Recapturing the Spirit of Zionism
How to discuss Zionism? The apathy among Jews on the question of Zionism is a listlessness that has spread throughout the Jewish people. Few could even remember of the tremendous energies and passions that were the hallmarks of Zionism just some decades ago. Perhaps there is no longer a need for remarkable energy and passion in our support of Zionism. This article is written on the premise that there is such a need. The west is evolving (has evolved?) into a society of apathy and decadence. There is a line attributed to Voltaire: “History is but the pattern of silken slippers descending the stairs to the thunder of hobnailed boots climbing upward from below.” Increasingly, the West is donning the slippers, while our enemies are strapping on the hobnailed boots. The Jewish people are not immune to this malaise. How then can we inspire and energize and embolden Jews who are increasingly characterized by hedonism and indifference? The surest way is to imbue within ourselves the energy and passion that great men in the past were seemingly brimming with.
There are many famous people who spoke and wrote passionately about Zionism. Herzl, Jabotinsky, and Begin come to mind. But I would like to use an outsider. It is commonly understood that few people understood America as well as the foreigner, Alexis de Tocqueville here. For inspiration I will go to an unlikely source: Napoleon.
Since Alexander the Great, few (perhaps zero) conquering kings have excited the imagination of the Jews as Napoleon did. I have heard more Jewish urban myths about him than about any other European Monarch.
Napoleon Bonaparte was a General and Emperor, and arguably the greatest master of grand tactics in history. His astonishing successes at Rivoli, Marengo, and Austerlitz, among others, made him the master of Europe. His battles (victories and defeats) are studied in West Point today. But here we are just interested in his relationship with the Jews, and only one part of it, at that.
In July 1798, Napoleon landed in Egypt on a military adventure, with the emphasis on adventure. (On his way there, he captured Malta, which had been holding firm against invaders since the 16th century, at the cost of three men.) After trouncing the Mamluks within sight of the pyramids, and after spending some time trying to secure Egypt under French rule (he went so far as offering to convert to Islam to appease his new Muslim subjects), he eventually found his way to Palestine, besieging Acre. (For those who have learnt the Gemara Gittin, Acre is the city mentioned that is half in Israel and half outside it.) During the siege he wrote a letter to the Jewish Nation, which I have reproduced below. A few weeks after the date on the letter, he lifted the siege, having been stymied by his stubbornly implacable foe, the British, once again. Having been robbed of success, Napoleon plans did not come fruition, but the letter is still relevant.
Letter to the Jewish Nation from the French Commander-in-Chief Buonaparte (translated from the Original, 1799)
General Headquarters, Jerusalem 1st Floreal, April 20th, 1799, in the year of 7 of the French Republic
BUONAPARTE, COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF OF THE ARMIES OF THE FRENCH REPUBLIC IN AFRICA AND ASIA, TO THE RIGHTFUL HEIRS OF PALESTINE.
Israelites, unique nation, whom, in thousands of years, lust of conquest and tyranny have been able to be deprived of their ancestral lands, but not of name and national existence!
Attentive and impartial observers of the destinies of nations, even though not endowed with the gifts of seers like Isaiah and Joel, have long since also felt what these, with beautiful and uplifting faith, have foretold when they saw the approaching destruction of their kingdom and fatherland: And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness and sorrow and sighing shall flee away (Isaiah 35, 10).
Arise then, with gladness, ye exiled! A war unexampled In the annals of history, waged in self-defense by a nation whose hereditary lands were regarded by its enemies as plunder to be divided, arbitrarily and at their convenience, by a stroke of the pen of Cabinets, avenges its own shame and the shame of the remotest nations, long forgotten under the yoke of slavery, and also, the almost two-thousand-year-old ignominy put upon you; and, while time and circumstances would seem to be least favorable to a restatement of your claims or even to their expression ,and indeed to be compelling their complete abandonment, it offers to you at this very time, and contrary to all expectations, Israel’s patrimony!
The young army with which Providence has sent me hither, let by justice and accompanied by victory, has made Jerusalem my head-quarters and will, within a few days, transfer them to Damascus, a proximity which is no longer terrifying to David’s city.
Rightful heirs of Palestine!
The great nation which does not trade in men and countries as did those which sold your ancestors unto all people (Joel, 4, 6) herewith calls on you not indeed to conquer your patrimony; nay, only to take over that which has been conquered and, with that nation’s warranty and support, to remain master of it to maintain it against all comers.
Arise! Show that the former overwhelming might of your oppressors has but repressed the courage of the descendants of those heroes who alliance of brothers would have done honor even to Sparta and Rome (Maccabees 12, 15) but that the two thousand years of treatment as slaves have not succeeded in stifling it.
Hasten!, Now is the moment, which may not return for thousands of years, to claim the restoration of civic rights among the population of the universe which had been shamefully withheld from you for thousands of years, your political existence as a nation among the nations, and the unlimited natural right to worship Jehovah in accordance with your faith, publicly and most probably forever (Joel 4, 20).
There is very little to add to this. What little there is, I will hopefully pen in a future post.