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April 06, 1986|MARVIN SEID

CONFLICTS AND CONTRADICTIONS by Meron Benvenisti (Villard: $15.95). Meron Benvenisti has written an eloquent, deeply reflective, searching polemic about Israel's condition today. Benvenisti's closely reasoned argument, in essence, is this: Zionism has evolved into an ideology incapable of responding to changing realities. It has become fossilized, "a movement eulogizing itself, marking its own demise." The motivating principles of its years of greatest accomplishment have been eroded by sweeping demographic, economic and political changes within Israeli society. They have been especially undercut by the inevitable role of oppressor that Israel assumed when it began its now nearly 20-year-old occupation of the West Bank.

Israel's secular and idealistic society, Benvenisti believes, is fast disappearing. "The ideological ferment and vitality has been taken over by people fired not with the vision of creating a just society but by settling Greater Eretz Israel." Zionism is a movement that has weathered the greatest adversity and succeeded in producing a modern technological state, but in the process, it has abandoned its struggle for social justice. The ideal of a pluralistic, liberal democratic society is under increasing internal attack from the forces of "rampant chauvinism, xenophobia, ethnic and national discrimination, clerical influence, political malaise, economic and social instability." Benvenisti questions whether it is possible for Israel to be both a democratic and a Jewish nation.

There are many in Israel and elsewhere who, while agreeing with much of his descriptive analysis, would stop well short of drawing similarly pessimistic conclusions. But the hard questions are all here. If Benvenisti does not answer them, he at least succeeds in forcing those who read this humane and stimulating book to think deeply about their meaning and implication.

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