By Uri Avnery
A week ago, Haaretz published an article by Shlomo Avineri, a respected professor and former Director General of the Israeli Foreign Office. I tried to refute his views in a letter to the editor.
Being restricted by the format of a letter, my remarks were necessarily brief. Haaretz cut the letter even more. I am sending here the full text of Avineri’s article, and the full (unabridged) text of my letter.
The Lie of Post-Zionism
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.
However, in this their claims are identical to those of the old-style anti-Zionists. These were, for example, the classical arguments Communists and to some extent also those of the Bundists: that there is no Jewish people (see, for example, Stalin’s doctrine), that Zionism is an ally of imperialism and that the Palestinian Arabs are victims of Zionist aggression. Not all of these arguments are entirely baseless, and those who disagreed with them also knew that the debate was a legitimate one.
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: This is simply an old car they are trying to sell as though it has just this minute come off the production line of the latest intellectual innovations.
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.
The anti-Zionist position has accompanied Zionism from the very outset, and it is a legitimate position even if one does not agree with it; it led some of the Communists in the Land of Israel (sorry, Palestine) to justify acts of murder of Jews in Hebron and Jerusalem, committed by Palestinians in 1929, as the authentic expression of a "popular uprising," even if its inspiration was fanatical Islam.
There is nothing new in this moral blindness and these historical distortions, but it is worth remembering: This is not a matter of post-Zionists, but rather of anti-Zionists of the old school. The absurdity is that anti-Zionists of a different breed, the people of the ultra-Orthodox movement Agudat Yisrael, for example, have accepted the historical fact of the existence of the State of Israel. The other anti-Zionists, who are accustomed to calling themselves the people of the world of tomorrow, are still captive in the snares of the past. Indeed there is nothing new under the sun.
Post-scaffolding for Israel
A letter of Uri Avnery
In response to The Lie of post-Zionism [Hebrew title of article] by Shlomo Avineri (Haaretz 4/7)
In 1976, a Jerusalem periodical wrote that I and my colleagues – i.a. Gen. Matti Peled, Eliyahu Elyashar, Col. Meir Pa’il – the founders of the "Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace", are anti-Zionists. We sued them for libel, won the case and were awarded considerable compensations.
In the course of the proceedings, I testified at length, on the basis of my book "Israel Without Zionists". When the judge interrogated me about my attitude towards Zionism, I used, for the first time, the term "Post-Zionist".
“Post-Zionism” in its true meaning is a long way from “anti-Zionism”. It recognizes Zionism’s historical achievements: the formation of a new society, the revival of the Hebrew language and the creation of the state [of Israel.] It does this without ignoring the dark aspects – the historical injustice done to the Palestinian people.
The essence of post-Zionism lies in recognizing that Zionism had fulfilled its role with the foundation of the State of Israel. Since then a new nation was born, the Israeli nation, composed of the citizens of Israel, much as the American nation is composed of the citizens of the United States. Jewish citizens feel a natural affinity to the Jewish world while Arab citizens feel a natural affinity to the Arab world.
An Israeli who is asked abroad "What are you?" answers automatically: "I am an Israeli." It would not enter his mind to say "I am a Jew", unless asked specifically about his religion.
David Ben-Gurion said that the Zionist Federation played the role of the scaffolding in the building of the state of Israel. That is true for Zionism as a whole. A building is not the anti-scaffolding, it is the post-scaffolding.
-Uri Avnery is a leading Israeli peace activist and a respected writer; he is a regular contributor toPalestineChronicle.com.