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Tel Aviv University
TAU Yoav Peled "Delegitimation of Israel or Social-Historical Analysis? The Debate over Zionism as a Colonial Movement"



Prof. Yoav Peled

E-mail: poli1@post.tau.ac.il

Editorial Note:
Yoav Peled (TAU) is a self-acknowledged Marxist and one of the pioneers of the neo-Marxist, critical scholarship paradigm. As reported by IAM, the paradigm, which Edward Said had introduced to Middle East studies, has come to dominate much of the academic discourse. Accordingly, Zionism was a Jewish colonial movement sponsored by European colonial powers; it disposed poor Palestinians and subsequently ethnically cleansed them.
Peled devoted his entire academic career to "proving" this case, manipulating both scientific conventions and reality. With regard to the former, Peled goes against positivist (traditional) understanding of the colonial phenomenon which, as well known, features a "mother country" supporting its colonial settlers. Peled understands that in spite of the Balfour Declaration, Britain turned hostile to the Jews, negating his own argument. Peled's solution to this methodological "inconvenience" is to claim that Zionism was an "atypical case."
Peled's assertion that the Six Day War was a "colonial war" is even more egregious. In his zeal to prove the alleged Israel's predilection to "colonial expansion," Peled ignores the fact that it was Egypt and other Arab states that provoked the war. Indeed, international relations literature has provided a compelling picture of Egypt's miscalculations, abetted by Moscow, that led to the outbreak of hostilities.
Peled's arguments do not hold up well in exchange with positivist scholars, as the following article shows. But they are very popular with the disciples of the Saidian paradigm that mixes traditional anti-Semitic themes with the newer anti-Zionist ones.


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Yoav Peled speaks at YIVO's conference on "Jews and the Left," on the first panel, "Israel, Zionism, and the Left: Past and Present" on Sunday, May 6, 2012. Mr. Peled is a professor at Tel Aviv University, and he presented his paper at YIVO, "Delegitimation of Israel or Social-Historical Analysis? The Debate over Zionism as a Colonial Movement."


YIVO Institute to Host International Conference on Jews and the Left, Sunday and Monday, May 6 and 7, 2012

PRESS NEWS: For immediate release

Contact: Suzanne Leon, Assistant Director, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011,  tel. 917.606.8227


(New York, NY- April 15, 2012) Sunday and Monday, May 6 and 7, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research will be hosting an international conference on Jews and the Left. Scholars from the U.S., Israel, and Europe will come together to discuss and debate the relationship between Jews and leftwing politics, past and present.

Why have so many Jews in so many countries been attracted to leftwing causes? Why is there such a persistent stereotype of Jews as leftists? And why do so many antisemites use this stereotype to slander Jews? How do we explain leftwing antisemitsm? Are current leftwing attacks on Israel just a continuation of the same phenomenon or a natural reaction to Israeli policies? And what will the future bring for the Israeli Left, which played a leading role in founding the country?

These issues and others will be addressed from multiple perspectives during this conference. Sunday’s panel on “Israel, Zionism, and the Left” will include a debate among neoconservative historian and journalist Ron Radosh, Israeli Leftist scholar Yoav Peled, Anita Shapira, one of Israel’s most prominent historians, and political scientist Mitchell Cohen of CUNY, long associated with Dissent. Other events will be a discussion of “Jews, the New Left, and the Counterculture,” featuring Paul Berman and other esteemed academics, and a keynote speech by famed political theorist Michael Walzer. 

For tickets and a complete schedule, please click here.

ABOUT YIVO: Founded in 1925, the YIVO Institute is headquartered in New York City, and is the world’s premier teaching and research institute devoted to East European Jewish Studies; the Yiddish language, literature, and folklore; and the American Jewish Experience. www.yivo.org




The Jews, Israel and the Left

May 11, 2012

By Henry Srebrnik


Though the topic was billed as Jews and the left, the conference held at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York earlier this month became most contentious when the 240 participants, from as far away as Chile, Israel and Lithuania, dealt with the animosity towards Israel on the part of the left worldwide.

Among the most heated arguments was the one between two political scientists, Yoav Peled of Tel Aviv University and Mitchell Cohen of Baruch College in New York.

Peled argued that the Zionist enterprise in Palestine fit the “colonialist thesis,” albeit it was an unusual case, because it did not have a “mother country” to support it. Great Britain, although committed by the Balfour Declaration to Jewish settlement in Palestine, soon proved an unreliable ally.

Still, asserted Peled, Jewish projects in the country after 1920 marginalized and impoverished the Palestinian Arab peasantry, as Jews bought up land from absentee landlords during the Mandatory period, and directly expropriated Arab land after 1948. Also, many institutions such as the kibbutz refused to employ Arab labour.

Peled was taken to task by Cohen when the Israeli academic maintained that the 1967 Six Day War was not a defensive one but one initiated by Israel. Cohen challenged this statement, referring to Egypt’s massing of troops in Sinai and closing the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping.

Cohen also asserted that parts of the left “have swallowed anti-Zionism” and have “a Zionist problem.” Many see Hamas and Hezbollah as part of the “progressive movements” in the world. There is now an overlap between antisemitism and anti-Zionism, as more and more antisemitic motifs appear in the left’s critique of Israel.

Professor Ronald Radosh, author of a book on Harry Truman and the founding of Israel, concurred. The current left-wing delegitimization of Israel is, he remarked, the new “antisemitism of fools.”

The left’s attacks on Israel (and on the United States) also stem from their antipathy to globalization and western hegemony, remarked Moishe Postone, professor of modern European history at the University of Chicago, in his presentation. So, in Europe, the anti-globalist left now sees Israel as a centre of global evil.

The conference also dealt with Jews in both the old and new lefts of the 20th century, and the role of Jewish women in these movements. Among the distinguished speakers were Harvey Klehr of Emory University, Antony Polonsky of Brandeis, Riv-Ellen Prell of the University of Minnesota, Paul Berman of New York University, Alice Kessler-Harris of Columbia, and Michael Walzer of Princeton.

The final keynote address was delivered by Ezra Mendelsohn, the distinguished scholar from the Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University.

He found it ironic that people on the left in the 1950s had believed that socialism had helped create Israel. “The kibbutzim and the Histadrut were thriving. Productive people were not exploiting others. The Arab minority was considered inconsequential.”

Yet now Israel is cast by the left as a nationalistic oppressor.

Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island.





Academics Duel Over Complex Truths of Zionism

Considering it was on the Left rather than of the Left, the “Jews and the Left” conference at the New York-based YIVO Institute for Jewish Research on May 6 and 7 was mostly free of rhetorical excess and rancor. (Editors of Dissent were participants, including Michael Walzer as the keynoter.)

Only one panel, on the nature of Zionism, produced heated disagreement. It pitted a single, sharply articulated view of Zionism as “colonialism” against more sympathetic analyses. What occurred to this observer was not that one or the other was entirely right or wrong, but how multiple factually correct accounts need to be reconciled to construct a more inclusive truth.

Yoav Peled, a professor of political science at Tel Aviv University, recounted the academic debate over whether Zionism should be viewed as a form of colonialism or national liberation. I was impressed at how well he argued his case for Zionism as colonialism, but shocked when in cross-discussion among the panelists he would not transcend his ideological box; tempers flared after he provocatively asserted that the 1967 Six Day War was not defensive on the part of Israel, because it had attacked Egypt first. While narrowly true, Peled ignored critical details that had prompted Israel’s attack: Egypt’s expulsion of UN peacekeepers, its aggressive deployment of a large army along the border, its blockade of Eilat, the mass hysteria of “patriotic” Egyptian mobs calling for war, and its new anti-Israel alliance with Jordan.

Peled rebutted the argument that Zionist immigrants to Palestine had no “mother country.” He pointed out that Theodor Herzl had sought a “mother country” (I would have said “great-power patron”); Herzl had courted the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and the Kaiser of Germany in search of one, but it was his successor as head of the Zionist movement, Chaim Weizmann, who succeeded with Great Britain, procuring the Balfour Declaration and Britain’s creation of the Jewish Agency for Palestine. But the Zionist relationship with the British “mother country” turned bitter and deadly with Britain’s closure of Palestine to Jewish refugees after issuing its 1939 White Paper. And, as fellow panelist Mitchell Cohen—a political theorist at Baruch College/CUNY and former co-editor of Dissent—countered, Peled left out any consideration of the Jews’ perilous circumstances at that time, from the pogroms in Czarist Russia through the Holocaust.

Yet Peled’s talking points are worth pondering. He noted that until the First World War, Jewish settlements were referred to as “colonies” (moshavot) and that the Bank Leumi (the “National Bank”) was initially called the “Jewish Colonial Trust.” Peled likewise rejected Zionist arguments that Palestine’s economy was developed by the Jews rather than exploited on behalf of an overseas colonial power, and that until resisting Arab attacks in the 1948 war, land was purchased rather than conquered; he pointed out that land was bought from absentee Arab landlords, forcing the removal of thousands of Arab tenant farmers and their families. He further argued that the development of a separate Zionist economic infrastructure, with advanced cultivation and production techniques, made it impossible for native Palestinians to compete.

By way of contrast, Ronald Radosh, a former leftist currently associated with the conservative Hudson Institute, described the near-universal left-wing support for Israel at its birth in 1948. He spoke of the passionately pro-Israel writings of the left-liberal journalist I.F. Stone and the strenuous advocacy of the Zionist cause by the onetime owner and longtime editor and president of the Nation, Freda Kirchwey. He also quoted pro-Zionist statements by Soviet UN Ambassador Andrei Gromyko and mentioned that the Communist Party organized a massive pro-Israel rally at New York’s Polo Grounds featuring such slogans as “Arms to the Hagannah” and “Save the Jewish State.”

There are profoundly humanistic reasons to defend the Yishuv, and later Israel, as a place of refuge and redemption for an oppressed and downtrodden people. If not for virulent, endemic, and ultimately genocidal anti-Semitism, there would have been no political Zionism. This is what motivated liberals like Stone and Kirchwey and provided the rhetorical rationale for the sudden and temporary about-face of the Soviets and their foreign supporters. But a comprehensive understanding of the conflict must combine Peled and Radosh’s separate truths. As Amos Oz observed years ago, it is not a clash of right and wrong but of right and right.

Ralph Seliger was the editor of Israel Horizons magazine from 2003 until it was discontinued by Meretz USA in 2011. He writes and blogs for a variety of venues, including the Forward’s Arty SemiteTikkun, and the Partners for Progressive Israel Blog.



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