Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

“Wrestling With Zionism” —— A Chronology Of Jewish Critics From Zionism’s Birth Until Today

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Fall 2020

Wrestling With Zionism: Jewish Voices of Dissent  
By Daphna Levit,  
Interlink Publishing,  
288 Pages, $20.00  
By Allan C. Brownfeld  
Zionism, many now forget, was always a minority view among Jews. When  
Theodor Herzl organized the Zionist movement in the 19th century, he met  
bitter opposition from Jewish leaders around the world. The chief rabbi of  
Vienna, Moritz Gudemann, denounced the mirage of Jewish nationalism. “Belief  
in one God is the unifying factor for Jews,” he declared, and Zionism was  
“incompatible with Judaism’s teachings.” In 1885, American Reform rabbis  
meeting in Pittsburgh rejected nationalism of any kind and declared, “We  
consider ourselves no longer a nation but a religious community, and  
therefore expect neither a return to Palestine ...nor the restoration of any  
of the laws concerning the Jewish state.” It was only the advent of Hitler  
and the Holocaust which convinced many Jews that a Jewish state was  
necessary. Many are now coming to the realization that this was indeed a  
mistake, and a violation of Jewish moral and ethical values.  
In this important book, Daphna Levit amplifies the voices of 21 Jewish and  
Israeli thinkers—-scholars, theologians, journalists and activists who  
challenge Zionism on religious, cultural, ethical and philosophical grounds,  
beginning in the late 19th century, long before the founding of the State of  
Israel. She brings together a range of viewpoints into a single historical  
conversation. Among those discussed are Albert Einstein, Martin Buber,  
Hannah Arendt, Noam Chomsky, and such dissenting Israelis as Yeshayahu  
Leibovitz, Zeev Sternhell, Shlomo Sand and  
Ilan Pappe.  
Levit is an Israeli who now lives and works in Canada. She served in the  
Israeli army and slowly came to understand that the Israeli narrative of  
events was contrary to history. She saw with her own eyes the daily  
mistreatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories. She writes: “My  
own lengthy process of disillusionment with the Zionist narrative and search  
for other dissenting voices began soon after the Six Day War of 1967, when I  
served as press liaison officer at the Allenby Bridge and watched  
Palestinian refugees attempting to flee across the border. The separation  
from my country was gradual and took several decades. In 2002, I left Israel  
for Canada, at a point when the Zionist agenda was becoming increasingly  
militant and intolerant  
of opposition.”  
“A light to the nations”  
A Jewish state, Levit believed, was meant to be a “light to the nations.”  
Instead, she points out, it became something far different: “Instead, we  
became a military power, armed to the teeth and blind to the victims of our  
own cruelty. I found other, perhaps more enlightened, kindred spirits in my  
quest for absolution from the guilt of my complicity in the actions of  
my country.”  
The voices she has gathered together are indeed eloquent as they try to  
maintain the Jewish moral and ethical tradition in the face of the excesses  
to which nationalism leads. From the very beginning, Zionism’s slogan of “A  
land without a people for a people without a land” was refuted by the  
earliest Zionist settlers in Palestine, who discovered that the land was  
populated by people who had been there for many generations. Asher Ginsberg,  
a Russian-born cultural Zionist, objected to Herzl’s lack of Jewish “Nefesh”  
or spirit. He wrote under the pen name Ahad Ha’am, which literally meant.  
“One of the people.” In 1891, after his first visit to Palestine, he wrote  
that, “The land was not empty, its people are not savages, and Jewish moral  
superiority was unwarranted. Jews in Palestine were behaving in hostile and  
cruel ways to the native population.”  
In September 1922, he wrote a letter to the Haaretz newspaper after a  
revenge killing of an Arab boy by Jews: “Is this the dream of the return to  
Zion which our people dreamt for thousands of years, that we should come to  
Zion and pollute its soil with the spilling of innocent blood?” He was  
adamant about the rights of people in their own lands and the abuse of those  
rights by a  
colonization project.  
Defender of human rights  
Levit writes that, “Although Ahad Ha’am may have been the odd combination of  
a secular Zionist promoting Jewish values, he was a staunch defender of  
human rights. The native inhabitants had been there for millennia and had  
every right to pursue their own national identity with no Jewish  
overlord.... He warned Jewish settlers in Palestine to treat Arabs fairly,  
cautioning that brutality and cruelty would lead to resentment and put the  
Zionist project in great danger. He was the first Zionist to seriously deal  
with the now ubiquitous question of Judaism as a nation-state or religion.  
He stressed that the only legitimate claim Jews could make for a sovereign  
nation was if it reflected Jewish tradition of morality and universal  
conscience. He implicitly endorsed a two-state solution to the problem of  
sharing the land with its existing population. Despite the relevance of his  
thinking to contemporary Israel, Ahad Ha’am has been relegated to a  
secondary status, after Theodor Herzl. His ideas so often contradict the  
dominant narrative of contemporary Israel that he is not yet appreciated as  
the visionary that he was. Except, of course, by those who actually read  
his essays.”  
Levit reviews the thinking of a wide variety of Jewish and Israeli critics  
of Zionism. In 1938, alluding to Nazism, Albert Einstein warned an audience  
of Zionist activists against the temptation. To create a state “imbued with  
a narrow nationalism in our own ranks against which we have already had to  
fight strongly even without a Jewish state.” Einstein initially endorsed the  
idea of a homeland in Palestine for the Jewish people, but he opposed the  
idea of a state with borders, with an army and with temporal power. Peaceful  
coexistence in that homeland was more important than any national objective.  
He considered himself a cultural rather than a political Zionist. and  
supported the idea of a binational State, in which Jewish-Arab cooperation  
was a prerequisite.  
In a speech given to the National Labor Committee for Palestine in 1938,  
Einstein declared, “I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the  
Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish  
state. My awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a  
Jewish state with borders, an army and a measure of temporal power, no  
matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain —-  
especially from the development of a narrow nationalism ...”  
“Blasphemes the name of Zion”  
The respected philosopher Martin Buber spoke out in 1942 against the aim of  
the minority to conquer territory by means of international maneuvers. From  
Jerusalem, in the midst of the hostilities that broke out after Israel  
unilaterally declared independence in May 1948, Buber cried out in despair,  
“This sort of Zionism blasphemes the name of Zion, it is nothing more than  
one of the crude forms of nationalism.”  
In 1901, Buber agreed to be editor of Herzl’s Zionist journal. Der. Welt.  
But he left after one year, disillusioned with the material goals of  
political Zionism. “Instead,” writes Levit, “he launched his own publishing  
company and in 1916. Launched the journal Der Jude to provide a platform for  
Zionist literature and for debates about the direction of Zionism. He  
opposed the idea of Jewish nationalism that had become an end in itself.  
‘The moment national ideology makes the nation an end in itself, it annuls  
its own right to live, it grows sterile.’ The land of Israel alone was an  
insufficient condition for the creation of a viable and long-lasting Jewish  
nation. The nation created had to be an exemplary ethical community seeking  
spiritual purpose.”  
Buber scolded the nationalists whose only goal was living in the land they  
described as “promised”. To them, without having any sense of their  
spiritual purpose which he described as “the great up building of peace.” He  
noted that, “Their only wish is to join the wolf pack. If we are not  
acceptable in the pack, it is enough to live on its fringes, in its  
neighborhood...of all the many kinds of assimilation, in the course of our  
history, this is the most terrifying, the most dangerous, this nationalist  
assimilation. That which we lose on account of it, we shall perhaps never  
acquire again.”  
A binational Jewish-Arab state  
Martin Buber began advocating for a binational Jewish-Arab State in the  
early 1920s, arguing that it was necessary for the Zionists to live in peace  
with the Arabs, even at the cost of the Jews remaining a minority in the  
country. In 1925, he was involved with other Jewish Intellectuals, including  
Albert Einstein, in the creation of the organization Brit Shalom (Covenant.  
Of Peace). which called for a binational state with equal rights for Jews  
and Arabs. In 1938, Buber settled in Palestine to teach at the Hebrew  
University in Jerusalem, where he continued to argue for a binational,  
rather than an exclusively Jewish state.  
One chapter is devoted to Yeshayahu Leibovitz, an Orthodox Jew and. Longtime  
professor at the Hebrew University. He says that no nation or state should  
ever be worshiped as holy and advocated the separation of religion and  
state. He saw the occupation of Palestinian land as an abomination that was  
corrupting the soul of Israel. He did not want Judaism to serve “as a cover  
for the nakedness of nationalism.” Nor did he want it to be used “to endow  
nationalism with the aura of sanctity attributed to the service of God.”  
Reverence for the State of Israel as a Holy land was unacceptable, a form of  
idolatry. In Leibovitz’s understanding. of Judaism, no piece of land could  
be holy, nor could any nation or state. Only God is holy, and only His  
imperative is absolute.  
In 1977, in his essay “The Religious and Moral Significance of the  
Redemption of Israel,” Leibovitz relates part of a conversation he had some  
twenty years earlier with David Ben-Gurion, a man he considered to be  
hostile to religion. Knowing that the separation of religion and state would  
keep religion independent “so the political authority will be compelled to  
deal with it,” Ben-Gurion had said, “I will never agree to the separation of  
religion and state. I want the state to hold religion in the palm of its  
hand.” This, says Leibovitz, “...reflects the cast of minds of a man who  
entertained a bitter hatred of Judaism....The status of Jewish religion in  
the State of Israel is that of a kept mistress of the secular government—-  
therefore it is contemptible. The State of Israel does not radiate the light  
of Judaism to the nations, not even to the Jews.”  
Occupation of Palestinian Territories.  
Leibovitz’s assessment of the occupation of Palestinian Territories is  
summed by Levit: “An Israel seeking conquest and control over the Occupied  
Territories would ultimately face self-destruction as a Jewish state and  
find itself entrapped in perpetual war with its Arab neighbors. The  
occupation of Arab lands was an abomination. He predicted that isolationism,  
self-perceived victimization, and nationalism would destroy any Jewish  
values, and if Israel did not withdraw immediately from the Occupied  
Territories, all of its energy would be tied up in ruling another people  
against its will. If Israel’s soul were not destroyed, the occupation would  
corrupt it.”  
Another chapter is devoted to Zeev Sternhell, who served as head of the  
department of political science at the Hebrew University and is a widely  
recognized expert on fascism. He wrote an article in 2018 entitled “In  
Israel, Growing Fascism and a Racism Akin to Early Nazism.” Sternhell asks,  
“How would a historian, in 150 or 100 years, interpret our period? When did  
the state devolve into a true monstrosity for its non-Jewish inhabitants?  
When did some Israelis understand that their cruelty and ability to bully  
others, Palestinians or Africans, begin eroding the moral legitimacy of  
their existence as  
a sovereignty?”  
In a 2017 article entitled. “Apartheid Under the. law,”. Sternhell decries  
the policies advanced by minister of justice Ayelet Shaked. Sternhell  
charged that she promoted laws that legalize the threat to Palestinian land  
for the benefit of the settlers. These lands are confiscated to build roads  
that could only be used by Jews. Sternhell notes that since most of the  
lawmakers in Israel accept or actively endorse what he calls “the apartheid  
system of Israel,” this policy of dispossession could not successfully be  
opposed. He laments that, “This is what the rule of law has come to  
in Israel.”  
Intolerably ethnocentric  
In the case of Shlomo Sand, Professor Emeritus of History at Tel Aviv  
University, he believes that the Jewish society in Israel has become  
intolerably ethnocentric and racist and that it has evolved a closed and  
exclusive cast, which Sand abhors. Jews in Israel today have greater  
privileges than others living in the same country. Even Jews living outside  
of Israel, who have never set foot in Israel, have more rights and  
privileges than Palestinians, whose families have lived there for many  
generations. “Ironically,” writes Levit, “until he became an academic  
historian, Sand had never doubted the axiom that the Jewish nation existed  
for four thousand years. Through his research, he found the legitimacy of  
this and other aspects of the Zionist narrative problematic, and he felt  
compelled to probe more deeply.”  
In his book. “the Invention of the Land of Israel,” Sand attempts to analyze  
what he believes is the “overwhelming myth” of the longing for a Jewish  
homeland over thousands of years. “Although a valuable propaganda tool for  
Zionists,” writes Levit, “the narrative was a myth. Throughout their  
history, the Jews have shared nothing other than religion, with diverse  
linguistic and cultural traditions developed in a variety of host countries.  
The longing for the Promised Land was part of that shared Jewish religion,  
and through literature, prayer and ritual, it became a part of Jewish  
collective memory, but nowhere in the holy literature was there any  
aspiration for collective ownership of a territorial national homeland. In  
religious terms, the Holy Land was tangible and exalted, attainable only  
after the arrival of the Messiah. Only then would the living and the dead  
gather together in eternal Jerusalem. Any attempt to turn it into a physical  
site was considered a  
grave transgression.”  
In the 1980s, three decades after the State of Israel was founded, a number  
of historical documents were declassified. A group of scholars emerged—-  
social and political scientists, historians, anthropologists and economists  
—-who studied these documents, using research methods in their various  
disciplines to re-examine Israel’s narrative of the Atab-Israeli conflict.  
The term “New Historians” was coined in 1988 by Benny Morris to describe the  
work of these scholars——who included Morris himself and, among others, Sinha  
Flapan, Baruch Kimmerling, and Avi Shlaim.  
Israel’s “New Historians”  
Perhaps the most controversial of these has been Benny Morris, a long-time  
professor of history at Ben-Gurion University. His investigation into the  
origins of the Palestinian refugee problem began in the 1980s when he had  
access to Israeli government archives. He found evidence of undisclosed  
expulsions of Palestinians and atrocities that had been committed by Israeli  
soldiers before, during and after the 1948 war, and revealed his findings in  
“The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949” published in 1987.  
“The book was a cornerstone work of the New Historians, notes. Levit, “and  
definitively contradicted the official Zionist narrative.”  
Morris claimed that 600,000-700,000. 60 per cent of the population, fled  
their homes to escape Israeli military assaults or out of fear of impending  
attacks or expulsions. The book provides detailed chronological accounts of  
the Arab exodus from Jewish-held parts of Palestine during the nineteen-  
month period from December 1947 to July 1949. Shattering the myth of the  
most moral military force in the world, the book meticulously described  
brutalities such as documented rapes by Israelis and about two dozen  
massacres and executions committed by Israeli forces during this period.  
Another of the “New Historians” was Simha Flapan, who served as editor of  
“New Outlook” magazine, which promoted rapprochement between Israelis and  
Palestinians. He is best known for his book. “The Birth of Israel: Myths and  
Realities,” published in 1987, the year of his death. He shows, Levit points  
out, that, “Ben-Gurion was explicitly complicit ...in historical revision  
and is exposed by the documents to have consistently preferred territorial  
expansion to any compromise with the Palestinians. Very early in the history  
of Israel the predominant socialist Zionist aspiration was for a  
demographically homogeneous Jewish State, with borders extended as far as  
the nationalist affiliation of the leaders could dictate. The more right-  
wing the leader, the greater the territory required. Regardless of the  
ultimate size of the state, the demographic concern necessitated. The  
expulsion of Palestinian Arabs.”  
Massive flight of Palestinians.  
The 1948 war resulted in the massive flight of 85 percent of the  
Palestinians, an estimated 700,000 people, from there lands in what would  
become Israeli territory. “The myth,” Levit notes, “was that all these  
people left their homes voluntarily, obeying the commands of the Arab  
leadership who were about to send in the imminently. victorious Arab armies.  
Flapan contradicts this myth. He blames the Israeli leaders for encouraging  
the Palestinian exodus with ‘aggressive defense measures’ ‘psychological  
warfare and intimidation.”  
Another Israeli historian whose work is discussed by Levit is Ilan Pappe,  
now a professor at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom and  
previously at the university of Haifa. Pappe came to the conclusion that it  
was not possible for two independent states to exist in Palestine and that  
the only solution was the creation of a single state to be shared equally by  
all who live there, a binational state for Palestinians and Israelis. But  
with an increasingly oppressive Israeli government, such a solution was far  
from imminent.  
“Long before Pappe,” writes Levit, “Zionists and non-Zionist Jews were  
searching for a solution that would have, in effect, created a single state.  
Ahad H’am, Martin Buber, Albert Einstein, and even Hannah Arendt.” Ilan  
Pappe elaborated on his contemporary, but similar, response to this  
persistent problem in an interview conducted in 2015 by Khalil Bendid on  
Status hour.  
Settler-Nationalist Movement.  
Pappe declared that, “This is a struggle between a settler-colonialist  
movement, which arrived in the late nineteenth century in Palestine and  
still tries today to colonize Palestine by having most of the land with as  
few of the native people as possible. And the struggle of the native people  
is an anti-colonial struggle...If you would suggest today as a progressive  
person that you should divide South Africa between the white population and  
the African population, you would be regarded as best as insane , and at  
worst as someone who is insincere and a fascist. I think the fact that this  
logic —-which is so clear to many people in any other place in the world—-  
somehow fails to work in the case  
of Palestine.”  
Levit provides this assessment: “The policies Israel decided to impose on  
the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967 have remained the same to this day  
and resulted in the expulsion of half of the native population, the  
destruction of villages and towns, and the appropriation of 80 per cent of  
Mandatory Palestine by the Jewish state. These were considered survival  
policies for the State of Israel and based on two principles: (1) the Jewish  
state must control as much land of historic Palestine as possible, and (2).  
Israel must reduce the number of Palestinian Arabs residing in it. In ‘The  
Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,’ Pappe writes that the population problem had  
already been recognized as a major issue for the early Zionists in the late  
nineteenth century. As early as 1895, Herzl had proposed a solution: ‘We  
shall endeavor to expel the poor population across the border unnoticed.’  
And in 1947, Ben-Gurion reaffirmed the underlying principle: ‘There can be  
no stable and strong Jewish state so long as it has a Jewish majority of  
only sixty per cent.’ In 2003, Netanyahu reaffirmed: ‘If the Arabs in Israel  
form 40 percent of the population, this is the end of the Jewish state...But  
twenty percent is also a problem...The State is entitled to employ extreme  
Pappe argues that the expulsions of Palestinians since 1948 constituted the  
ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Contrary to the Zionist narrative, this  
strategy was not decided an ad hoc basis, when security considerations  
required strong measures, but in accordance with a plan explicitly drawn up  
in 1947 by Israel’s future leaders. Plan Dalet. provided directions for the  
systematic expulsion of the Palestinians from the areas the Zionists wanted  
for the Jewish state. The inability to achieve peace in the Middle East is  
attributable to policies that violate international law that were conceived  
by the leaders of Israel, commencing, Pappe points out, with “the heroes of  
the Jewish War of Independence...with the indisputable leader of the Zionist  
movement, David Ben-Gurion. “  
State-sanctioned Holocaust narrative  
Israel’s State-sanctioned narrative of the Holocaust, Levit shows, has come  
under widespread criticism: “.... Pappe tackles it boldly. In ‘The Idea of  
Israel.’ An entire chapter, ‘Touching the Raw Nerves of Society: Holocaust  
Memory in Israel’ Is dedicated to analysis of this inviolable topic...Pappe  
discusses several prominent Zionists who have questioned the cynical  
exploitation of the Holocaust by Israel for domestic and international  
purposes. Among them is Nahum Goldman, founder and president of the World  
Jewish Congress, in the 1970s, and Avraham Burg, a religious former Speaker  
of the Knesset (1999-2003) who unambiguously expressed his concern in the  
title of his 2008 book. ‘The Holocaust Is Over: We Must Rise from The  
Many Jews in Israel, the United States and elsewhere have discussed the  
incongruity of using the Holocaust as justification for injustice. One  
important voice cited by Levit. Is Norman Finkelstein, who studies the  
deliberate use of the Holocaust by Israel.  
Born in New York to parents who were Holocaust survivors, he wrote “The  
Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering.” He  
argues that the representation of the Holocaust was “fraudulently devised  
and marketed to the American public ...to justify criminal policies of the  
Israeli state and U.S. support for these policies.” In Finkelstein’s view,  
it is objectionable that, despite being a formidable military power, Israel  
“casts itself as a victim state and thus garners immunity to criticism.”  
Among the scholars who have attempted to expose the use of the tragedies of  
the Second World War is Israeli historian Tom Segev. In his book “The  
seventh Million: The Israelis and the Holocaust,” Segev presented the early  
Zionist leadership as interested exclusively in those Jews from Europe who  
were willing and able to move to Palestine. In the 1930s leaders of the  
Jewish community in Palestine were either naively blind to the perils of  
Hitler’s rise or consumed entirely by their enthusiasm for Zionism. Ben-  
Gurion said: “Zionism bears the obligation of a state, it therefore cannot  
initiate an irresponsible battle against Hitler.” The Jewish community in  
Palestine struck an agreement with the Gestapo not to support a worldwide  
boycott of German goods so that German Jews could bring their possessions  
into Palestine.  
“Historical reckoning of the Jewish people”  
Ben-Gurion is quoted as explaining: “if I knew that it was possible to save  
all the children in Germany by transporting them to England, but only half  
by transporting them to Palestine, I would choose the second—-because we  
face not only the reckoning of those children, but the historical reckoning  
of the Jewish people.”  
Levit also discusses the work of one of Israel’s leading journalists, Gideon  
Levy of Haaretz. In one of many televised interviews, Levy said that when he  
started covering the West Bank, he was a young and brainwashed Zionist. In  
those days, when he saw settlers cutting down olive trees or settlers  
mistreating Palestinian women at the checkpoints, he considered these  
incidents as exceptions, rather than official government policy. Eventually  
he had to accept that he was witnessing a punishing persistent reality.  
Although he has received multiple death threats, Levy defines himself as a  
“patriotic Israeli” who is ashamed of Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians.  
As Levy sees it, Israel has lost its moral compass. He describes Israel as  
as an unrestrained country that blatantly ignores international law and  
repeatedly defies U.N. security Council resolutions. He has called Israel’s  
more than fifty-year occupation of Palestinian land “criminal,” “brutal” and  
“rotten.” In an article entitled. “AIPAC Is Destroying Israel,” he  
criticizes the so-called “lovers of Israel” for the damage they have  
inflicted on the country: “The American Israel Public Affairs Committee may  
be the organization that has caused the greatest damage to Israel. It has  
corrupted Israel, taught it that everything is permissible to it. It made  
sure America would cover up and restrain itself over everything. That it  
would never demand anything in exchange. That Uncle Sam would pay—-and keep  
mum. That the supply of intoxicating drugs would continue. America is the  
dealer, and AIPAC is the pusher.”  
Give U.S. politicians a tour of occupied territories  
One recommendation made by Levy, writes Levit, “...was giving U.S.  
politicians a tour of the Palestinian Occupied Territories, especially  
Hebron. He proposes that anyone who doubts that Israel oppresses the  
indigenous Arab population should spend just a few hours in Hebron, an  
occupied city in the West Bank. No honest human being could visit Hebron  
without being shocked...Armed Israeli settlers live in the center of the  
city and Palestinians must travel on separate roads, which are patrolled by  
Israeli soldiers. Many of these roads are covered by large nets, above which  
the settlers and their families live. The gratuitous humiliation includes  
settlers dropping objects such as dirty diapers—even urinating—from their  
windows above.”  
Another important journalist whose work is discussed by Levit is Amira Hass.  
She began reporting from the Occupied Territories for Haaretz in 1991 and is  
the only Israeli Jewish journalist who has actually lived full-time among  
Palestinians. In her introduction to “Drinking the Sea of Gaza,” Hess  
explains her work as, in part, the result of her experience as the daughter  
of two Holocaust survivors. One day in 1944 at Bergen-Belsen, her mother was  
being herded from a cattle car along with the rest of the human cargo: “She  
saw a group of German women ...watch with indifferent curiosity...For me  
these women became a loathsome symbol of watching from the sidelines...my  
desire to live in Gaza stemmed neither from adventurism nor from insanity  
but from that dread of being a bystander , from my need to understand ...a  
world that is ...a profoundly Israeli creation. To me Gaza embodies the  
entire saga of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It represents the central  
contradiction of the State of Israel...democracy for some, dispossession for  
Hess warns Jews living outside of Israel not to become accomplices and she  
reminds Israelis that apartheid is considered a crime. It is the moral duty  
of Israelis, she says, “to use our privileges to fight the regime of  
privileges and as much as possible reduce the level of our collaboration  
with the dispossession.” The Gaza Strip is roughly 362 square kilometers,  
with over 1.8 million people. It is ranked as the third most densely  
populated area in the world. And, according to Hass, it is one huge prison:  
“It is an Israel-mediated, pre-meditated, pre-planned and planned project to  
separate Gaza from the West Bank. Gazans. Have no freedom of movement, no  
control over their own lives and no power to shape their own future.”  
An end to water service  
In a 2019 article, Hass writes about the supply of water to twelve  
Palestinian villages in the West Bank. After six months of clean running  
water, representatives of the Israeli Civil Administration, soldiers, border  
police, and bulldozers arrived to put an end to this basic service. She  
reported that, “The troops dug up the pipes, cut and sawed them apart and  
watched the jets of water that poured out. About 350 cubic meters of water  
were wasted. This was done despite the critical scarcity of water in the  
region. As the Civil Administration diligently destroys water lines for many  
Palestinian villages, it immediately connects illegal Jewish settlements and  
outposts to water and electricity and even paves the roads leading to them.  
Although these villagers had managed to construct a water line and widen the  
roads to facilitate the delivery of water, a right-wing Israeli group  
pressured the Civil Administration to destroy the infrastructure under an  
inhumane law that prohibits Palestinians from hooking up to existing water  
systems. The chairman of the council of villages, Nidal Younes, asked why  
they demolished the water lines and one of the border police officers  
answered him, in English, telling him it was done to ‘replace Arabs  
with Jews.’”  
Levit cites lawyer Michael Sfard, who practices international human rights  
law, representing people who have been deprived of basic rights for over  
fifty years. In a 2019 interview with David B. Green in Haaretz, he wrestled  
with the definition of Zionism: “if Zionism is the belief or the desire that  
the Jewish people will have a place where they can exercise their right of  
self-determination as a nation, and that place is here, then I’m a Zionist.  
If being a Zionist means thinking that this should come at the expense of  
other people who live here, and they should become second-class citizens,  
then I am not a Zionist.”  
Levit provides this assessment: “As a result of persistent distortions by  
interlocutors, who were presented as ‘reliable,’. Israel’s image as a  
benevolent occupier of a land full of untrustworthy Palestinian terrorists-  
in-waiting has been perpetuated among its supporters. In the evolving  
Israeli historical narrative, the perception promoted was that Palestinians  
sometimes felt no particular attachment to their homes or to the land on  
which they had lived and worked for generations. Prime Minister Golda Meir,  
admired by many as a grandmotherly humanitarian, clearly held and advocated  
this view. ‘it is not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine,  
considering itself a Palestinian people, and we came and threw them out and  
took their country away from them. They did not exist.’”  
Israel’s rationalization  
The continuous repetition “of this misinterpretation,”. declares Levit,  
“abetted Israel’s rationalization and justification of its right to exist on  
Palestinian land. David Ben-Gurion offered his own variation on this theme.  
‘The Palestinian Arab,’ judged Ben-Gurion, demonstrated no ‘emotional  
attachment’. in the country. ‘He is equally at ease, whether in Jordan,  
Lebanon, or a variety of places. They are as much his country as this is.  
And as little.’ Since, presumably, the Jews had stronger emotional ties to  
the land of their ancestors, it must be concluded that Palestinians should  
just cooperatively move along to another location.”  
This book, Levit points out, “...was not intended to be a comprehensive  
history of opposition to the moral bankruptcy of militant nationalism, for  
that would require a much longer work. Instead it presents the evolution of  
dissent since the time that the quest for National Jewish identity and  
independence in nineteenth century Europe grew into the Zionist movement. In  
doing so, it uncovers a legacy not only of perspectives and ideas, but of  
moral courage, commitment and imagination.”  
Sharpest critics of Jewish nationalism have been Jews  
This book shows us how using the term “anti-Semitism” to characterize  
criticism of Israel and Zionism is completely ahistorical. The sharpest  
critics of Jewish nationalism, as this book shows us, have been Jews,  
seeking to maintain Judaism’s highest moral and ethical standards. And to  
apply them equally to men and women of every race and nation. This history  
is largely unknown to many Jews, and to many others, and Daphna Levit has  
performed a notable service in telling this important—-and uplifting story.*

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.