The Choices of 1947 Return: A Review of Zionism and Its Discontents

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book coverZionism and Its Discontents: Radical Currents in Israel/Palestine
by Ran Greenstein
Pluto Press, 2014
Kol Yisrael areivim zeh ba-zeh. This assertion, that “All Jews are responsible for each other,” has the crux of the situation. How are Jews to work out their relationship and “responsibility” to the “national home of the Jewish people”? To act decently, we must face what happened, face what the “return to Zion” led to.
Zionism and Its Discontents by Ran Greenstein reviews opposition to the Jewish nationalist state project in Mandate Palestine and after the State of Israel was proclaimed, May 14, 1948. Israeli-born Greenstein’s focus on Israel/Palestine is enriched by his study of South Africa’s liberation from Apartheid ideology.
Reading of pre-State opposition — from Arabs, non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Jews, and Zionists who rejected the “Jewish state” goal — reminds us that the consequences of making a Zionist state, consequences of perpetual conflict and injustice, were foreseen.
As I found, while researching a book on the American Jewish establishment and Zionism, the records of Jewish organizations are full of predictions of disaster that would come from taking possession of Palestine as a matter of right, over the interests of residents of that land.
Martin Buber, Judah Magnes, Henrietta Szold, and Albert Einstein all saw inevitable disaster borne in the prioritizing of the human rights of Jews over other people. Hannah Arendt and Hans Kohn saw a chauvinist, militarist Jewish Sparta as the inevitable end.
Greenstein describes how the Jewish “national” concept interfered with efforts to organize labor or civic interests in Palestine across ethnic boundaries. Creation of Jewish unions and trade cartels to develop “Hebrew Labor” worked against a bi-national or multi-ethnic Palestine later. An obvious point, but worth remarking is that Jewish settlement in Palestine was particularly keen to develop apart — linguistically, economically, and socially.
Dr. Nelson Glueck told the American Jewish Committee in May 1948, “As one who has lived in Palestine I think one of the sorriest records of Jewish endeavor there has been the long and continued and, on the whole, absolute failure to integrate Jewish life there with Arab life and to make the economy of the country one integral and indivisible part.”
Assertion of “Jewish” sovereignty above all other values has brought us to this moment. “The doctrine of ‘established fact’ has been entirely vindicated against that of ‘prior consent,”’ Abba Eban wrote in 1949, celebrating Zionist leaders’ dismissal of negotiating a Jewish place in a shared Palestine. This doctrine is followed today in creating West Bank “facts on the ground” under IDF protection.
What is a commonplace in Israel advocacy — that Israel has done no worse than settler-colonial states Canada, the United States, or Australia — has become a guilty admission. The multiple histories written by the “New Historians” generation detailing Israeli design and actions in the Nakba have stripped naked the creation myth shrouding Israel.
Historian Alon Confino recently spoke of the 1948 forced expulsion of coastal city Tantura as “a microcosm of the expulsion of the Palestinians.” He scorned the Israeli fantasy, “so prevalent,” of “the ‘deserted’ Arab village.”
Just as whites in South Africa lost their authority to rule in part due to changed international views, the world’s recognition of Palestinian Arabs’ human rights is now a force. Challenges to Israel’s “Jewish” identity are emergent and credible, while Israelis indulge more deeply in the ideology of a Jewish right of conquest and what Ali Abunimah calls the belief they have a human right to be a Jewish majority.
In Israel today, there is a reversion to Zionist concepts of “Hebrew Labor” as a selling-point for businesses —”No Arabs employed here” — and a sickening slide into incidents of communal violence.
Shameful government projects “Judaizing” the Negev, Galilee, Yehuda, Shomron, and East Jerusalem are advanced. Israeli politics seems a horror show of what Greenstein identifies as the Israeli “superhero/victim duality,” alternating boasts of might and cries of vulnerability.
By their actions and policy, PM Netanyahu and previous Israeli government have clarified that the 1948 Partition is dead, which simplifies the situation. The “two-state” dust thrown in our eyes can be ignored, as they ignore it. The Partition is undone and the choices of 1947 are back again.
Ugandan scholar Mahmood Mamdani states that for Israel/Palestine to reach its “South Africa moment,” Jews of Palestine will have to accept the ANC Freedom Charter idea that Palestine, like South Africa, “belongs to those who live in it.”
Dissident Israeli historian Udi Adiv proposed that there is a delusion in Israeli historiography; the Jewish community of Palestine thinks of itself as The Jewish People. It’s not able to have a realistic view of its relationships to non-Jews in Palestine or to Jews elsewhere.
A passage in a speech of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the Arab village of Kfar Kassem demonstrates this:

“Accordingly, the Arab population of Israel must be brought to internalize and accept that State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish People. As long as there exists any aspiration to eradicate the Jews from this land, there will be no chance of building a true partnership.”

His two alternatives are Jewish statehood or Jewish eradication — the Manichean vision of militant Zionism in Palestine. Rivlin echoes Vladimir Jabotinsky in 1923 that Arabs would resist “as long as there remains a solitary spark of hope that they will be able to prevent the transformation of ‘Palestine’ into the ‘Land of Israel.'”
A recent Brookings Institution survey shows a large majority of Americans, and American Jews, favor democracy over “Jewishness” if two states are no longer possible. One-third now favor one state in Palestine with equal citizenship for all residents, up 10 percent from last year.
That idea — of negating the UN General Assembly partition vote — is an alternative to “peace” built around that November 1947 Jewish nationalist victory.
The torment of non-Jews under Israel’s control is a proving ground for today’s nightmares of drone attacks and surveillance. A major export of “The Start-Up Nation” is technology and training for surveillance, interrogation and suppression of populations by their governments.
The Zionist project, what was meant at the beginning to be a communal agrarian renewal of Jewish people, has become an arms and “security” industry supplier worldwide. The siege mentality that Arendt warned would develop has created an Israeli, not Jewish, nationality, in its isolation what she foresaw as “an entirely new people.”
Since Henrietta Szold observed the swagger of “shomerim” organized to fight Arabs in the Galilee in 1915, Jewish identity in Palestine has been fused with besting Arabs and making them outsiders.
“The problem,” former Jerusalem deputy mayor Meron Benvenisti says, “is the privileged condition of the Jewish ethnic group over the others, those defined as the ‘enemies,’ the ‘terrorists.'”
Kol Yisrael areivim zeh ba-zeh.

Abba A. Solomon is the author of The Speech, and Its Context: Jacob Blaustein’s Speech “The Meaning of Palestine Partition to American Jews,” Given to the Baltimore Chapter, American Jewish Committee, February 15, 1948.