I am the last Jewish Intellectual; you don’t know anyone else like this… the only true follower of Adorno. Let me put it this way: I am a Jewish Palestinian.” Edward Said1

When talking about a nation state, it’s important to define what a nation is and also to address nationalism. We cannot deny the place nationalism plays both in history and today, and by only seeing it as some primitive instinct we are denying the real needs of people.

Martin Buber in his address to the 12th Zionist congress in Karlsbad 1921, makes a distinction between two kinds of nationalism. Positive nationalism that “in an hour of crises… expresses the true awareness of a people and translates into action” as well as, warns to mend the situation of “lack of unity, freedom, and territorial security”. However, false nationalism “eats at its marrow” and “refuse to admit that there is a greater structure, unless it be the worldwide supremacy of his own particular nation. He tries to grapple with the problem of the cracked and the shattered present by undermining it instead of transcending it.”2

To be more exact we must define what “people” means. And again let me refer to Buber:

“The word ‘people’ tends, above all, to evoke the idea of blood relationship. But kinship is not the sine que non for the origin of people. A people need not necessarily be the fusion of kindred stems; it can be the fusion of unrelated stems just as well. But the concept ‘people’ always implies unity of fate. It presupposes that in a great creative hour throngs of human beings were shaped into a new entity by great molding fate they experienced in common. […]
A people becomes a nation to degree that it grows aware that its existence differs from that of other people and acts on the basis of this awareness. So the term ‘nation’ signifies the unit ‘people,’ from the point of view of conscious and active difference. Historically speaking, this consciousness is usually the result of some inner-social or political-transformation, through which the people come to realize their own peculiar structure and actions, and sets them off from those of others. It is decisive activity and suffering, especially in an age of migration and land conquests, which produces a people. A nation is produced when its acquired status undergoes a decisive inner change which is accepted a such in the people’s self consciousness. […]3

Medinat Weimar aspires to define being Jewish as a voluntary choice. Those who choose to take part in the unity of fate, who wants to share a common future. Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David became part of the Jewish people by joining her dead husband’s mother, by saying to her “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God”4. Ruth is celebrated as a convert to Judaism just by understanding Jewish principles and by taking them to heart.

Sartre’s definition: Jews are those who are considered by others as Jews, irrespective of their religious or ethnic allegiance is bond in the tragic Jewish history. The failure of emancipation, the negative Jewish experience of assimilation and anti-Semitism showed us how little choice there is. The law of return, the right of a Jew to become citizens of the state of Israel is also vested in a child and a grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew. Ironically and sadly this law is very similar to the Nuremberg law of defining a Jew.

We must disengage ourselves from this kind of blood definition and build an identity based on an affiliation of ideas. Become the “aware pariah” (Bernard Lazare, 1894), an outcast by choice, yet not a passive withdrawal from society, but a critical thorn in the ass, using the outsider position as a power. Use it as a force of political rebellion, as a force of change. Challenge the world with our collective identity of the historical other.

Most importantly, to adopt a pariah position means also to be equally critical of one’s own minority group. The creation of the state of Israel resulting in the Palestinian Nakba (tragedy) and the immigration of hundreds of thousands of refugees who came from destroyed Europe, from the Moslem countries as well as the thousands who came from all over the world over the last sixty years built a new group of people bound in common fate. This group is the force that will fashion the new Jewish state. In addition it can also play its part in helping the Palestinians, whom many characterize as “the victims of the victims”5 and whom Primo Levi described as “the new Jews”.6


1 Ari shavit interview of Edward Said, My right to Return, Haaretz, 18.8.2000
2 Martin Buber, Nationalism,1921, from The Weimar republic sourcebook.
3 Ibid
4 Book of Ruth 1:16-17 NIV
5 Interview with Edward Said, Lion of Judea, The Guardian, May 13.5.1997
6 Jacqueline Rose interviewed by Rosemary Bechler. Nation as trauma, Zionism as question, www.opendemocracy.net

Comments are moderated.

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Return to Top

Similarity in mind, culture, common history and unity of fate


latest news