Israel Israeli occupation Palestinians Zionism

The Magnes Zionist on “moral” vs. “immoral” Zionism

I have found a rare commodity: a kindred spirit in the blogosphere. “Jerry Haber” is the nom de plume of an Israeli professor whose provocative blog, “The Magnes Zionist,” wrestles bravely with the same issues I am trying to address. Both of us were recently plugged by Mobius in his indispensable “JewSchool.”

Judah Magnes, as this blog has noted, was an important part of a tiny but memorable Zionist bloc that advocated a binational state beginning in the 1920s. He represents the kind of Zionism that has been ignored and shunted aside for far too long.

The following post by Haber Are You A Moral Zionist? Take the Test! is worth quoting in full. I am not sure I agree with each and every one of his premises, particularly his wholesale dismissal of “political Zionism.” But he evokes the intellectual journey many –albeit not nearly enough –Israeli and Diaspora Jews have been taking in the last few decades, as we come to terms with the fact that much of the history we were taught as kids was, to put it mildly, one-sided and inaccurate. Here is his “test”:

Zionism, like other things, comes in various shapes and sizes. I, for one, am a Zionist who doesn’t believe that the State of Israel as founded in 1948 is a good idea; it has to be changed fundamentally to make it into a liberal democracy with a more vital and challenging Jewish component. Political Zionism may have been a reasonable idea at the time, especially if you came from Eastern Europe, but it hasn’t worked out well. When Magnes addressed the Jewish Agency and said that declaring a state would provoke unending war with the Arabs, he was laughed at. Who’s got the last laugh now?

But today, I want to talk about a different division of Zionism, not one of political vs. cultural, but immoral vs. moral. And I have devised a test that you can take to judge your morality meter. I know, I know, this is “beyond Chutzpah,” to use Norm Finkelstein’s phrase (so don’t accuse me of plagiarism!), but there is a point to the exercise.

Are you a moral Zionist. Answer these questions!

1) As part of your Zionist indoctrination, you were taught that the Jordanians desecrated Jewish holy sites and cemetaries between 1948 and 1967, but that Israel respected Arab holy sites. Now you learn that the Israeli government had a deliberate policy of destroying Arab towns and villages (around 500 of them), including sixty mosques, many of great archaeological value, over the objections of Israeli archaeologists. Your reaction is:

A. To feel outrage that you were lied to, and to acknowledge that Israel lost the moral high ground on this issue.

B. To accept responsibility for the actions of Israel, to discuss ways of commemorating the towns and mosques, to issue an apology to the Palestinians and Muslims.

C. To say, “Look, all emerging nations try to obliterate the past of their enemies; we are no different from anybody else. So maybe wiping out the towns was not nice, but that’s the way the world works.”

D. To say, “Those ghost towns and empty mosques posed a serious security threat to the State of Israel, and we were perfectly justified to wipe them out. Anyway, if the Arabs hadn’t attacked us, they wouldn’t be ghost towns”

2. You were always taught that the land for settlements in Judea and Samaria were obtained according to law, and that the Arab demand for making parts of Eretz Yisrael “Judenrein” was antisemitic. You now learn that many settlements are built on Palestinian private land, that much private land was declared public land by dubious legal methods, and that distinction between private and public land is actually irrelevant, because all of the land is considered by the world “Occupied” except by some Israelis, Zionist Jews, and Christian fundamentalists. Your reaction to this:

A. To feel outrage that you were lied to, and to acknowledge that Israel lost the moral high ground on this issue.

B. To agitate for the removal of the settlements, and at the very least to call for a complete freeze and a government accounting.

C. To shrug your shoulders and say, “There was a war, and these are spoils of war.”

D. To say, “This is Eretz Yisrael, man; if they don’t like it, they can move to Detroit.”

3. You were always taught that the Palestinians fled during the 1948 and 1967 fighting because their leaders urged them to do so, so they could come back after the Arab victory and loot the Jewish stuff. You now learn that Palestinians were forcibly expelled as part of IDF policy, and at any rate, even those who left voluntarily, or happened to be away at the time, were not allowed to return to their birthplace as part of a strategy to provide a Jewish majority, and that this strategy of transfer had already been discussed by the executive of the Jewish Agency prior to the State. Your reaction is to:

A. To feel outrage that you were lied to, and to acknowledge that Israel lost the moral high ground on this issue.

B. To urge Israel to take responsibility for creating the plight of the refugees, by its sovereign decision not to let any of them back in, in violation of UN resolution 194.

C. To say that the rights of the Jews to a state of their own involved, inevitably, getting rid of a large number of Arabs, and that the justice of Zionism outweighs the resulting injustice to the Palestinian Arabs.

D. To argue that life is tough, that your parents or grandparents were refugees, and that the Arabs themselves kicked out the Jews from their countries, that their own brethren should take responsibility for them the way Jews take reponsiblity for their refugees, that the Palestinians could have stayed put, that the whole damn thing is their fault, and that, anyway, refugees are a fact of life, expecially after World War II.

Well, I’ll stop here.

If you answered A or B to all three, then you are an adult and moral Zionist. Pat yourself on the back and feel bad about being a bleeding-heart.

If you answered C, then you are an amoral Zionist; in fact, you are pretty amoral altogether wheh it comes to the behavior of states. Or to use the jargon, you believe in realpolitik. We won; they lost; let’s eat. You may use the language of morality (3C), but that’s just for outward consumption and inward self-justification. Even if the Jews act immorally, the only thing that really matters is that are alive to act at all. Better a live bad Jew than a good dead one.

If you generally answered D, then you are an immoral Zionist. Or you are a moral Zionist, whose conception of morality is that of Tony Soprano or Meir Kahana. In the professional jargon, it’s called “Mafia Morality.” This usually means that you do an enormous amount of hesed work, that you always have guests for shabbat, that you give a lot charity to Jewish causes, and that you would do anything, anything for anybody who is a member of the tribe. But that if somebody is not a member of the tribe, then he or she has worth only in so far as she is good for the tribe.

(I will have a post later on Torah morality according to Tony Soprano (or Dov Lior, or Yisrael Rosen, etc.))

If you answered B to all the questions, then send me an email — we should have coffee together some day.



PS. Read about the mosque destruction at

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