Martin Buber between left and right

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The world renowned philosopher Mordechai Martin Buber (1878-1965) is a model figure among Israel’s left-wing thinkers; to the same extent, he is a scorned figure among Israel’s right-wing thinkers. In the era before the establishment of the State of Israel, Buber was, in the 1920s and 1930s, one of the leaders of Brit Shalom [Peace Covenant] and, in the 1940s and 1950s, of Ichud [Union] - radical peace groups that recognized the Arab right to the land of Palestine - Eretz Israel - alongside the right of the incoming Jewish settlers. While Buber’s leftist engagement is very well known, what is less well known is that his political thought is saturated with right-wing features. This chapter highlights this duality in Buber’s thought and the dynamic of his relationships with the left in Israel from his time to ours. The first part of the chapter discusses the Zionist political theology of Buber; the second discusses his views about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the third discusses the left-right ambiguity in his thought; the fourth and final part discusses the relationship between Buber and various streams of the left in Israel, past and present. BUBER’S ZIONIST POLITICAL THEOLOGY Buber started his activity in the Zionist movement in 1898, as a follower and a close associate of Theodor Herzl. But he parted ways with Herzl only a few years thereafter and affiliated with the oppositional “cultural fraction,” which was led by Ahad HaAm (Asher Ginsberg), a prominent Russian Jewish intellectual. Yet Buber differed from Ahad HaAm in that Buber’s cultural position was deeply religious. Buber came to be one of the foremost spokesmen of a Zionist political theology, which was in opposition to mainstream pragmatic political Zionism. For the rest of his life, from the days of Herzl to those of Ben-Gurion, Buber remained a “spiritual” Zionist and disapproved of political Zionism. He considered the latter stream superficial and “assimilationist” - turning the Jewish people into a merely standard nation, “a nation like any other nation.” For Buber the prime goal of Zionism was the rescue of Judaism and its revival, rather than the rescue of Jews. From his perspective Zionism was not just one more ordinary national movement; Zionism was, rather, the present manifestation of the old sacred covenant between the Land of Israel, the people, and God.

Original languageEnglish GB
Title of host publicationJews and Leftist Politics
Subtitle of host publicationJudaism, Israel, Antisemitism, and Gender
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9781107256521
ISBN (Print)9781107047860
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (all)


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