Picture of Milton Viorst

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The Masada Complex

(JERUSALEM) — Readers have been exposed to a great many words lately about the Islamic resurgence, some of them coming from this very typewriter. A rebirth of Koranic zeal helps explain to Westerners the recurring episodes of what looks to us like bizarre behavior in the Moslern world. Now I think it is time to turn our attention to its counterpart, the Judaic resurgence. For there is a revitalized religious urge discernible in Israel, and it has become an increasingly significant factor in determing whether there will be war or peace in the Middle East. In a sense, Israel is itself the product of a Judaic resurgence. Religion is the one element that Jews around the world possessed in common during the 2000 years or so of their diaspora, and a basic tenet of Judaism during these millenia was the ultimate return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel. Nonetheless, the ideology which became the foundation of the new state was not religious but secular. Zionism’s roots lay in the surge of nationalism

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End or Begin?

CAIRO – Hassan AI-Tuhami is one of those men who, at first sight, conveys to you a special presence, and even something more. I had asked for an interview because he is known as Anwar Sadat’s eminence grise, and apart from Sadat himself is considered the principal inspiration behind Egypt’s peace overture to Israel. He invited me to see him late one afternoon in his apartment in Zamalek, the most bourgeois of the quarters of Cairo. I arrived only with the knowledge that he was regarded as a man of mystery, and nothing more. A servant showed me into his large, sparely furnished living room, and I sat down to wait on a once-stylish, now threadbare sofa. After a few minutes, a jockey-sized man in foppish dress entered and sat down on a chair near me. He talked about Arabian race horses, and I said to myself, ‘Is this the character I came to see?’ I promptly revealed my uncertainty by a silly question, to which the man answered reverentially, ‘You’ll have to ask His

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Shofar Blowing

Israel: Revisionism Resurgent

(JERUSALEM) – It came so suddenly, this surge of power from the Revisionists, and no one expected it at all. Menachem Begin, their political leader for so many years, was an authentic hero of the war of independence. Vladimir Jabotinsky was Begin’s intellectual mentor, the father of Revisionist thought. But for nearly thirty years, both were regarded as historical curiosities, of no particular relevance to contemporary Israel. Menachem Begin It is an index of how lightly these men were considered that Amos Elon, author of a celebrated popular history called The Israelis: Founders and Sons, published in 1971, did not mention Begin even once, and limited his discussion of Jabotinsky to an Israeli’s disparaging description of him as “our own d’Annunzio.” As for Walter Laqueur’s more scholarly A History of Zionism, a now standard work published in 1972, it contains only two brief references to Begin, and treats Jabotinsky’s thought not as current ideology but as a largely discredited Zionist heresy. In her autobiography Golda Meir, central figure in Israeli politics until her recent death,

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Islam As Raison D’Etat

What is this religious fervor that is gripping the Islamic world? Institutional Islam has toppled a government in Iran, threatens a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, executed a former prime minister in Pakistan. Interpreters say that the huge influx of wealth from petroleum has transformed Islam’s sense of itself and of its international importance. I have read in newspapers and magazines that Moslems are filled with a new confidence, a greater feeling of self-assurance, a vision and a hope. Are we, as some observers have written, on the threshold of a resurgence of Islamic power, of a new Golden Age for the followers of Mohammed? I strongly doubt it. My own view is that the new Islamic wave is not the product of a new self-confidence at all but of a crisis that emerges from social frustration, inner doubt and profound feelings of inadequacy. The surge of oil wealth, far from transforming Islam’s self-image of social inferiority into a positive conception, has created new uncertainties. The Shah of Iran was not kept in power

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David NewelI-Smith /Camera Press/Photo Trends

Impossible Dreams

(JERUSALEM) – The “melting pot” is an American concept, without bearing in the Holy Land. In the Old City of Jerusalem, where the great religions exalt their symbols of spirituality, Moslems, Christians and Jews rub shoulders in crowded streets, and barely stop to notice one another. None speak of brotherhood, or reach out to neighbors in love, and so it has been over the centuries. Rather, in alternating waves of righteousness, each has periodically risen up to smite the others. To imagine “integration” in the Holy Land, as Americans venerate it for their own society, would be naive. Tranquility depends on putting distance between the points of abrasion, so that each of the communities here can live as it chooses, in splendid indifference to what is around it. Incompatibility    Ethnocentric perception, so widely shared, is the heart of the struggle for Palestine, and so it has always been. Those who have come to Palestine have invariably sought, usually in the name of religion, to rule it. Though for the time being they are out

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