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November 24, 1989 - Image 109

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-11-24

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A One-Man Alternative

Post-Zionist and neither left
nor right, Hillel Kook remains
Israel's intellectual gadfly.



Special to The Jewish News




erusalem — The na-
tional unity coalition
between Likud and
Labor may or may not be
teetering on the brink of col-
lapse over Egyptian propos-
als for moving along the
plan for Palestinian elec-
tions in the territories. But
in the view of one maverick
Israeli thinker, both of the
country's main political
blocs are guilty of supreme
"Israel after 1948 made
the mistake of accepting a
permanent state of war.
Now, Israel acts as if the
state of war is over," says
Hillel Kook.
"It isn't. This is not a
boundary dispute, but an ex-
istential war.
Kook, who used the alias
Peter Bergson when he
rallied Americans in the
1940s to rescue Jews from
Hitler's Europe, has been
described by journalist
Doron Rosenblum in a
Ha'aretz profile as a one-
man alternative, and by the
late American writer Ben
Hecht as a man of history.
But today he is old and se-
riously ailing, an Israeli in
despair over the direction
his country has taken since
the 1948 War of Indepen-
dence. Yet Kook's ideas are,
in some ways, as fresh as
when they were first con-
ceived in the 1940s, when
Foreign Minister Moshe Ar-
ens was one of the Bergson
group's youthful activists;
and Kook's ideas could play
a vital role in any future set-
tlement of the dispute with
the Palestinians.
Kook has been an ex-
tremely controversial figure,

_since he and a small group of
Palestinians (as the pre-
state Jews were called)
defied the Jewish and
Zionist establishment and
led a loud and dramatic
campaign in the United
States to force President
Franklin Roosevelt to set up
a rescue agency for the
With the help of Ben
Hecht's pageants, a massive
propaganda effort and
heavy lobbying in Washing-
ton, they succeeded, while
the official Zionists put res-
cue lower down on the agen-
da and even engaged in a
dirty-tricks -campaign to
discredit the efforts of the
"upstarts." Nahum Gold-
mann and Rabbi Stephen
Wise told the State Depart-
ment in 1943 that Bergson
was a bigger threat to Amer-
ican Jews than Hitler, be-
cause he was causing an an-
ti-Semitic backlash.
. The battles over what
Bergson and his various
committees did during. the
war years are still being
fought in books and jour-
nals, but it is Jewish lives
and the dangers of today
that have become an obses-
sion for Hillel Kook. His
analysis of the cause of the
malady is unique, out of
sync with conventional opin-
ions about Zionism and
Kook's politics cannot be
pigeonholed as left or right,
though he was an early
leader of the Irgun under-
ground (before former Prime
Minister Menachem Begin
became commander), and a
young aide to Vladimir
Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the foun-
der of Revisionist Zionism
that Begin molded into the
Herut and, later, Likud par-

Zionists see a
nation of 13 million
Jews; Kook sees
an Israeli nation
living in Israel.

that Zionism is a continuing
revolution, whose work is
never concluded, in the
words of former President
Yitzhak Navon.
Zionists see a nation of 13
million Jews; Kook sees an
Israeli nation living in Isra-
el. He does not believe that
the Diaspora is sick, as con-
ventional Zionists do, or
that American Jews are not
really Americans, but Jews
in exile.
Kook's ideas often have
been dismissed because of
his blunt and provocative
way of saying things, as
when he declares that Israel
has not yet recognized itself
and that this is the crux of
the country's problems.
What he means is that
Zionism, which was suppos-
ed to bring about the nor-
malization of the Jewish
people as a means of solving
the Jewish problem, has in-
stead perpetuated the
anomalous status of the
Jews in the world.
He believes that the fail-
ure of the Jews of Israel to
deal with "the fundamen-
tals" has led to the situation
of an Israel that on one hand
claims all the rights and
privileges of a sovereign na-
tion, but on the other hand
has not lived up to the
responsibilities of that sov-
ereignty. Israel, he has said,
is "a Jewish ghetto with an
The failure to make dis-
tinctions between the Jews
of Israel and the Jews of

Hillel Kook: "There is a Palestinian people. I see no reason to
continue claiming that there is no such people."

Today, Kook's contribu-
tion to what he regards as
the true debate — Who is an
Israeli, not Who is a Jew
—has been recognized and
praised by a wide spectrum
of Israeli intellectuals.
After the state was de-

dared in 1948, one could be a
Jew by religion, culture or
ethnic identity, Kook main-
tains. There was no longer a
"Jewish nation," but an Is-
raeli nation. Yet the doctri-
naire Zionists do not believe
this, he says, contending




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