Friday, January 21, 2011

Why I'm Anti-Zionist but Pro-Israel - Part I

I am pro-Israel but anti-Zionism.

First, three reasons why I oppose Zionism.

One hundred years ago the founder of cultural Zionism, Asher Ginzberg bemoaned the anti-diaspora stance within the Zionist camp. Ginzberg, better known by his nom de plume, Ahad Ha'am, penned "Negation of the Diaspora" in 1909. The article criticizes the so-called "true Zionists" for declaring the Land of Israel as the only option for Jews. Ahad Ha'am deemed that plan as unrealistic. The Jews will not migrate to the Land of Israel in an realistic time frame; the "Diaspora" will not disappear. Instead, he advocated a gradual migration of Jews to the Land of Israel focussing on rebuilding Jewish culture. He presciently recognized that most Jews would prefer to stay in the Diaspora. The Talmud (Tractate Kiddushin) tells us that very few - those at the bottom of the social order - migrated from Babylon to Ezra at the foundation of the Second commonwealth. The Third Commonwealth would not be substantially different.

Ahad Ha'am lost this ideological battle to the political Zionists led by Theodor Herzl's camp. Nearly forty years later, David Ben Gurion laid out his detailed manifesto for the State of Israel in which he unapologetically "negated the Diaspora." If you listen to any official representatives of the State of Israel speak on the topic, nothing, essentially has changed. A few years ago I heard the senior Israeli diplomat in the Midwest end his address to a group of American Jews with this:
As Jews, Israel is the stage and you are in the audience. We invite you to step on to the stage and become part of the action.
So, for the 130 years of political Zionism, negating the Diaspora has been a constant component. In other words Zionism is constituted as anti-Diaspora. As a Jew who chose to live as a Jew outside Israel I have to reject Zionism on those grounds.

The second aspect of Zionism which I reject is the settler movement. Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar in Lords of the Land documented the moment in the 1970s when the establishment Zionist camp, led by the late Yigal Allon and Yizhak Rabin along with President Shimon Peres, conferred legitimacy on the nascent settler movement. The repeated attempts of the settlers to establish a base at Sebastaya succeeded. The stand-off with the IDF ended in an embrace. That moment established the protocol of collaboration between the military and the settlers. This protocol is in force to this day. The Israeli military builds roads, provides arms, training, employment and security on behalf of the West Bank settlers. According to Zertal and Eldar, the Labor Zionist leadership came to the conclusion that the mantle of Zionist vanguard had passed from the kibbutzim to the settlements. Two years later, the Likud rose to power and, under Ariel Sharon, the West Bank settlements became the largest and most expensive national project of the State of Israel.

I reject Labor and Likud's Zionism. I reject the State of Israel's Zionism.

The third aspect of Zionism which I reject is the system of laws, Basic Laws (the building blocks of a future Israeli constitution) and national institutions that are governed by these laws that discriminate against non-Jews because of their religion and ethnicity.

Why am I pro-Israel?
I am an Israeli. I relate to the Land of Israel not only as a Jew, but as an Israeli. I love the creations of modern Hebrew culture. I am deeply connected to events, music. I could not reject Israel without rejecting part of  myself - and I have no need or desire to do so.

I care deeply about the future of Israelis: my family, friends and the people I am a part of. I am an activist on their behalf, largely, because I care about them. I am working for future coexistence between Israeli Jews and Palestinians. Zionism created a new people, of which I am a part.

As an Israeli and a Jew, I call on Israel to dismantle the settlement project and to undo its discriminatory laws and institutions. As a Diaspora Jew I call on Israel to abandon its anti-Diaspora position.

(In Part 2, I will look at other formulations of the Israel-Diaspora relationship that are mutually supportive)


  1. Michael, I am impressed with your stand on the issue of being anti-Zionist but still Pro-Israel. It is only right to hold on to what is good and to reject what is bad, not just for Israelites but also for other nationalities. This is because we are living in this world not just for ourselves but also for other people.

  2. As an American and non-subscriber to Judaism, I find Zionism as a nationalism which has had to come to some unique grips with its own diaspora, although the litany of issues which Israel's government has with the Jewish diaspora are similar to relations to other states and their diasporas.

    Those who are native to nation-state A and have lived in the state A for all their lives will see those who have lived outside of the state for most of their lifetimes as foreigners; those who recently migrate out of the nation will be seen by the most nationalistic of those who stayed in nation-state A as abandoners. Those who live in the diaspora are seen as not having less room to criticize the government of nation-state A, and will be perceived as collaborators in association with nation-state B's interests, which comport less with the residents of nation-state A.

    So Zionism was intended to create a nation-state which would be separate not just from other nation-states, but also from the diaspora which resided in those other nation-states. It happens in other nation-states, although other governments are just as much trying to use their diasporas as venues for foreign relations (Armenia), propaganda (PR China) or PR warfare against political exiles (Cuba, Vietnam, China-Tibet).

    Israel's government, OTOH, is trying to attract and assimilate migrants from the diaspora, not export them out. Perhaps the more successful diaspora venue for government relations is with the post-1948 diaspora who've made Yerida.

    From the beginning of Zionist settlements in Ottoman Syria through the British Mandate, recent immigrants to the region were told by the local version of Quebec's "language police" to speak Hebrew and abandon Yiddish. To this day, Israelis who are seen as justifying internalized stereotypes are accused of exhibiting the "shtetl mentality" or "galut mentality", things which are officially abandoned when one makes aliyah to Israel.

    Today, the settlers see themselves as increasingly native to the region, less related to the more cosmopolitan, diaspora-ish Israelis on the coast because they themselves dwell within the hinterland (i.e. the West Bank). The Israeli government would be hard-pressed to negate the totality of the settlers' arguments because of the cultural, visceral heritage as well as the contemporary investments so far made into the region. There would be alot to lose in withdrawal, and the settlers would never forgive the government over forcible withdrawal.

    So, as an Israeli, what you would be attempting to work against is a core, long-resident part of the Israeli political dialogue. Not necessarily the Jewish religious or Ashkenazi ethnic, but the Israeli political dialogue.

    The rugged, angry, dare-I-say nativist farming settlers of the hinterland, not the "wayward" coastliners nor the cosmopolitan, "sheltered" diasporans, are the consummation of the nationalist, irredentist, agrarianist ideal that is Zionism. Even the Hebrew-speaking, military-serving, flag-waving sabra, pre- or post-1948, is no longer the #1 ideal of the free, independent, forward-thinking Israeli Jew.

    This doesn't anger me or anything, since I have no investment in whatever goes on in West Asia, and I am not an anti- or pro-Zionist. But that I see the native, hinterland-dwelling, land-wedded, corn-fed rural resident touted as the "true blue" citizen of most countries' nationalisms (and the opinions of whom are prized more than those "damn liberals"), including that of the United States, is not surprising, but it is hard to shake to make way for nuance against the competing dualisms of the future.

  3. Rayne -
    Thank you for visiting the blog and commenting.

    1) The term "diaspora" is a misnomer. The term was invented by the Zionists to invert the relationship of the Jewish colonizers in Israel/Palestine to the major Jewish centers around the world. The Zionist worldview would like Israel to be seen as the center of Jewish life, with the rest of the world as "chutz la'aretz" (outside the Land).
    A more moderate approach sees Jewish life as having two co-equal centers: in North America and Israel.
    Even in Zionist circles the term is not widely-known. It's usage is essentially limited to Israeli officialdom.
    2) The view you present of the settlers is not widely-held, even in Israel. The new ideal for most Israelis is holding a foreign passport. The U.S. is the new hinterland.

    I do agree with you that changing Israelis' attitudes is going to take time if it will ever succeed. For starters, how about showing Israelis that America is not just about making money and the Simpsons. At its best America is about values such as separation of church and state, electing a Black president and trying to make amends to the indigineous population, rather than attacking them with state-funded militias.