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Progressive answers to anti-Zionism — Part 2: Alternative visions

Some respondents to my previous post on “What Israel Could Be” were predictably furious that anyone could associate the word “progressive” with the word “Zionism.” They described Zionism as a movement that was, by its very definition, murderous and evil.

“Zionism” is one of those elastic words or phrases that have long since lost a precise meaning, like “civil rights.” Especially on the blogosphere, people can choose whatever definition they want to choose and base their complaints on those definitions. If one tries to offer alternative definitions, one is accused of justifying or rationalizing “criminal” acts committed by Israelis.

No one can win this argument. The gaps are too wide. But other people are tuning into the argument, on blogs and on campus. Some of them are still trying to make up their minds about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For them, it is important to respond to the bilious and inaccurate definitions, and to show that throughout this century, there were many versions of Zionism. And some of the pre-’48 visions were energized by the same goals and concerns about the plight of Palestinian Arabs that motivate many “progressive Zionists” today.

So let’s start with a definition of Zionism from “,” which is similar to those found in a number of dictionaries: “A Jewish movement that arose in the late 19th century in response to growing anti-Semitism and sought to reestablish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Modern Zionism is concerned with the support and development of the state of Israel.” That’s close, although the first sentence doesn’t convey the fact that the movement was a response to the historic and continuous oppression of Jews long before the 19th century.

Compare the above definition to the following comments by some of my blog’s newest visitors:

“Saifedean Ammous” says:

I will always be against anyone who decides to get together in a group and kill other people because they do not belong to that group. Whether that group is based on religion, race, horoscope or shoe size matters nothing to me; what matters is that you do not kill others who do not belong to it, or kick them out of their homes.

“Zionism is a movement that chose to make a land available to a section of people based on one of these criteria and decided to ethnically cleanse and subjugate everyone else who doesn’t belong, who also happened to be the majority. I would oppose it no matter who carries it out and regardless of in which group’s names they carry it out

And “Kevin” Says:

We can’t somehow re-make the present ideology and institutions of Zionism by claiming it has a hidden “progressive” side. To do this is incredibly naive, and a betrayal of progressive values such as multiculturalism, legal rights for all citizens (and non-citizens), and fundamentally, restitution for historical injustices (which is written into the fabric of progressive idealism, which in the US includes the civil rights struggle and the rejection of slavery, etc).

… “Progressive” zionism can only exist when the modern concept of Zionism is drained of its core concepts — a muscular ethno-religious nationalism based upon conquest and settlement. The notion that Jews in historical Palestine have a right to political self-determination isn’t Zionism. The notion that Jews may be “safe” within a national entity isn’t Zionism. The idea that passover may be a state holiday isn’t Zionism: to call these Zionism while rejecting the ethno-religious nationalism that has defined the ideology means to redefine the term and to rethink its history.

I would argue this is only possible when Israel sheds Zionism as ideological underpinning and identity of the state, i.e. in a binational, federal or unitary state within the borders of historical Palestine.

So the first definition presents all Zionists as people who decided to murder another people and, apparently from the start, had “ethnic cleansing” in mind.

The second respondent insists that there is only one definition of Zionism: a “muscular ethno-religious nationalism based upon conquest and settlement.” The writer, Kevin, adamantly refuses to define it any other way. He claims that offering anything other than that definition would “redefine the term and…rethink its history.”

Not true. “The notion that Jews in historical Palestine have a right to political self-determination” is, in fact, Zionism. “The notion that Jews may be `safe’ within a national entity” is Zionism. Those are my definitions, Kevin. They are our definitions. You can’t strip them away from those who choose to call themselves Zionists.

More importantly, different Zionists, pre-’48, had different ideas about how to translate those goals into reality. Their example shows that it is not necessary, as Kevin claims, to completely remake the idea of Zionism in order to leave room for humanistic values and a commitment to find a solution that addresses Palestinian suffering and statelessness.

In the 20th century, some rather prominent Jews called themselves “Zionists” and believed that while Jews needed a homeland, it was possible and necessary to accomplish that without displacing another people or denying them fundamental rights. They did what they could to balance progressive –or at least liberal– values with the practical necessity of giving a constantly shunned, constantly victimized people –i.e., the Jews –a place to lively securely and to govern itself.

The best-known and most intriguing examples were set by Martin Buber; Judah Magnes, the American-born President of the Hebrew University; and Henrietta Szold, the American -born President of Hadassah. These were not exactly lightweights in Palestine or in the Jewish world. In 1942, they formed a political movement called “Ihud” (Hebrew for “unification”), which pushed for a bi-national solution. “We think that if the attempt is made to convert Palestine into a Jewish state or an Arab State there will be no peace here,” Magnes said. He pushed for “a large union across Palestine, Transjordan, Syria and Lebanon so that Jews could immgrate to Palestine without upsetting Arab sensitivities over the whole region,” according to Peter Grose in Israel in the Mind of America .

Then there was HaShomer Hatzair, the left-wing socialist group in Palestine that pushed for a united movement of Arab and Jewish workers. Like Ihud, it favored a binational state. On the eve of the creation of the state of Israel, Hashomer Hatzair proclaimed:

…the only path…that is related to progressive world policy and opens up new horizons for the Zionist enterprise is a Zionist policy based on political equality between Jews and Arabs in an undivided Palestine…the development of the land For the benefit of both of its peoples, and speeding its march toward independence as a bi-national state.

This group was one of the ideological precursors (I’m oversimplifying tangled Israeli politics) of Meretz, whose vision of a Jewish state was cited in my previous post

Even Chaim Weitzman was not an advocate of a muscular ethno-nationalism, or at least not one as muscular as other Zionist leaders. One of the most important figures in Zionist history took a minimalist approach to the question of Jewish statehood for decades. Even as late as 1942, when more militant, nationalist Zionists were pressing for a full-fledged, independent Jewish state, he wrote a piece in Foreign Affairs that proposed an autonomous Jewish Palestine integrated within a Levantine Arab federation. And he and his allies pushed for that in a critically important gathering of American Zionists, the Biltmore Conference. That sounds reasonably close to some of the solutions offered by Kevin.

All of these questers for a just Zionism lost the argument. But they bore no resemblance to the bloodthirsty ogres depicted by Saifedean Ammous in the first comment excerpted above. I’d like to think that, had I been alive at the time, I would have joined them.

Now, it is too late for the kind of binational state envisioned by Buber, or Magnes, or Kevin, or Saifedean (who no doubt would be mortified at the idea of agreeing with self-described Zionists), even if one believes that is a just solution. The problem is not only that it is impractical, and would be impossible to implement without horrific violence and would permanently heat up simmering tensions between two distinctively different ethnic groups. Another problem is that, since the Israelis will never accept it, those who advocate it are helping to perpetuate a cruel delusion among Palestinians refugees, who desperately need a homeland of their own. They won’t get one unless it is in a state next to Israel. End of story

But even though their goals were different, the likes of Magnes, Buber and Szold had the same motivations and basic values as today’s progressive Zionists, who are fighting against occupation and settlement expansion and pressing Israel not to take steps to preclude a 2-state solution. They were trying to do the right thing, the just thing, against daunting odds. So are we. That is my definition of progressive Zionism.

24 thoughts on “Progressive answers to anti-Zionism — Part 2: Alternative visions

  1. I am not sure what you are trying to accomplish here. To show that, in some general sense, there were Zionists who had good hearts in the pre-state era and now there are still Zionists with good hearts? I don’t question your interest in doing “the right thing,the just thing.” The question I have is whether what you (and your various organizations) advocate now is the right thing, the just thing.

    For example, I see that you are on the Board of Ameinu, which came out in support of Israel’s over-the-top military campaign in Lebanon. Was it the right thing and the just thing for Israelis to slaughter civilians last summer?

    Do you think Israel should talk, right now, to the Palestinian unity government or not? Should the U.S. continue to impose terrible economic burdens on Palestinians by boycotting the democratically elected government of the Palestinian Authority? Is that the right thing
    and the just thing to do?

    As I’ve said before, Mr. Fleshler, I am the kind of person you are somehow trying to convince, someone who sees that much more harm than good has come from the Zionist experiment I must say you are making a valiant effort, but thus far I have not seen anything on this blog to change my mind. (BTW, I can only post one of these a day, as I have no time to engage in these lengthy conversations. Please accept my apologies for not engaging in more dialogue)

  2. This was a bit too self-righteous for my tastes. The implication is that Buber and Magnes were the only ones concerned about human values and the Zionist mainstream had no concern. Of course they did. At least some of them did

    But as someone else wrote a few days ago on one of your posts, the pre-State Zionists were products of their time. Faced with the catastrophes that were heaped on Jews in Europe, they pushed hard for a Jewish state. They were much less concerned about what would happen to the Arabs living there. Some of them just didn’t care and figured that somehow a solution would be found. Othere wanted to push them out, deliberately. These days I often here so-called “pro-Israel” Jews say that they would have joined with Buber if they had been around back then. That is the height of self-righteousness. It’s like saying that if you had been a southerner in 1850, you would have been an abolitionist. It’s a meaningless statement. You were not there, and if “you” there, your values probably would have been very different. People make choices based on the circumstances they are in and the values they have grown up with. The Zionists made their choices. You are acting as if they were the immoral “ogres” and only the nice, sweet anshei yofei (sic?) like Judah Magnes made the right choices.

  3. Correction:

    In my last paragrpah, it should have read:

    “The MAINSTREAM Zionists made their choices. You are acting as if they were the immoral “ogres” and only the nice, sweet anshei yofei (sic?) like Judah Magnes made the right choices.”

    I agree that the latter were also “Zionists,” as you pointed out.

  4. Also, if a bi-national state ss “impractical” now and therefore advocating it perpetuates a “cruel delusion,” was it any more practical or realistic when Buber and the others advocated it?

    They took a moral stand and that was commendable. You said you would have done the same thing. But what exactly prevents you from taking same moral, impractical stand now, if you are truly concerned with justice?

  5. The need for change of political structure must be compelling if it is to be done at all. An idea alone is not sufficient.

    The plight of the Jewish refugees of the decade of WW2 was compelling, but primarily because of the enormous society and institutional development efforts of Israeli and diapora Jews, a nation emerged.

    Similar efforts have occurred for Palestinians, though with more distractions and too much corruption. There is now a compelling Palestinian national sentiment, where there was not even following the 1967 war (the dominant anti-Israeli sentiment at the time was pan-Arab or pan-Islamic and only thirdly Palestinian nationalist).

    Again, in an environment in which fanatic parties have such influence in each society, the prospect of single-state or federal state solution without major changes in Hamas, Islamic Jihad, PFLP, Al Aqsa Martyrs, Likud, Israel Beitenu, is impossible.

    Of the possible choices, the two-state solution yeilds the most democracy currently available, as imperfect as it is, or as much as a free and unimposed solution might have arisen previously.

    WW2 and the attempted genocide (REAL, and nearly carried out) of the Jewish people did happen.

    There is no possible revision to the past. To hold any litmus test on that is opportunist fantasy, and cruelty usually results from such ideological fantasy, as we’ve seen too often.

    In the future a bi-national state may evolve naturally, as Europe evolved into what is now a semi-formal multi-national federation.

    It happened incrementally and by mutual consent. Those situations where bi-national federations were imposed by force (always from without, including the left’s “just” words), nearly always resulted in civil war.

    The efforts that would make a bi-national state possible, are the efforts at regional trade and culture, with Israel invited to the table, not excluded from the table.

    Acceptance, even conditional.

    How seriously should Israelis be expected to trust that they will be treated as peers if they have never been in the past? (Bi-lateral yes, but only with Jordan and Egypt).

    You asked about the Lebanon War and the relations with the unity government of PA (which still renounces prior agreements with Israel).

    When those states renounce their active state of war with Israel, accept Israel’s right to exist, then there will be the prospects of peace there.

    To conclude that Israel overreacted in Lebanon was rational. To conclude that any reaction was overreaction is just plain denial of the reality (according to UNIFIL) that Hezbollah initiated an aggression by shelling two civilian towns, then they did the abduction in Israel). And the timing of the action opened a third front in a low level war.

    It is an revision to consider shelling of civilian from Gaza, West Bank, or Lebanon as not aggression.

    The open question is how to respond to that aggression, and also how to create the relationships that make aggression less likely and less violent.

    The first question is whether one respects of the right of the Jewish people to self-govern at all.

    Many on the left reject that, ironically in the name of supporting multi-culturalism.

    The way to hold Israel accountable, is to urge the normalization of relations with Israel, rather than isolation.

    Israel is NOT South Africa. Israel within the green line is genuinely of significant Jewish majority, with minority rights respected.

    As Palestine is significantly Islamic, hopefully evolving to a state of minority rights respected.

    But even in South Africa, the institutions that proved that apartheid was unnecessary and a deterrent to greater good were the institutions that put black and white South Africans in mutually dependant working relationships.

  6. A comment from Ami Isseroff, an energetic web editor/creator/poster in Israel, provides yet another perspective. It is from “Zionism and Israel News.” (

    Progressive Zionism versus benighted fanaticism

    “Dan Fleshler presented a vision of Progressive Zionism – his own personal vision — at his Realistic Dove Web log. Not surprisingly, he drew a lot of flak from the usual crowd of fanatic “progressive” anti-Zionists. They presented a demonized picture of Zionism and insisted that there is no such thing as Progressive Zionism.

    “Not only do they not recognize the right of Israel to exist — these people won’t even admit that progressive Zionists exist. Their comments indicate much more than wilful ignorance about Zionism. They reflect the results of a systematic campaign of demonification that is every bit as vicious as the medieval inquisition.

    “Personally, I can’t see how anyone who supports suicide bombing and genocidal religious fanaticism could be a progressive. I can’t see how anyone supports the right of Palestinian Arabs to self determination could deny the same right to the Jewish people. I can’t see how anyone intent on perpetuating the murderous conflict in order to destroy one side can claim they are for `peace.'”

  7. Thanks for a fairly clearly stated case. Thank you also for having read my comments and replied to some points I made, but I must take umbrage from the fact that your quotations of me overlook the fact that I have said that “other” zionisms indeed have existed, and perhaps may exist. It is indeed true that before 1948 contestation between zionists over the nature of the movement was quite pitched, and many visions for this movement were still elaborated. However, to discuss Zionism we do need to accept the fact that certain concepts over time have come to constitute its core beliefs.

    And so today the concept of Zionism has effectively coalesced, and there is for different reasons little room for manoeuvre within the greater part of what might be termed Zionist thinking. The core aim of Zionism now is not the goal to guarantee safety for the Jewry of the world but is based upon the idea of “a Jewish state”. There is a very real difference between these two.

    So in fact your references to pre-48 thinkers such as Buber as the fount for conceiving of progressive zionism makes my point — there in no way that Buber would ever be considered a Zionist today by mainstream Zionists. They sought a safe home at a time when it was desperately needed, but insisted on its not being an ethno-centric state. They lost this fight, and now, at a time when Jews no longer require safety, Zionism can only be defined as this irrational insistence on a state that privileges Jews.

    So I do need to ask again for more specifics about what ‘progressive zionism’ is. I would propose that if zionism will agree to two principles, it will truly be progressive: will this zionism insist that Israel be a state for its citizens, with no privileges for any one group? Will it insist that Israel be a state that recognizes and rectifies the injustices that occurred in the course of its creation and since then?

    Again I reiterate, I don’t think the principle of self-determination for any community anywhere needs a special name. So Zionism isn’t just Jewish self-determination. It’s Jewish exceptionalism; Jews of course have the same right to self-determination as any other group anywhere they are – but to insist upon it as a special feature (especially now, when no-one is denying them this) hints at the problem. Zionism is indeed now defined by the ethno-religious nationalism that organizes Israeli society.

    These are difficult points to address for anyone invested emotionally in an Israel “for the Jews”. I can understand why Zionists are emotionally invested in such an Israel, I do not say that to be so is to be an ogre, etc. But to be progressive means to question the emotional investment in a idea when you see that the idea is producing injustice. So if the zionism you propose rejects these core injustices — the entho-religious basis of Israeli nationalism, the denial of past injustice in the creation and expansion of Israel — then it goes some way to being truly progressive. It begins to approach the idealism of Buber and (many) other pre-48 zionists.

    And… the last comment you posted from Isseroff is pretty poor quality hysteria. Any time fingers are pointed saying “do not recognize the right of Israel to exist” the discussion indeed has nowhere to go. And then on to supporting genocidal blah blah and suicide bombing, etc. Really, why in the world would you bother posting such silly blather? I had thought the level of discussion here was much higher, and it’s the only reason I bother to spend time writing here. As a critic of Zionism I find few places to have sensible discourse with Zionists — let’s try to keep the discussion above the ad hominem, shall we?

  8. Kevin,

    First of all, it’s been a long day and I don’t have the strength to give your thoughtful post the full response that it deserves. A few small points for now, then I will try to respond to the rest of it–and related issues–soon (might take a few days).

    I apologize if you were upset that I omitted your reference to “other Zionisms.” The main reason I did so was to save a little space and keep the flow going without losing readers, who generally want posts to be much shorter and much less nuanced and detailed than you and I might like them to be.

    The other reason was that the “Zionisms” you described did not seem remotetly connected to the modern, Jewish variants I had in mind. You wrote:

    “Of course other modes of zionism can be traced – the pre-modern variants, and the non-Jewish variants (my favorite is Rastafarian cosmology). These are a totally different matter, and if one wishes to identify with the legacies of “other” zionisms, then that’s of course commendable.”

    The pre-Herzl varieties or the Rasta variety had nothing at all to do with the case I was trying to make, which related to Jews who were tying to build a Jewish homeland in Palestine, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. All that I was concerned about was showing that there have been different versions of the modern Zionism that you object to, so I omitted your references to other forms of it.

    More later, either in another comment or perhaps even a post. Thanks in advance for your patience…

  9. Kevin,

    I suggest a different formulation: if Magnes, Szold and Buber were around today, they wouldn’t be advocates of a 1-state solution because any concrete attempt to implement it would cause untold amounts of suffering. That was not necessarily the case when they pushed for the binational state.

    You wrote:

    “I don’t think the principle of self-determination for any community anywhere needs a special name. So Zionism isn’t just Jewish self-determination. It’s Jewish exceptionalism; Jews of course have the same right to self-determination as any other group anywhere they are – but to insist upon it as a special feature (especially now, when no-one is denying them this) hints at the problem.”

    First of all, are you sure “no one is denying them this?” The Jews of France who have their bags backed because of fears that anti-Semitic violence will not relent –and those who have already left– would disagree. There are still nations around the world where Jewish self-determination –i.e., the right to live as Jews and to define what it means to live as a Jew– is challenged, or where Jews continue to feel insecure about their place in the social order based on real provocations, not self-imposed “paranoia” based on an imaginary anti-Semitism (which is how many leftists describe Jewish fears).

    There will almost certainly be other, different threats to Diaspora Jews in the years to come. That is, to me, the most important reason to preseve a homeland and a place of refuge.

    Now, you object to an “ethno-religious nationalism” that manifests itself as a state. But, you have yet to mention that the reason for the Jewish state was the particular, singular situation of Jews for many centuries. You assert that the difference between Jewish ethno-religious nationalism and others that seem more legitimate to you –e.g., Turkish nationalism– is that Jewish nationalism is based on “settlement and conquest.”

    But –leaving aside whether “settlement and conquest” is an oversimplification–aren’t there other differences? Aren’t you leaving out a very large part of the Jewish narrative? I won’t go into any detail about that narrative now. I assume you don’t deny the refusal of the world’s nations/societies to give Jews the same rights as others in those polities, and the singular nature of anti-Semitism.

    That was the basis of pre-State. and pre-Holocaust, Zionism and it is still a basis of Zionism today. There were certainly compelling arguments for why Jews should not be allowed to settle in Palestine and form a state before the Holocaust. The Holocaust settled those arguments.

    If I understand you correctly, based on your earlier comments and your endorsement of Judt’s claim that Israel is an “anachronism,” you seem to believe that Jews who claim they want and need a state where they are in the majority are clinging to an outmoded formula, one that is being rejected by the rest of the civilized world.

    Huh? Right now, large communities and collectivities of people who have something in common still organize themselves into states. They still use the term “people” to describe themselves. I wish we didn’t live in a world where that was the case. I agree that borders and national identities would vanish in an ideal world. I wish I didn’t live in a world where Turkish and other “foreign guest workers” who have lived in Germany for decades are still denied citizenship, or where non-Danes are kept out of Denmark. As Leon Wieseltier has written, “European nationalism includes no conception of the multi-ethnic state. European culture is permeated with a contempt for otherness. Indeed, the moral incompetence of European culture with regard to otherness now falls more heavily on Muslims than upon Jews.”

    I also wish I didn’t live in a world where Jews cannot possibly think about living in or being citizens of some Middle East and Persian Gulf states.

    I don’t live in that world and neither do you. Right now, the only sure way to preserve the Jewish right of self-determination (which you say you endorse) is for the Jews to have a state. That is why I am a Zionist.

    Can there be a majority Jewish state that is also a “state for all its citizens?” That’s one of the things you ask for. I am ready to say “yes” but I don’t count. Right now, a “state for all its citizens” is a loaded term because it is endorsed by a combination of people who include nasty rejectionists. It’s hard to discuss it without being sucked into the morass of Israeli politics. But, yes, eventually, Israel certainly can and must be a state for its citizens –whether or not that is the precise term that is agreed upon. This blog has included comments from Zionists who are working to make that happen.

    Can and should modern Zionists work to “rectify past injustices” and acknowlege them and make sure that they are not denied? Absolutely. That, too, should be a basis of Zionism.

    Again, that’s one of the topics that has been broached on this blog. See the lengthy “apology” to the Palestinian people by Roger Kamenetz that Christopher MacDonald-Dennis included in a comment on the post “Reclaiming the Z-Word,” last week. I like what Kamenetz has to say. He apologizes for injustices suffered by Palestinians, including some brutal behavior by Israelis. But Kamenetz still says we need a state of our own.

  10. Dan,

    Good job on that last one. Not self-righteous, like the original post. But you wrote that a world “without borders and national identities would be ideal.” Borders? Well, it would wonderful to get rid of those some day. But I thought you were defending the national identity of the Jewish people, and now you’re saying it would be ideal to get rid if that. I hope that was just a slip of the fingers on your keyboard. Otherwise it made no sense. But, really, you are doing yeoman’s work here and I wish more people would know about you!

  11. Its hard to know if critics of Zionism are saying, “religion is anachronism”, or if “nation is anachronism”, or “no new society can settle anywhere if there are people there already (and as there are people everywhere, no displaced society can ever emerge)”.

    Or, if they are singling Jewish community for that anachronism status. “Only Jewish religion is an anachronism” or “Only Jewish nation is an anachronism”, or “Only Jewish society will be prohibited from settling and self-identifying”.

    To avoid being branded an anti-semite, one would have to adopt the universal principled stand, and reject the selective application. (Applying only to Jews.)

    I personally find great merit in Jewish community, as a current phenomena, not as an anachronism. Many others do as well. It is a living, changing culture that does respond progressively to tensions that it encounters.

    As we need a place to be a community, Israel is a good place for that to be.

    I would hope that progressives would acknowledge universally, that Jewish community, Jewish association is a right, a good.

    The political question then only is about whether nation is relevant, self-defined community of communities however bounded.

    And, if nation is relevant, whether a bound nation is relevant.

    In each case, the definition of whether nation is necessary or relevant is partially self-defined and partially other-defined.

    In an environment in which no Jew cares whether they are in a Jewish community or not, then the question of borders is irrelevant. Who needs them? They are obstacle only in that case.

    In an environment in which no Jews in their self-identified community is threatened in any way, then the protection of political nation is also irrelevant. Who needs it? The benefits are already accomplished through community.

    There is a tangible basis of our association that is deeper and more substantive than strictly external physical characteristics.

    For example, if African Americans identify culturally, that is more substantive than their identification solely by skin pigmentation. As others defined people by skin color, even if skin color is entirely superficial substantively, it became significant culturally.

    We are Jews similarly. (Not by skin color, but by other external or objective characteristics.)

    We self-identify, AND we are threatened (partially for self-identifying). Hence, the need for nation.

    We desire to continue to self-associate as Jews, even us humanistic ones.

    A progressive approach would make room for that desire to self-associate, however stimulated.

  12. What you have done is appropriate the good anti-Zionist voices and claim that they speak in your name, by simply writing off the one state solution and assuming that therefore one must be a Zionist to inherent their mantle.

    To call this dishonest is flattering.

    I will not get into an argument about the practicality of the one state solution versus the two state solution now. I will just outline briefly why your reasoning for this post is inhrenetly flawed.

    The ethnic cleansing of Palestine happened, the Zionist leadership was clearly responsible for it, and there was, in the words of Benny Morris “a crystallization of consensus in support of transfer among Zionist leaders”.

    Many of these Zionist dissenters you mention were murdered by the Zionist movement. Many of them are indeed honorable people with great noble stances, but they are as representative of Zionist policy as white South African opponents of apartheid were of apartheid.

    You can not take the presence of people like Ronnie Kasrils and other whites in opposition to apartheid as proof that apartheid was not racist. And you certainly could not do that by claiming that a democratic state in South Africa was impossible, and therefore the opposition to apartheid of Kasrils is the progressive spirit that must be now used to continue and support apartheid.

    Unfortunately, Dan, reconciling your tribal parochial instincts with any “progressive” notion is really much harder than you wish it to be.

    But keep trying; I am more than glad to check in every week to your blog and demolish the hodgepodge of wishful thinking, falsification, deception, illogic and racist undertones that underlie your notion of “Progressive Zionism”.

  13. Saif,
    You should engage the CURRENT question of whether a two-state solution is more democratic, and more likely to result in the success of each community, than a single-state, or a bi-national state.

    I’m not really sure how you get to any critical mass of support for your proposals, if you only appeal to those that agitate.

    Israel is not South Africa. It is a majority rule system, WITH one-person/one-vote.

    And, international law and community validates Israel’s existence repeatedly, even as there is frequent criticism of policies and practises.

    Israel was formed by UN mandate. One can appeal to international law to object to policies, but it is at best an irony to appeal to international law to contest its existence as a separate and Zionist (Jewish self-determination) state.

  14. Saif,

    I suspect we’re never going to have a useful interchange about what happened and why it happened and how it happened. The problem with debating history or discussing historical events in the blogosphere is that the form itself (i.e., these little boxes with text in them that cannot be too long, or readers will flee) does not allow for a full accounting.

    All I can tell you is that we agree that what happened to the Palestinian people was a terrible tragedy and that Zionist brutality contributed to that tragedy, and that Israel should acknowledge a major responsibility for it. But I still believe that Jews need a state of their own. And on that we will disagree.

    I am curious, though, to know what you are talking about when you say that “many of the Zionist dissenters” I mentioned were “murdered by the Zionist movement.” That’s a new one on me. Was Chaim Weizmann murdered by Zionists? The founder of Hadassah was murdered by Zionists? Martin Buber? Huh? Which member of the Zionist movement murdered them? If you are going to try to show that there is nothing at all justifiable in anything the Zionists did, may I suggest you be a bit more careful aboutthe pronouncements you make about them?

    Look, I’ve read Pappe and Benny Morris and some of the other “new historians” and some of what the Zionists did in the midst of a brutal ethnic war was indefensable. I’ve also read some persuasive rebuttals of their accounts. Nor am I am not trying to justify or defend the racism and “Orientalism” of many Zionist leaders, who were, as others have said on this blog, “products of their time.”

    But I still think your premise that a “plan” of “ethnic cleansing” was at the core of ALL Zionist ideology, is not accurate. It is much too simplistic and ignores the manner in which the ebb and flows of events helped to shape ideas and decisions. More importantly, it is a mistake to ignore the role of many other actors in bringing about this tragedy.

    For example, I don’t know, and neither do you, what would have happened if Arab armies hadn’t massed on all of Israel’s borders and invaded in 1948. Would hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or been chased out in the fog of war? Are you sure?

    Nor do I know what would have happened were it not for the Arab revolt in the 1930s, which convinced many mainstream Zionist leaders that other solutions that WERE advocated by some –such as a federal arrangement or the autonomous Jewish entity that Weizmann favored– were not tenable.

    But here I am, unable to resist doing what I said was useless -i.e., getting sucked into the maw of debates about what happened 60, 70 and 80 years ago.

    The more important question is, now what? How do we wake up from this nightmare? I do not think advocating a bi-national state now will attain the objectives you want to achieve. I am not dismissing it to “justify” Zionism or anything else. I do not think it will end the terrible suffering of the Palestinian people under occupation or in the Palestinian diaspora. And I’ll have more to say about that soon.

  15. Saif, you wrote

    “Many of these Zionist dissenters you mention were murdered by the Zionist movement. Many of them are indeed honorable people with great noble stances, but they are as representative of Zionist policy as white South African opponents of apartheid were of apartheid.”

    Well, hold on now. You keep conflating “apartheid” –which was a set of policies and laws — with “Zionism,” which was and is a movement that had many ideological strands. The white South African opponents to apartheid grew in numbers and eventually formed an important part of the anti-apartheid movement. The left wing Israeli groups/parties like Peace Now and Meretz are comparable to them. And they, too, call themselves Zionists. There is no such thing as ‘Zionist ideology.” There were –and are– Zionist ideologies.

  16. Teddy,

    What you wrote is utterly false and meaningless.

    Apartheid in the South African context is the name used to signify Afrikaans nationalism which is an almost exact replica of Jewish nationalism in name, motivation, execution and racism.

    Within Afrikaaner nationalism there were several strands, some that wanted to give the blacks an independent state, others that wanted to keep them in dependent and unviable Bantustans, and some that just wanted to kill/tranfer the lot of them.

    Within Zionism, the exact strands exist with the what you dellusionally call “Progressive” Zionism being the equivalent of the Apartheid regime of the 80s that was calling for Bantustans to become nation states. (Incidentally, the only state in the world to recognize one of these Bantustans was, you guessed it, Israel).

    The anti-Zionists like Buber, Pappe, and others are the real equivalent of Kasrils and the rest of South Africa’s whites who opposed apartheid. Shimon Peres and the rest of the Israeli “Progressive” movement are the equivalents of Verwooed and Botha, who were, as we all know, very very good friends with Begin, Rabin and their criminal counter-parts in Israel.

  17. Dan,

    I am quite busy now, but want to get back to answering you in detail.

    In fact, I suggest we carry an official inter-blog dialogue posted on my blog and yours. We can have it about the topic of “Can Zionism be Progressive” and we would limit ourselves to, say, 600-word contributions each 3-days/week/etc…

    We can discuss the details if you are interested.

    All the best,


  18. Saif,
    I would be more interested in your response to Uri Avnery’s article, which is on my latest post. The Z-word is not that important. It is just a word that can be used to help start a more important conversation about where we go from here.

    What I am trying to do –in my own small way– is to help build a political bloc that will change America’s Middle East policy so that it is evenhanded. That is the only way to end the occupation and fix what was broken in 1948 and again in 1967.

    Part of this effort involves exploring whether there is any possibility of common ground between American Jews who support Israel’s peace camp and others on the left. If there isn’t the possibility of common ground, I am trying to explore whether there is any possibility of civil conversation that helps the discussants to learn and grow, rather than engaging in the screamfests that appear on most blogs connected to the Middle East. That’s one the reasons I started this blog.

    Those are my motives. What are yours? What is your political plan? How do you expect to move from A to B and help solve anything? So far, all I’ve felt is your fury and your interest in winning debating points. What else are you trying to accomplish? More importantly, who is going to benefit from your insistence that the state of Israel should disappear? How, in any practical way, is that insistence going to help Palestinians or anyone else?

    With that in mind, I urge you to look at Avnery’s article and, if you find fault with it, explain why. Then I’ll be able to learn something.

  19. Dan,

    I will respond to Avnery’s article, but I need a couple of days as I’m swamped now.

    And no my motivations are none of the ones you are talking about. I don’t want to just prove that I can debate well and score points and vent.

    My position is that this conflict is influenced (nay, shaped) by what people in the world’s only superpower think about it. This is the country that enables the criminals at the helm of Israel to murder my cousins back home. Unless people here recognize the amount of nonsense in the common version of the conflict as it is understood in this country, America will continue supporting the criminals in charge of Israel who will continue to propagate the racism, persecution and apartheid that is the ROOT of this conflict.

    And that is why I think it is imperative to make people like you finally realize that Zionism is not just a word that can be bandied about and spoken of lightly. The whole discourse of Zionism is one that is fundamentally racist and fundamnetally criminal towards millions of Palestinians.

    Avoiding talking about the fundamental racism at the heart of Zionism would be like attempting to end the injustice in South Africa without talking abtou apartheid and instead waffling on about how to make the blacks accept the leftovers the whites give them, and (if you’re being “Progressive”) to try to convince the whites to give them a little more leftovers.

    Incidentally, this was exactly the policy that Thatcher wanted to carry out on apartheid. American policy today on Israel is even worse than that.

    But anyways, I will reply to the Avnery article, but I will not let you get away from the discussion of Zionism. Presumable if something is so prominent in your worldview, you should be able to withstand a little questioning from a pesky angry Palestinian.

    And I’ll promise I’ll be nice(r) from now on.

    All the best,


  20. The comment “Zionism is racism” might not be as much content as your last repitition suggests.

    It might be half-true. The oppossite might be equally true. “Anti-Zionism is racism”.

    Its statement in anger might be a deterrent to its change.

    It might be what you want. It might be what some other political strategist might want you to repeat for their own opportunist purposes.

    Because the demographics of Israel and Palestine are RADICALLY different than the demographics of apartheid, as much as you would like them to be parallel, they are not in fact.

    I like Avneri’s inference of Sodom’s bed. To reiterate.

    If one came to visit Sodom, but one were a different size than the standard bed size, rather than extend or adjust the bed, your body would be adjusted.

    A good story that illustrates the harms of political construction rather than humanistic observation.

    For what its worth, anger is usually innaccurate, as much as it motivates temporarily.

  21. Saif,

    I understand why you believe it is important to prove that I should never associate myself with Zionism in any form. But please try an experiment. Consider what you think of everything else I’ve advocated on this blog –i.e., the policies and political tactics– but delete the word “Zionism.”

    My positions. like much of the Israeli left that you disparage, are pretty much identical to the positions of the Palestinians who signed the Geneva initiative. I’d even go further than that document when it comes to Israel acknowledging its responsibility for what happened in ’48 and apologizing.

    Based on my experiences and interactions with Palestinians who consider themselves to be relatively moderate when it comes to Israel, most of them feel as angry as you do about the founding of the Jewish state and subsequent Israeli policy. Again, I don’t blame them. But they also understand the necessity of working with Jews who share their goals for a two-state solution because it is the only practical way to wake up from this bloody nightmare. I assume you wouldn’t consider those Palestinians “racists” because they accept the reality of the Jewish state, would you?

    If you agree with the Geneva Initiative, what difference does it make whether I think that state has some validity, as long as I am able to make common cause with those who don’t, but want to live side-by-side with it?

    If you don’t agree, then I’m curious to know what you think of the Palestinians who signed it…

  22. The essay is good but perhaps a bit to apologetic. Zionism was not simply a progressive movement, but the most successful national liberation movement of the 20th century.

    No country is perfect. But most of the harms inflicted in this case were not due to “Zionism” but rather the attempt to eradicate Zionism by the rather racist neighbors.

  23. For the record, I’m currently working on a research project and had to confront the some issue; what is – or is not – “Zionism”. In the process I had to come up with a formulation that works with my personal definition – and thus fits into the argument(s) I am making, while at the same time recognizing and accepting that my definition – like all others – is basically subjective. Therefore I opted to use the notion of “Applied Zionism” which I define thusly:

    Applied Zionism. Since the terms ‘Zionist’ and ‘Zionism’ were coined by Nathan Birnbaum in 1890 and 1893 respectively, their meaning has continued to expand and evolve in a myriad of different directions. Today there is a host of various hyphenated ‘Zionisms’ – cultural-Zionism, political-Zionism, social-Zionism, Neo-Zionism, &c. – and thus the term’s applicability has become largely subjective. This array of definitions inevitably came about as the logical consequence of many debates and discussions on the topic; nevertheless, it also serves as something of a defense mechanism to prevent criticism as well. Essentially, if one declares oneself to be “anti-Zionist” in the militaristic ethnocentric sense, the pro-Zionist advocate can simply switch definitions portraying Zionism as a benign cultural movement and so on. By changing definitions as it suits the argument, the pro-Zionist advocate makes criticism look bigoted and simultaneously subverts the
    initial criticism into an endless discussion of semantics.

    “In order to avoid confusion as well as to prevent the hostile reviewer from changing definitions thereby discrediting aspects of this study, it has been decided to use the term Applied Zionism though out this text. For the purposes of this study, Applied Zionism is defined as those objective measures taken to create and maintain the ‘Jewish State’
    regardless of such subjective qualifiers as motivation, intent, or philosophical interpretation. The intentions, justifications, and other subjective criteria notwithstanding, Applied Zionism only refers to the actual objective construct, policy, or action in question.”

    Do you think this is fair construct for use by anti- / non- / or post-Zionist writers?

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