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Rather than asking if post-zionism is dead, people should ask if it ever existed, and if so, what it might be.
It is not hard to recognize intellectual charlatanry even when it is in full flower, but it is almost impossible to challenge it then. You can see that the emperor has no clothes, but it is very hard to prove it when everyone is busy praising the garments. There is no point in exclaiming over and over that the emperor is naked, because nobody will listen.
Four years ago, post-Zionism was the coming thing. According to the gurus of post-Zionism, Zionism was finished and their ideas replaced it. Supposedly, post-Zionism revealed, for the first time ever, the "founding myths" of Israel, the original sins committed against the Palestinians that had been hidden by Zionist propaganda, and the faults of Israeli society. It is now apparent even to proponents, that they don't have any clear idea of what post-Zionism is, and whatever it was, if it was ever more than a name, it is probably dead.
According to Dalia Shechori's requiem in Ha'aretz (see below or here ) :
Segev is right that it is not easy to agree on who is a post-Zionist. In fact, most people who get to be called 'post-Zionists' rush off to deny it. Segev falls into the trap of trying to define post-zionism according to who is a post-zionist. It is impossible to define any movement or ideology or approach according to who belongs it and who does not, without referring to its ideational content. However, since there is no common ideational content or any other useful distinguishing characteristic of "post-zionism," people try to define post-zionism by giving examples of post-Zionists - only to have the examples flee their categorization in disgust.
Segev is wrong in saying it is difficult to agree about who is a Zionist. Maybe what he means is that he himself has doubts as to whether he is a Zionist. If he can't name ten Zionists, that is a failing of the Israeli educational system. It is easy to agree on what is Zionism, and we have no problem in agreeing on examples of Zionists. Ariel Sharon, Geula Cohen and Yossi Sarid are all Zionists despite differences in ideology, and they won't deny it.
For the uninitiated, and order to go about our business in an orderly manner, we need to define Zionism, and try to define post-zionism. If we can't define it, we don't know what we are talking about. Zionism refers either a) to the idea that the Jews are a nation, and that, being a nation, Jews should have a national home, or b) to the movement that was created in 1897 to implement that idea. There is no problem defining what Zionism is - it is a political movement and an ideology, nor is there any problem defining the program of Zionism. Post-Zionism is not definable in the same way, and you will not find any straightforward definitions of what it is. It is a banner under which various critics of Israel have been assembled, often unwillingly, for diverse purposes.
The vehicle that probably made "post-Zionism" into a fashionable fad was a 1999 book by Laurence Silberstein, "The Post Zionism Debates. Silberstein used the same tactic as Segev: if you can't define post-Zionism, all you need to do is show that it is impossible to define Zionism - that will lend legitimacy to post-Zionism. Silberstein wrote:
But in fact, there is no debate over the fundamentals of Zionism, there is no question of what Zionism is. What are the "nomadic concepts" that comprise post-zionism? Silberstein doesn't tell us, and neither does anyone else. In fact, come to think of it, what the heck is a nomadic concept? Is it a concept that herds sheep for a living and lives in tents?
It is easy to know who is, or who was a Zionist. It seems to be impossible to know who is a post-Zionist, because the major candidates for post-Zionist ideological guruship insist that they aren't it:
Quoted from Silberstein Silberstein, "The Post Zionism Debates."
Could you imagine a situation where, say, Ben-Gurion and Weizmann denied that they are Zionists, Lenin and Stalin denied that they are Communists, or Camus and Sartre denied that they are existentialists? Absurd.
From the above, it seems that many "post-zionists" don't want to be associated with post-zionism, though Pappe seems to have changed his mind in the Ha'aretz article below. It also seems that Silberstein thought that he could identify a group of ppost-zionist scholars based on their critique of Zionism. Indeed! The right-wing historian Uri Milstein (inter alia he wrote a book "debunking" Yizhak Rabin) and some others like him, not to mention Noam Federman and Rabbi Kahanah as well as Rashid Khalidi, Noam Chomsky and Edward Said, have also each "posed serious challenges to zionist discourse and problematized the scholarship that they identify with it." Does that qualify them as "post-zionists?" According to the above paragraph, it should.
The phrase "problematized the scholarship that they identify with it" should give us pause. I didn't know what "problematized" means. Do you? I looked it up. It means 'to pose problems.' Is that what Silberstein means? Probably Silberstein just means that they trashed 'Zionist' scholarship. But what is 'Zionist' scholarship? Some people, some of whom deny being post-zionists have identified some body of scholarship with Zionism, and have "problematized" it, whatever that means. In some regimes, certain scholarship was identified as "reactionary" "bourgeois" or "left-deviationist" and the authors of said scholarship were problematized off to jail or firing squads. There was no objective definition of what constitutes such "wrong" scholarship, and there is no such definition for wrong "Zionist" scholarship. If this assertion astounds you, it is because you may have taken at face value the assertions of Silberstein and Pappe and others that all Israeli scholarship before a certain date is tainted by ideology and full of myths. You are probably sure that it is so, and certain that I must be the father of all reactionaries for asserting otherwise.
Consider again. In the annals of the state of Israel and Zionism there are few greater paragons of Zionist patriotism than Colonel Meir Pail. Had he had an equivalent career in support of Soviet Communism, he would certainly have been rewarded with the order of Lenin First Class and probably would have been a Hero of the Soviet People. But Pail was a Zionist, and the reward of the best Zionists is usually to be dumped on by other Zionists. Pail devoted the first part of his life to the defense of Israel. He has written books of military theory and instructed generations of Haganah and IDF officers. Only the most doctrinaire right-wing fanatic would claim that Pail is not a Zionist in the best traditions of the Labor Zionism that is despised by Pappe and others. In 1972, long before the putative birthdate of the post-zionist movement which supposedly was founded in the 90s or perhaps a decade before, Pail published a true account of the massacre which revisionist Zionists committed in the Arab village of Deir Yassin. So the massacres were known before they were discovered by new historians or post-Zionists, and there were Zionists who told about them. Is Pail's account of the massacre, or of Golda Meir's secret agreement with King Abdullah of Jordan, part of the body of tainted Zionist history that the knights of post-zionism are debunking? Is there any honest way in which we can say that Pail's historiography is NOT Zionist history? Doesn't he work for Zionist institutions, the most Zionist institutions there are? The biggest myth, is the one created by the post-Zionists: that there was a unified and identifiable body of "Zionist" discourse that reigned supreme in darkness before they spread the light of reason. Were the "myths" that the new historians or post-zionists exploded really believed by all Israelis? Was I the only person in Israel who read Pail's article in 1972? Yediot Ahronot was after all a very popular newspaper. Or perhaps my uncle, who told me the story of Deir Yassin in 1958, was the only Haganah officer who admitted it, and nobody else in Israel knew about Deir Yassin. Or maybe it is true that Pail is one of those rotten lying Zionist historians, and maybe Mort Klein of the ZOA, who denies that there was a massacre in Deir Yassin, based on what he calls new evidence, is really a "post-Zionist?"
Post-Zionism is supposed to be a movement that arose to provide a scholarly and correct version of Israel's history as well as a scholarly and objective critique of Israeli society. If so, the following remark by Tom Segev is certainly very strange:
Equally strange is this view:
If post-Zionists discovered truths about Israeli history and Israeli society, and if post-Zionism is just an intellectual movement that discovers those truths, then those truths will not be affected by whatever Palestinians do or do not do. If Zionism is dead and we are in the post-Zionist era, and if "post-zionism" is simply a term that describes that fact, then all academic discourse in Israel is post-zionist by definition. After World War II, there was no event that could bring back pre-war discourse or stop post-war debate.
Post-zionism, if we include those who are usually identified with it, is not dead. Zeev Sternhell has not stopped writing. He is not "virtual." Benny Morris is not "virtual." He published a book just now, and made a lot of noise about it. Baruch Kimmerling is not virtual, and he didn't stop publishing either. Uri Avnery is not virtual, and he didn't stop publishing. However, what they publish doesn't add up or necessarily support each other. It isn't a movement, or an ideology, and it never was. They each have different ideas that are critical of Israeli society.
We can infer from the belief of Segev and of Pappe that the Intifada has hurt post-Zionism, that post-Zionism is a political program, and not simply an attempt to look at history and society objectively. A political program is not objective. All they are saying perhaps, is that the Intifada stabbed the entire Israeli peace movement in the heart. Well OK, we knew that. What does that have to do with scholarship of history or sociology?
Another clue lies is in the statement that Pappe is an anti-Zionist. For Pappe, "post-Zionism" simply means anti-Zionism, and it never meant anything else. If so, then Post-Zionism is just a way of sugar coating an outmoded and unacceptable ideology. Anti-Zionism is not about criticizing faults in Israeli society, it is about abolishing Israel. Supposedly, "post-zionism" arose after Zionism had finished its work, or because Israelis were unsatisfied with their society, but anti-Zionists like Pappe were dissatisfied from the beginning. Pappe is not dissatisfied with Israel because some Zionists massacred Palestinians in 1948, or because it has maintained the occupation, or because the first Russians that came here discriminated against the Moroccans, or because the Moroccan Jews now discriminate against the Russians that have come in later years. Pappe is dissatisfied with Israel because, like the Grand Mufti Haj Amin El-Husseini, Pappe thinks that Jews should not have their own state, and favors abolition of Jewish immigration to Israel. Anti-Zionists are not part of a community that lost its way or is looking for new answers after the old ones failed. The anti-Zionist ideology was there from the inception of Zionism, and it is easy to define, unlike post-Zionism. Anti-Zionists are those who believe that the Jews are not a nation, and therefore do not require or deserve a national home. They have a right to their beliefs, but they shouldn't pretend that those beliefs are based on any new findings. They believed the same things in 1947 and in 1917 and in 1897.
Whatever the merits of his arguments, Uri Avnery, also named frequently as a "post-zionist," has been making the same criticisms of Israel since the inception of the State of Israel and perhaps before. He founded his journal, Ha'olam Hazeh, right after the War of Independence. He is not a "post-zionist." Avnery and others might be "alternative Zionists" or critics of Zionism. He is not in favor of abolishing Israel and is not in the same camp with Ilan Pappe. Likewise Morris and Kimmerling and all the others mentioned have somewhat different criticisms of Israeli society. They are not part of a single movement. Not surprisingly, they have different political agendas. Why should people be surprised that Benny Morris is not an anti-Zionist, and in fact, seems to be quite a proponent of right wing Zionism?
If post-zionism is anti-Zionism or any other ideology with a specific set of answers, then it has no business obtruding itself into academic discourse of any kind in an open society. Allowing such a movement to replace "official" Zionist history (if there is such a thing) would simply be substituting one set of bumf for another. Histories, sociologies and sciences that are written to order for an ideology, never produce much more than propaganda, whether it is Zionist propaganda or anti-Zionist propaganda or Stalinist propaganda. You cannot find the truth by attempting to whack the facts of history into a particular shape with an ideological sledge hammer.
This may seem a somewhat strange claim, since post-zionists often claim that they champion the individual against society and ideology, and therefore, post-zionism has been compared to post-modernism - the end of the age of ideologies. Is it so? Laurence Silbersein wrote of Uri Ram:
This is not a program for an open society of individuals. This is a program worthy of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR in the worst days of Stalinist orthodoxy. It is science in the service of the party. Scholarship is to be judged on the basis of whether or not results confirm the tenets of ideology. Woe unto those who fail to take the correct Marxist-Leninist (or whatever) approach! If the "social and political involvement" requires that acquired characteristics must be inherited, then indeed it will be found that in successive generations, progeny of mice whose tails are cut will have shorter tails. Uri Ram has volunteered to be the Trofim D. Lysenko of Israeli sociology. If Ram finds facts that do not support the "politically engaged" correct view, do you think they will be reported? If Ilan Pappe finds evidence that the Zionists were not entirely responsible for the plight of the Palestinians, would he report it?
[quoted here ]
So, to Erlich, post-zionism is capitalist and liberal, while to Ram it is leftist. The emperor's clothes are of silk, and also of ermine. "They are a beautiful purple," says one. "They are splendid in white and gold," exclaims another. My friends, it seems to me that the emperor has no clothes. There is no post-Zionism, there are only many critics of Zionism and of Israeli society.
In any case, until someone can tell you what post-Zionism is (or was) don't be in a hurry to decide if it is (or was) a GOOD THING or a BAD THING. You may disagree. If so, please offer a coherent definition of 'post-Zionism' that can embrace all its adherents. Enthusiasts beware: until you can define what it is you are enthusiastic about, "Ye worship ye know not what."
Perhaps the period of post-Zionism was born a decade ago or perhaps only
Ram adds that he wrote the "editor's note" to the book on September 13,
He says it is possible people used the term before then, "but it wasn't
Dr. Ilan Pappe, a senior lecturer in political science at the University
"Since 1993, the Israeli universities have changed unrecognizably," says
Prof. Moshe Lisk of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a recipient of
Historian and journalist Dr. Tom Segev, one of the new historians,
So perhaps post-Zionism is ten years old or perhaps it was around before
Perhaps it's the nature of post-Zionism that it says different things to
Back to the womb
In his book, "The New Zionists," Segev describes post-Zionism as a
Three years after the publication of that book Segev says, "post-Zionism
The terrorism led to the brutalizing of Israel Defense Forces
Segev believes that the post-Zionist condition will return and even
Dr. Ilan Pappe, a post-Zionist and diehard leftist, who describes
Pappe says that indeed it is impossible to separate academic studies
And then, when the second intifada began, "many of the people whom I
Pappe says this was a very great disappointment for him. It took him 25
Post-Zionism will return, he says, when the left in Israel becomes
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Replies: 6 comments
talk about a lot of hot air! all this verbiage is a waste of time. zionism is alive and well. there is no 'post'.
Posted by mike levine @ 04/23/2004 07:22 PM CST
This may come as a bit of surprise from someone like me, but I felt like I had a fairly good idea of wat post-Zionism was, or at least what Segev thought it was, after I read Elvis in Jerusalem. Post-Zionism is the emphasis of individualistic, non-nationalist values over collective nationalist values. Segev seems to assume that the more materialistic and self-absorbed people become, the less they really believe in. He might argue that many people who call themselves Zionists are in fact post-Zionist. What he suggests is that the nationalist feelings people have are much hollower than they let on, and that the longer occupation goes on, the more hollow they get. I think Segev is a little too in love with his theory, but I suspect there's a grain of truth in what he writes, at least with regard to secular Israelis. Zionism is certainly not dead, but it has problems. Segev thinks the post-Zionism is a good thing. Most Israelis, I would guess, think it's a bad thing. I would say that this is the difference between post-Zionists and Zionists; whereas most Zionists would view the creeping materialization and deemphasis on national values as something negative, post-Zionists see it as something positive and ultimately a move away from Israel as a Jewish state to Israel as just another secular state, a sort of Switzerland that happens to have a lot of people of Jewish descent in it.
Posted by Michael Brenner @ 04/24/2004 01:30 AM CST
Segev has one definition of post-Zionism, that is libertarian and individualist. It might be close to the definition of Erlich. Pappe and Ram have definitions of post-zionism as a leftist and/or anti-Zionist movement with a different program.
Posted by Moderator @ 04/24/2004 02:14 PM CST
I'm not worshipping any post-Zionist points of view, but I'd think Pappe and other Chomskyites like Reinhardt are anti-Zionists and that anti-Zionists are different from post-Zionist.
In other words, you've got to come to post-Zionism through Zionism. These are critics of Zionism who do not totally reject Zionism. It has nothing to do with left and right. They are more historians than political activists. People like Pappe, Gordon, and Reinhardt reject Zionism totally, and offer critiques which are so politically motivated and intellectually dishonest to begin with that they are not deserving of the term.
Posted by Michael Brenner @ 04/24/2004 07:34 PM CST
What I don't get about the argument that Switzerland, or England, or the US, or Canada are secular states, but Israel is some kind of ethnic/theocratic, anti-multicultural, quasi-democratic anomaly is the following:
Posted by Maxx Pinsky @ 05/01/2004 10:00 AM CST
I read the post about secular state versus ethnic/theocratic states etc. twice, but I don't see how it is relevant to the topic of the article, except that some anti-Zionists make this claim, and some post-Zionists are also anti-Zionists.
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Posted by Moderator @ 05/10/2004 08:56 PM CST
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