Israel’s struggle to define itself

Joseph Dana writes: As the Second World War reached its height in the early 1940s, the largest Zionist paramilitary group in Palestine, known simply as the Irgun (the Organisation), sent a young emissary to the United States. His assignment was to raise money to save the Jews of Europe but the task quickly transformed into raising funds and diplomatic cover for the Irgun’s campaign of terror against the British in Palestine.

While in Washington, Hillel Kook, the Irgun’s emissary and the nephew of the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, Avraham Kook, changed his name to Peter Bergson. By most accounts, Bergson was successful at his task but during the operation in the United States his ideology transformed from traditional proto-Likud thinking into something more akin to the debate about a one-state solution in contemporary Israel/Palestine.

Peter Bergson was one of the first to argue for a “Hebrew” republic that would grant full rights to Jew and non-Jew alike. His essential argument was that the people of the land of Israel had an equal stake in the reformation of an ancient Hebrew republic while those outside could elect to join but should not apply external influence.

In the short term, both Palestinian and Jew had a shared interest in fighting together against the British mandate and, for Bergson, this partnership could materialise into something deeper after the goal of independence was achieved. He wanted a democratic Israel, which didn’t use Jewish ethnicity as a pretext for rights and was thus a state of all of its citizens. As history would have it, Bergson’s concept of a Hebrew republic never materialised.

While in Washington, Bergson distributed a number of pamphlets outlining his radical new approach to the conflict in the Middle East including a slim volume titled Manifesto of the Hebrew Nation which announced, in no uncertain terms, that “the Jews in the United States do not belong to the Hebrew nation. These Jews are Americans of Hebrew descent”. [Continue reading…]

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