In April 2004, Ilan Pappe, the left-wing Israeli academic and self-described anti-Zionist, told Haaretz that post-Zionism, which appeared dead as a doornail after nearly four years of non-stop Palestinian violence, would rise again.
“Look for us in another three, four or five years,” he promised.
It’s only been two and a half years, but Pappe’s words have taken on an unexpected prescience as Israeli leftists, no longer nursing the ideological wounds inflicted on a near-daily basis by the second intifada, begin once again to cast about for ways to blame Israel for the ills of the (insert obligatory “poor, suffering”) Palestinians.
The Monitor can’t help but recall the day in August 1999 that The New York Times officially celebrated the triumph of post-Zionist ideology in Israel. Correspondent Ethan Bronner described “a quiet revolution in the teaching of Israeli history to most Israeli pupils” – a revolution, Bronner explained, echoing the claims of post-Zionist ideologues as though they were indisputable truth, in which “officially approved textbooks make plain that many of the most common Israeli beliefs are as much myth as fact.”
The Times, institutionally post-Zionist before anyone dreamed up the term – in fact, one could assemble a fairly accurate syllabus of the post-Zionist perspective by stringing together a random selection of Times articles and editorials on the Middle East – trumpeted the story with the newsprint equivalent of breathless fanfare: a front page, above-the-fold article; a lengthy jump on page A5; and a sidebar comparing old Israeli schoolbooks with their replacements.
Headline writers at the Times saw fit to forgo the use of quotation marks around the words “myths” and “facts” on both pages 1 and 5, thereby implicitly endorsing the claims advanced by post-Zionist historians.
And what were those claims? As Daily News columnist Sidney Zion summed them up at the time, they began with the notion that “the heroism of a tiny, beleaguered people – practically unarmed against the Arab world that attacked them in fill force with the support of the British Empire – was a myth, originated and perpetrated by unreconstructed Zionists, out to destroy Palestinian national rights to the West Bank.”
But Israel’s founding was only the beginning of the hellish Zionists’ duplicity, claimed the post-Zionists. What followed the Israeli victory of 1948 was one long series of provocations, persecutions and outright aggression by Israel against its peace-seeking neighbors.
If it all sounds so simplistic, it’s because the left-wing academics behind post-Zionism, in their zeal to rewrite the historical record more in favor of the Palestinians, thrived on a one-sided simplicity of the very sort they purported to scorn in traditional Israeli historians. The post-Zionists, wrote Sid Zion, wanted nothing less than “to revise history into a justification for a Palestinian state at the expense of history.”
The ideas behind post-Zionism had been percolating for some time. In a sense they’d been around almost from the beginning of the state, though for much of Israel’s history they were confined to the fever swamps of the country’s far left fringe.
In time, however, the once-scorned ideas gradually began to make their way into more respectable society; certainly by the mid-1970’s they were familiar to anyone given to spending time on Israeli campuses or associating with Israeli media and academic types.
In an essay written in 1994, the prominent Israeli author Aharon Meggid lamented that growing numbers of Israel’s intellectual class “have been increasingly and diligently preaching that our cause is not just.… What is happening before our very eyes is the rewriting of Zionist history, a rewriting in the spirit of Zionism’s adversaries and foes.”
Meggid, for whom post-Zionism represented a “pathological phenomenon, possibly rooted in the diaspora proclivity for self-abasement and sycophancy toward Jew haters,” looked with disdain and worry on that which he felt “probably has no parallel in history: an emotional and moral identification by the majority of Israel’s intelligentsia, and its print and electronic media, with people committed to our annihilation.”
By 1999, the “pathological phenomenon” described by Meggid had become the state-sanctioned version of history for Israeli schoolchildren, inserted into the curriculum by the Ministry of Education’s Michael Yaron, a man appointed to his post by Yitzhak Rabin and inexplicably retained by Benjamin Netanyahu.
Seven years and a long, bloody intifada later, post-Zionism, as anyone who regularly punishes himself by reading Israel’s left-wing press will attest, is very much a going concern. It’s no longer the Next New Thing in Israeli academia, but reports of its death were greatly exaggerated.