The problem with post-Zionism

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Post-Zionism can be crudely defined as a post-modernist rejection of Jewish nationalism that delegitimizes Zionism and denies the Jewish right to statehood.

The buzz phrases employed to promote these goals include calls to transform Israel into “a state of all its citizens,” which entails abrogating the Law of Return, changing the flag, amending “Hatikva,” and creating what amounts to a binational state.

It is no surprise that in the current climate, Israeli Arabs fervently endorse this approach. But it is incomprehensible why a number of Israeli academics have adopted post-Zionism and have the gall to harness their universities as launching platforms to delegitimize and demonize their country, even promoting anti-Israeli boycott campaigns.

Tom Segev’s new book, a massive 600-page tome titled 1967, is the latest post-Zionist output. His thesis is that Israel could have avoided the Six Day War, and that opportunities for peace were squandered immediately following the conflict.

SEGEV IS probably the most popular of the “new historians” challenging the traditional Zionist narrative. He is also unquestionably a gifted writer and historian, possessing a unique talent for extracting material from the media, diaries and other primary sources and, with insight, wit and pathos, reconstructing a vivid chronicle of daily life during the period under review.

He uninhibitedly displays his post-Zionist bias, and even concluded a recent book entitled Elvis in Jerusalem with the statement that “there is life after Zionism.”

Segev’s recreation of life in Israel during the pre- and post-Six Day War era displays many parallels to our current condition. Then, as now, there was a feeling that the incumbent prime minister, Levi Eshkol, was not up to the task and the people desperately yearned for the return of a departed leader, David Ben-Gurion. Tensions within society, primarily Ashkenazi versus Mizrahi, were at their peak, and then, as now, the media was consumed by public squabbles among politicians and military leaders.

An economic recession and ongoing terrorism (minuscule compared to what we subsequently experienced) combined to create a feeling of depression and malaise, which generated a surge in emigration. The growing tension as the war clouds gathered climaxed with Gamal Abdel Nasser’s closure of the Straits of Tiran. Then, as today, the Americans, like the rest of the world, urged Israel to be patient and avoid initiating hostilities.

Segev suggests that the Six Day War could have been avoided had “paranoia,” especially fear of a second Holocaust, not dominated the political arena. He understates the consequences of the Arab military alliance under Egyptian command and the subsequent massive military buildup in its wake. He scoffs at the rising crescendo of calls to annihilate Israel, dismissing such threats as empty rhetoric.

For Segev, hostilities against Jordan and Syria broke out primarily as a consequence of the euphoria that ensued in the wake of the spectacular destruction of the Egyptian air force in the early hours of the war. He dismisses Israeli appeals to the Jordanians to cease their artillery bombardment of Jerusalem and minimizes the impact on the public of the brutal ongoing Syrian attacks on the border kibbutzim. Yet even if one relies exclusively on Segev’s own chronicle of events, his thesis remains unconvincing.

The book also relates to alleged Israeli wartime atrocities and insists that the 1967 Palestinian refugee exodus was not voluntary but achieved by coercion. Of course innocent lives are lost and individual acts of brutality and looting manifest themselves in all wars. So there is every possibility that some of the human rights violations referred to by Segev occurred. But the overwhelming evidence reaffirms that the IDF behaved more morally than any other victorious army, especially in a conflict initiated by foes engaged in a war designed to annihilate Israel.

Segev also claims that in the immediate postwar aftermath, Israel missed historic opportunities to forge a permanent settlement. Again, he minimizes the June 19, 1967 Israeli cabinet decision offering to withdraw from conquered territories in return for peace, which the Arabs responded to by the three “Noes” of Khartoum.

Segev’s1967 is a tendentious book, but it is unquestionably a sophisticated work, avoiding the more primitive defamation that appears in many other revisionist and post-Zionist tracts. Indeed, many of the recent post-Zionist academics like Ilan Pappe and failed politicians like Avrum Burg have become so vitriolic in their opposition to the Jewish state that beyond repudiating the Zionist narrative they indulge in libels equating Israelis with Nazis. Professors in biblical and archeological studies even allege that the biblical Jewish connection with Eretz Yisrael is a fiction designed to justify colonial settlement.

Post-Zionist and revisionist views proliferate in universities and in the op-ed columns of newspapers like Haaretz. They also strengthen global anti-Israeli campaigns and embolden Diaspora Jewish renegades to increasingly support efforts to delegitimize Israel.

The problem also prevails in Israeli state high schools, which employ text books that understate the Zionist narrative, even hinting that Israelis and Arabs were equally blameworthy for the “nakba” (catastrophe). In more extreme cases, following a public outcry, a number of textbooks were withdrawn for implying that Israel was born in sin.

Regrettably, the current minister of education, Yuli Tamir, endeavors to further dilute what remains of Jewish heritage and Zionist values in the curriculum. However, post-Zionist inroads in the mainstream education curriculum were initiated a long time ago, as symbolically exemplified during Yossi Sarid’s term as education minister, when works by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish were incorporated into the Israeli literature curriculum. Darwish, who was recently feted as a guest in Haifa and extolled in the Israeli media, was one of the architects of the PLO Charter, who withdrew support from Arafat because he considered him too moderate.

One of Darwish’s best-known poems addresses Jews:

Don’t pass among us like flying insects
The time has come for you to leave
Live where you will but don’t live among us
The time has come for you to leave.

Eight years ago, the World Jewish Congress published a booklet I authored entitled “Is the Dream Ending? Post Zionism and its Discontents – A Threat to the Future of the Jewish People”

My conclusion was that post-Zionism would be eclipsed because the collapse of the Oslo Accords would lead to a painful reappraisal of the role of Israel as a Jewish state and a review of national priorities. However, largely because of our failed leadership, post-Zionists today are regrouping and making their presence felt with ever-increasing hutzpa.

The solution to the problem lies in the Israeli education system. Create a new generation of Jews knowledgeable about their heritage and inculcated with a love of Zion, and the post-Zionists will be marginalized. If that does not eventuate, the number of so-called elitist draft dodgers will grow and grow, to Israel’s mortal peril.

And Israeli leaders will continue pronouncing that “We have become tired of fighting; tired of being arrogant; tired of winning; tired of defeating our enemies.”

The writer chairs the Diaspora-Israel Relations Committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. ileibler@netvision.net.il

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