Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Zionism according to A.B. Yehoshua

Posted by worriedlebanese on 26/11/2010

This morning, A.B. Yehoshua published an article in Haaretz stating that Zionism is not an ideology.Truth to tell, his arguments are not very convincing. The article follows an interesting structure though. At first, the author rebrands Zionism, then he defines its core issue, and he ends by copyrighting it. His central point lies in the middle, sandwiched between two extremely controversial arguments.

Rebranding Zionism. From ideology to concept
Abraham “Bouli” Yehoshua chooses a very convenient definition of ideology and then claims that “zionism” doesn’t fall under this definition because of its multiple forms. In his own words, zionism “is a common platform for various and even contradictory social and political ideologies”. The same can be said about most nationalisms (a nationalist can be left wing or right wing) and and to certain degrees political ideologies (russian, french, italian and lebanese versions of communism are not exactly the same). At first sight, one can brush this whole issue as being a terminological issue by saying that A.B. Yehoshua can call Zionism whatever he wants, the point he is trying to make is elsewhere. However, let’s keep in mind that this argument is actually quite a controversial one because zionism as an ideology is a central issue in “palestinian studies” and pro-palestinian groups. By rebranding zionism the way he does, he is actually claiming that most of the research and arguments done under the heading of zionism are worthless. So most pro-palestinian militants or scholars will probably not read any further and attack him on this point. Let’s go beyond his controversial argument and see it for what it is, a simple question of terminology that actually is not really relevant to the central point: the definition of the core issue of Zionism.

Defining the common platform
In his search for a core issue, A.B. Yehoshua distinguishes between two periods:
– Before 1948, the core issue of Zionism was to “establish a state for the Jews”.
– “After the Jewish state, namely the State of Israel, was actually established […] Zionism was expressed […] through the principle of the Law of Return”.
Stated this way, the core issues of zionism seem innocuous. And if Zionists had chosen to establish this state on an uninhabited island, these points would have remained unobjectionable. The problem with these issues is that they do not take into account the fact that the Jewish state was established in an populated region, and that it was imposed on the majority of this land’s population through foreign pressure (British then international) and force. So the problem is not the “theoretical underpinning of zionism, it is with its practical application. The same can be said about the second expression of zionism, “the law of return”. Theoretically, it doesn’t seem to be problematic. It becomes objectionable when it is used as a tool for demographical engineering (safeguarding a strong jewish majority), and when it benefits over 200,000 immigrants who cannot be considered as Jewish by any definition.

Repositioning the concept of Zionism
A.B. Yehoshua ends his article with a strong property claim. He stresses that zionism as a concept belongs to Jews, and “finds its expression only in its rightful place”, in the relationship between Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jews. He resorts here to an argument he came up with a couple of years ago, and that he has repeated on many occasions: Jews in the diaspora are only “playing with Judaism”, and “full Jewish life could only be had in the Jewish state”. He restates it in this article by making a distinction between “responsible” Jews and “partial” Jews (who “practice their Jewish identity partially”). He states that the former live “their lives within a defined territory and under self government”, while the latter “live enmeshed in other nations”. Again, this is a very controversial argument that shocks many Jews across the world. Moreover, it fails to take into account the possibility of an autonomous and complete jewish life in the diaspora (that is clearly and massively visible in New York and Antwerp). And it ignores the fact that Israeli jews are equally enmeshed in a plural nation in which at least 30% of the population is non-Jewish. Another problem in his definition lies in the fact that Israel has no “defined territory”, and that “Self-government” doesn’t take into account that it is actually the direct (non-jewish Israelis and non Jewish immigrants to Israel and their descendants) and indirect government (West Bank and Gaza) of populations that if enfranchised would make up the majority of the country’s territory.

One could explain A.B. Yehoshua’s arguments by putting them under the banner of idealism… But pushed to such an extent, it actually falls under cynism.


15 Responses to “Zionism according to A.B. Yehoshua”

  1. lirun said

    i disagree with you soo much.. perhaps never have i disagreed with you more.. your summary of ABY’s zionism is exactly how we have always seen it.. he isnt reinventing anything.. which is why i think the average israeli finds it quite funny when arab politicians call our government zionist.. se of the adjective that describes our desire to self preserve as synonymous with responsible – correct – righteous etc..

    the fact that arabs attribute different elements to the word zionism is potentially part of the problem.. i can understand that there was another population here when the state was prenascent.. squarely under the dominion of a foreign power that mind you – despite benefiting form an economic boom – did approach zionism with huge suspicion – sought to kurb it and in fact had designs of its own.. some of which were internationally encouraged albeit defeated at the ultimate popularity vote of the UN.. but i dont know how that residence translates into an exclusive right to determine the fate of the land..

    because jes were not just kicked of places they had no business in.. but also out of homes they had purchased for good and valid consideration by arab residents.. (including members of my family) and i dread to think what would have happened had we not prevailed in the war of independence.. hebron massacre ring any bells?

    it is very easy to point a finger at the “victor” and cast accusations.. our flawed human logic always connects upperhand with unfettered choice and that is wrong..

    the mere fact that i can sit in my apartment now in yaffo and go overseas when i please and enjoy wordly freedoms is not because of we “do or did to the palos” but rather “inspite of our shared problems”.. because we too could have had sucky lives like theirs.. in fact we did.. in fact in many cases it was due to them and their pan arabian relatives..

    the fact that jews ave yearned for a return to our homeland after millenia of persecution is not the problem.. the fact that we arrived wasnt the problem either.. even the desire for statehood wasnt the problem..

    and if youre honest enough – ull realise that even before our state was established two mosques were built on our holiest sites.. the muslim quarter of our holiest city was allowed to be built up such that it surpassed and encroached upon our ancient town.. synagogues all over the country had been converted to other purposes and our towns renamed into arabic names even where they had continuous jewish residence.. lets ignore for a second the horrendous neglect of the land and the revision of history since time immemorial and note that it basically jews were never allowed to return home in any genuine shape or form.

    so spare us the crap.. 🙂 while were busy escaping the nazis and their buddies and your furry friends all over the middle east – we had problems just as bad with the crew that are now known as palestinians (a name ironically once reserved for us)..

    and you might choose to see this as something else.. but zionism has always merely been about the return to zion – one of the many names of jerusalem..

    • what you wouldn’t do to slip back into your comfort zone.

      • lirun said

        tu parles de toi meme mon ami..

      • I have no comfort zone.
        But I counted in your comment 14 unrelated arguments that are irrelevant to the points made by AB Yehoshua and myself. And most of them do not even hold rhetorically. Try to sum them up in a short paragraph and you’ll see what I mean. They are way too emotionally driven for me to cope with.

      • lirun said


        youre a funny bugger..

        this is why i like you..

        email your address – ill send you a nail file..

      • lirun said

        and yes you do have a comfort zone.. and more than anyone i know you loathe leaving it and freak out when you do..

        a rare vision indeed.. 🙂

      • Again. If you expect to pursue this discussion with me, put some order in your arguments, give me something we can discuss rationally instead of throwing at me a bunch of emotionally driven arguments that only add up… emotionally.
        I believe I presented Yehoshua’s arguments clearly, and made some precise comments directly related to what he was saying. I’m sure you can do same.

      • Come on! be fair about it.
        What I tried to do here is offer a “cold” analysis of an article written by A.B. Yehoshua. I highlighted the general structure of the article and pin pointed the three different arguments it was making. If you read what I wrote, you’d realise that I wasn’t discussing Zionism at all, but Yehoshua’s arguments on Zionism.
        On the other hand, your comment has nothing to do with either Yehoshua’s article or my analysis of the article. It is an emotional and ideological defense of zionism. One in which you use every single argument you could find to defend your views on the subject. You broaden the argument so much, add so many layers to it, that it becomes impossible to discuss the issue.

      • lirun said

        chillax bro

  2. lirun said


    btw what do you think about this..

  3. lirun said

    btww i miss chatting 🙂

  4. Distant Observer said

    I am always supprised, when talking to my Palestinian or other Arab friends about zionism. Some of them are really brilliant, and have thoughts and analyzing skills demanding and deserving respect and honur from any intellectual honest person discussing issues with them.

    Still, when it comes to their understanding of Zionism, they are caught in the mud where political propaganda meets, hopes, feelings and really horrendous “science”.

    When i tell my friends, to start off the discussion, that i myself consider myself a zionist (even i am not jewish and not living even remotly near the Middle East) they of cource insist on a explanation (in chock and i am sure considering to leave the room). I go on to explain to them that almost all jews in Israel (a handful exeptions at most) – from all social stratas, no matter their differenses in political views. The far left in Israel is then of course also zionists, and some of my palestinian friends have worked with these radicals for years and privatly expess supprise over the consessions some of these people Are willing to make. The example of the far left jewish zionist, motivation and merits working side by side with palestinians towards a common goal beyond questioning, usually makes my friends rethinking the issue and understand it better.

    Think about this:There are a tendency these days in Europe and elswhere to oversimplify Islam by “the common man” – the uneducated idiot with the need to understand, reducing this great religion to the actions of really radical groups claiming to act according to Gods will. Politicians of cource sees the benefit of using this to their own benefit and more and more writers and hateful people discuised as “intellectuals” shouting short sentences on “how the muslims are and what they want”. A few of these Islam haters even pretend to have reasearch to back their alligations. If we are not careful, we risk that most people have the same dangerous and profondly wrong image of you as a muslim (a person of anger and hate, ready to kill their wifes for nothing, murder all different thinking people, even children etc). For me, zionism means the right for Israel to exist as an irreversable fact – thats it, for me and i dare to say, for most israelis:)

    • My greatest surprise is to find someone who is neither Jewish nor Israeli assert that he/she is Zionist. Can you imagine a person who is neither French or of French origin assert that he/she is a French Nationalist?
      What does that say about the person or his/her understanding of Zionism?

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