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Ben-Gurion University
BGU Sociologist Uri Ram leads his readers through the Post-Zionist, Post-Modern, Marxist Looking Glass
Looking at Israel society from post-ideological, post-modernist, post-colonial and post-Marxist perspectives.
     by Uri Ram 
1 2005

During the last decade of the 20th-century, post-Zionism became a pivotal term in the scholarly and public discussions about the emergence of civil society in Israel and its possible transition from a colonizing military society into a globalized capitalist society (cf. Peled and Ophir 2001; Yishai 2003). The events of the beginning of the 21st-century — especially the second Palestinian intifada and the outbreak of “clash of civilizations” between radical Islam and America — caused some set-backs in these developments, yet structural changes do not evaporate all of a sudden. In 2005 on the eve of Ariel Sharon’s pull-out plan from the occupied Gaza Strip and small territory in the northern part of the West Bank, there are signs that public opinion in Israel still supports the original Oslo policy of turning from the colonialist project towards capitalist normalization.
I propose that the developments of civil society, in general, and of post-Zionism, in particular, may be considered from four different angles, each offering a distinct theoretical formulation of the issue: a post-ideological approach; a post-modernist approach; a post-colonial approach; and a post-Marxist approach. The aim of this essay is not to offer a synthesis of these four perspectives, but rather to outline their cumulative insights as a ground for further elaboration.1

The Post-Ideological Perspective

In the post-ideological perspective, post-Zionism is a process of cultural “normalization” that comes naturally after the successful accomplishment of the basic ends of Zionism, i.e., Jewish “ascendance” (aliya) to Israel and the establishment and consolidation of a Jewish state. Zionism is considered here as a scaffold, which turns redundant after the building is accomplished, or as author A.B. Yehoshua put it in his famous essay In Praise of Normalcy, a “climber” is no longer a “climber” once he reaches the peak of the mountain (Yehoshua, 1984). Such a notion of post-Zionism was also proposed by philosopher Menachem Brinker (1986).
This may be described as the most Zionist approach to post-Zionism, or even as a Ben-Gurionian approach to it, as it resembles the attitude of the state’s first prime-minister to the Jewish Agency, when he argued that with the establishment of the state the latter’s role had expired. The “post” prefix represents then, in this case, the distinction between “becoming” (the Zionist stage) and “being” (the post-Zionist stage).
Sociologist Erik Cohen has presented the Durkheimean-Weberian, or shall we say Eisenstadtian, version of the post-ideological approach to post-Zionism. Zionism was a charismatic movement of radical transformation; in the course of time it underwent routinization, and left behind it an anemic vacuum. Post-Zionism is thus an anxiety arising out of the absence of a generally accepted system of legitimization (Cohen, 1995). This perspective is congruent with the latest views of S. N. Eisenstadt on the breakdown of the “original mold” which was designed by the dominant elite, and the subsequent proliferation of alternative discourses, including the post-Zionist one, but without the emergence of a substitute which will unify society (Eisenstadt, 1996). Eisenstadt may be thus termed a “cognitive post-Zionist,” as distinct from a normative one, i.e., someone who recognizes the post-Zionist situation, even without being happy with it. A number of Israel’s veteran Zionist intellectuals share this position with him. In somewhat parallel terms coined within the framework of an earlier discussion by political scientists Charles Liebman and Eliezer Don Yehiya, post-Zionism may be considered a situation of a “state without vision” (or a “service state”), in distinction from a “visionary state” (which they deem the Zionist state to have been) (Liebman and Don Yehiya, 1983). The works of Baruch Kimmerling on the decline of “Israeliness” and the rise of multi-cultural society, contribute substantially to the post-Zionist analysis, even if he avoids direct reference to the concept (Kimmerling, 2001a; 2001b).
This post-ideological approach is in fact a late Israeli version of the “end of ideology” thesis (Bell, 1960). It is an evolutionary “historical stages” approach, according to which Israeli society is experiencing a normal transition from a nation-building phase into an institutionalized phase, or from a “stormy nationalism” to “banal nationalism,” as befits a mature liberal state (Billing, 1995).

The Post-Modernist Perspective

The post-modernist approach does not consider post-Zionism as the maturation of Zionism, but, on the contrary, as signifying its demise. Nationalism is not considered simply the conventional expression of peoplehood, but rather as a framework forced upon fluctuating identities. Nationalism is thus a form of oppression; post-nationalism a form of liberation. The ambition of nationalism to “melt” various identities into a cohesive universal identity, and to exclude differing identities, is replaced in post-modern times by a discourse of otherness, differences and multiculturalism — and the umbrella expression of this trend in Israel is post-Zionism (Azoulay and Ophir, 1998).
The proponents of this perspective view post-Zionism not as a new historical phase, but rather as a new point of view, a new epistemology, which subverts and undermines the linear and essentialist point of view of nationalism. Post-Zionism is the exposition of the multifarious repressed identities under the national banner, and an expression of the heterogeneity which Zionism attempted to homogenize. Lawrence Silberstein, author of the most comprehensive text on post-Zionism to date, defined the relations between post-modernism and post-Zionism as a complex web which has nodes of joint and disjoint (Silberstein, 1999). The most significant node of joint is the deconstruction of the “regime of truth” or the power/knowledge network, and the attention given to different voices and new narratives.
The post-modern approach considers post-Zionism as a subversion of Zionism and a deconstruction of it into components and narratives it used to deny or marginalize. (Eliezer Schweid from the Hebrew University, who opposes Post-Zionism, considers it the Israeli version of post-modernism [Schweid, 1996]. On the relationships between post-Zionism and post-modernism, see also Levine, 1996.)
While the above is a Foucauldian, identity-oriented, version of the post-modern approach, there is also a Habermasian, citizenship-oriented, approach to post-Zionism. This approach refers to the distinction between ethnic-nationalism and territorial-nationalism (Brubaker, 1994). In this view, post-Zionism represents a post-national concept of Israeli citizenship, or even of Israeli constitutional nationalism, de-linked from the Jewish (or any other) communal belonging. This type of nationalism, based on a present common framework of life, rather than on past myth, may overcome the unresolved tension between the Jewish component in Israeli identity, which may turn into a matter of private or sub-communal affiliation, and the democratic component of Israeli identity, which must turn into the state’s constitutional basis. In this view, to become fully democratic, Israel should become a state of its citizens, rather than a state of the Jewish ethnos (Ram, 1999; 2001; Yiftachel, 1999).
The most thorough analysis from this perspective is offered by Shafir and Peled (2002). In their view three distinct citizenship regimes (or incorporation regimes) obtain in Israel: an ethno-nationalist regime, which ensures the primacy of Jews; a liberal regime, which ensures equal rights to individual citizens; and a republican regime, which allocates ranks and privileges on the basis of “civic virtue,” which practically means contribution to the common dominant causes. While the contradictory ethnic and liberal regimes were able to dwell together under the legitimization provided by the republican regime, republicanism is now receding and the conflict between the ethnic and the liberal regimes is coming to the fore.
A specific question within the post-modern approach is the question of the relationship between Israeli and Jewish identities. In both the Foucauldian and the Habermasian versions, post-Zionism is understood to draw a sharp distinction between Israeli and Jewish identities. Yet the constitutional-oriented version is keen on emphasizing the autonomy of Israeliness as a basis for democratic legitimization, while the identity-oriented version is keen on emphasizing the autonomy of Jewishness as a basis for new Diaspora Jewish identities (Raz-Krakotzkin, 1993 & 1994; Gur-Zeev, 2004). In the latter spirit, critic Dan Miron presents post-Zionism as “a position that does not see the State of Israel as a necessary response to the home quest of the protagonists … [but rather one that deconstructs] the binary pairs from which the Israeli ethos was constructed, such as Holocaust versus heroism, death versus new life, Diaspora versus homeland, weakness versus power, and passivity versus activism” (Miron in Lev Ari, 2004).

David Ben-Gurion helped Labor maintain power from

The Post-Colonialist Perspective

The post-colonialist approach to post-Zionism is a particular case of the post-modern perspective. It shares the latter’s challenge to modernity but superimposes on the self-other dichotomy the West-East dichotomy. Zionism is thus rendered as Western and post-Zionism receives an Eastern tilt — ideally conjoining both Arab-Palestinian and Jewish-Oriental identities, as in Yehuda Shenhav’s book about “Jewish-Arabs” (Shenhav, 2003; 2003a). This approach draws heavily on the Orientalism perspective of critics like Said (1978), as well as on the hybrid version of it, by critics like Bhabha (1990) (Shenhav editor, 2004).
The post-colonial discourse composes new narratives that give voice to subaltern sectors of the population, and (re-)creates old-new hyphenated identities, which defy the simplicity of the nationalist boundaries. When this perspective is applied to Israel, post-Zionism obtains the meaning of the empowerment of the “internal other” of Zionism, i.e., Oriental Jews, and concomitantly of the transgression of the internal-external national boundaries, which are substituted in part with the Occidental-Oriental distinction. In other words, Zionism is conceived as a European-Ashkenazi-White-Colonial movement, which victimized both the internal Orientals and the external Arabs (Shohat, 1989; 2001).
The goal of post-colonial post-Zionism is to undo the “conspiracy of silencing” which clouded the Mizrahi identity in Israel. By exposing exclusionary practices it also undoes the national narrative, which assumes a common essence and denies inherent otherness (Motzafi-Haller, 1998; 2002). According to the new post-colonial post-Zionism, in the social-scientific field the denial of Mizrahim was performed first by mainstream sociology which imputed to them cultural backwardness, and thus denied the Israeli context of their situation, but, also, by critical sociology, which considered Mizrahim in class terms, thus denying their cultural history and identity (Shenhav, 2003; 2003a). Post-colonial post-Zionism deconstructs the tissue of the national “us” to its distinct hierarchical layers, subverts the concept of a pre-given “nation” and proposes alternative notions, or at the least complementary ones, of collective identity.
Whereas the post-colonial approach to post-Zionism aims to speak in the name of the Orient — Jewish and Arab combined — it remains in fact mostly an internal Jewish affair. The Palestinian Arabs, being excluded from Israeli society and identity and being the ultimate “others” in the country, find it more difficult to perform the delicate post-colonial dance on the inside-outside boundary; in a “Jewish state,” democratic or not, they are mostly “outsiders,” even when they are full citizens. Thus while for post-Zionism the question of status and conditions of the Palestinian citizens in Israel is absolutely central (Yiftachel, 1999; Ozacky-Lazar, Ghanem & Pappe, 1999; Shafir and Peled, 2002; Rabinowitz 2001), Palestinians in Israel usually speak from a national point of view, rather than from a post-national one. Post-nationalism seems to be the privilege of well-established nations.

The Post-Marxist Perspective

The post-Marxist approach differs from the three approaches mentioned above in considering economic and social changes as major factors in the shaping of the political and cultural transformations associated with post-Zionism. This approach is post-Marxist in that it relates post-modernism to the recent transformation of the capitalist mode of regulation, namely the emergence of post-Fordism, and to the subsequent transformation in the balance of power between the classes, namely the decline of organized labour and the rise of the private corporations. It is the only approach cognizant of the affinities between the economic and social changes and the political-cultural changes. It is a post-Marxist perspective, nevertheless, in that it shares some aspects of post-modern thought, such as non-deterministic and non-linear analysis, and also in that it recognizes the post-modern dimensions of contemporary culture.
Post-Fordist capitalism differs from Fordist capitalism in the following aspects: a transition from hierarchical bureaucratic firm to a flexible entrepreneurial network; a transition from Keynesian interventionism in the economy and production-side developmentalism to neo-liberal and consumption-side economics; a transition from labor market collective regulation to non-organized labor market and “new forms” of employment; a transition from a universal welfare state (the European model) to a safety network welfarism (the American model); and a transition from a national economy to a global economy (Aglietta, 2001; Jessop, 2003). Overall, this transition disrupts the balance of power between capital, labor, and state, which prevailed in the corporatist (Fordist) state, and it ushers in an unbalanced power structure under capital’s tutelage. Two “non-economic” results of this major shift of the social regime are the rise of inequality in the distribution of income and a trend of fragmentation of the population into identity groups.
How does all this relate to post-Zionism?
The “traditional” Israeli social regime was collectivist because this was conditional to the success of the early settlement and conquest phase of Zionism in Palestine, a region which was unattractive to capital and labor alike. The national project could take-off only on the basis of labor enclaves and exclusion of Arab laborers, based on the injunction of Jewish capital. The combination of “public” finance and privileged labor made the Labor strategy triumphant (Shafir, 1996; Shalev, 1992). In the early state era, during the 1950s and 1960s, the national project was bequeathed to the state administration, which was manifested in the “mamlachtiyut” etatist (statist) ideology of the era. In the 1970s, especially since the rise of the Likud in 1977, a liberal change began, but, until the mid-1980s, the new economy floundered because of failed management — which caused three-digit inflation. Only since the new economic program of the 1980s, in conjunction with the hi-tech revolution of the 1990s, has the transition from Fordism to post-Fordism in Israel finally materialized.
By this time, the veteran elites have already turned their preference from military mobility to entrepreneurial accumulation, and from national adherence to post-nationalist aspirations (Levy, 2003; Shafir And Peled 2000). The state and the Histadrut labor federation privatized their large corporations (a process completed for the Histadrut) and together with the new influx of international investment (in the early 1990s, encouraged by the peace process), the ideology of the business sector has become dominant in Israel. The inter-class pact was disbanded and inequality rose. As a reaction to this, the lower classes, a category which in large part overlaps with Oriental descent, low education and traditionalist culture, turned in mass to populist propaganda and chauvinist politics for consolation for the loss of identity and compensation for the loss of status. Thus emerged inside Israel a local post-Zionist version of the global dialectics of “McWorld versus Jihad” (Jewish Jihad, for sure) (Barber, 1996; Ram, 2005).
Hence the change from Fordism to post-Fordism is associated with the change from a nation and class coalition into a clash between local neo-Zionist ethno-fundamentalism and global post-Zionist civic-liberalism.


Despite retreats and set-backs in the development of civil society and post-Zionism in Israel in the last five years, these are long-term structural developments that have stricken roots and are not likely to disappear.
We have presented four approaches to these developments. The post-nationalist approach considers the emergence of civil society and post-Zionism as a process of “normalization”; the post-modernist approach considers it a shaking-off of the oppressive modernist nationalist grand-narrative; the post-colonial approach considers it a Mizrahi counter-hegemonic politics of identity; and the post-Marxist approach considers it the political-cultural counterpart of post-Fordist restructuring of the inter-class balance of power. Taken together, these four approaches highlight the various dimensions of the evolving civil society in Israel: the retreat of nationalism; the rise of individualism; the spread of pluralism; and the overarching hegemony of capitalism. The inter-relationships between these dimensions, the combined weight of these developments, and their relationship with colonialism, are yet to be seen. The progression of civil society and post-Zionism in Israel is not linear; the backlash of ethno-nationalist collectivism and fundamentalist neo-Zionism lurks around the corner, awaiting a chance to be inflamed by an eventual new cycle of Israeli-Palestinian hostilities, or in fact awaiting to inflame hostilities. The connection between the peace process and the civil process in Israel is clear, and it is a two-sided tie — no peace with no civility, and no civility with no peace.


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1?For further elaboration see Uri Ram: “Post-Zionism: The First Decade,” in Israel Studies Forum, November, 2005.
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