Zygmunt Bauman and Israel

So my blogroll was right: Netanyahu won the elections in Israel. There will be a delay to the two states. I’m not knowledgeable enough to express a valuable opinion on whether the delay makes sense. But I do have an interesting story to share.

Zygmunt Bauman, one of the world’s greatest thinkers, is a Polish Jew. Bauman was born in 1925, which means that this year he will turn 90. When the Nazis occupied Poland, Bauman and his family fled to the USSR because back in 1939 it was still a decent place for Jews to be. Bauman fought in WWII, taking part in the battle to liberate Berlin. After the war, he, a passionate Communist, collaborated with the Soviets at persecuting the Ukrainians who were fighting for their independence from the USSR. He was also a KGB informant.

Bauman was doing really great at that job until his bosses found out that this father, as passionate a Zionist as his son was a Communist, had approached the Embassy of Israel with the hopes of emigrating. Bauman was completely incensed and broke off all contact with his father. The future philosopher had no use for Israel and considered it to be a stupid bourgeois project with no value.

Time passed, Bauman read and studied a lot. Eventually, he realized how shameful and stupid his collaboration with the Soviets had been and became increasingly disgusted with Poland’s pro-Soviet government. Zygmunt Bauman became a great thinker and philosopher.

In the late 1960s, a shameful anti-Semitic campaign was unleashed by Poland’s pro-Soviet anti-Semitic secret police. Bauman was first kicked out of his professorship at the Warsaw University. Then he was kicked out of the country. Nobody wanted him, so he went to Israel. When worst comes to worst, where’s an unwanted, still-not-that-famous Jew to go but Israel?

Bauman taught at the Tel Aviv University for a while but then left for the UK. He realized that he wasn’t finding what he needed in Israel. After leaving, he remained highly critical of Israel, going as far as accusing it of  “taking advantage of the Holocaust to legitimize unconscionable acts.” Because a Jew remains a Jew, and will always put everything in doubt and be critical of everything because that’s what makes him a Jew. Bauman has been one of the harshest critics of Israeli anti-Palestinian policies.

Zygmunt Bauman, I repeat, is among the greatest thinkers humanity has ever produced. We all make mistakes but his are counterbalanced by the enormous work he has done for the benefit of all of us and that none of us here have been able to match. If I have gotten over his input into the persecution of Ukraine’s Liberation Army, you can get over whatever bothers you about his life path. The point of the story is not to criticize Bauman but to illustrate the complex relationship of the Jewish Disapora with Israel.  

Ukraine ‘ s Nascent Civil Society

When I speak of the civil society coming into existence in Ukraine, this is what I mean:


Gosh, I grew up around these village bus stops, and they were always the saddest, most depressing places that made you feel like you were surrounded by people who hated being alive. They stank of piss and excrement, the walls were covered with peeling paint that looked like it had been applied back in the 1950s.

But more and more often, the village bus stops are beginning to look like this:


And it isn’t just bus stops. I’ve seen photos of those ugly Soviet residential areas buildings that stood ugly and drab for decades until last year people decided to paint beautiful, colorful images on them. And now the entrances look like sunflower fields or cherry orchards* instead of concrete gray blocks.

* Chekhov was from Ukraine, of course, and his famous cherry orchard was based on traditional Ukrainian imagery.

School of Education

“I’m a tenured professor at our School of Education,” a colleague announced at a meeting. “As I’m sure you all know, the field of education is known for its outstanding. . . erm. . . lack of rigor and  . . . erm . . . exceptional intellectual shallowness.”

I laughed so loudly that the windows rattled. Everybody else looked embarrassed at stared at the table in front of them.