Sixty-four years after the establishment of the State of Israel its intellectuals are still debating the central issues of Zionism and peoplehood. Sixty-four years after the establishment of the third commonwealth we are still questioning the viability of Israel. Sixty four years into a dynamic, economically robust and politically stable democracy Israel is still being treated as though she were in need of serious psychotherapy in the form of a national therapy session represented by its leading intellectuals.
“Keyboard Warriors Fighting Over Israel’s Future” (Haaretz, April 27, 2012) by Tom Segev is a fascinating article which highlights the efforts of one of Israel’s military heroes to galvanize leading Israeli thinkers to discuss fundamental and core issues defining Israel ad its raison d’etre. E mail discussion groups is the new forum in which nationally recognized thinkers like A.B.Yehoshua chime in with Prof. Hamutal Bar Yosef on the existential crises of the Jewish people.
This may be the first time that such an august forum has coalesced around the electronic media and information highway, but it isn’t the first time that these pregnant existential issues have been debated by Israeli scholars. After the Six Day War and the subsequent solidification of the occupation there was significant discussion and debate as to what the nature of the occupation ought to be and how it will impact on the national ethos.
The merits of the arguments expressed by intellectuals of different political and social persuasions isn’t as relevant as the comments made by those who were upset by the need for intellectuals to once again self flagellate, calling into question the validity of Israel as an independent Jewish state. There are those decidedly upset over the intellectuals who are calling into question the moral right of Israel to exist at the expense of the Palestinian. There are those who are calling into question the entire notion of Jewish peoplehood insisting on reducing the Jews to a religion like any other therefore relinquishing their right to a land.
For someone insecure a national discussion on these and other existential questions can be disquieting, to say the least. Psychotherapy can be intimidating and threatening as well. But for therapy on a personal level to be productive, it must be probing and at times deeply intense and uncomfortable. No less important than being a high functioning person is to be a person content and comfortable in one’s own skin. That can only be achieved through hard work. So too must a national discussion on its moral and spiritual health be probing and at times painful. It is a testament to the sensitivity of these leading lights and their love of country that it sought a forum by which this type of introspective, productive discussion could take place.
In many ways it reminds me of our ancient prophets who served as the gadflies of society that was in desperate need of social justice and corrective measures. It was those prophets who said the tough things, yet there was resistance from the people to want to listen and hear the truth. Today’s intellectuals haven’t the intent to foist upon anyone their vision, but to put their vision up as a fulcrum whereby those moral and ethical issues dividing society can be resolved.