Column god and the world: prophetic speech

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has announced nothing but the foreseeable end of the Jewish state. Such a state can only be democratic.

John Kerry and Benjamin Netanyahu at a meeting in Rome in mid-2016 Photo: dpa

Those who interpret outgoing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech on the Israel-Palestine conflict as a belated political intervention and criticize it for that reason misunderstand it.

This speech was a legacy and therefore does not belong to the instruments of foreign policy craft, but to the genre of prophetic speech. Prophecies, however, are something radically different from more or less precise forecasts.

Homer’s Cassandra warned the Trojans against the wooden horse of the Greeks and at the same time predicted the downfall of Troy; the prophets of the Hebrew Bible condemned the ungodly doings of the kings of Israel and Judah, occasionally offering consolation.

Prophecies are not forecasts, their time indications are not exact, one would not place bets on prophecies – nevertheless, they usually come when a fate is sealed.

Well-meaning, politically open-minded observers in the state of Israel today have rightly read Kerry’s speech as a Zionist speech in the best sense of the word, a speech that powerfully opposes the self-abolition of Zionism in the occupation of the West Bank. If one reads his speech as a prophecy, however, Kerry announced nothing other than the foreseeable end of the Jewish state, which, if it exists at all, can only exist as a democratic state.

At the end of this month, the 205th birthday – not exactly a particularly catchy date – of Moses Hess, a comrade-in-arms, but also opponent and rival of Karl Marx, will be commemorated. Born in 1812, a communist as a young man, Hess turned away from communism in the face of anti-Semitism and foreseeable failure, and at the age of fifty, in 1862, published his long unnoticed paper "Rome and Jerusalem, the Last Question of Nationality."

Against the background of the Polish and Hungarian independence movements, the re-emergence of a (republican) Italy and a modern Greece, Hess recognized the rebirth of those peoples who had shaped Europe: the Hellenes, the Romans and: the Jews! Even more: in an almost uncanny way Hess saw a devastating race war coming up, whereas:

"As after the last catastrophe of organic life, when the historical races came into the world … so also after the last catastrophe of social life, after the spirit of the historical peoples has reached maturity, our people will again take its place in world history simultaneously with the other historical peoples."

Like Hegel, whom Hess had certainly taken note of, he was convinced that there were peoples without history; peoples over whom Europe, namely France, had to dispose with civilization missionary intent.

Thus he dedicated his book "To the generous champions of all historical peoples struggling for national rebirth" and therefore pleaded for a Jewish statehood supported by France in the regions of the Ottoman Empire bordering on the Mediterranean.

Irreversible settlement

As is well known, the realization of this vision was preceded by a catastrophe – also foreseen by Hess. After all, after the last catastrophe of "social life", National Socialism and the Second World War, not only the UN Convention on Human Rights came into being, but also the state of Israel, which for almost 50 years has occupied and irreversibly settled the territory of a supposedly history-less people, the Palestinian Arabs.

Thus – and this is what Kerry’s prophetic speech wanted to express – the end of the Jewish state has been heralded. And this is because a Jewish state, if it is to deserve its name at all, can only be democratic. The apartheid or "Palestinustan" state that is now irreversibly emerging, however, does not correspond to this.

In the course of Jewish history, the sages of Israel, the Rabbanim, the rabbis, had to deal with political messianists again and again, who – quite well-meaning – led the Jewish people into misfortune. This was already the case in late antiquity. At that time, a rabbinic interpretation dealt with the "three oaths" with reference to the "Song of Solomon".

In fact, in the Babylonian Talmud, in a tractate about marriage certificates (Ketubot 111 a), the warning demands are found that the people of Israel should not move unitedly from the Diaspora to the land of Israel, that this people should not rebel against the nations as well as that the nations should not excessively subjugate the Jewish people. One may think that this is defeatist and opportunistic – political wisdom cannot be denied.

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