Friday, September 21, 2001 Tishrei 4, 5762
Israel Time: 01:11 (GMT+3)
The post-Zionists had the feeling that their ideas were taking hold among
the public - until the Al Aqsa Intifada erupted. What is post-Zionism,
anyway? Why does it frighten its opponents and make even its advocates
writhe uncomfortably? And has it really vanished like last year's fad?
By Neri Livneh
The end of this month will mark the first anniversary of the eruption of the Al
Aqsa Intifada. It will also mark the first anniversary of the death of post-Zionism
as a movement and a social attitude, according to Dr. Ilan Pappe, an outspoken
post-Zionist. Prof. Anita Shapira, who takes vehement issue with Pappe's ideas
and wrote an entire book to counter post-Zionism ("New Jews, Old Jews"), says
that although post-Zionism as a method has not disappeared - and that it is
quite probable that a considerable number of its proponents will belong to the
next generation of university researchers and instructors - the popularity of
post-Zionist concepts has been at a nadir among students and readers since
the intifada began almost a year ago.
At least five books on post-Zionism have been written by non-Israeli
researchers in universities abroad. There, particularly before the death throes
and final demise of the "peace process," the view was that Israel was opening a
new chapter, post-Zionist in character, in its history. In the past year, the feeling
is that Israel opened the book, gave it a quick perusal, and slammed it shut
"If until the past year the university simply tried to curtail me," Pappe says, "today
they are actually trying to kick me out. Because today, you can kick out a lecturer
in Israel on the basis of his opinions."
It's more reasonable to think that no one will really kick Pappe out of the
University of Haifa, where he has tenure and is also a very popular lecturer; and
besides, he is involved in an academic debate that is taking place in a setting
that is supposed to be open to all views. But the fact is that Pappe and others
have the effect of unsettling ideological rivals, both in and out of academia, and
making them take a hostile attitude not only toward different opinions, but also
toward those who espouse them.
Prof. Yoav Gelber, for example, who is a colleague of Pappe's at the University of
Haifa, says he is unwilling to have his name "mentioned in the same
newspaper in which Ilan Pappe's name is mentioned. Any self-respecting
person will not agree to appear in the same place, or to sit in the same room,
with Pappe, and I am definitely a person who respects himself."
Gelber recently sent a letter to the head of the social sciences faculty at the
university, suggesting that Pappe be fired. Three weeks ago, Gelber sent a
message to the university's internal communications network in which he
likened Pappe to "Lord Haw-Haw" (William Joyce, who was described by
journalist William Shirer as "a leading brawler in Mosley's British Union of
Fascists," and who broadcast anti-British propaganda for the Nazis and was
hung in London in 1946).
The popularity of post-Zionism as a subject for those interested in researching
Israel is at its peak abroad, says Dr. Tom Segev, a historian and a columnist for
Ha'aretz. Segev was interviewed hours before he lifted off for the United States,
where he will be giving a three-month seminar on this exact subject at Rutgers
University. His small book, "The New Zionists," which was published a few
months ago by Keter, will appear in the U.S. next year and afterward in other
"Abroad, this is a subject that fascinates everyone who takes an interest in
Israel," Segev explains. "There are constant discussions on the subject,
innumerable articles. There is tremendous interest in post-Zionism, which is
viewed as a central process in Israel, and it's a lot easier for those who observe
us from the outside to see what's happening to us."
Since post-Zionism as a political posture is less popular today than it was a
year ago, even those who support post-Zionist positions prefer to do so without
referring to it by name. Others, who once consented to being considered part of
the post-Zionist camp, even though they did not really think they were part of it,
now openly dissociate themselves from it. Indeed, the term "post-Zionist" often
is used only as a general label of derogation, one which is more cultured than
"Israel-hater," with which loyal Zionists brand people whom they perceive as
questioning the just cause of the Zionist movement.
In the wider sense, if the term post-Zionism is meant to describe every attempt
to examine the injustices perpetrated by Zionism and to reassess Israel's
history from a standpoint that is different from the standard version, all those
who are identified in this article as "post-Zionists" will undoubtedly agree to be
included in the list.
But in the narrower, and more precise, sense, post-Zionism is a political
attitude that recognizes the legitimacy of Zionism as a national movement of
Jews, but specifies a certain date, a kind of watershed, from which point on
Zionism concluded its historical role or lost its legitimacy because of injustices
it did to others (not only to Arabs but also, for example to Holocaust survivors
from Europe, Yiddish speakers, Jews from Arab and Islamic countries,
ultra-Orthodox Jews and women).
This viewpoint also gives rise to a political conclusion, according to which Israel
must disengage itself from its Zionist elements, which are the foundation of its
Jewish character, because they are preventing it from being a democratic state.
In the eyes of its opponents, this conclusion by the post-Zionists places them in
a saliently anti-Zionist camp.
"Post-Zionism," says Dr. Amnon Raz-Karkutzkin, from Ben-Gurion University of
the Negev in Be'er Sheva, "is actually a kind of general term that was invented in
order to stuff into one basket and denounce everyone who does not identify
completely with the establishment, or who has anything critical to say about the
way history is taught in Israel, or who see the huge damage that Zionism has
done to the Palestinians or the Mizrahim" - referring to Jews whose origins lie in
Middle Eastern countries.
"Post-Zionism is an empty label," asserts Prof. Yehouda Shenhav from Tel Aviv
University. "I think we have to stop using the category of 'post-Zionism,' because
people invoke it confusingly. Not everyone who calls for an end to the occupation
is necessarily a post-Zionist. People who want to return to the 1967 lines can be
Zionists through and through, because they are convinced that nationhood
cannot exist without borders. On the other hand, you could say that the settlers
are post-Zionists, because their very existence is harmful to nationhood within
Raz-Karkutzkin and Shenhav do not consider themselves post-Zionists,
although they are identified as such by their detractors.
"Post-Zionism is a term I abhor," Raz-Karkutzkin states. "I am absolutely not a
A fierce debate broke out over this issue a few months ago in Keshet
Hademokratit Hamizrahit (Sephardi Democratic Coalition). Moshe Krief, for
example, is one of the sharpest critics in the organization of those members
whom he perceives as post-Zionists, such as Shenhav. The debate is of
particular interest because the coalition was established on a post-Zionist
foundation, which views Zionism as an essentially Ashkenazi ideology and
movement that harmed Arabs and Mizrahim.
The coalition was created primarily to right the wrong that was done to the
Mizrahim, Krief explains. It is trying to accomplish this by "conducting a trenchant
dialogue with Israeli society and trying to tell the history of Israeli society from
the viewpoint of the Mizrahim, and not only as was customary in the past, from
the point of view of male Ashkenazim. In my view, though, we are not
post-Zionists, because we are absolutely not people who want to dismantle the
Krief and other opponents of post-Zionism define it according to what they
identify as its conclusions. Many post-Zionists say that Israel stripped of its
Zionism should be a "state of all its citizens," meaning a country where there is
full equality for everyone including Arabs. Still, post-Zionism is not necessarily a
political outlook as much as it is a way of looking at things, of shifting one's
point of view.
The conclusions gleaned from that new perspective can be different. Benny
Morris, for example, one of the leading "new historians," is a Zionist, whereas
Ilan Pappe is an anti-Zionist. Yet both are dubbed by the disparagers as
The thrust for individuality
In an article he wrote for The New York Times about three weeks ago, Tom
Segev argued that the Palestinians are forcing Israelis with post-Zionist
leanings to return to the womb of Zionism.
"Post-Zionism is a situation, not an ideology," he says. "It is a situation in which
people grow tired of an ideology and a collectivity and want to live their lives as
Segev's book, "The New Zionists," was written before the intifada erupted.
"I wanted to postpone the book's publication because I don't know what
situation we are in now," he explains. "It's not certain that the post-Zionist
situation is being nullified, and it's equally not certain that it is not being nullified.
Post-Zionism reflects very deep processes within the society, it is more than a
caprice of a few people who write books. The fact is that the society allowed
Yitzhak Rabin to shake hands with Yasser Arafat and allowed Ehud Barak to
conduct peace negotiations because of the conclusion people reached that life
is more important to them. But afterward they punished Barak for failing.
"Of course, as soon as bullets start flying and people are blown up, there is a
kind of reversion to Zionism, but it's possible that people will accept a situation
in which terrorism exists and the need to strive for peace still exists. You have to
remember what engendered post-Zionism: It was born out of the first intifada,
which in large measure was victorious. Post-Zionism said, 'Let's give up the
territories, because we are simply fed up with dying, with doing reserve duty,
and so forth.' Who says the second intifada won't produce a similar result?"
"The fact is," Raz-Karkutzkin says, "that since the intifada started, the only critical
academic articles in Israel have appeared in English." He is referring to "Hagar,"
a post-Zionist English language periodical edited by Prof. Oren Yiftachel and
published by Ben-Gurion University.
However, similar articles are also published consistently by "Theory and
Criticism" (edited by Yehouda Shenhav and published by the Van Leer
Jerusalem Institute), a Hebrew-language journal which is considered the organ
of the post-Zionists and was founded with that purpose by Adi Ophir.
In the meantime, Keter has begun to publish a new series of long essays in
book format under the general heading of "The Israelis" (general editor: Gideon
Samet, a columnist for Ha'aretz), and at least two of the books that have so far
appeared are clearly post-Zionist: Segev's book and a work by Prof. Baruch
Kimmerling, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, on "The End of
Ashkenazi Hegemony." (In Hebrew, Kimmerling has invented the acronym
"Ahusalim," for Ashkenazi, secular, veteran, socialist, liberals).
There are a good many post-Zionists in the arts departments of the universities.
Some of them have a history of protest and criticism that far antedates the
relatively brief life of post-Zionism, but their voices have been mostly inaudible
during the past year. In literature, poetry and theater, too, post-Zionism has not
made new inroads since the intifada started. However, it was never really an
essential part of creative output in Israel, according to the poet, novelist and
essayist Yitzhak Laor, much of whose work is saliently post-Zionist. But Laor is,
in any case, considered an avowed anti-Zionist.
"Post-Zionism is a kind of convenient bag into which all kinds of people can be
stuffed," he says. "On the one hand, it allows anti-Zionists to come out of the
closet without calling themselves anti-Zionists, and on the other hand, it allows
all the ideological establishment Zionists to throw them all into that bag so they
can kick it around."
Not only post-Zionism is difficult to find in Hebrew literature, Laor says; so is any
other political view.
"A while ago I was asked, on the occasion of 'the Situation,' to organize an
evening of political poets, but to make sure that Meir Wieseltier, Aharon Shabtai
and Yitzhak Laor wouldn't be the only ones there. I said fine. Show me one
political poem by a young poet. It's the same with young writers. There are no
young writers who are publishing political literature. Of the older generation, you
can hear the opinion that Joshua Kenaz is a post-Zionist, in the sense that he is
a definite Canaanite [a group that advocated a new Hebrew - as opposed to
Jewish - nation] and that Orly Kastel-Blum is a post-Zionist because her irony
places all the sacrosanct verities in doubt."
To this list, we can add Sami Michael, who has just published a new novel; the
new film "Yellow Asphalt" directed by Danny Varte, which depicts the life of the
Bedouin in the Negev; the work of the feminist Mizrahi filmmaker Simone Biton;
and a few others.
No new post-Zionist play has been staged since the intifada began, Laor notes,
"but that is because in recent years playwrights and the theater in Israel have
become a lot more fawning toward the audience's taste."
One sphere that will continue to be post-Zionist always, irrespective of
developments on the security front, is feminism. In its essence, feminism is a
reappraisal of history and ideologies from women's point of view.
"Feminism in the past 10 years has been talking about a great pain that is due
to Zionism," says Hannah Safran, who teaches in the Women's Studies
Program at the University of Haifa and is an activist in the Woman to Woman
"The whole debate of the past few years is about identities, and therefore it's
connected with the consequences of Zionism, and is thus post-Zionist in its
essence. Feminism is a movement that fights for equality and so we are also
talking about equality between Ashkenazi women and Mizrahi women, and
between Jewish women and Palestinian women."
Some of the leading post-Zionist women in academia are Prof. Tanya Reinhardt
(linguistics), Dr. Orly Lubin (literature), Dr. Rachel Giora (linguistics), Dr. Anat
Matar (philosophy), Dr. Anat Bieltsky (philosophy), Prof. Ilana Pardes (Bible), and
Prof. Galit Hazan Rokem (Hebrew literature).
"The rumors about the death of post-Zionism were premature and
exaggerated," says Prof. Shlomo Zand from the General History Department at
Tel Aviv University.
"I don't think that anyone in the academic world who defined himself as a
post-Zionist or as a non-Zionist or as an anti-Zionist went back to being a
Zionist after last October, but I do think that the tolerance of the media toward
post-Zionism declined after that. The first intifada opened the way for the critical
researchers, those you call post-Zionists, and the Oslo accord legitimized
post-Zionism. But the new intifada brought about a siege of the media elites
and that siege led them back to the old Mapai style" - referring to the policies
and approach of the party that was the precursor of Labor.
"Unlike my friend Ilan Pappe," Zand adds, "I don't think there is a regression
from post-Zionism or from critical research in the universities. I think that Ilan
simply deluded himself into thinking that the change of the universities and their
liberalization would be a rapid process. I don't think that there are fewer critical
researchers or post-Zionists today than there were a year ago. I also think there
is a new generation - perhaps not big enough, but there is such a generation. I
have five doctoral students, for example, and I assume that most of them would
term themselves non-Zionists."
The origins of academic post-Zionism lie with the historians, and more
precisely with the so-called new historians. There are differences of opinion as
to when post-Zionism first emerged, but everyone agrees that it happened in the
second half of the 1980s. Two things happened at that time: the first intifada,
which reminded everyone that there was a second side, too, a side of victims, to
the Zionist success story, and the fact that studies of a post-Zionist character
began to be published. Under the Archives Law, it was not until the end of the
1970s that the files containing documents and papers relating to the 1948 war
were opened to the public, and 10 years is definitely a reasonable time in which
to write and publish an academic study.
The first post-Zionist books were published abroad, in English. Simha Flapan's
book "The Birth of Israel" appeared in 1987 in New York, and the following year,
Benny Morris published "The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem
1947-1949" (Cambridge), Avi Shlaim published "Collusion Across the Jordan:
King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement, and the Partition of Palestine" (Oxford),
and Ilan Pappe published "Britain and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1948-1951"
The beginnings, then, lay with the new historians, who were not a group either
("only Benny Morris, who is a Zionist, took us - there were perhaps three of us -
and announced that we were a 'group,'" recalls Pappe).
On the other side of the academic fence, Shabtai Teveth was one of the first to
discern the danger lurking for the national ethos, and in 1989 wrote a series of
three articles in Ha'aretz on the new historians, in which he accused them of
intellectual dishonesty and claimed that were deliberately relying on mistaken
information. The war was on. Afterward, when critical positions began to be
heard and written up in other academic spheres, a new and broader term was
needed to reflect them all.
When people began to invoke the two terms concurrently, there was initially an
inclination to identify the new historians with the post-Zionists. Thus Benny
Morris was classified as a post-Zionist, even though he is in fact a Zionist. But
beyond the facts that they discovered in their research, the post-Zionist
historians rejected the traditional split of the teaching of history in the Israeli
academic world into two: Everything that happened to the Jews was taught in
departments of Israel studies or the history of the Jewish people, while all the
rest of history, almost without connection to Jews, was taught in general history
departments. (The only university that does not make this distinction is
"This is a situation that has no example anywhere in the world," Prof. Zand
maintains. "In France, they don't study the history of France divorced from the
history of Europe. There might be courses with different emphases in a history
department. But here, if I teach in the Department of General History, I am not
supposed to refer to Jewish history. So post-Zionism is not actually relevant to
research or teaching in the General History Department, irrespective of whether
there were always historians in the General History Department who defined
themselves as post-Zionists or non-Zionists or anti-Zionists."
On the other hand, in departments where Zand believes a post-Zionist
approach is required, it is not present.
"I don't know anyone in the Department of Jewish Thought, or in the Department
of the History of the Jewish People, who is not a Zionist or a post-Zionist," he
notes. "Why? Because this division of history in effect says that the history of
France is supposed to be taught objectively, from an external perspective, but
those who teach Jewish history are supposed to be committed to Zionist
"The process of the liberalization of the universities, which is making Prof.
Amnon Rubinstein lose sleep, has not reached the departments that are out to
preserve the national memory - meaning Jewish History or History of the Jewish
People or Israel Studies or Jewish Thought.
"Therefore, the Israeli historian of the history of the Jewish people whom I most
esteem is not an academic historian, and it's not surprising that he holds no
academic post. I am talking about Boas Evron, who wrote the first saliently
post-Zionist book, 'A National Accounting'" - published in Hebrew by Dvir, in
Prof. Yisrael Yovel, from the Department of the History of the Jewish People at
the Hebrew University: "I myself am not a post-Zionist, but I deny the legitimacy
of the argument that a researcher of Jewish history cannot be a post-Zionist. If
post-Zionist thought is a possible category, then it is possible ... even in
departments of Jewish history. Anyone who thinks it's not possible, thinks that
the history of the Jewish people began with Zionism. The only trouble is that
started a few years before that. The Jewish History Department can
accommodate a pre-Zionist, Zionist or post-Zionist approach. The conceptual
categories are legitimate in any context."
Do you know of researchers in Jewish history departments whose studies have
a post-Zionist character?
Yovel: "No, but that's because those departments hardly deal with Zionism.
Zionism is studied mainly in the Department of Contemporary Jewry."
Ideology and witch hunts
The journal "Theory and Criticism" was founded in 1990 by Prof. Adi Ophir
(philosophy), Prof. Hanan Hever (Hebrew literature), Dr. Amnon Raz-Karkutzkin
(general history), Prof. Yehouda Shenhav (sociology), Dr. Azmi Bishara (political
science), attorney Avigdor Feldman, and Dr. Yoav Peled (political science). Ophir
edited the journal until a year ago, and when he took sabbatical leave the
editorship was taken over by Prof. Shenhav.
"The idea was to create some sort of local criticism of the national hegemony,"
Shenhav explains. "To promote post-national, post-Zionist, Marxist and feminist
By the mid-1990s, there were a good number of post-Zionist scholars in the
universities (notably in Tel Aviv, Be'er Sheva and Haifa). Still, their numbers
remain very small compared to the Zionists.
"For every post-Zionist researcher there are 10 or a hundred who are not
post-Zionists," says Dr. Yossi Yonah from the Department of Education at
As mentioned, BGU is the home of "Hagar," the journal edited by Prof. Yiftachel,
head of the Department of Geography. The publisher is Prof. Lev Grinberg, from
the Department of Sociology.
"I myself am a Zionist by definition, as I immigrated to Israel, but that doesn't
mean I have no critical thought about Zionism and about nationalism, about the
Zionist and university establishments, and about the society in Israel," Grinberg
says. "Actually, though, very few people are ready to call themselves
post-Zionists, apart from Ilan Pappe and Dr. Uri Ram from Ben-Gurion, who
defined themselves as such and immediately hoped that everyone would follow
suit and that they had invented a movement."
Grinberg describes the journal he publishes as a "critical one that addresses
interdisciplinary issues, not only in the Israeli context but everywhere. But we
chose 'Hagar' as a common symbol to Judaism and Islam, and a symbol of the
Palestinian problem, peripheralism and feminism, all of which we also
Why does "Hagar" come out in English?
Grinberg: "Because only the Jews speak Hebrew, while English is the language
of the academic world, and we also want to communicate with the
Publication of the journal is financed by the Hubert Humphrey Institute, which is
the focal point for the scholars who espouse critical thought and take an
anti-establishment approach at BGU. There are about 40 of them, and they
originate in a variety of departments: sociology, political science, social work,
history, international relations, literature, geography and Middle East studies.
Ben-Gurion University is considered the bastion of post-Zionism, although with
the exception of sociologist Uri Ram (who is currently on sabbatical leave
abroad), there is not one other researcher there who calls himself a
"It's clear that you can advance in the university even if you have a post-Zionist
approach," Grinberg says. "In Tel Aviv and Be'er Sheva it's the 'in' thing, and in
other places, it's sometimes possible. Generally, the atmosphere at Ben-Gurion
is one of critical thought, which, if you like, can be considered post-Zionism in
the broad sense.
"There is no hegemonic establishment core at BGU, which is a relatively young
university, so nearly all the approaches here are critical. The picture at Tel Aviv
University is more complex because there is an old establishment core, and in
Jerusalem, the old establishment is very strong and dominant. In Jerusalem,
you might run into promotion problems if you harbor post-Zionist views.
"Here, too, there was a certain panic when we were afraid that people with
post-Zionist views would not be promoted, and therefore I am delighted to be
able to tell you that the three last people who were promoted are precisely those
who are identified with post-Zionism: Uri Ram, Haggai Ram and Yossi Yonah."
Yonah thinks that the academic world, including BGU, hasn't yet fully opened
itself to critical scholars: "The fact is that a woman like Dr. Ella Shohat could not
find an academic position and that Dr. Shlomo Swirski, a distinguished
sociologist, couldn't find work at any university - and Swirski is perhaps to blame
for being the first to open the way for critical observation in the social sciences.
"True, I was given tenure, but I have to say that there is a kind of McCarthy-like
atmosphere, which is represented by people like Amnon Rubinstein, who
conducts witch hunts against people whose integrity is impeccable and who are
also excellent and fair-minded scholars. Overall, the atmosphere in this country
is that anyone who is critical is a mischief-maker."
Rubinstein clashed with post-Zionism in 1995, when it was at its height and he
was minister of education, culture and sport. In an article in Ha'aretz, Rubinstein
argued that the people whom he identified as post-Zionists were radically
anti-Israeli, Holocaust deniers, and castigators of Zionism whose goal was to
bury the Zionist movement.
Two years later, Rubinstein wrote another article denouncing post-Zionism, in
which he argued that its goal was not to right wrongs but to launch "a frontal
assault on the very essence and right of existence of the national home of the
Jewish people ... Thus the post-Zionist assault became anti-Zionist
propaganda, and it reflects an ideological worldview, not academic research,
however critical it may be."
Prof. Amnon Rubinstein: "I wrote a series of articles in Ha'aretz against
post-Zionism, and in my book 'From Herzl to Rabin,' which appeared a year
ago, I devoted an entire chapter to post-Zionism and to my objections to it. The
post-Zionists, who are ostensibly very enlightened people, take it as a personal
affront the moment you argue with them. But my opposition to them is not
personal. I am using rational grounds to prove that they are mistaken in their
understanding and in their historical analogies, and that they are attacking the
very existence of the State of Israel."
The chapter on post-Zionism in Rubinstein's book ignited the debate over
post-Zionism anew. A recent supporter of Rubinstein has been Nissim
Kalderon, who reviewed his book favorably in the daily Ma'ariv, describing the
author's critique as substantive and the post-Zionists as a confrontational
Prof. Yiftachel responded: "The attempt by Kalderon and Rubinstein to create an
'enlightened' niche for themselves by means of superficial comparisons and by
vilifying the critical researchers is no more than an evasion of a serious
discussion on Zionism's deep problems."
Even though Yiftachel has reached the position of head of a department at BGU,
he maintains that people who espouse critical attitudes such as his
("post-Zionist" views, for the purposes of this article), are promoted more slowly
in the universities.
"The fact is that neither Baruch Kimmerling in Jerusalem, Yehouda Shenhav in
Tel Aviv, nor myself in Be'er Sheva is a full professor, although there is greater
openness in Be'er Sheva than in other universities," he says. "I wrote my
doctoral thesis on the Judaization of Galilee, at the Technion, and as you notice,
I did not stay there. Fortunately, Ben-Gurion invited me to teach there."
Yiftachel notes that in other geography departments, "You will hardly find critical
approaches, because geography is usually connected to the establishment -
members of geography departments serve as consultants to the Interior Ministry
and the Environment Ministry, which is why geographers are often shouting mad
about things I write and say. After all, there is no more national sphere than
There is a large group of critical scholars at BGU, Yiftachel says, and a large
new generation is also emerging. The major post-Zionist departments are
sociology, education, Middle East studies, psychology, geography, history,
literature and even economics: "We have created a pretty large group of people
and we have a large number of doctoral and post- doctoral students."
So you don't agree with Pappe that post-Zionism is dead?
Yiftachel: "My good friend Ilan and Uri Ram declared post-Zionism to be without
content and now they are declaring the death of this thing with no content. The
critical researchers have not disappeared - on the contrary - but Ilan may be
right in that when there is shooting, the public discourse shuts down. But it will
be renewed again when the shooting stops, because we have no other
Dr. Danny Guttwein, from the Jewish History Department at Haifa University,
also thinks post-Zionism has a rosy future, at least for the short term, but for
completely different reasons.
"Post-Zionism, he says, "is actually the ideological aspect of the privatization the
state is experiencing; the post-Zionists are effectively carrying out a privatization
of Zionism. So I think that only a true left-wing, socialist movement can pose a
danger to post-Zionism." And no such movement is looming on the horizon
The establishment fights back
"What's important is not how many post-Zionists there are in each university but
what impact they have," says Prof. Yosef Grodzinsky, from the Department of
Psychology at Tel Aviv University.
"You can check it from a negative perspective, too, by seeing who is admitted
and who is promoted and who isn't. So it took Benny Morris about 400 years to
get a position at BGU [Morris is now waiting to be tenured], Avi Shlaim will
probably remain at Oxford, and it will be interesting to see how long it takes
before Ilan Pappe is a full professor. I myself became a professor in the
Psychology Department because I am a psycho-linguist."
Grodzinsky published a book in which he examined the attitude of Zionists
toward Holocaust survivors.
"I wouldn't have been able to write the book if I had been part of the Department
of the History of the Jewish People, because critical work of that kind has never
been written in any Jewish history department - and all we are talking about is
archival work without any methodological innovation. The only new thing was the
very willingness to cope with the wrongs perpetrated by the Zionists."
Prof. Shenhav says that his political opinions "definitely slowed down" his
promotion and adds that Tel Aviv University is a "reactionary" institution. The
good news, he says, is that "the young generation is far more open than the
faculty to critical thought."
In 1996, Shenhav, who is "a post-Zionist only to the degree that post-Zionism
deals with the politics of identities," published an article in Ha'aretz in which he
claimed that the Israeli left, which is largely Ashkenazi (including the new
historians) "is ready to devote itself to exposing the wrongs that were done and
are being done to the Palestinians, but is not ready to come forth and denounce
the generation of [their] parents for their racism toward the Mizrahi Jews."
Shenhav was then the head of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at
Tel Aviv University, a fact that induced many readers to respond to the article, for
and against, including an elaborate response by Amnon Rubinstein.
"The article I published in Ha'aretz was a watershed for me," Shenhav says.
"People in the university told me afterward that it was absolutely not worth my
while to kick up a fuss and that it absolutely didn't pay to get involved with the
Mizrahi issue, and that we must not deteriorate into politics. They hinted that it
could be harmful to my status."
Despite the complaints, the post-Zionist scholars have had a major impact at
Tel Aviv University. The departments that are considered bastions of
post-Zionism there are mainly sociology, political science, philosophy, general
history, archaeology and psychology. Among the leading post-Zionist faculty,
other than those already mentioned, are Prof. Israel Gershoni (Middle East
studies), Prof. Aviad Kleinberg (history), Prof. Ze'ev Herzog (archaeology), Prof.
Moshe Zuckerman (head of the Institute of German Studies), Dr. Ronen Shamir
(sociology of law), Prof. Haim Genaz (law), Dr. Eyal Gross (law) and, until
recently, Prof. Hanan Hever, who this year is moving to the Hebrew University,
where he will teach a course called "Post-Zionism and Post-Nationalism in
Hebrew Literature." Hever declined to be interviewed for this article.
The number of post-Zionists at the Hebrew University is thus likely to increase
substantially. Hever will join Prof. Moshe Zimmermann (general history) and a
quartet from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology (Kimmerling, Prof.
Tamar Rapoport, Dr. Danny Rabinowitz and Dr. Tamar El-Or).
"I remember that when I started to get involved in politics, while I was teaching at
Hebrew University, I was told straight out: lower your profile," recalls Prof. Yossi
Yonah (now at BGU).
Pappe: "Post-Zionism began at Haifa when Shlomo Swirski coined the term in
the 1980s, although the post-Zionism he was referring to was something
different. A decade later there were me and Benny Morris, and then came the
peak in the mid-1990s with the great success in Be'er Sheva, where they
understood that post-Zionism is not a passing fad but a genuine phenomenon
within academia. Then the academic world began to become frightened at the
intensity of the phenomenon and said, fine, it's only happening in Be'er Sheva.
Then they started to close doors and the assault on post-Zionism began.
"What frightened everyone who attacked us was the fact that the authors of
school textbooks began to be influenced by post-Zionism. Then came the new
intifada and brought out all the hatred for the post-Zionists. Since it began, the
post-Zionists have had to hide in their holes. Nothing meaningful was created in
the cultural arena either. The media is against us. Anita Shapira wrote an entire
book against post-Zionism and Amnon Rubinstein wrote a [chapter in his] book
"Most of us have a considerable number of successors - doctoral and M.A.
students - and that is a wave that can be expected to continue," Yiftachel
predicts. "But there is also something to what Ilan Pappe says: At the University
of Haifa, and maybe in Jerusalem, too, those who hold the establishment views
have mounted a powerful struggle against the critical scholars."
The new establishment
Prof. Anita Shapira, from Tel Aviv University, thinks post-Zionism wields too great
an influence in the universities: "There is a matter of generations in the
university," she says.
"We have to assume that at a certain stage, let's say when my generation
retires, post-Zionism will exercise a major influence, because the post-Zionists
have a greater impact on the young generation, and when the generations
change, they may be the ones to decide who will be promoted at the universities
and who will leave them. I ask myself whether they are transplanting their views
to their students or not. The answer is that I don't know, but I am also not
worried. A year or two ago there was a lot more receptiveness among students
to those views, because students always like what they perceive as new and
defiant; but their popularity among the students has declined perceptibly in the
"I myself have been teaching a course on Zionism in literature and film for a few
years, and three lessons in the course are devoted to our relations with the
Arabs. We read 'Hirbet Hizeh,' for example [referring to a controversial short
story about the Arab-Jewish conflict by S. Yizhar]. When I gave that lesson this
year, you could have cut the air with a knife. There is feedback between the
reality in which we live and the way the things we say are absorbed by the
students. In no small measure, that makes the post-Zionist concepts
unacceptable to a growing public in academia."
Shapira also awaits with irony the moment when the post-Zionist rebels will be
perceived as a new establishment.
"Just as we, the veterans, were the establishment in the eyes of the
post-Zionists who rebelled against us, they will become the establishment in
the eyes of those who will rebel against them. I already see the incipient signs
of that phenomenon. Young researchers like the intellectual acuity and the
innovation, but the moment they become trivial, and they all start speaking the
same language - and that is what largely characterizes the post-Zionists -
young, rebellious scholars say: Wait a minute, enough of that, we've been
through this before."
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