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.