Arnon Grunberg



On educational and other failures – Rotem Shtarkman and Ronny Linder interviewing Anita Shapira:

‘When she was asked whether we are no the midst of the biggest crisis in the history of Zionism, she immediately rejects that, but nor can it be said that she’s optimistic. “There’s no need to exaggerate,” she says. “The greatest crisis in the history of Zionism was the Holocaust, which disrupted the idea that the Jews would immigrate to Israel and become the majority in a democratic state.”’


‘So education is Israel’s greatest failure that has led to this event? “First of all, it's what’s happening in education. Education has deteriorated to religious indoctrination, whether overt or covert. They don’t educate today to a liberal world view. That’s something to which we didn’t pay attention, that’s happening bit by bit. A large percentage of young people voted for Itamar Ben-Gvir, that’s a tremendous educational mistake on our part.” But there’s also life itself. The fact that people are living in a democratic and liberal world isn’t enough for them to have such an outlook? “In fact it isn’t. there are other elements that are far more active.”’


‘No, and in the end many of them turned into voters for the traditional right. Why did that happen? “They come from a totalitarian state with tough behavior and with discipline, and they see the more blunt version of Israeliness on the right. The use of force, the anti-Arab statements and so on. But that wasn’t unavoidable.” In other words, you think it’s reversible? “Yes. I think that the secular public, even if it’s right-wing, can’t tolerate all the messianic ideas that we hear from the coalition every morning. And when I hear MK Israel Eichler [of United Torah Judaism] saying that because of Zionism there was a Holocaust – I don’t know how it’s possible to support such a thing, and how it’s possible to support a government that includes such people.”’


‘Why did you think that a civil war was unavoidable? “Usually revolutions don’t happen without bloodshed, and we’re talking here about a revolution. What the government is doing is a revolution, or to be more precise, a coup. And what we want is not only a return to the status quo, but an improvement in the situation in order to prevent a return to the situation we’re in now. How do we bring the energy that we see every week in the protest to the point of a regime change without a civil war? Or at least the fall of this government and a new election, because that’s the natural thing? I don’t know.”’ (…)

‘In your article in Haaretz (“Will Religious Extremists Bring Israel Down Again?” July 22), you spoke about the magic number of 75 years, a number that twice in our history marked the end of our survival. Is it possible that now too we’re having a kind of farewell party for the state? “It’s possible. It's a question, whether the Jewish people are capable of being a people with a country. Historical experience indicates that our people managed very well without a country. There were [anti-Jewish] edicts here and there, but we didn’t do badly. The Zionist thesis that the Jewish people always aspired to the Land of Israel and dreamt about it is a nice fairy tale. The reality was different.”’


‘“All of Zionism is based on the myth of a nation retuning to its homeland. But this myth should have been restricted by pragmatism, realpolitik, and that’s what characterized the Zionist movement from its inception to this day. Without the messianism – and with restrictions. In the Declaration of Independence Ben Gurion begins with the words: ‘The land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people,’ but he doesn’t say – The land was promised to us by the Holy One blessed be He, at Mount Sinai.” And that’s no coincidence, after all, he chose the words carefully. Does that mean that Ben Gurion identified the threat of messianism? “Of course. If you read the literature of the Labor Movement – it’s full of messianic concepts, but the intention wasn’t to implement them, but to encourage the Zionist drive. Ben Gurion wanted to enshrine the Jewish people’s connection to the land, but he didn’t want the messianism, he was afraid of it. Zionism took from messianism the hope of returning to the land, but wanted to rein it in.” How do you see the place of the Israel Defense Forces vis-à-vis the government? Is it possible that there will come a point when the chief of staff will have to choose between obeying the Supreme Court or the government? “I hope we won’t come to that, and that if we do, God forbid – that he’ll obey the court. I understand him, that it’s very hard for him.”’


‘By the way, were you ever asked to go into politics? “Yes, and I refused – because I have a tendency to speak my mind.”’

Read the interview here.

There is this tendency, and I have argued against it more often, to believe that the right education will solve most political problems. I remain skeptical about it, although I do think that the wrong education can weaken and divide society. By the way, the same can be said about the US, at least to a certain degree.

Jewish messianism produced Messiahs, as far as I know there are only false Messiahs but we could give Jesus the benefit of the doubt, most often with catastrophic results. The moment Messianism has a state and state power behind it the catastrophe can be immense.
I’m afraid that huge and bloody disappointments will be needed to weaken the attraction of this specific Messianism. But who knows, maybe the followers will prefer their chicken schnitzels from the supermarket to violent Messianism. Maybe they will say: let’s talk the talk and eat our chicken schnitzels first.

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