March 15, 2019


Kahane Won: How the radical rabbi's ideas and disciples took over Israeli politics, and why it's dangerous (Shaul Magid, 3/15/19, Tablet)

Zionism for Kahane was about conquest, power, and the establishment of an abnormal state, one that did not require adherence to geo-political dictates or policies. "The cornerstone of Jewish foreign policy must be the knowledge and faith that the Jewish people have a divine destiny that cannot be denied and that the State of Israel is the culmination of that destiny." While for Kahane "the state" always existed in theory, its present form served as the instantiation in the here and now. This undermines the normalcy of the state as a part of the family of nations. Just as Jews are chosen, the state is chosen. Chosen and thus exceptionalist, it does not, and should not, follow the dictates of the unchosen. "Israel came into being on behalf of Jews, all the world's Jews, and not to worry over 'What will the nations say'?" Its raison d'etre was a literal reading of Tanakh in its most warring suit, divine sanction supporting unapologetic militancy:

The state of Israel is not a western one or an eastern one; it is not a "secular state"; it is not one to be modeled after 'the nations." It is a Jewish state with all the uniqueness that this applies. It is state whose personality, character, behavior, and structure must be the reflection of Jewishness and Judaism.

Of course, the very notion of a Jewish state, and its Jewish character and relation to Judaism, has been a hotly debated issue in Israel since its founding, even before. Kahane's point here, as I read it, is to challenge the very normalcy of the state as an aspiration. For Kahane the secular argument that Israel is necessary as a safe haven for the Jews or the religious idea that it illustrates the "first flowering of redemption" are not operative forces. In addition, the dependence on allies is an error in understanding the very core of Zionism. It is unclear to me whether his isolationist thoughts here are directly drawn from his reading of Musar or whether they exhibit a more common view that the world is anti-Semitic and thus not dependable. In any case, what is being challenged here is the secular notion of normalization, "a nation like all other nations," that permeated Zionist ideology. "Indeed, there are no allies and the United States itself will cut its bonds to Israel as its interests dictate. In the end Zion and Zionism stand alone with the Almighty G-d who created them." Part of the Zionist program was the normalization for the Jewish people through membership in the community of nations. For Kahane this was a ruse. Isolation was not, for him, a failure but the sign of success. "To be isolated is not to be alone. The greater the isolation of the Jew, the greater the awe of G-d's ultimate victory. The more we stand 'alone' and the less who stand with us, the more astonishing is G-d's majesty."

On one reading, this would be an interesting political rendering of a Musar idea of isolation as the optimal way to experience the fullness of God. As elsewhere, Kahane subverts the Zionist program by viewing it as fulfilling that which the Diaspora could not: the isolation and true abnormality of the Jews. Under the guise of a modern nation, Zionism becomes the true response to emancipation; not power with global responsibility, but power whose responsibility is only to the Jew.

Posted by at March 15, 2019 2:53 AM


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