[Marxism] critical histories of Zionism: in search of complexity and nuance

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Mon Apr 19 22:14:41 MDT 2004

Special Issue: Israeli Historical Revisionism
>From Left to Right
Edited by Anita Shapira & Derek J. Penslar
History and National Liberation by Michael Walzer 
Historical Revisionism is an ongoing and eternal process. This article 
considers four stages in Jewish historical scholarship and popular history: the 
traditional account (‘because of our sins’), the Zionist revision, the 
post-Zionist critique, and the right-wing critique of post-Zionism. It analyzes the 
weaknesses and sometimes the strengths of each and looks to a possible fifth 
Left and Right Post-Zionism and the Privatization of Israeli Collective 
Memory by Daniel Gutwein 
The article presents left and right ‘post-Zionism’ as the meta-ideology of 
the privatization process in Israel. To advance their agenda, both left and 
right post-Zionists make use of what is known as the ‘new historiography’, which 
is specifically examined in the article . It is argued that, while claiming 
to be engaged in historical research, both left and right post-Zionists aspire, 
instead, to reshape Israeli collective memory. The alternative collective 
memory they are constructing is characterized by ‘the cult of guilt’ designed to 
promote the belief that Zionism and the State of Israel, from their very 
inception, have been oppressive forces, both externally towards the Arab world, 
and internally, towards a number of Jewish groups, including Oriental and 
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish ‘others’. Contrary to its oppositionist appearance, however, 
post-Zionism was itself advanced by the elite establishment, created and 
expanded in Israel by the privatization process. This elite sees the collective 
Zionist ethos as a stumbling block to this process. Thus, as the new 
historiography works to privatize the Israeli collective memory, post-Zionism works to 
privatize the Israeli weltanschauung. Together, they provide the ideological 
justification for privatizing the Israeli welfare state and advancing a 
neo-liberal agenda. 
Historiosophical Foundations of the Historical Strife in Israel by Uri Ram 
Three different types of identity are in struggle today in Israel, and they 
construe the historiosphic parameters of three different historical narratives. 
Zionist historical-national identity is today challenged by two mutually 
antagonistic alternatives: ethnic nationalism, which I term neo-Zionism, on the 
one hand, and civic nationalism, which I term post-Zionism, on the other hand. 
The older, Zionist, narrative contains an unsolvable tension between the 
national and the democratic dimensions of the state. The post-Zionist trend seeks a 
relief of this tension by bracketing the national character of the state, 
i.e., by separating state and cultural community/ies; the neo-Zionist trend seeks 
a relief of the same tension by bracketing the democratic nature of the state, 
i.e., by consolidating the Jewish ethno-national character of the state. The 
focus of the study is upon the way in which this unfolding cultural-political 
strife determines the perceptions of the collective’s spatial and temporal 
dimensions; the perceptions of the boundaries of the collectivity; and the 
perceptions of the collectivity’s historical narrative. 
The Strategies of Historical Revisionism by Anita Shapira 
While the historical revisionist trends in the history of Zionism and the 
State of Israel in the last fifteen years were mostly on the left side of the 
political spectrum, lately a right-wing critique has made its debut. Today there 
is a concerted attack from both the left and the right on the so-called 
Zionist consensual center. This article outlines common methodological tactics used 
by both sides in the historical controversy: the creation of a 
counter-narrative; the use of morality in politics; legitimization and delegitimization of 
others; marking the boundaries of what is considered normative in historical 
discourse; the tendency to present historical change as a result of planning or 
conspiracy; the use of tendentious terminology and selective omission or 
emphasis of events or trends. These tactics turn history into a story in black and 
white, without the more subtle colors and approaches. They reflect the 
politicization of historical inquiry. 
Zionism and the Counter-Intellectuals by Mark Lilla 
The subject of Yoram Hazony’s The Jewish State may be contemporary Israel and 
Zionism, but everything else about it – its tone, its quasi-militaristic 
rhetoric, its cavalier use of sources and quotations, its insinuations of 
intellectual bad faith and cowardice, even treason – mark it as a work of American 
counter-intellectualism. Anti-intellectuals have contempt for intellectual life 
and see no reason to engage in it; counter-intellectuals think that ideas 
govern the world, which they consider an unfortunate fact but a fact nonetheless. 
They are engaged in intellectual life not out of curiosity or natural 
inclination but out of a purely political passion to challenge ‘the intellectuals’, 
conceived as a class whose political tactics must be combated in kind. Yoram 
Hazony has written a classic in this genre. 
Zionism, Colonialism and Postcolonialism by Derek J Penslar 
Discussion on the relationship between Zionism and colonialism is hampered by 
attempts to establish complete congruence or total separation between the two 
phenomena. Another, related problem is the failure to include additional 
categories of analysis such as anticolonialism (Zionism as an act of resistance by 
a colonized people) and postcolonialism (the Zionist project as akin to 
state-building projects throughout twentieth-century Asia and Africa). This article 
contends that Zionism was historically and conceptually situated between 
colonial, anticolonial and postcolonial discourse and practice. It does so by 
drawing upon some essential texts in postcolonial studies, especially the work of 
Partha Chatterjee. 
Forgetting Europe: Perspectives on the Debate about Zionism and Colonialism 
by Avi Bareli 
The ‘Colonialist School’ in the research of Zionism and the State of Israel 
argues that the Jews’ immigration to Palestine was a European colonialist 
invasion of the country, pointing to the ‘colonialist reality’ of exploitation or 
dispossession underlying the construction of the new society and economy and 
the conflict between the Jewish settlers and the Palestinian Arabs. This 
interpretation is proposed as an alternative to the account of Zionism as a modern, 
revolutionary national movement developed by the Jewish people in its 
demographic center in Europe, and its success in inspiring emigration to Palestine, 
and investment and settlement in the country, in bringing Holocaust refugees 
there and forging a bond between immigrants from Europe and those from Middle 
Eastern and North African countries in order to create a sovereign modern Jewish 
polity. This article comprises a methodological assessment of the Colonialist 
School’s main arguments. It endeavors to show that the Colonialist School in 
fact severs Zionism and its Land of Israel project from their causes, thereby ‘
forgetting Europe’, that is, by neglecting the economic, social and cultural 
processes among European Jews that engendered the Zionist movement, and by 
reducing it to a national movement born among the settlers in Palestine, the 
Colonialist School is incapable of explicating the complex historical phenomenon 
called Zionism. 
The Status of Zionist and Israeli History in Israeli Universities by Yoav 
Departing from the scandal in the University of Haifa over the M.A. thesis on 
Tantura, the article discusses the special status of Zionist and Israeli 
history in Israeli universities – particularly the linkage between Israeli 
historiography and the transformation of Israeli society and the changes in world 
historiography. It reviews three major topics in the revisionist historians’ 
arguments: the Arab–Jewish conflict, Zionism and the Holocaust, and the absorption 
of the mass immigration in the 1950s. Other issues are the encounter between 
Israeli and Arab historiographies, and the impact of the social sciences on 
historiographical research and writing. Finally, the article discusses the 
influence of historians on the school history curricula. 
History Textbooks and the Limits of Israeli Consciousness by Amnon 
Recent changes in the history curriculum in Israeli schools, and the 
publication of new high school textbooks have triggered extensive public debate. 
Proponents and opponents alike have presented these revisions as evidence of a 
radical shift in Israeli historical consciousness. On the one hand, these texts 
have been lauded for expressing a would-be new Israeli consciousness reflective 
of a courageous contention with the past. On the other hand, they have been 
assailed for reflecting a retreat from fundamental Zionist values and myths, and 
embracing so-called ‘post-Zionist’ values instead. This article argues that 
although in some ways these books attest to interesting changes and to a new 
sensitivity in the Israeli consciousness, with regard to central aspects of 
Zionist historical consciousness and self-perception, the new curriculum 
maintains the same discursive boundaries. School curricula can illuminate the concrete 
repercussions that certain conceptions of the past have on the boundaries of 
political and cultural discourses in the present. This article points to main 
aspects of the Zionist-Israeli historical perception, as they are represented 
in the textbooks, focusing on two main issues: the history of the Jewish–
Palestinian conflict, and the pre-Zionist history of the Jews – particularly the 
history of the Mizrahim (Oriental Jews). The critical reading offered here is 
founded on an alternative narrative and aims to formulate the main questions 
arising out of the current debate. 

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