Must one be Zionist to be Israeli, or even Jewish? Historian Brecher, former director of the Leo Baeck Institute in Jerusalem, ponders the question.
The author, born in Tel Aviv but long resident in his parents’ native Germany, returned to Israel in the 1960s. In Germany, he writes, “most parents of the Jewish children I grew up with made do with abstract, summary remarks when their experiences during the persecution came up.” In Israel, conversely, his historian colleagues “wanted to steer me out of the darkness and confusion of the Diaspora” and urged him to embrace a vision of a Jewish people living in a secular culture in which they were neither oppressed nor assimilated, or assimilated to the extent that its members were “new Jews,” namely Israelis, ethnically dominant in a country of their own. “How could I, as a German Jew, accept such a nationalistic principle of nation and nationality?” writes Brecher. He could not, it develops, for he became convinced that such status was possible only at the expense of the land’s Arab inhabitants. Though surrounded by 100 million Arabs, he urges, Israel is the Goliath of lore, a modern industrial nation with a powerful army set against corrupt and ineffectual countries that could not manage even to feed their own people. His views earned him enemies and cost him a certain amount of influence in his work as a military historian, but, as he writes in this combination of memoir and history, he pressed his case as a lecturer and as an activist in the nascent Israeli peace movement. Only when Israeli society acknowledges the injustices the nation has committed, he concludes, will that peace be possible, though “this is predicated on a political maturity . . . that is not yet in evidence.”
A readable, provocative rejoinder to Tom Segev’s 1967, Gershom Gorenberg’s The Accidental Empire and other recent works on modern Israel.