Maybe you know not a lot about Zionism, but are trying to assess the recent kerfuffle here in the United States surrounding BDS, especially as it gets picked up by this or that public figure or academic superstar; or maybe you grew up ruined by a little too much of the wrong kind of religion and don’t think Labor Zionism has or ever had something coherent to offer, either because you remain right wing, or because already a long time ago you jumped the fence, ideologically, into something more radical; or maybe you’re just sick of the whole damn thing; and maybe you won’t be impressed by this.
Is this Zionism? Is this kind of Zionism a dead dog? All I can say is that I felt a little shock of recognition, listening the other night to this clip of Meirav Michaeli’s inaugural speech as a newly elected member of the Labor Party in the current Knesset. Reflecting the bad place that is modern Israel, Michaeli’s speech represents a more contemporary mutation of more progressive form of Labor Zionism.
Refusing to play the victim bound up in aggressive, racist bunker mentalities, this is what the critical combination of moral and political clarity looks like and sounds like –standing up to privilege, ending the occupation, committing to critical historical memory, to equality for women, to social justice and to peace, to the creation of a more democratic place based across open lines of class, ethnic, gender, national, racial, and religious difference. Dead dog or not, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything like this delivered from a political podium. Michaeli clearly crystallized how I want to understand myself and my own moral and political commitments; as a Jew, an American, a human being, it makes no difference.
So is this form of liberal or left wing Zionism coherent or incoherent?
Labor and liberal Zionism were always incoherent because their proponents did not understand the true state of relations between itself and its Arab-Palestinian environments. Historically, they either ignored the indigenous people who people those environments and/or underestimated the full nature or force of the conflict with them, believing as if the problems could be fudged, somehow. The same can probably be said regarding many of today’s advocates of a one-state solution.
As for the incoherence of what passes today for right wing Zionism: if liberal and Labor Zionism understood anything, going back to Herzl and Pinsker, and then on to Borochov and Gordon, it was that Zionism depends upon universal values, progressive dynamics, and international agreements. Absent those values and agreements, the whole project withers on the vine. If liberal Zionism remains delusional, then rightwing Zionism is super-delusional in refusing to recognize the world outside the bubble it creates for itself. This to me seems true today of Naftali Bennet’s hi-tech ultra-right wing Zionsim and of Yair Lapid’s neo-liberalism.
As for the image of placeless upon which so much recent Diasporist theory depends, that too is another incoherence, the inability or refusal to recognize that cultures are constituted, in part, by more or less discrete spatial-worlds.
So many arguments about Zionism and Israel have to do with the problem of scale. About all this, Peter Sloterdijk throws a little light when he writes about the attempt “to pose the question of ‘where’ anew in a radical fashion [by restoring] to contemporary thought its feeling for absolute localization, and with it the feeling for the basis of the difference between large and small” (Bubbles, p.28).
In this, Michaeli gets it better than most.