Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Post-Zionism: the bumph that wouldn't die.

It is about time someone wrote this article, called Post-Zionism doesn't exist.  I wrote one like that a while back (2004): Post-Zionism: Requiem for an intellectual fad, but nobody seemed to be listening. Yoav Gelber  wrote about it in Midstream, and that didn't make much of an impression. Even before all of those, Dalia Shechori wrote in Ha'aretz, in 2004 Post-Zionism is dead or in a deep freeze, and nobody paid much attention either. One of the most interesting aspect of Post-Zionism is that it is a term that seems to be applied to people, who insist that they are not post-Zionists at all. Ilan Pappe insists he is not post-Zionist. Those, like Avneri, who criticize his "post-Zionism" may be tilting at shadows. Can someone find an actual person who will say "I am a post-Zionist?" No matter, there is a lot of Israel hate around, and a lot of it shelters in the benevolent canopy of "post-Zionism."
Avnery's arguments are not quite like those of Yoav Gelber on Post Zionism , but they are pretty similar. In fact, it would be surprising if Avnery's article was not inspired by Gelber's which appeared first.  However, Avnery's argument, while generally correct, is not very deep. Here's the opener:
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.
Firstly, post-Zionism is no longer so recent. Uri Ram claims to have invented the term in 1993. Secondly, we can't say that Avnery is right, because there is not one, but many "post-Zionisms" - in fact, there might be as many "post-Zionisms" as there pretenders to be "post-Zionists," and they operate on two or more dimensions. Ephraim Nimni wrote:
Definitions of post-Zionism are hard to find, and when they appear they are often not consensual. Supporters and detractors attribute to it different and sometimes conflicting meanings. Chaim Waxman (1997) identifies three contrasting contributions to the term. The first is the anti-colonial argument sustained by old radical 'anti-Zionist' groups in Israel. The second results from a generational change in Israeli universities, as the generation of the 'founding fathers' retires and a new more 'eclectic' generation takes over. The third contribution results from an 'a-Zionist' interrogation of fundamental questions of Jewish nationalism, Judaism and ethnicity – questions that, according to Waxman, accompanied the Zionist enterprise from its origins.
That is fair enough, and there are other dimensions too. But if that is the case, then it makes no sense to discuss "post-Zionist" critiques of Israel and Zionism as if they were all based on the same premises or had the same ideas. That didn't prevent Nimni from singing the praises of "post-Zionism." He can't tell us what it is, but he is sure it is good. Avneri probably can't tell us what post Zionism is either, but he is sure that it doesn't exist, while Gelber can't tell us what it is, and he is sure that it is bad. Here is more of Avneri: 

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.
Avneri is wise to write "The arguments that are called 'Post Zionist,'"  but there is in fact a collection of such arguments and they have different bases. Avnery tells us:   
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.
Avneri hints at one of the problems of some "post-Zionism." Some of the "post-Zionists" like Ilan Pappe are post-structuralist and post-modernist. Neither of these terms can be defined either exactly. Attempts to define them generally go on for pages and pages with no conclusion, beyond repetition of the statement, "there is no meta-narrative." Ok, so there is no meta-narrative. There is no "God's plan" that can be discerned  in history or sociology. But if there is no meta-narrative, then the Marxist meta-narrative cannot be a true description of reality either. People like Pappe, despite his denial of "post-Zionism," and other anti-Zionists like Nadia al-Hajj, turn post-structuralism and post-empiricism into post-logicalism.  They are talking words and making sentences, but they don't make any more sense than Dadaism, because they start from false premises and use false syllogisms to arrive at whatever  conclusions they like. They use "post-empiricism" as a blanket license to simply invent whatever suits their fancy. That is a good program for English literature, but it is disastrous as a way to analyze history and society. Pappe has said that facts only interest pedants, and that attitude is quite evident in his treatment of historical materials. There is no way to argue about facts with someone who insists that facts don't matter.
This use of post empiricism is of tremendous value to Pappe. The problem of classical Marxist critiques of Zionism was that every one of their predictions regarding Zionism turned out to be false. They predicted that no Jews would come to the land of Israel, that if they came, they would be unable to defend themselves against the Arabs, that if they were able to defend themselves against the Arabs, the Jewish state would nonetheless not be economically viable, and that it would fall apart because of irreconcilable differences between Sephardic or "Mizrachi" and Ashkenazi Jews. None of these predictions came true. It is the Arabs of Palestine who have been  unable to form a cohesive society, and who have drained away billions in foreign aid with nothing to show for those sums except a proliferation of explosives and small arms. But if we can ignore facts, then none of these circumstances presents a problem to critics of Israel.
The other meaning attached to "post-Zionism" is that the Zionist movement achieved its goal in 1948, when the state was founded and we are therefore in a post - Zionist period. The notion that this can somehow support the claim that Israel ought to be dismantled is absurd. Israel is not a Lego project built by children, that was created for the sake of creating it, and that should now be dismantled.
Avneri is quite correct about the following:

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.
More than that, any human rights violation committed by Zionism is automatically attibuted to the evil nature of Zionism itself, while even the most brutal and flagrant evils committed by Palestinians, from suicide bombings of Israelis to butchering other Palestinians and sending the "steaks" to their families, is either blamed on Israel somehow, or it is put down to an excess of revolutionary zeal or to "desperation."
Avneri misses the boat here entirely:
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.
It is not at all necessary to accept the legitimacy of a state or social movement in order to admit that it exists. Hamas leaders admitted many times that Israel exists, but never admitted that it is legitimate. I admit that Fascism existed, but I don't admit that it was legitimate. It was a fact. Avneri is right however, that under the rubric of the various post-Zionists and post-Zionist claims, we can usually find the same old anti-Zionism.
The whole debate over whether Post-Zionism is dead, or whether it never existed, or whether it is alive and well(and perhaps hiding in Argentina) sounds a bit like the old debate over whether God is dead, or perhaps God never existed, or whether God is still going strong. These are not the sort of questions we should need to ask about social or political movements. But the term "post-Zionism" doesn't go away so easily, despite its repeated burials since 2004. Perhaps it is simpler if we leave aside some legitimate critiques of Israel and legitimate attempts to re-examine history such as those of Zeev Sternhell, Benny Morris and the late Baruch Kimmerling. They may be right or wrong, but they are not the hard-core anti-Zionists like Ilan Pappe and Jeff Halper, and the late Tanya Reinhart. None of these people may call themselves post-Zionists, but somehow their anti-Zionism has more "moxie" to it then the old Zionology line put out by the late USSR. It is the same, but different. Avneri tells us:
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.
Indeed? There are two important differences. One of them is the success of Israel, which makes it vulnerable. Fifty  or sixy years ago, almost  every fair person (not necessarily a majority) would admit that the Jews were victims and Israel was considered an "unviable client state." Today, however, anti-Zionists can insist that the Israeli Jews are oppressors rather than victims, and Israel is considered a dangerous military monster, an affluent heartless society that exploits the poor Palestinian Arabs. Formerly it was easy to point to the Holocaust as solid proof of the insecurity of Jewish life and the correctness of the Zionist thesis. Today most of the Jews of the Diaspora have today achieved at least the illusion of comparative security. The situation of American Jews is almost as good as that of German Jews in the years preceding the rise of Adolf Hitler, though there have not yet been really highly placed Jewish officials in American life.  
The Holocaust can be forgotten in the mists of time and obscured by the anti-Holocaust industry of people like Norman Finkelstein. The pogroms belong to another era entirely -- they happened a long time ago, on another planet. The Poles, the Hungarians and the Rumanians don't need to have anti-Semitic legislation. Hitler solved their Jewish problem for them. Jews can at least enjoy the illusion of "social progress." Whatever anti-Semitism still exists, can be ascribed to the evils of the Zionists. Indeed, as long as Zionism or support for Israel  remains the identifiable ideology of the majority of the Jewish people, anti-Zionists have "protection" - they are mascots to be trotted out as examples to "prove" that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism, and to decorate Holocaust denial conferences. Neturei Karteh ultra-orthodox reactionary extremists, who in their garb and demeanor most resemble the anti-Semitic caricature of the Jew, are ideal show-pieces for so called "anti-Zionist" projects. It is hard to imagine that someone like Hector Carreon or Hutton or Mel Gibson or Mahmud Ahmadinejad or Professor Mearsheimer for that matter, has any greater love for Neturei Karteh than they do for the Meretz party or the Likud, but it is a convenient fiction to believe that these miscreants only hate "Zionists."  
There is one other circumstance that makes post-Zionism, rather than anti-Zionism, so very attractive, despite the fact that it doesn't exist. "Anti-Zionism" is a dirty word in Israel and in much of Jewish society, and in fact, in a lot of decent society of any type. It is identified with extremists, communists and bigots. "Post-Zionism" sounds ever so much more genteel and refined. "Anti-Zionism" is not really a logical position for an Israeli Jew, because an anti-Zionist Jew, who insists that Zionists stole the land of the Arabs, should not be living here at all if they carry their beliefds to their logical conclusion. A Post-Zionist Jew sounds like an entirely different proposition, even though it amounts to the same thing.
Let's say that these people have not an old car, but a horse and buggy. A horse and buggy is not too useful in the modern world, but it might be if we run out of oil to make gasoline. That explains the renewed success and virulence of modern anti-Zionism or "post-Zionism."
Ami Isseroff

No comments: