It is not a question of Zionism

Only after the establishment of the state did “Zionism” become a tool which could be used to invalidate opposing political views.

By ILAN BLOCH
August 27, 2013 22:02
2 minute read.
Theodore Herzl on the passage to Egypt, March 1903.

Theodore Herzl 370. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

 
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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.

These thinkers 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 anti-Zionist ideas.

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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 way.

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.

Only after the establishment of the state did “Zionism” become a tool which could be used to invalidate opposing political views.

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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 God.”

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.

This is 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.

www.teachingisrael.com

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