What Israelis didn’t see … and Al-e Ahmad did

The most arresting and surprising part of Iranian writer Jalal Al-e Ahmad’s Israel travelogue The Israeli Republic is his comparison of the young Jewish State, which he visited with his wife Simin Daneshvar in 1963, to a velayat — a Persian term that means “country” and “province,” as well as the Shia political ideal of the “guardianship state.” As Al-e Ahmad writes:

Now, although one does not dare compare Israel’s leaders with Abraham, David, Solomon, or Moses—peace be upon them—in any case, today’s prominent politicians can be called, if not prophets, then, certainly, guardians, and can be likened to the other one hundred and twenty four thousand prophets of Israel; of these, we have chosen St. George as the proverbial example of unsuccessful miracles. But this is a true miracle, not some sailor’s yarn. Ben-Gurion is no less than Enoch, and Moshe Dayan no less than Joab: these new guardians, each one with his own prophecies or—at least—clear-vision, built a guardianship state in the land of Palestine and called to it all the Children of Israel, of whom two million live in New York and the other eight million in the rest of the world.

What did he mean by this curious comparison? Translator Samuel Thrope and journalist Bernard Avishai tried to answer this question, and explore the meaning of Al-e Ahmad’s travelogue today, at a recent evening at Jerusalem’s Adraba Bookstore.  Most interesting was Avishai’s contention that, whatever the Iranian writer’s own intentions, Al-e Ahmad uncovered the hidden religious foundation of 1960’s Israel’s ostensibly secular politics — which would roar to life in the messianic fervor following the 1967 Six Day War.

Please feel free to listen and share. The audio has been edited slightly for conciseness.