Saturday, January 01, 2011

Bundism For Israel ?

The funeral of Marek Edelman, Poland's wartime (and last) Bundist leader, Warsaw Jewish cemetery, October 2009.

... the situation of Israeli Arabs is in fact curiously like that of the Jews of Poland during the interwar period, in that the Yiddish-speaking Jews represented an indissoluble minority that was culturally distinct, and would remain fiercely so, at least over a couple of generations; a minority with a centuries' long history and sense of place; a minority living in the interstices of a Polish nation with a quite distinct religious culture; a new Polish state, born out of deep historical grievance, and an equally fierce, once-repressed nationalism. How to absorb this growing, noisy Jewish minority, something over 10% of the population, into the new Poland?

And the strongest political movement in the interconnected Yiddish towns and cities (or parts thereof) was the Jewish Labor Bund. What this movement demanded was recognition as a national minority within the Polish state, constitutional equality, protection for its language and educational system, and more. Bundists ran as separate, Jewish national political parties. In December 1938 and January 1939, at the last Polish municipal elections before the start of the Second World War, the Bund received the largest segment of the Jewish vote. In 89 towns, one-third elected Bund majorities.

As socialists, Bundists sought "fraternal" relations with Polish workers, much like Israeli Arabs seek cordial commercial relations with Jews. But they mainly sought a kind of recognized autonomy in Yiddish towns, and, as individuals, the full rights in the great Polish cities like Warsaw and Krakow. And much like the rights of Israeli Arabs have become the crucial cause for Israeli Jewish progressives, so the rights of Jews were critical for Polish liberals.

SADLY, IT HAS become commonplace for Israelis, and American Jews, too, to look at the fate of Polish Jewry and consider the Bund hopelessly naive. But this view is itself naive--and cruel. The fact is, the Bund was suggesting an experiment in democracy that the Nazis ended, not the Poles, ... We simply do not know if the Bund's experiment could have worked, or how it could have been managed over several generations, particularly if there had been no war, and Poland had slowly begun to enjoy the benefits of European integration.

In any case, it is terribly wrong for us to look at the burgeoning cities of Israeli Arabs and see only a fifth column or a frightening birthrate. In any peace, Israeli Arabs will be a natural bridge to commercial, scientific, and cultural opportunities in the Arab world. ...

It might have worked in Poland, eventually. It had better work, with adaptations, in Israel.
Read the full piece here.

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