Saturday, April 01, 2017

Isaac Deutscher, in the Nation

“Even now, however, I am not a Zionist.” 

The book contains two versions of a famous parable of Israel’s founding in the wake of the Holocaust, a parable that is sometimes all that people remember of Deutscher. In the first telling, from 1954, a man jumps from a burning ship onto a raft. Deutscher’s point is that any nation-state is merely a raft, a temporary solution that should not be turned into a permanent (nationalist) program, as Israel seemed to be doing. In the second telling, from 1967, written in response to the Six-Day War, the man jumps from a burning building and survives, but he lands on a person on the sidewalk below (who stands in, of course, for the Palestinians) and breaks his arms and legs. 
 “If both behaved rationally,” Deutscher comments, “they would not become enemies.” But rationality does not prevail. “The injured man blames the other for his misery and swears to make him pay for it. The other, afraid of the crippled man’s revenge, insults him, kicks him, and beats him up whenever they meet. The kicked man again swears revenge and is again punched and punished.” 
 I don’t imagine that many will be entirely happy with this parable." Why would they not be happy? Why do you say that?  I quibble with the writer's characterization of some of Deutscher's views on Israel and Zionism (although I don't have time to elaborate) but the it was clear that he always asserted that he was an atheist that he is not a Zionist that he abhorred Israeli and Zionist invocation of the Holocaust for political ends.  Nevertherless, in 1954 essay “Israel’s Spiritual Climate” (91-117), Heutscher seems to (disturbingly) favor Ashkenazi Jews to Sephardim because of what he considered attributes of "high culture" and bookshops.   That sounds so bad coming from Deutscher.  I am glad that the writer of the Nation settled the question about the role of Isiah Berlin in denying an academic job to Deutscher in UK.