Several years ago I was facilitating a seminar on Zionist thought and theory,
which included a presentation of “Humanistic Zionism,” represented by
personalities such as Martin Buber and Judah Leon Magnes.
called for a binational state, in which Jews would enjoy not only
constitutionally guaranteed individual rights, but also rights as a collective.
I shared with the class my thoughts that many Israel educators would refrain
from presenting these views as part of their teaching about Zionism and that, in
fact, some might even condemn me for presenting what they might consider to be
When I asked my students what they thought about the
matter some argued that such viewpoints were anti-Zionist because Zionism means
a Jewish state, some said that such ideas were not anti- Zionist before the
establishment of the State of Israel but that their application today should be
considered anti-Zionist, and others recognized these beliefs as Zionist in every
One student, however, responded by remarking that the question was a
silly, or at least irrelevant, one, and that it had no business being asked in
an academic setting.
When I asked her what she meant, she responded by
arguing that the relevant issues at hand when discussing a political idea about
the future of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) are whether it can be applied
in a way which strengthens democracy, human rights, the security of the
residents of the Land and the development of Jewish culture in the Land. Whether
this policy or another can be defined as Zionist, post-Zionist or even
anti-Zionist is simply irrelevant.
“Zionism” meant a lot of different
things to different people before the state was established – there were
thinkers who called for a Jewish state, those who thought such a state was
unnecessary, those who thought the status of Jews was the key problem to be
resolved and those who thought it was the status of Judaism itself.
after the establishment of the state did “Zionism” become a tool which could be
used to invalidate opposing political views.
Today, instead of actually
critically analyzing the benefits and drawbacks of this policy or another, one
can simply dismiss it as “anti-Zionist.” People attempt to disenfranchise their
political opponents through branding them anti-Zionists, instead of actually
engaging with their challenging ideas. Such as an act is demagogic, similar to
dismissing an opponent’s argument by responding that “it’s against the will of
I thought of this discussion when considering the statements of
many left-wing politicians, thinkers and public activists who call the
settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria/the West Bank (and previously in the
Gaza Strip) “anti-Zionist.” Such name-calling is irrelevant. Criticism of the
settlement movement – just like criticism of far-left ideas, or any other ideas
about the future of Israel for that matter – needs to be based on the same four
criteria my student enumerated during the seminar about Zionism.
not to argue that Zionism is irrelevant per se, but rather that using it as the
measure of whether a particular political idea is cogent or not is not a useful
exercise when discussing politics in the 21st century.
The author is
director of Teaching Israel.
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