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Post-Zionism Emerges As A Major Force In Israel’s Intellectual Life

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
September-October 1999

Intellectuals in Israel are moving away from many of the ideas which prevailed in that country’s first fifty years and toward what many have referred to as an era of "post-Zionism."  

In a new book, Palestine Under The British, author and journalist Tom Segev portrays the British in Palestine not in the negative terms which were used in previous histories but as decent people who promised the Zionists a homeland and made good on that promise.  

Segev told The Jerusalem Report (Sept. 13, 1999) it is his goal to shatter national myths: "I was surprised, when I first started to sit in the archives, to find that the documents told a completely different story than what we were all taught at school. We learned that we ran the British out of Palestine, that they were horrible and oppressive rulers, and that we built our country despite their efforts to ruin the Zionist project. In fact, Israel was created with their full assistance and sponsorship. It was the Arabs who ran them out. The British became sick of Palestine after putting down the Arab Revolt in 1939."  

A recent special issue of the journal Theory And Criticism, published jointly by the Van Leer Institute and the United Kibbutz Movement Press with the support of Israel’s Education Ministry, is devoted to the 50th anniversary of Israel’s independence and features articles by a number of prominent writers and academicians.  

An article by Baruch Kimmerling of Hebrew University’s Sociology Department on the subject of "The Palestinian Tragedy: Al Nakbah," discusses the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs during Israel’s War of Independence. He writes: "The Palestinians expect that even if we don’t return their land and houses to them—because we are the strong ones here and they are weak—that at least we should acknowledge) their tragedy and suffering, and the fact that our society and state has, to a large extent, been founded on the ruins of the Arab society and culture. They do not even expect us to ask forgiveness—only that we acknowledge the facts."  

Henriette Dahan Kaley of the Hebrew University Political Science Department, writing about the riots by Sephardi Jews in Wadi Saliv in 1956, concludes that the riots were caused by the "Zionist ethos," which dominated a society that was "totalitarian, oppressive and lacking in tolerance toward others." Oren Yiftahel of Ben-Gurion University’s Geography Department disputes "the common assumption regarding the state’s democratic nature." An alternative political analysis, he concludes, "points to a governmental reality which I term ‘ethnocratic.’"  

Authors Tamar Barkai and Gal Levi write: "The Israeli state...is ethnocentric, while at the same time its universal image functions to disguise the dominant status of Jews of European origin (Ashkenazim), who have been able to perpetuate their control of key positions in Israeli politics and economy through their appropriation of the Zionist ethos."  

In an article critical of the post-Zionist writers, Assaf Sagiv, assistant editor of Azure, writes in that publication (Autumn 1999) that Theory And Criticism is "not the ephemeral publication of a fringe group...It presents us with a reliable picture of a mode of thinking now accepted as the norm in important circles in Israel’s academia, especially in the humanities and social sciences...Israel’s campuses are gradually becoming hothouses for political anarchism,as the Israeli intelligentsia busily educates towards resentment of the Jewish state and the values that permit it to exist."  

In his introduction in Theory And Criticism, Adi Ophir, who is a lecturer in philosophy at Tel Aviv University, declares, "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."

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