Zionism: Post and Anti

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[Hat tip Normblog]

Post-Zionism Doesn’t Exist By Shlomo Avineri

In recent years a phenomenon called “post-Zionism” has developed in the political-intellectual discourse in Israel. Fundamentally, this is a radical criticism not just of Israel’s policy; at its base is total denial of the Zionist project and of the very legitimacy of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish nation-state.  

The arguments called “post-Zionist” have various aspects – not only political but also cultural. They view Zionism as a colonial phenomenon, not as a national movement that is contending with another, Palestinian, national movement over its claim to the same territory. Some of those who are called “post-Zionists” go even further in their argument that the very existence of a Jewish people is a “narrative” that was invented in the 19th century, and that the Jews are at base a religious community.

The attitude of Zionism, which has most of its roots in Europe, toward Jews from the Muslim countries is also perceived in the context of colonial exploitation. This approach also wants to de- legitimize Zionism’s conceptual world: Because some of the so-called “post-Zionist” arguments are drawn from the post-modernist discourse, their spokespersons understand that the terms they use have a force of their own. He who controls the terms controls the debate.

Therefore they insist on referring in Hebrew to pre-1948 Eretz Israel as “Palestine;” Jews who come to live here, whom Zionist discourse calls “olim” (from the Hebrew root “to ascend”), are “immigrants,” and so on. At the same time, those who are careful not to accept the Zionist narrative sometimes accept the Palestinian narrative without question.

To them it is clear that there is a Palestinian people, that what happened in 1948 is exactly what the Arabs say happened, and that in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there is, on the one hand, a Zionist “narrative,” and on the other, “facts” that are precisely identical to the Palestinian narrative. This of course is absolute folly, and contradicts the principles of post-modernism itself.

But there is also another aspect to all this: Those who call themselves “post-Zionists” are simply anti-Zionists of the old sort. The term “post-Zionism” sounds as though it is something innovative, which came after Zionism. However, here lies a grave mistake: For the term “post-Zionism” to be meaningful, it is necessary to start out from the acceptance of Zionism as a fact and a reality and to try to go beyond it. Thus, for example, post-modern criticism starts out from the acceptance of modernity, grapples with its dialectical outcomes and its contradictions and tries to go beyond it. This is not the case for those who call themselves “post-Zionists”: They do not see Zionism and the State of Israel as a reality that has come to pass, but rather as something that is not legitimate from the outset and that must be eliminated down to its very foundations.

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The Spine reminds readers:

Post-Zionism was actually invented by Rosa Luxumburg and Isaac Deutscher. If you don’t know much about these folk–or very little at best–there is a reason. People like them were always sure of what history would produce and what would be cast off. The Jewish people were the prime candidates for being thrown into “the dust-bin of history.” Actually, Karl Marx–with his faith in the universal triumph of the working class, shared with Red Rosa and Isaac, the son of a rabbi and one-time rabbi to David Horowitz–dismissed the Jewish future that was outlined to him by one of his fellow young Hegelians, Moses Hess, the first modern Zionist. The only one of that whole progressive kommanda whose perceptions have survived as fact. See Frank Manuel, Requiem for Karl Marx, a stunning book reviewed in TNR by Michael Ignatieff. 

Shlomo Avineri is a Professor of Political Science at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a smarter man than me. An expert on Marxism and Zionism and an author of authoritative texts on both subjects, I found myself disagreeing with some of the generalizations he makes in this article. Especially this sentence: 

“They do not see Zionism and the State of Israel as a reality that has come to pass, but rather as something that is not legitimate from the outset and that must be eliminated down to its very foundations.” 

Lumping post-Zionists together in one mass does more to obfuscate than clarify. Further, my discussions with Israelis—Mizrahi Jews in particular—led me to reassess some of my assumptions about Zionism and post-Zionism. Post-Zionist Mizrahim I spoke with did not articulate classic anti-Zionism, instead they are seeking to answer some tough questions including “Can a national-liberation movement formed by Ashkenazim represent Mizrahi interests?” and “If the goal of Zionism was the establishment of the state of Israel, don’t we live in a post-Zionist reality?” I don’t have complex and nuanced answers to these questions but to admit “not well” to the first question and “possibly” to the second does not make me an anti-Zionist. In fact, my support for the state of Israel makes me a defacto Zionist or “crypto-Zionist” or a “neo-con” in the minds of many of my leftist friends. So where does that leave folks who support Israel and its continued existence as a Jewish state but who are critical of the shortcomings of Zionism? How about those who support Israel as a secure political entity and support the Jewish people in their aspirations for self-determination but are skeptical that a nineteenth century political ideology can remain relevant in 2007?

zionism_3.jpeg

[Illustration issued by the Jewish National Fund  (Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael) distributed in Poland in the early 1930s]

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