The Founding Myths of Israel: Nationalism, Socialism and the Making of the Jewish State

The Lions' Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky (Hardcover)
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A quarter of a century ago, this idea had a certain novelty; it aroused curiosity, especially as Zionist historiography was characterized by conformism, not to say an antiquated and dusty quality; but since then the anti-Zionists have established their own conformism and become stuck in its mire.

At the same time, Israeli historiography has liberated itself from many of its traditional weaknesses, very comparable to those of the French or German historiographies of the 19th and 20th centuries. Moreover, the extreme politicization of anti-Zionist discourse and its considerable exposure in the media have not benefited research. One could say that, like post-modernism, anti-Zionism has aged badly.

This does not mean that he succeeds in avoiding the usual faults of the genre; but if he does not discover America, his book has sufficient merit to deserve an in-depth critical reading. With great honesty, the author announces his intentions from the start, and the first sentence of the work gives the flavour of the whole:. This book is the product of a realization.

It bitterly opposed the Zionists' calls for a Jewish state. Over the course of the next decade, the Bund grew among Jewish workers, swelling to 40, members in Russia during the Russian Revolution.

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In the revolutionary period, Jewish socialists--both in the Bund and in the other socialist parties--assumed leadership of the working-class and communal organizations in Jewish communities. The Bund opposed political Zionism, but it accommodated to Jewish nationalism. Because of this, Lenin and other Russian revolutionaries engaged in fierce polemics with Bund leaders.

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Lenin and prominent Jewish socialists such as Martov and Trotsky opposed the Bund. Lenin argued the Bund was wrong to "legitimize Jewish isolation, by propagating the idea of a Jewish 'nation'". Socialists' task was "not to segregate nations, but to unite the workers of all nations," Lenin later wrote. The October Revolution showed what the socialist strategy for Jewish emancipation meant in practice. In a country where the Tsar and his henchman used anti-Semitism to divide workers, Russian workers elected to leading roles in the revolutionary government Jewish Bolsheviks like Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Sverdlov.

The revolution declared freedom of religion and abolished Tsarist restrictions on education and residence for Jews. During the Civil War against counterrevolutionary armies which slaughtered Jews by the thousands, the revolutionary Red Army meted out stern punishment--including execution--to any pogromists in its ranks. In the workers' government, Yiddish was given equal status with other languages. A Commisariat of Jewish Affairs and a special Jewish Commission inside the Bolshevik Party simultaneously worked to involve Jews in the affairs of the workers' state and to win the Jewish masses to socialism.

The revolution's early years saw an unprecedented flowering of Yiddish and Jewish cultural life. In , over half of the Jewish school population attended Yiddish schools and 10 state theaters performed Yiddish plays. By the late s, nearly 40 percent of the Jewish working population worked for the government.

Thus, by the s, the Zionists had been marginalized on all sides. The majority of the world's Jews clearly showed their desire to emigrate to Western countries. And thousands of Jews who remained in Eastern Europe fought for a better life, winning solidarity from many of their Gentile brothers and sisters.

By , as many people left Palestine as migrated to it. The entire Zionist enterprise seemed in doubt. When they embarked on their campaign for a Jewish homeland, the Zionists didn't let any ideological attachment to Palestine stand in their way.

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In fact, in the first years after Herzl formed the World Zionist Organization, Zionists debated a number of alternative targets for colonization: Uganda, Angola, North Africa. In , Herzl accepted a British government proposal to colonize Jews in Uganda, a decision which proved controversial in Zionist ranks. Herzl's death in put an end to colonization schemes outside of Palestine.

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Yet the debate on alternative sites for the Jewish state exposed the Zionist enterprise in two respects. First, it showed that political Zionism placed the colonizing project ahead of any 2,year longing for Jewish people to "return" to Palestine. Second, it showed that, from its inception, Zionism depended on European powers' sponsorship of its colonial-settler aims. Early Zionists made no secret that they hoped the Jewish state to be what Herzl called: "a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.

Herzl admired the German Kaiser's dictatorship: "To live under the protection of a strong, great, moral, splendidly governed and thoroughly organized Germany is certain to have most salutary effects upon the national character of the Jews. Nay, you may claim high credit from your government if you strengthen British influences in the Near East by a substantial colonization of our people at the strategic point where Egyptian and Indo-Persian interests converge.

When it came to seeking imperialist sponsors, the Zionists had no scruples about dealing with any regime, no matter how rotten or anti-Semitic. Herzl himself negotiated for increased Jewish emigration to Palestine with Vyacheslav von Plehve, the Russian Tsar's Interior Minister and architect of one of the worst pogroms in history at Kishinev in the Russian Empire in They hoped that Britain would reward them after it defeated the Ottoman Empire, which controlled Palestine. They achieved their goal with the declaration by Tory politician Lord Balfour.

The Balfour Declaration proclaimed British support for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people" under British protection. That Balfour had sponsored legislation to bar Jewish immigrants from Britain in didn't faze the Zionists. The Cabinet majority opposed the plan. What had changed in Britain's calculations? One clue comes from the fact that Britain issued the Balfour Declaration days before the October Revolution in Russia. Both Britain and the Zionists saw a Jewish state as a bulwark of imperialism against the spread of Bolshevism.

Winston Churchill, then a Tory Cabinet Minister, later explained Britain's motivations in meeting Zionists' expectations: "a Jewish state under the protection of the British Crown Pressure from Arab countries forced Britain to renege on the promise of Transjordan in Later, they agreed to accept British decisions to limit Jewish immigration into Palestine.

This provoked a major split in the Zionist movement as a minority, led by Polish writer Vladimir Jabotinsky, protested Ben-Gurion's and Weizman's realpolitik. Jabotinsky argued that Zionists should insist on capturing "both sides of the Jordan" and refuse to abide by any limitations the British imposed. Jabotinsky's program amounted to a call for revising the World Zionist Organization's strategy, thereby earning his followers the description "Revisionists" in the Zionist movement. We cannot give any compensation for Palestine, neither to the Palestinians nor to other Arabs.


Therefore, a voluntary agreement is inconceivable. All colonization, even the most restricted, must continue in defiance of the will of the native population. Therefore, it can continue and develop only under the shield of force which comprises an Iron Wall which the local population can never break through. This is our Arab policy. To formulate it any other way would be hypocrisy. Jabotinsky posed the first major challenge to the dominance in mainstream Zionism of the ideology of "Labor Zionism. If the Bund represented socialists who caved in to nationalism, the Labor Zionists represented nationalists who used socialist-sounding rhetoric to win supporters away from genuine socialist parties.

The defining institutions of Labor Zionism in pre-state Palestine were the Histadrut "trade union," the General Confederation of Workers in the Land of Israel, and the kibbutzim, a network of communal settlements which some have compared to utopian socialist communities.

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Both of these institutions carried over into the state of Israel. Many supporters of Israel even point to them as evidence of "socialism" in the Zionist enterprise. Yet this is another part of the Zionist story where myth collides with reality. When it was launched, the Histadrut strictly limited its membership to Jewish workers. Only in did it it officially allow Israeli citizen Palestinian Arabs to join it.

One year after its founding, it owned a holding company and a bank. The capital for these ventures came not from the Histadrut's original 5, members, but from the international Zionist movement's Jewish Agency. In other words, the Histadrut subsisted and continues to subsist on its role as a conduit for investment from world Zionism.

The Histadrut formed the backbone of the Jewish "state-in-waiting, controlling the mainstream of Zionist colonization efforts, economic production and marketing, labor employment and defense the Haganah. It is not a workers' trade union although it copes perfectly well with the real needs of the worker. Kibbutzim also restricted membership to Jews only. Kibbutz land was defined as being the possession of "the nation," which in pre-state and Israeli law was defined as being the property of the "Jewish people.

What is more, in the pre-state period, kibbutzim served as forward military bases in the strategic plan of Zionist settlement. The "strategic consideration which had underlain the plan of Zionist settlement, decided, in large measure, the fate of many regions of the country" because Haganah militia detachments attacked Palestinians from kibbutz bases.

Until , when self-described terrorist Menachem Begin became Israel's first Revisionist prime minister, the Labor Zionists effectively represented "Zionism" in most people's minds. But Labor--the Zionist "left"--and the Revisionists--the Zionist "right"--differed on means, rather than ends. Both supported an exclusively Jewish state.

Like apartheid South Africa's rulers, the Revisionists were willing to employ the native Palestinian population.