DevMode
Notwithstanding the ongoing violence of the past year, and the despair and disillusionment that has followed in its wake, and despite the apparent erosion within Israel of elements opposed to the current government's policies, one continues to find evidence of a growing counter discourse, if only among an intellectual minority. Moreover, it is clear to students of Israeli society that things that were considered unsayable and even unthinkable just a short time ago are today being said publicly and with increasing frequency.
These internal debates are indicative of an ongoing conflict over the discourse through which Israelis construct the meaning of events that transpire in the life of the state, and the production of the knowledge that serves as the basis for understanding by Israelis of their national identity. At the heart of this cultural conflict is a phenomenon known as postzionism. The rubric of postzionism and the ensuing debates emerged on the public stage in Israel around the mid-1990s and relates to issues that are basic to the formation and future development of Israeli national identity. Insofar as the way in which Israelis understand that identity is intricately related to their relationship with the Palestinian people, these debates are directly relevant to future peace prospects.
Postzionism is understood differently by people depending on their position and perspective. Moreover, there is not simply one form of postzionism or postzionist discourse, but several. Like all terms ending in "ism," postzionism is what philosophers call an "essentially contested concept." The meaning of the term changes according to who uses it and why. As I wrote in my book on postzionist debates, postzionism is a term applied to a current set of critical positions that problematize zionist discourse and the historical narratives and social and cultural representations that it produced. Like the term zionism, postzionism encompasses a variety of positions. The growing use of the term postzionism is indicative of an increasing sense among many Israelis that the maps of meaning provided by zionism are simply no longer adequate. (Silberstein 1999; 2)
The debates over what is called postzionism in Israel often obfuscate and confuse more than they clarify. Those who regard themselves as defenders of zionism use the term postzionism somewhat flagrantly to accuse and to taint, while among those who are commonly referred to as postzionists, there are many who eschew the term, some who embrace it, and others, like Benny Morris, who proclaim their zionist affiliation. Critics subsume under the rubric of postzionism, writers of diverse views who operate within different theoretical frameworks, and who hold differing opinions about what corrective actions are desirable.

Cultural Critique and National Identity

One way of approaching the phenomenon of postzionism is to view it as a form of social and cultural critique. Increasingly, I have come to feel that Michel Foucault's concept of intellectual critique provides a useful tool for elucidating the different forms of postzionist critique and clarifying what is at stake in these ongoing debates. In so doing, the task is not to arrive at a universal definition of postzionism, an impossible task in its own right, but rather to map the various forms of critical activities in which different postzionists are engaged, their differing forms of critique, and the kinds of responses that would adequately address them.
The struggles over postzionism are struggles for the control of cultural space, that is, the space within which the meanings of Israeli collective identity are constructed, produced and circulated. At the same time, the controversies surrounding postzionism represent a conflict over national memory, and, accordingly, national identity. Accordingly, these controversies are less about the past, than about "how the past affects the present" (Sturken 1997; 2). For Israelis, as for all national groups, the narratives of their nation's past provide a framework through which they interpret the events of the present. In calling into question prevailing Israeli historical narratives, the new historians, together with a group known as critical sociologists, render problematic the very foundations on which Israeli group identity has been based. In the words of one scholar closely identified with the postzionist position, the scholarly debate reflects not only an academic dispute, but also an identity crisis of a society that stands on the threshold of a period of peace, in which the national consensus, previously built upon threats to survival and security problems, clears a space for a debate across the society and its culture (Pappe 1995; 45).
Collective identities, like individual identities, are comprised of multiple factors and are always in the process of being formed and reconfigured. Nevertheless, key to all collective identities, as Stuart Hall has reminded us, is the way in which a group or a nation relates to the narratives of its past. Its relationship to these narratives is an integral component of a nation's sense of who they are, of their understanding of the values and ideals that they see as distinguishing them from other nations. The same may be said of a nation's dominant image of its own social and cultural spheres. Ingesting images of their society from representations produced by social scientists, members of national groups come to look at themselves as being certain kinds of people.

New Historians

Understandably, therefore, when a group of scholars call into question or challenge the narratives of a nation's past that had previously been taken as true, it is perceived as an attack on the values and ideals that were linked to these narratives and legitimated by them. Similarly, when the dominant representations of a nation's culture and society are called into question, this questioning is also taken to be a challenge to the nation's self definition - along with its collective values and forms of social interaction.
In Israel, this is precisely what happened beginning in the late 1980s and early 1990s. At that time, a small but vocal group of Israeli scholars, historians and social scientists, began to publish a series of books and articles that called into question long embraced narratives of Israeli's historical past and widely accepted representations of Israeli society. These scholars, who have come to be known as "new historians" and "critical sociologists," were, for the most part, members of a generation born after founding of the State of Israel in 1948. They had grown to maturity during a period in which Israel ruled over a resisting population now numbering more than one million Arabs.
While the perspective of the older generation had been shaped by the realities of the Holocaust, the ideology of labor zionism, and the trauma of the 1948 War, the new generation of scholars had known a very different set of realities, shaped by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the controversial 1982 invasion of Lebanon, and the Palestinian Intifada that erupted in 1987. Strongly affected by the strength of the emerging Palestinian nationalism, and confronted with the increasingly resistant Palestinian population ruled by Israel since 1967, many Israeli intellectuals and academicians had reached the conclusion that notwithstanding the way in which history had been taught to them, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stood at the center of Israeli history and the formation of Israeli society. See Silberstein; ch. 4)
Reading the writings of this younger generation of scholars, one is struck by the sense of shock and also disillusionment that they felt. In the process of working their way through documents that until the early 1980s had been classified as secret, these scholars quickly recognized that the versions of Israeli history and the descriptions of Israeli society currently in vogue among the majority of scholars were contradicted by new evidence. One historian, Benny Morris, undertook to examine, village by village, the factors that had contributed to the flight of 3/4 million Palestinian Arabs in 1948. Most Israeli accounts placed the responsibility for the exodus squarely on the shoulders of the Palestinians and particularly their leaders. Such a view had become conventional wisdom among Israelis and was taught to generation after generation of students. In The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, Morris set forth a detailed, nuanced, multi-causal account of the exodus in which the factors responsible for the exodus varied according to the place and the conditions. What so outraged many of Morris's readers was his conclusion that deliberate expulsions by Israeli military forces and outrageous acts of mass violence by unofficial Israeli military units had contributed to the Arab exodus in a significant way.
Gershon Shafir (1988, 1996), applying a comparative approach, produced a detailed analysis of the effects of zionist settlement practices on the indigenous Palestinian population that conflicted with prevailing Israeli interpretations. According to Shafir, regardless of what the settlers may have thought they were doing, regardless of what most Israeli scholars took to be the zionist settlers' well-meaning motives and intentions, the effects of these practices on the native Palestinian population paralleled the effects of colonialist settler practices in other countries. Whereas zionists settlers and their Israeli descendants had perceived themselves to be moral, principled people seeking only the liberation of their own nation without any desire to harm the indigenous population, and notwithstanding the fact that Israeli scholars had repeatedly rejected all efforts to compare zionist settlement practices to that of colonialist settlers, Shafir concluded that such a claim could not be substantiated.
Yet another example of the new direction in Israeli scholars is a book by Hebrew University sociologist Baruch Kimmerling and his American colleague Joel Migdal entitled Palestinians: The Making of A People. Insisting that it was simply not legitimate to write the history of Israel without incorporating the Palestinian perspective, they undertook to provide a framework for that perspective. Their goal was to produce a non-biased history of the emergence of the Palestinian nation that took for granted the national aspirations of that nation - aspirations that until Yizhak Rabin confirmed their legitimacy on the White House lawn in 1993 had been rejected out of hand by every Israeli Prime Minister since the emergence of the state.
A final example of the different scholarship being produced by this generation is the work of sociologist Uri Ram, one of the first, and still one of the few, to embrace the term postzionism. In two books, one in Hebrew and one in English, Ram described the ways in which a small but significant number of Israeli social scientists had shown that the prevalent representation of Israeli society as inclusive and egalitarian was, at best, problematic. According to the scholars cited by Ram and included in his Hebrew anthology Israeli Society: Critical Perspectives, groups such as women, Jews of Middle-Eastern origin (Mizrahim), and Palestinians (who are still frequently called Israeli Arabs) had been systematically silenced, marginalized, or excluded from positions of power in the zionist state.
In his 1995 book, The Changing Agenda of Israeli Sociology, published in 1995, Ram articulated a perspective that was to become characteristic of the position labeled postzionist. Whereas, in Ram's words, "zionist sociology promoted the idea of an identity among unequals and the exclusion of the others, post-zionist sociology will be guided by the ideal of a society characterized by equality among non-identicals and the inclusion of the others."
According to Ram, the agenda of zionist sociology had basically been congruous with the founding of the Israeli nation-state. This sociology presented an image of a society that provided strong support and legitimization for the zionist vision of a Jewish state that served as a refuge for Jews from all over the world, integrating them socially and economically and providing them with opportunities for economic growth and development, unhampered by the anti-Semitic views of host societies. Ram argues that "the time is now ripe for the formulation of a post-Zionist sociological agenda that would be consistent with a fully democratic Israeli civil society; a society of free and equal civilians and of diverse identities. Rather than national integration, the focus of such an agenda should be the issue of citizenship in a modern democratic society"

(Ram 1995, 206).

Disempowering Palestinian Israelis

Some of these controversial interpretations, such as the one concerning the Palestinian flight and the one about zionist colonialism had been previously argued by Arab scholars and others who sympathized with the Palestinian cause. These writings had challenged the official Israeli versions of the events of 1948, particularly the account of the Arab exodus. What distinguishes these more recent counter-narratives, however, is that produced by Jewish scholars whose loyalty to the state was beyond question. Some, like Benny Morris, considered themselves to be loyal zionists. Others, while disagreeing with basic components of the zionist ideology, willingly served in the Israeli military and were/are prepared, when necessary, to put their lives on the line to defend the very state whose destruction they have been accused of fomenting.
While Israeli Jewish scholars were producing these and other critical studies challenging the previously dominant Israeli interpretations of history and society, voices of Palestinian critics were also being heard within Israel. For years, writers like Anton Shammas had argued that a zionist Jewish state was simply incompatible with a fully democratic state. Through his many writings, fiction and non-fiction alike, Shammas sought to educate Israeli Jews to the basic contradiction at the heart of a state. Insofar as it defined itself as Jewish and imposed upon its non-Jewish, primarily Arab citizens, a network of symbols and an educational system that was shaped by and grounded in Jewish values, Israel was unable to honor the rights of all of its minority groups as it was committed to do in the Israeli Declaration of Independence. Graphically depicting the situation of the Palestinian citizens of Israel, marginalized or excluded by a state whose language, symbols, and holidays perpetuated a zionist Jewish discourse, Shammas insisted that laws such as Israel's law of return - indeed the entire apparatus around which Israeli national identity was constructed - privileged Jewish Israelis, while disenfranchising and disempowering Palestinian Israelis (Silberstein; ch. 5). The Law of Return, a uniquely zionist institution that was a source of pride to Jews throughout the world, is, in his view, incompatible with a fully democratic society. According to this law, a manifestation of the discourse that defined Israel as a state of the Jewish people, any Jew from any place in the world that immigrated to Israel would be welcome and, with rare exceptions, granted citizenship. In contrast, Palestinians who had fled the state in 1948 whose families had lived on the land for generations, even centuries, were denied permission to return. How is it, argued Shammas, that a non-Hebrew speaking Jew from Brooklyn who had never set foot in Israel could be pretty much guaranteed citizenship, while Palestinians fluent in Hebrew with a map of the landscape inscribed in their consciousness could not even hope for citizenship.

References

Foucault, Michel. 2000. Power. Ed. James D. Faubion. Tr. Richard Hurley and others. Essential Works of Michel Foucault, 1954-1984, III.
_______. 1996. "Intellectuals and Power." In Foucault Live. Collected Interviews, 1961-1984. Ed. Sylvere Lotringer. New York: Semiotexte.
_______ .Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews & Other Writings, 1972-77. Ed. Colin Gordon. Pantheon Books, 1980
Hall, Stuart. 1990. "Cultural Identity and Diaspora." In Identity, Community, Culture, Difference. Ed.Jonathan Rutheford. London: Lawrence and Wishart. 222-237.
Kimmerling, Baruch. 1995. "Academic History Caught in the Cross-Fire: The Case of Israeli-Jewish Historiography." History and Memory 7.1.
Kimmerling, Baruch, and Joel Migdal. 1993. Palestinians: The Making of a People. New York: The Free Press.
Landers, Yisrael. 18 march 1994. "The Sin that We Committed in Establishing the State" (Hebrew). Davar HaShavua: 8-9.
Morris, Benny. 1988a. The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
Pappe, Ilan. 1995. The New History of Zionism: The Academic and Public Confrontation. Kivvunim: A Journal of Zionism and Judaism 8.45: 39-48.
Ram, Uri. 1995. The Changing Agenda of Israeli Sociology: Theory, Ideology, and Identity. New York: SUNY Press.
Savir, Uri. 1998. The Process: 1,100 Days That Changed the Middle-East. New York: Random House.
Shafir, Gerson, 1996 Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882-1914. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
Silberstein, Laurence J. 1999. The Postzionism Debates: Knowledge and Power in Israeli Culture. New York: Routledge.
Sturken, Marita. 1997. Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, the Aids Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering. Berkeley & Los Angeles: U of California P.
Yiftachel, Oren. 2000. "Launching Hagar: Marginality, Beer-Sheva, Critique."

Comodo SSL