To the Editor

Reading Efraim Karsh's article, "Benny Morris and the Reign of Error" (March 1999), not only puts the lie to the views of the new Israeli historians but also gives an interesting window on the thinking of Israel's elite during the period around 1948. 

Karsh's article shows that modern Israel's founding fathers were dominated by a lofty, thinking that sought, to a fault, to treat Arab populations humanely and fairly. The founding fathers of modern Israel wished to create a society based on a universalistic scientific socialism that had little room for historic Judaism. They thought that such a society would be so compelling that it would draw like-minded Jews and even Arabs to its banner. They expected the Arab masses in Israel as well as the Arab nations to be won over by the sheer nobility of the Israeli enterprise.

For this reason, Israel's history is dotted with acts of great magnanimity toward its enemies in the attempt to win them over. Israel has nothing to be ashamed of in this department. No other nation would have thought so deeply about the problem or would have done so much to reconcile with its neighbors, attempts that were fueled by the idealism of Israel's leaders — a misplaced idealism as it turns out. Little did the founders consider the possibility that the Arab societies would be hostile to all what the Jewish idealists proposed, and that all attempts to win Arab people over by kindness and generosity would fail.

Obviously, the Israel of the elite socialist founding fathers has run out of gas. These good fathers grossly erred in their concepts even as they failed in practice. They saddled Israel with a obsessive universalistic value system that works against the nation's existence, promoting her fracturing and making her long-term defense impossible. Instead of making use of the magnificent Jewish dynamic that had enabled the Jews to survive over millennia of statelessness, they created a society that is of limited durability. The ideology of Israel's founding fathers has reached its limits and is at a historic stage in which it is obstructs Israel's survival. This makes it imperative that Israel embark on a new direction rooted in Jewish history and aspirations, a state to be built on this solid foundation while there is still time to do so.

David Basch
University of Connecticut, Storrs