My book Wrestling with Zionism: Jewish Voices of Dissent was published by Interlink Books in 2020, in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the crucially important and ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, and the outrageous announcement of Israel's annexation plans.
The first half of this year has been tumultuous, to say the least, and certainly not the most opportune time for the launch of a book about a long tradition of dissent from Zionism by Jewish and Israeli thinkers. And yet, during the past several years, the increasingly thunderous eruption of racist ideologies in parts of the world hitherto considered egalitarian democracies has possibly led to a greater awareness of the need for resistance.
With the exception of those described by the Israeli and Jewish establishments as extremists, radicals, self-hating Jews and even "traitors," there have been relatively few Israelis, Jews or self-described friends of Israel resisting or examining the inherently racist ideology of Zionism. This book attempts to give a voice to some of those who are or have been brave enough to contest the widely accepted self-created narrative of Israel as the 'homeland of the Jews" or "the only democracy in the Middle East."
As most readers of this blog know, Jewish opposition to Zionism began with the inception of Zionism in Europe in the 19th century, and continues to this day. Ever since the state of Israel came into being in 1948, Israeli intellectuals largely dedicated their efforts to the overriding task of nation and narrative building. For many decades, the views expressed by the few unpopular academics within Israel who attempted to scrutinize or criticize the emerging narrative were denounced as political opposition to the "true" narrative as told by Zionists and Israeli officialdom.
Those discussed in the book are primarily, but not exclusively, Israeli academics, political activists, journalists and lawyers who refute the dominant narrative of the state of Israel, often despite the threat of ostracism and sometimes more sinister outcomes. In the 1960s. the famous Israeli writer Amos Oz, who was not an outspoken dissenter, said that "anyone who stands up and speaks out … risks being stoned in the marketplace and being accused of self-hate or betraying the nation or desecrating the memory of the fallen."
The objections to Israel's nationalist evolution are not homogenous, and therefore are rarely presented as one broad development. They are based on diverse religious, secular, historical, moral or philosophical grounds.
Included in the book are several known Jewish thinkers who were not Israeli-born or educated -- and hence not subjected to relentless Zionist indoctrination -- but they are nevertheless germane to a historical overview of dissent to Zionism.
Among them is Hannah Arendt, who said in Eichmann in Jerusalem "For politics is not like the nursery; in politics obedience and support are the same." This was a rebuke to those who knowingly ignore truth or surrender to a political agenda, and thus allow repression of dissent to evolve into authoritarian regimes.
Arendt's significant contribution to the study of the atrocities of the Second World War, as well as her clarity on the dangers of political Zionism, were rejected by the Israeli establishment, and her book on Eichmann was not translated until 1999, more than two decades after her death. To this very day many Israelis castigate her as a Nazi-lover because of her relationship with German philosopher Martin Heidegger.
Israel has successfully promoted, and much of the world has accepted, the narrative of eternal victimhood which has employed the history of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. This has been used repeatedly to defend many of Israel's policies.
Whether or not comparative victimhood can be proven or even addressed factually, it cannot serve as justification for the reality of occupation and dispossession imposed on the Palestinians.
Today, the immediate threat of annexation is outrageous but not unexpected; it is merely an augmentation of an institutional process that Israel began as early as 1948 -- of a continued dispossession of Palestinian land with the world watching, complicit in its silence to the theft. The pretext of Israel's security continues to allow the truth of Israel's aggressive agenda to hide behind the facade of a nonexistent peace process.
I was also indoctrinated by a Zionist education system, and wholeheartedly believed that Israel had exclusive entitlement to the land then called Palestine.
Like Golda Meir, I believed there was no such thing as "Palestinian people" in Palestine. As I studied the observable reality, read books and examined historical documents, I searched for others who wrestled with Zionism.
If the truth of our history in Israel is not allowed to be scrutinized and is blatantly revised to serve political ends, how can those of us who want the truth, peace and real solutions to the complexities of the region live with ourselves?
Along with sadly too few others, I have come to understand that blind support for policies of the Israeli government does not "help Israel." It lets politicians off the hook of anti-Semitism, but does not lead to peace; at least not to a peace that is morally and ethically acceptable; I have come to understand that to achieve a moral peace, many of the conventional assumptions about Israel must be re-examined and many of the myths deconstructed. Otherwise, eventually Israel will self-destruct with support from its own well-intentioned sympathizers. Therefore, I have compiled this initial study of 21 like-minded but very diverse thinkers.
Daphna Levit was born in Israel, served in the army and obtained degrees from Tel Aviv, Indiana and Cornell universities. She was a financial analyst in Japan, London, New York and Tel Aviv. She lectured at Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion universities. She was active in Gush Shalom, B'tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, Makhsom Watch, Ta'ayush, ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions) and others. She co-authored an earlier book on the Middle East, Israeli Rejectionism: A Hidden Agenda in the Middle East Peace Process (Pluto Press, 2011). She writes and teaches in Nova Scotia.
Image: Contributed photo.
On July 7, 2020, Daphna Levit will give a webinar on the topic of her book Wresting with Zionism: Jewish Voices of Dissent. See the website of Independent Jewish Voices Canada for more information.
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