rather than focus on the person who uttered them. Therefore, it doesn’t matter at all whether a person who called on tanks to roll onto the settlement of Ofra is an anarchist or an Israel Prize-winning professor whose words are backed by impressive bibliographies and footnotes.
Not only did you fail to apologize for your grave words, you actually pride yourself on your intention to continue uttering them. And for what purpose exactly? Beyond the benefit of media attention, what does your approach contribute? What exactly were you thinking when you said: “…There is no doubt in respect to the legitimacy of armed resistance in the territories themselves. Had the Palestinians possessed a little wisdom, they would focus their struggle on the settlements…” (Haaretz, May 15, 2001.) How can these words of yours be interpreted in any other way except a call on Palestinian murderers (“armed resistance in the territories,” as you referred to it) to harm your political rivals across the Green Line?
Or how about your message regarding the need to dispatch tanks to a community that is home to men, women, and children? “Only those willing to move on Ofra with tanks would be able to curb the fascistic current that threatens to drown Israeli democracy.” (Davar, April 5, 1988.) Isn’t this zealotry?
A practical solution
When I hear your words, I suspect that foreign considerations push you to the leftist-zealot end of the spectrum. I get the impression that your words seek to imitate a very specific figure. More accurately, I’m talking about a grumbling old man, who enjoyed arguments and disputes, and wore a black kippah. Let’s call this 91-year-old child by his name: I suspect that you want to be a little Yeshayahu Leibowitz. You want to be famous, admired, and controversial like him. If this is so, forget about it, and not only because his shoes are too big to fill (for all of us.) In order to be a Leibowitz, there is a need for loftier idealism than what you have displayed so far - and you will also have to give up your Israel Prize.
Indeed, I do not liken you to Leibowitz, but rather, to Yohanan from Gush Halav and to Shimon Bar Giora, who prompted the destruction of the Second Temple. He who wants tanks to move on a civilian community, or advises murderers to focus on a specific population comprising his rivals, and whose claim to fame is making his brethren “see red” – is in my view a zealot who undermines the basis of our existence as a society.
It is difficult for me to bear zealotry from both sides, and when it comes to this issue I’m quite zealous. Therefore, please allow me to propose a practical solution, for you and for the entire nation of Israel, which would make our situation better. But please, take a deep breath before reading on and count to 10, at least. Indeed, without being granted his or your permission, I propose that you and rightist Professor Hillel Weiss cooperate. I remind you to count to 10.
Well, both of you will co-write an article under the headline: “The dangers of zealotry in modern times and the ways to address them.” As both of you are very busy people who are preoccupied with burning issues day and night, we shall set the target date for this article as the holiday edition of newspaper for Yom Kippur next year. I am even willing to take upon myself the despicable and depressing duty of putting the bibliography in order. That way, perhaps we shall take the first step in the long journey to rehabilitate Israeli democracy.
So what do you say, Professor Sternhell? Are we going to go for it?