Seth J. Frantzman
14 September '10
There is a lot of talk these days, as there has been since the beginning of Zionism, about the future of Israel, the people, the state and the land. Inevitably it devolves into two central questions: What kind of Jew are you and which Jewish culture is the State of Israel supposed to live up to? The answers are more diverse than the question.
Some will say they are Josephus, the polyglot patriot turned memorializer of his people’s travails. Some wish themselves to be the Zealots and some the martyrs, others the prophets. Inevitably the gap between who you believe you are and what the “state” has become is always great; it is never grasping its potential.
For some reason recently the question of Israel’s future has come to be seen in Greek terms. Is Israel Athens or Sparta? Gadi Taub in Yediot Aharonot claimed in 2009 that the settlers love of the land “turned the Judaism of the settlers into an armed Sparta that replaced the spirit with materialism and the moral heritage of Israel’s prophets with Joshua bin Nun’s sword.”
Influential columnist Eitan Haber, also in Yediot, claimed in a January article that by building fences around Israel “we are seeing the establishment of the new, modern-day Sparta here; yet we so much wanted to be like Athens.”
Leonard Fein in the Forward countered that while Israel has many Spartan attributes, it is also Athenian, in some of its culture and in its hi-tech industry. His example of its Athenianess was, oddly, the fact that some Greek works have been translated into Hebrew – “These are as purely Athenian achievements as can be.”
Really? Of all the things said about the Athenians, it’s not clear they were great translators, perhaps he is confusing them with the medieval European monks.
The French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levi joined the fray in July when he noted, “There is Athens and Sparta. Athens for peace and Sparta for wartime. Israel has been at war for 60 years, but it is still not Sparta; it is Athens. This is great, this is amazing.”
A Muslim Web site called Albalagh.net includes an article entitled “Israel and Sparta,” claiming that both sought to invade and enslave their neighbors: “Since Israelis and Spartans constantly feared a revolt by their oppressed peoples, both societies were militaristic and had citizen armies.”
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