Walking Away from Zionism.

Author:Gordis, Daniel


Avraham Burg

Nation Books

2018, 336pp, $18.99

Zionism has always been a fiercely ideological movement. Socialist Labor Zionism gave rise to Israel's Labor Party and to many of Israel's best-known leaders, such as David Ben-Gurion, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin. Once Ze'ev Jabotinsky's Revisionist Zionism (which would eventually create the Lik-kud Party) and Menachem Begin broke away, secular Zionism was divided into two often-warring factions. Yet there were also religious Zionism and communist Zionism. Some major Zionist figures, such as Ahad Ha'am and Judah Magnes, were cultural Zionists--they sought a revitalization of Hebrew and Jewish culture in what was then Palestine, but they did not believe that Jews ought to get into the state-making business.

The State of Israel, like the movements that produced it, is also a passionately ideological country. We witness these passions when ultra-Orthodox protesters block the entrances to Jerusalem, or "hilltop youth" arouse the ire of mainstream Israel as they establish small settlements in the farthest outreaches of the West Bank. When thousands of mostly secular youth pitched tents on Rothschild Boulevard several years ago protesting the cost of living, they, too, reflected the long tradition of ideological fervor begun in Zionism and continuing in the country it created.

In the early 1990s, another ideological movement came on the scene. Known as post-Zionism, it was prompted mostly by a few Israeli historians whose research cast doubt on some elements of Israel's classic narrative (such as the claim that Arabs who left had fled of their own accord and were never pushed out). The movement was home to a small number of Israeli intellectuals and included in its ranks well-known academics such as three of Israel's leading historians--Benny Morris, Ilan Pappe and Avi Shlaim--but then faded relatively quickly.

One of the main causes of its rapid demise was the Second Intifada (2000-2004), which reminded Israelis that whatever their political leanings, they were surrounded by millions of people who refused (and still refuse) to recognize Israel's right to exist. That bitter realization led to the collapse of Israel's political left, which has never recovered. Whatever popularity the post-Zionist critique may have had withered along with Israel's left-leaning politics; some of its most fervent adherents, such as Pappe and Shlaim who now live in...

To continue reading