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Post-Zionism and Israeli Politics
Limor Livnat, a member of the Israeli Knesset and former Minister of Communications, addressed the Middle East Forum in New York on August 17, 2000.
Post-Zionism is in effect what used to be called anti-Zionism. Post-Zionists claim that they do not oppose the idea of the state of Israel, but rather that the task has been completed. They suggest that the idea of a Jewish state is inherently racist, that the words "Jewish soul" should be removed from our national anthem, and that Israel should be a state for all its citizens - a phrase that really implies that Israel should cease to be a Jewish state in all senses. Israel, they argue, should mimic as closely as possible the Western liberal democracies.
The intellectual heirs of the early anti-Zionists are, first, the "new historians." These academics would have us believe that the Holocaust was not unique and that, therefore, Israel's creation and continued existence lacks any particular moral justification. To them, we have no legitimate past. Post-Zionists go on to say we do not have a legitimate future.
Post-Zionism is encapsulated in a recent column by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who wrote that 40 percent of Israelis are willing to give up what he calls "Arab East Jerusalem" without knowing what they would get in return; and that Jerusalem is already divided into a Jewish and Arab part, so that "Jerusalem will be united only if it is shared." This Orwellian reversal of terms (dividing means uniting) is a hall mark of post-Zionism.
Post-Zionism has permeated the Israeli political culture because Israel is tired of being at war and longs for peace. When a people gets tired and starts to forget what it is fighting for in the first place, a friend can look like an enemy, and vice versa.
In the end, it will cause our children to lack real heroes and our citizens to feel that being an Israeli is a source of shame. There are certain ideas that keep a people alive. Once those ideas fade from the collective mind and heart, that people loses its reason to live. A nation that has no unique national character and a people without challenges for the future has nothing to be unified about. With no past, there is no future.
Political Zionism differed from other nationalisms in that it did not intend to build a new nation or settle a new land, but to bring an ancient people with ancient traditions to an ancient land. Those who did not want Zionism to succeed opposed it precisely because it was born from a link with the past. The early anti-Zionists opposed anything that would make the state more separatist or particularistic - in other words, more Jewish. Even many of those who did embrace Zionism were able to reconcile the conflict between Jewish particularism and worldly progress by viewing the state as a means towards another universalist goal: Socialism.
Now that Socialism has outlived its usefulness, the philosophical heirs of these early universalists have switched to the dogma of Liberalism. To the extent that the values of Judaism match up to the demands of Liberalism, it is to be tolerated. But to whatever extent Judaism defers from Liberalism, the narrow, particularistic Jewish element is to be discarded.
Liberalism, however, is not Judaism. Ideas such as majority rule, minority rights and distributive justice are all to be found in Jewish thought and history. The Jewish people did not return to Israel, however, to foster a rebirth of Western liberal democracy. The only ism they came to Israel for is Judaism.
Implications for the Peace Process
When Palestinian Authority Chairman Arafat was pushed on the Jerusalem issue at the Camp David II talks, he said that he must consult with all the Muslims in the world. Prime Minister Ehud Barak, on the other hand, did not even think that he has to consult his own parliament, not to speak of the Jewish people as a whole. On this issue, Arafat understands something that Barak does not: that any concession affects not only himself, but the group of people with whom he shares both religion and history. But if there is nothing unique in Jewish nationhood then nobody has the right to complain when Barak divides Jerusalem. When post-Zionism becomes the governing principle of the state of Israel, the government is composed, in part, of people who do not believe that the Jewish people have any special right to their land. The result is a peace process in which there are no red lines.
I favor a real peace process and like all Israelis, I long for peace. The question is how to achieve it. It must be a real peace, and not one that exists only on paper and on the White House lawn. It must be a peace that respects the fundamental right of the Jewish people to live in Israel, and that gives the country permanent defensible borders. It must be a peace in which Israel embodies its special role as the paragon of social justice, and in which we remember our special obligations toward the widow, the orphan, the elderly, and the victims of domestic violence. And hopefully it will be a peace in which we can continue our mission to settle the people of Israel in the land of Israel suffused with eternal traditions and values of the Jewish people.
But as post-Zionism tightens its grasp over the way in which Israel is governed, Israel's special role as the outstanding democracy in its region is weakened. The more a democracy identifies with a dictatorship, the more diffuse the shining light of democracy becomes. The more Israel identifies with its Arab neighbors, the less it is willing to demand that they keep their promises, fight terrorism, and reciprocate Israeli concessions with those of their own. And if Israel has no special role as a democracy and its Judeo-Christian values, then on what basis is Israel entitled to any sort of special relationship with the United States?
Summary account by Assaf Moghadam, a graduate student at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University