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Don`t be afraid to talk about Zionism
By: Shmuel Amir
5 March 2015
Netanyahu accuses his opponents and especially the “Zionist Union” of not
being Zionists, and even of being anti-Zionists. The condemnation as “anti-
Zionist” or of inadequate loyalty to Zionism is greeted with understanding by
large segments of the public, and it must be admitted that it is quite
effective. Otherwise the Israeli Right would not use it so much against what
in this country we call the “Left”.
Those who bear the brunt of these attacks, or see themselves as bearing it
include part of the centre liberal and even radical public, who fear that the
label “anti-ZIonist” or “non-Zionist” will exclude them from the respectable
public and push them to the margins, the last place they want to be. And so
they defend themselves with all their might.
According to the Zionist ideological steamroller, which operates
systematically and ceaselessly from the cradle to the grave, the Arabs are our
eternal enemies, for after all, “they want to destroy us.” If you are not a
Zionist you are not a patriot. And from there it is but a step to accusations
of treason. In the face of all that, it is difficult for liberals and even
some radicals to stand up for themselves and criticize Zionism.
Instead, we hear vague replies like: “If Netanyahu is a Zionist then I am not
a Zionist”, and “If Lieberman, Bennett and their ilk are Zionists, then I am
not a Zionist.” This reticence is definitely understandable and appropriate,
but it provides no answer to the question of whether they themselves are
Zionists. You do not hear what is Zionist in their opinions, or whether they
oppose only the Zionism of the right-wingers, but the Zionism of Herzog, Livni
and even that of Zehava Galon is their Zionism. One thing they absolutely do
not say: that they are not Zionists. That is a red line they do not cross. In
such a situation Netanyahu can continue to snipe at them with great success.
We are confronted with a certain reluctance to deal with Zionism itself. To
these people the racist and aggressive Zionism of the Right is unacceptable,
and that’s great. But what is Zionism itself? Some of our radicals want to
remove the whole question of Zionism from the agenda.
Back in the day, an entire ideological movement came into being in order to
exit from this maze. It was “post-Zionism”, which appeared after the conquests
of 1967, which its adherents emphatically rejected. But at the same time it
was said that the Zionism from before 1967 was justified and even quite a good
thing. Some of them even developed nostalgic feelings for that good old
Zionism. Post-Zionism did not much take into consideration the opinions of the
Palestinians themselves, in whose eyes that very period before 1967 was the
worst of all: the Nakba – the expulsion of most of the Arabs in 1948. At the
same time the post-Zionists deserve credit for being the first large grouping
from academia that put the question of Zionism on the agenda.
Today people like Uri Avnery, for example – to judge by his article that was
published on the Internet on 31 January – claim that they have no answer to
the question of whether they are Zionists or not. Why? Because there are all
kinds of Zionists and Zionisms. And here Avnery enumerates a long list of
types of Zionism: there were those who saw in Zionism a socialist utopia and
others who saw it as a national fortress based on military strength.
Nor was the the nature of the desired state clear. Martin Buber wanted a
binational state. The practical Zionists called first of all for “fulfillment”
– that is, patiently settling on the land, whereas the Revisionists demanded
the creation of a state immediately. Avnery proceeds to tick off the various
Zionists: ‘Religious Zionists want a state based on and dominated by the
Jewish religion. National-religious Zionists believe that God has sent the
Jews into `exile` because of their sins, and wanted to compel God by their
deeds to send the Messiah now. Atheist Zionists declare the Jews are a nation,
not a religion, and want nothing to do with the Jewish faith.’  It turns
out then, that everyone can select for themselves their own Zionism. Netanyahu
is a bad Zionist. We are good Zionists, or we do not know what kind of
Zionists we are, we have not yet decided – there’s so much to choose from.
How strange it is that among the Arabs and especially the Palestinians there
are no such difficulties? To them it is clear what Zionism and its actions
are. They have learned from painful personal experience. To them Zionism has
brought nothing but evil, they have no convoluted uncertainty as to the nature
of Zionism as do some of our good Zionists. To them nothing is more clear and
simple than the definition of Zionism. It brings to mind Prof. Ilan Pappe’s
remark that “to the occupiers, the Occupation is multifaceted and complex; to
the occupied it is always very simple.”
Today, claims Avnery, Zionism is no longer necessary. He likens it to building
a house. Now that the house has been built there is no longer any need for
scaffolding. Zionism served as the scaffolding, and now it can be taken down.
That sounds so nice and simple, but what was that scaffolding? The scaffolding
was the British regime in this country. The British regime proclaimed the
creation of a Jewish National Home in Palestine. And we must remember that
back then this country was home to a community of eighty thousand Jews as
against eight hundred thousand Arab Palestinians. And what was erected under
the scaffolding? Under the scaffolding of the Mandate was created the Jewish
Home. That is, Jewish colonization and a Jewish state. In the struggle for the
Jewish state most of the indigenous population were expelled from here. Even
today we still have a scaffolding: the USA, without whose rule in the world
and the region it would be hard to imagine the existence of a Zionist Israel
that holds onto its conquests and threatens its surroundings with
Is practical Zionism really over? On the contrary, it looks like it is alive
and kicking. Are there no more settlements, no more expropriation of land and
denial of equal rights to Palestinians? Does the Occupation really no longer
The Zionist idea too is still alive and well. Even in its primary and
primitive form. Jews were murdered in Europe and immediately Netanyahu shows
up and in the name of all the Jews of the world calls on Jews to emigrate to
Israel. Is anything more Zionist than that?
The Zionist idea is very simple. The Jews are a nation, they need to leave the
lands where they are living and “ascend” to Palestine. Is there any Zionist
who does not agree with that definition?
From that simple objective flow all the disasters, whether those of the
Palestinians or the Israelis; for there is no nation or public in the world
that will agree to the arrival of another group of people to take their place.
It matters not at all if the intention of the first Zionists was to expel the
Palestinians or not. The flow of Europeans to lands that belonged to another
indigenous population always followed the framework, outline and patterns of
colonialism. The Zionist influx in Palestine was like that of European
colonists in all the lands where they went. Through various means they always
attained same objective: the oppression and expulsion of the local population.
The “problem” of Zionism was that people were already living in Palestine.
Zangwill’s claim of “a land without people for a people without land” was
preposterous at the outset and the Zionist leaders knew it. Herzl himself
visited here in order to convince Kaiser Wilhelm to support him and his
If we were living only among ourselves here, we could ignore the history and
the especially the violence and the oppression of Zionism. We could keep
stressing the positive achievements, such as the revival of the Hebrew
language, Israeli culture, our technology and other such things. But the
problem is that among us and next to us live those who could not forget even
if they wanted to: the Palestinians cannot forget the Nakba and the Occupation
of the West Bank and the routine cruelty of Israeli rule. Thus post-Zionism,
or Zionism as something that is not defined to which you can relate with
indulgence and sometimes even with nostalgia – just does not work.
Netanyahu touches a raw nerve in many critical Israeli Jews when he accuses
them of anti-Zionism. See how Buji [Isaac Herzog] and Tzipi Livni hastened to
call themselves “The Zionist Union” in the recent election campaign. Just try
to accuse Meretz of lack of Zionism and you will see how they swear by it.
In the present election campaign Zionism itself is not being discussed, but
rather used as a way of smearing one’s political adversaries, successfully
forging even more solid Zionist unity in the process.
Only through breaking of that unity, political discussion with the
Palestinians as equals, and above all the ending of the Occupation and the
recognition of the right of return according to the resolutions of the United
Nations can we ever realize peace and reconciliation. And that cannot happen
as long as the radical liberal Jewish public is afraid to broach the nature of
Yes, a broad swathe of the left-leaning public has a problem with defining
themselves as Zionists. They have a vague feeling that that concept carries
with it a legacy that is not very pleasant. They also know that people like
them all over the world have reservations about its ideology and its actions.
But they live among their own people, for whom to express reservations about
Zionism is to risk being cast beyond the pale of legitimacy.
Meanwhile we can vote only for the only political bloc that is not Zionist:
the Joint List.
1. Uri Avnery. Gush Shalom. “Zionists All”. 31 January 2015:
Translated from Hebrew by George Malent
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