The New York Review of Books has published a 1988 talk by the late Saul Bellow about the Jewish writer in America. These excerpts are from Part II and are very important. They demonstrate how important the establishment of Israel was to the spirit of Jews after the Holocaust.
In reading Lionel Abel’s memoir, The Intellectual Follies, I came upon an arresting passage in his chapter on the Jews. During the war he had heard accounts of the Nazi terror, Abel says, and reports of extermination camps in Eastern Europe.
"But I had no real revelation of what had occurred until sometime in 1946, more than a year after the German surrender, when I took my mother to a motion picture and we saw in a newsreel some details of the entrance of the American army into the concentration camp at Buchenwald. We witnessed the discovery of the mounds of dead bodies, the emaciated, wasted, but still living prisoners who were now being liberated, and of the various means of extermination in the camp, the various gallows, and also the buildings where gas was employed to kill the Nazis’ victims en masse.
It was an unforgettable sight on the screen, but as remarkable was what my mother said to me when we left the theatre: She said, 'I don’t think the Jews can ever get over the disgrace of this.' She said nothing about the moral disgrace to the German nation…, only about…a more than moral disgrace, and one incurred by the Jews.
"How did they ever get over it? By succeeding in emigrating to Palestine and setting up the state of Israel."
I too had seen newsreels of the camps. In one of them, American bulldozers pushed naked corpses toward a mass grave ditch. Limbs fell away and heads dropped from disintegrating bodies. My reaction to this was similar to that of Mrs. Abel—a deeply troubling sense of disgrace or human demotion, as if by such afflictions the Jews had lost the respect of the rest of humankind, as if they might now be regarded as hopeless victims, incapable of honorable self- defense, and, arising from this, probably the common instinctive revulsion or loathing of the extremities of suffering—a sense of personal contamination and aversion. The world would see these dead with a pity that placed them at the margin of humanity...
What was certain however was that the founders of Israel restored the lost respect of the Jews by their manliness. They removed the curse of the Holocaust, of the abasement of victimization from them, and for this the Jews of the Diaspora were grateful and repaid Israel with their loyal support.
This is an essential understanding because it demonstrates why American Jews will forgive Israel anything. Those Jews are taking up arms, and we are not. We are not soldiers, we're journalists and professors and software inventors. On the Israelis has fallen the entire burden of Jewish "manliness."
Later in the talk Bellow hints at the excesses of this spiritual contract:
The formation of Israel was a response to the nihilistic rage of the two powerful European states that began the war, and the complicity of the rest who could not and perhaps would not protect their Jews, and Israel’s founders were aware of this. But the Western world now exhibits a certain unwillingness to sanction the Israeli solution—in other words, to let the Jews get away with it.
He is aware of the world condemnation that Israel's excesses will attract. The delegitimization that is now upon us. I venture that American Jews will continue to be defensive and blind about this condemnation until we deal with the spiritual hole inside us, and our consecration of bloody manliness.