Daniel Gordis’s presentation based on his book “The Promise of Israel” was one of the highlights of Sydney’s Limmud Oz. The book itself is well worth reading; it helps explain the conflict between those who celebrate Israel as a nation state and those who crave universalism and see Israel as a great threat to their belief.
Reading the book reminds me of a conversation I had on a beach in Mexico with a retired Canadian, who had “settled” in this small town. After patiently listening to him extolling the virtues of internationalism, a John Lennon world as one, I replied that I thought that nations had an important role to play, including Israel. Perhaps if I had limited my reply to mentioning Australia, he could have coped, but throwing in Israel as an example rendered him both mute and apopleptic… that was the end of that conversation!
Gordis spoke beautifully, and his talk and book are reminders of what is so special and important about Israel, not just for the Jewish people, but for the world.
Here are a few comments to give you a feel for the book.
“What Israel’s critics in the West really object to about the Jewish State, Daniel Gordis asserts, is the fact that Israel is a country consciously devoted to the future of the Jewish people. In a world where differences between cultures, religions and national traditions are either denied or papered over, Israel’s critics insist that no country devoted to a single religion or culture can stay democratic and prosperous. They’re wrong. Rather than relentlessly assailing Israel, Gordis argues, the international community should see Israel’s model as key to the future of culture and freedom. Israel provides its citizens with infinitely greater liberty and prosperity than anyone expected, faring better than any other young nation. Given Israel’s success, it would make sense for many other countries, from Rwanda to Afghanistan and even Iran, to look at how they’ve done it. Most importantly, perhaps, rather than seeking to destroy Israel, the Palestinians would serve their own best interests by trying to copy it.”
Diane Muir Appelbaum writes “Gordis is on to something here. True, European and American opposition to Israel partly reflects anti-semitism; but it also reflects the fact that Israel is the archetypal nation-state, and nation-states have fallen from favor in intellectual circles.
The idea that humanity is arranged into peoples and nations, each with its homeland, language, and unique ideas about how society should be organized, is fundamental to the Hebrew Bible. It is a profoundly tolerant idea, acknowledging that there may be more than one way to build a good and just society. This Jewish idea stands in radical opposition to universalism. The great universalizing traditions of the West—Greek, Roman, Christian, Islamic, Marxist—have all attempted to annihilate Jewishness because they could not tolerate such diversity. It is no accident that universalism, religious and secular, has spawned many of history’s great crimes.”
Some interesting comments and discussion here