Sunday, July 8, 2007

Post-Zionism doesn't exist ?

Haaretz : 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...

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. ...

There is no reason not to repeat these arguments today, if one considers them to be correct. The intellectual dishonesty is in the attempt to create a sense of something new, supposedly "post" and fashionable...

Some of those who call themselves "post-Zionists" also come from the former Communist camp. There is something pathetic in that 20 years ago they believed in a new, just world that was to emerge from Moscow or Cuba, and the only thing that is left to them of that lofty vision today is anti-Zionism. Not the brotherhood of nations, not the liberation of the proletariat, not universal social justice - all of this has collapsed in a tragic way; the only thing that remains is the hatred of Zionism.

I have great respect for Shlomo Avineri, and his critique nails one piece of what goes by the "post-Zionist" label. But the term is used more widely, not least to challenge contemporary Israel to be a (democratic) State of and for all its citizens. Whether Israel can be simultaneously democratic and "Jewish" (in any of several senses) seems to me to be a worthy subject for honest and robust discussion and debate in today's Israel. I don't think this questioning equates to anti-Zionism in the sense that Avineri invokes, nor do I think it is a matter of intellectual dishonesty by its proponents--certainly not by all of them.

I say this as one who believes Israel should have a distinct "Jewish" identity culturally and historically, while adhering to the egalitarian principles of its Declaration of Independence.

The term "post-Zionism" is, perhaps inescapably, elusive and subject to misunderstanding. We need a better, post-"post-Zionism" terminology.

P.S.: I guess I will have to refer to this as my "post-"post-Zionism" post."

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