I mentioned in another post that he was a hero of mine. Rather than paraphrase, best to quote from the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
“In debates following violent riots in 1928 and 29 on whether to arm the Jewish settlers in Palestine Buber represented the pacifist option; in debates on immigration quotas following the 1936 Arab boycott Buber argued for demographic parity rather than trying to achieve a Jewish majority. Finally, as a member of Brit Shalom Buber argued for a bi-national rather than for a Jewish state in Palestine. At any of these stages Buber harboured no illusion about the chances of his political views to sway the majority but he believed that it was important to articulate the moral truth as one saw it rather than hiding one’s true beliefs for the sake of political strategy. Needless to say, this politics of authenticity made him few friends among the members of the Zionist establishment.”
There were I must assume, many outside the Zionist establishment who saw the world as he did. He was a man with a big reputation in Germany before he moved to Palestine in 1938, as an educator, philosopher and religious thinker. He also had a major role in building a Jewish cultural awareness within Zionism, not least by his wonderful Tales of the Hasidim.
Like so many I discovered Buber when I encountered his essay, I and Thou, in my college days. An ‘I-it’ relationship refers to the world of sensation and experience. In an ‘I-thou’ relationship sensation and experience are abandoned, the relationship with the other party is paramount. He called it the dialogic principle, but let’s skip that. For Buber, God was the ultimate relationship, ever-present in human consciousness.
Back in the 60s, I and Thou resonated. Some question it as philosophy but as an instinctive truth it still resonates today.
I’ll end with another quote, which for me makes a connection between Buber the Zionist and the Buber of I and Thou.
(Jews and Arabs must) “develop the land together without one imposing his will on the other. We considered it a fundamental point that in this case two vital claims are opposed to each other, two claims of a different nature and a different origin, which cannot be pitted one against the other and between which no objective decision can be made as to which is just and which is unjust.
“We considered and still consider it our duty to understand and to honour the claim which is opposed to ours and to endeavor to reconcile both claims… We have been and still are convinced that it must be possible to find some form or agreement between this claim and the other; for we love this land and believe in its future; and seeing that such love and faith are surely present also on the other side, a union in the common service of the land must be within the range of the possible” (quoted in Mendes-Flohr, 1994).