In a very smart response to my National Post piece about how young Jews are becoming disenchanted with Israel, Dana Goldstein zeroed in in on the word “post-Zionist.”
Heer calls us “post-Zionist,” and that just sits better with me. “Anti-Zionism” is not always anti-Semitic, but it sometimes is. “Non-Zionism” implies a lack of support for Israel in any form. Post-Zionism, I think, acknowledges Zionism’s place in modern Jewish history while urging a pretty radical rethinking of the Zionist project itself — and whether the actions of today’s Israeli government, and its Diaspora supporters, are really best suited to accomplish the original Zionist goal of making the world and the Promised Land safer for Jews.
I want to say a bit more about the word post-Zionist because I think it really does describe the moment we’re experiencing right now.
When I was in Israel 4 years ago I heard a lot of talk (and worry) about the post-Zionism of the young. Post-Zionism is not an ideology but an attitude: it’s the feeling that Zionism is old hat, the sort of embarrassing enthusiasm your parents or grandparents have; the feeling that Israel is a fact of life but we don’t need to keeping rehearsing the myths of 1948 over and over again; the feeling that Zionism offers nothing new, and that we need something new. (The fact that the strandard heroic story of 1948 has been effectively destroyed by historians has contributed to the post-Zionist mood).
As against, post-Zionism there is also something we can call retro-Zionism: the attempt to revive the old legends and the pioneering spirit of the past. You see this in Israel too, in the way that the folk songs of the 1940s and 1950s have a cult following. Or the way historians like Ephraim Karsh are trying to reheat the old Zionist narrative. The settler movement is also a form of retro-Zionism: an attempt to revive the energy of an earlier moment.
I don’t have the book handy but the historian John Lukacs in his book Historical Consciousness once wrote something profound: in life, we don’t solve problems so much as transcend them and move on from them. His example was communism (something he knew from first hand experience as a Hungarian refugee). In the early 20th century, Lukacs noted, everyone was a communist, or an anti-communist, or an anti-anti-communist. But the proper position to take now (in the late 1960s) is post-communism. We have to recognize that communism belongs to history, to the past, and move on from it. I think the same is true of Zionism. (Lukacs was of course acute and prophetic in realizing that even in the 1960s, the post-communist moment had begun).
The problem with those who call themselves Zionists or anti-Zionists is that they are trapped in the debates of the 1940s or 1960s. Post-Zionism allows us to realize that we’re in a new situation now, in the 21st century.
Here are a few facts that post-Zionists accept:
1. Israel is not going away: the Jewish states is heavily armed and has an enough nuclear weapons to destroy a continent. Israel can’t be defeated militarily.
2. The Palestinians are not away. Barring an ethnic cleansing of horrific proportions, the Palestinians will stay where they are. Israel has to come to terms with the fact that they will always be neighbors with Palestinians.
3. If there is not a two-state solution, there will be a one-state solution: if the Palestinians aren’t given a real, viable state, then there will be a push to grant citizenship rights to those Arabs who have lived for decades under Israeli military occupation. The question then will be, what will this one-state be like: a democracy or a variation on apartheid.