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The Vision and the Fantasy

JERUSALEM – Israel, an audacious vision that came true, is now celebrating its 65th anniversary with a sense of well-deserved satisfaction at its extraordinary domestic achievements. In its relations with the outside world, however, the Jewish state still has a long way to go.

Historically, the Jewish experience in international relations has not been particularly edifying. A Jewish state has existed for only short periods in Judaism’s history, and it twice committed political suicide. The reasons were always the same: politico-religious fanaticism and the blunder of challenging the prevailing world powers – hence modern Zionism’s obsessive quest for a binding alliance with a superpower.

Ethnocentrism is bound to distort a people’s relations with the rest of the world, and Israel’s doctrine of power was drawn from the depths of Jewish experience, particularly the eternal, unforgiving hostility of a Gentile world. The role of the Holocaust as the constituent myth of the Zionist meta-narrative reinforced Israel’s tendency to face “the world,” an amorphous but imposing construct with which the Jews wage a dispute that cannot be resolved through the traditional tools of international relations.

It was through Zionism, an essentially secular nationalist movement, that the Jews were returned to political action and developed the necessary diplomatic tools. But, while early Zionism was blessed with pragmatism and diplomatic savoir-faire, the preponderance of the military ethos of the nation in arms has relegated Zionism’s extraordinary foreign-policy achievements to a remote corner of Israelis’ collective memory.