Friday, June 17, 2022

Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) was the famed  20th century Greek writer whose novels included Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ.

In 1926 and 1927, he traveled to Palestine and wrote of his experiences. 

He had a very telling conversation with a young Jewish woman where he - less than a decade before the rise of Nazism - claimed that Zionism was a disaster in the making because Jews belong in the diaspora, forever.

Even though he professed his love for Jews, he proved himself to be a racist and, in hindsight, his young adversary bested him. 

We walked along the broad, dusty road bordering the Valley of Josephat at the foot of the Mount of Olives. The tombstones on the Jewish graves, deeply imbedded in the ground, were drowned in the glaring noonday light. The little village of Gethsemane, just two paces ahead, was blotted out in darkness, so blinding was the brilliance of the sun. Unexpectedly, there among the graves, two camels filed silently by, one behind the other, their necks swaying slowly. For a moment their patient black eyes, with the long lashes, gazed at us gently and my heart lightened as I felt the presence of a warm living thing moving through this inhuman wilderness.

Walking and breathing easily beside me in this furnace was a young Jewess, a teacher named Judith, who had come to show me a garden for Jewish children. She was about twenty years old, short, lissom, with hooked nose and restless jet-black eyes. Her hair was curly and coarse, her chin broad, firm, wilful.

“How did you happen to become a Zionist?” I asked.

“I was studying medicine. I had no ties to either religion or country. People had always interested me. I felt compassion and pity for all mankind, knowing how every one shares in illness and joy and grief. But I was restless. All of Europe seemed old and familiar and archaic to me. I was thirsty for something new. And so I came to Palestine.”

“Why didn't you go to Russia? They say a new world is being created there . ."

“Because there's no freedom there. A small, harsh circle governs all the others. The fact that this circle is the proletariat didn't comfort me at all. I wanted freedom.”

“And you found it here in Palestine?”

“Here we work free. We try, we experiment, we search to find. You can meet people here and work together according to your individual temperament - from the most revolutionary to the most conservative. Freedom. Here, for the first time. I feel alive, strengthened, able to love the earth that I had never even noticed in Europe, and able to feel joy that I am from the Jewish race.”

“You are beginning, in other words, to lose your freedom. You're beginning to tie yourself down to a certain corner of the Earth, and to constrict your heart; first it had room for all the world, now it's beginning to distinguish and choose and to accept only the Jews. Don't you feel the danger?”

The Jewess protested angrily, slightly fearful:

“What danger?”

“What danger? I'll tell you: The leader of the gypsies forbids his people to build houses or plant trees or put up fences. They prop up their tents on the ground for a while and then move on freely. One day, as they were taking down their tents, a young girl was bending over the earth and tarrying. The leader approached and saw the girl had broken his order and had planted a sprig of basil at the entrance of her tent. And now the little sprig of basil had blossomed and the young girl was crouched over it crying, reluctant to leave it. In a rage, the leader uprooted the basil and trampled on it. He struck the girl with his riding whip and shouted: ‘Why do you break my order? Don't you know that whoever builds a house is tied to it and whoever plants a tree is tied to that tree?'

“We don't want to be Wandering Jews any longer!” the Jewess cried out.

“But that is exactly the danger I'm talking about; you don't want to advance any longer. If the purpose of life is happiness - to eat well, to sleep in peace, to live in security - then you are justified in wanting to escape the persecutions and scorn and take roots finally in your own country. Although I'm encouraged by the belief - thank God - that you will not find happiness and security here in Palestine!

“But if the purpose of life, and especially the purpose of a people, is much harder: to struggle to convert as much matter as possible into action, thought and beauty; to climb upward with agony - then, without a doubt, the Zionist movement is contrary to the highest interest of your race.”

“Why don't the English or French or Greeks undertake this role of the Wanderer? Or could you possibly think that their contribution to the Whole was lessened because they had a country?”

“Every race has its special virtues and vices and, consequently, its special road to reach its summit. The Jews have this supreme quality: to be restless; not to fit into the reality of the time; to struggle to escape; to consider every status quo and every idea a stifling prison. With this poignant quality of theirs they save mankind from his contrived efforts at contentment - that is to say, from his impasse. This spirit of the Jews shatters the equilibrium, pushes evolution further, sparks off the proudest element of life: never to be satisfied, never to stop anywhere, to leap from plants to animals and from animals to man and again to torment man, as though wanting to go further still.”

“Our fathers in the land of Canaan were farmers; rooted to their country they created their civilization.”

“That was the nature of your race then. The Jews didn't always have the Lucifer quality of rebellion. They acquired it. The persecutions, slaughters, scorn, exile, all the things you call Diaspora, hammered away at the Hebrew race for two thousand years and forged it, against its will, by force, into the leaven of the earth.”

“By force?”

“Does the word annoy you? Isn't it true that force is the most secret law of history? Many races would have wanted to escape their bloody and glorious fate and live without History, happily - clandestinely. But economic necessities, wars and some prophets who are born in their midst don't leave them alone. With force and with the lash, they prod them upward.

“Thus, scattered over the world for so many centuries, the Jews suffered, trembled and were killed. And this dyed their soul indelibly and created in them the hatred for every tyranny - either from individuals or from systems or ideas. This is why they agitated nations, undermined the status quo and set fire to all the old ideas. This is their fate; without them the world would rot.”

Judith laughed. “Thank you for the role you assign us. I must confess we are greatly honoured to be slaughtered, to be forever restless, to make others restless. But we don't want to any more.”

“You're tired? But the historical necessity that pushes the races doesn't ask you. It prods you relentlessly, whether you want it or not. And this modern Zionist movement, too, is a mask that your unsmiling Pate wears to deceive you for an instant. This is why I don't fear Zionism: how many of the fifteen million Jews will be able to squeeze themselves in here? You will never find security here. Behind you, don't forget, you have the dark fanatical swarm of Arabs.

“And so, like it or not, you will become the instruments of the spirit of our age. And our age is an age of revolution. That is, a Jewish age. Someone once said: “The twenty-second of March, 1832, when Goethe died, an era closed and a new one opened: the era of the reigning of the Jews.” And it's true. Goethe was the last complete representative of Harmony; after Goethe our contemporary age truly begins the violence, which is equally valuable, to rupture the old harmony and create a new one. This is why the Hebrew race prevails today, because its substance is precisely this rupturing of every harmony. This is why the highest intellects and leading men of action are Jews. Why all this flowering? Because you are restless, scattered all over the world in a transient age that destroys. Diaspora is your country. In vain you struggle to escape your Fate and you seek out happiness and security in this out-of-the-way province. I hope I hope, because I love the Jews - that sooner or later the Arabs will drive you out of here and again scatter you all over the world.”

We had finally arrived at the children's garden. Blond, brunette and raven-haired Jewish youngsters were playing beneath the trees, chirping away like birds. I caressed their soft curly hair with unexpected emotion; a sudden, tragic foreboding overwhelmed my heart.
His foreboding was misplaced - anticipating (and also cheering) a slaughter of Jews by what he considered a "dark fanatical swarm of Arabs," when it was the sophisticated Europeans who were preparing the slaughter of the Jews he pretended to love.

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