Fifty Faces of Post-Zionism

By Assaf Sagiv

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n his book God’s Testament, the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy points to what he calls “the mysterious and special rhythm” that has characterized the views of Western intellectuals regarding the state, which have since the eighteenth century consistently oscillated between blind allegiance and an equally blind revulsion. “One moment they are prophesying in the language of noonday ideologies such as Marxism and classical Jacobinism, which do not even entertain the possibility of salvation outside of gigantic [political] machines whose purpose is inducing human happiness…; the next moment, they change their minds, and, like a fury that has spent itself, turn towards twilight thoughts, and find that … they have no more urgent task than suddenly to deny the state, which has turned into the source of all defilement, the embodiment of total, despised evil.”
Over the years, Israel’s radical-Left intelligentsia has principally embraced the second of these poles. The Jewish intellectuals who opposed the activist Zionism of the 1930s and 1940s and the academic elite that today constitutes the vanguard of post-Zionism share a deep loathing for the exercise of political power as embodied by the state. Nevertheless, there is one significant difference: While the former were guided by the naive belief that peace and fraternity among all peoples and at all times could in fact be realized, the latter are motivated chiefly by resentment. At their core, the views of the intellectual Left in Israel consist of little more than a posture of unbridled “criticism,” rarely tainted by so much as a hint of a concrete program that could serve as an alternative to the political reality they find so horrifying.
One would be hard pressed to find a better example than the recent special issue of the journal Theory and Criticism, published jointly by the Van Leer Institute and the United Kibbutz Movement Press and with the support of the Education Ministry, devoted to the fiftieth anniversary of Israel’s independence. In the years since it first appeared in 1991, Theory and Criticism has become the Jewish state’s most influential platform for what is referred to—both in Israel and elsewhere—as “critical” academic writing, and as such it has also become the flagship organ of post-Zionist thought. And the appearance of this publication’s special edition, entitled “Fifty to Forty-Eight,” is an event worth noticing: Its fifty articles, filling more than five hundred pages, present a comprehensive chronicle of “critical moments in the history of the State of Israel,” as viewed by some of Israel’s most outstanding academic figures. The result is the most ambitious attempt yet to create a post-Zionist catechism which can guide one’s footsteps in attempting to determine politically correct opinion on virtually everything that took place during the first fifty years of Israel’s history.

In its effort to achieve this goal, Theory and Criticism presents its readers with what can only be described as a panoramic view of the crimes, sins and afflictions of the Zionist state. In his introduction, the publication’s editor Adi Ophir (who is also a lecturer of philosophy at Tel Aviv University) warns the reader that “the volume before you is no celebration, despite the fact that it marks Israel’s jubilee. This volume also remembers those [Israeli citizens] for whom this is a holiday celebrated by others on their behalf, against their will and often to their great sorrow. It gives voice as well to those who feel that, although this is supposed to be their celebration, there is really nothing to celebrate.” It is in this spirit that this collection of articles goes about cataloguing and analyzing every complaint, protest and frustration that has arisen against the “existing order” in Israel since its founding. The identity of these opposing voices changes from one piece to the next—included are the views of intellectuals, cultural figures, artists, social-protest movements, national minorities and so on—yet no matter what perspective is being treated, the message which arises from these scholarly articles is somehow always the same: “The contributors write out of fear that control over the Palestinians in particular, and the adoption of the political forms of an ethnocentric and racist nation-state in general, are turning Israel into the most dangerous place in the world for the humanity and morality of the Jewish community, for the continuity of Jewish cultures, and perhaps for Jewish existence itself.”

 Assaf Sagiv is assistant editor of AZURE.

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