KING’S COLLEGE LONDON
FACULTY OF ARTS AND HUMANITIES
Post-Zionism and Israeli Universities: the Academic-Political Nexus
Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Since the 1990s post-Zionist academics have transformed the anti-Zionist ideology of the fringe political group Matzpen, rooted in pre-1948 ideology of Brit Shalom, the Canaanites, and the Communists, into a mainstream de-legitimizing critique of Israel. Utilizing the tools of the critical, neo-Marxist paradigm depicting Israel as an imperialist, colonialist movement, these scholars have produced a ferocious critique of all facets of Israeli history and society hand-tailored to undermine the Jewish state’s legitimacy. ‘New historians’ have argued that Israel, helped by Western imperialism, overwhelmed the Palestinians and ethnically cleansed them. ‘Critical sociologists’ have depicted Israeli society as controlled by an Ashkenazi, capitalist elite that has subjugated minorities, women, the working classes. ‘Critical political scientists’ have produced voluminous research casting Israel as a fascist-like, apartheid state. And revisionist scholars have argued that Israel has turned the Holocaust into a civil religion glorifying power; has used its lessons to oppress the Palestinians; and has fed a collective paranoia that has made Israelis impervious to rational resolution of the conflict.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Israel in the neo-Marxist, Critical Scholarship 17
Chapter 2 Squaring the Circle: A Non-Jewish State for the Jews? 44
Chapter 3 From Rewriting to Inventing History 90
Chapter 4 The ‘Critical Sociological’ Indictment 137
Chapter 5 Israel’s Political System in Critical Political Science 173
Chapter 6 The Holocaust in Post-Zionist Thinking 227
Chapter 7 Post-Zionist Scholarship in the Service of Political Activism 283
This work seeks to analyse the transformation of anti-Zionist tendencies espoused by fringe political groups in Mandate Palestine’s Jewish community (or the Yishuv) and Israel’s early years into a major academic force that has affected mainstream discourse in contemporary Israeli society and has significantly contributed to eroding Israel’s international legitimacy by casting it as a colonialist, apartheid entity.
Excluding the ultra-orthodox opposition, three Jewish groups rejected the idea of creating a Jewish state: Brit Shalom, the Canaanites and the Communists. While each espoused a different ideology, all shared a common vision of creating a bi-national state where Jews and Arabs would coexist in harmony. These different strands of anti-Zionism were consolidated and nourished by the fringe Matzpen group after the creation of the State of Israel, only to morph into the more prominent post-Zionism of the 1990s and early 2000s.
Extant studies of anti-Zionist ideology have primarily focused on the pre-1948 era. In spite of its miniscule size, Brit Shalom and its political offshoot, Ihud, has been the subject of a relatively large number of studies mostly focused on the ideology of bi-nationalism as developed by Hebrew University president Judah L. Magnes and his intellectual mentors Ahad Ha’am (aka Asher Ginsburg) and Martin Buber. While the studies differ in scope and interest, they all highlight the Brit-Ihud’s principled rejection of Jewish sovereignty in Palestine in favour of a vaguely defined cultural-political entity. Ahad Ha’am’s much invoked ‘cultural centre’ tasked the Palestinian Jews with creating a cultural and education entity to serve the Diaspora Jews. Buber’s ‘dialogual community’ was derived from the contention that a spiritual community - ruled by a consensus achieved through discourse - was morally superior to a state based on power. Apprehensive about the Zionist quest for sovereign power, Buber broke with David Ben-Gurion and other Zionist leaders denouncing them as power-hungry politicians ‘who serve Hitler’s God after he was given a Hebrew name’. Starting with the classic study by Susan Lee Hattis, the Bi-national Idea in Palestine during Mandatory Times, this body of work suggests that Brit Shalom turned the ‘dialogue community’ into the more serviceable formula of a bi-national state for Arabs and Jews.
A number of biographies of Magnes added a personal dimension to Brit Shalom’s bi-national quest. A former congregation rabbi in the US, Magnes was an elitist, a pacifist, and non-conformist with a long history of radical views. Daniel Kotzin, one of his biographers, noted that, in spite of the failure to find Arab partners and hostility from fellow Jews, Magnes showed extreme perseverance. Indeed, even the self-acknowledged ‘disconnection’ and ‘estrangement’ from the community did not dissuade him from the bi-national mission. His sense of destiny also included the Hebrew University (founded in 1925), which he viewed not only as a cultural and secular-spiritual centre but also as a buffer against the alleged political abuses of Zionism. As he put it in an address to students, ‘only the Hebrew University can fight the power of totalitarianism’.
Writings on the American Council on Judaism (ACJ), Magnes’ foremost supporter, offer interesting insights into the financial influence of anti-Zionist American Jews. As the Hebrew University’s philanthropists, the AJC exercised an outsized influence on the intellectual discourse in the Yishuv. In a move that would have a huge importance for the continuation of anti-Zionism, Magnes added Buber and many of his academic acolytes from Germany to the small liberal arts faculty, where they came to exert considerable influence well beyond 1948 - even as the state took over financial support of higher education.
The cultural antecedents of the equally tiny Canaanite movement were documented in a number of studies. In addition to James Diamond’s definitive history of the movement, a number of thematic writings have dealt with the linguistic and anthropological underpinning of the group. Yonatan Ratosh, the group’s chief ideologue and proselytizer, was credited with securing a high profile for the Canaanite ideas. Moreover, unlike the foreign pacifist Magnes and the German professors, the ‘Young Hebrews’ - the original name of the Canaanites, were native sons well versed in the vernacular of Zionism. Still, like Brit Shalom, they found it hard to find a credible formula to replace the national sovereignty ethos of Zionism. Switching from a Hebrew nation to a pan-Semitic one they arrived at a bi-national design but struggled to find a proper balance between the Jews and the Arabs for the proposed entity, not to mention the total lack of interest on the part of the Arabs.
Compared to the volume and sophistication of the research on Brit Shalom and the Canaanites, the corpus of writings on the Communist Party of Mandate Palestine is relatively small and limited to historical accounts. These writings, however, are unanimous in the conclusion that the party had a hard time with developing a bi-national formula that would satisfy both its Jewish and Arab members. The reality of nationalism trumping Marxist universalism weakened the party and was compounded by the Soviet pressure to accept Jewish sovereignty in 1948.
The post-1948 history of anti-Zionism, as noted above, attracted only scanty scholarly attention, not least because this ideology virtually disappeared from the intellectual and political scene during the new state’s first decades. With the exception of Uri Avnery, a journalist and polemicist, and a tiny group of former communists who formed the Israeli Socialist Organization, commonly known as Matzpen, the anti-Zionists languished in seemingly obscurity. The literature on the group suggests a number of reasons for this state of affairs: the triumph of Jewish sovereignty, the implacable enmity of the Arab states and the Palestinians, and the fractious nature of the movement that, despite its minuscule size, produced numerous and difficult to follow splits and regroupings. Despairing of the failure of Arabs and Jews to subordinate national differences to socialist ideals, by the early 1970s most of the founding activists had resettled abroad.
But if the socialist revolution eluded Matzpen, the Brit Shalom-Ihud ideology, along with traces of Canaanism, proved more durable. The Hebrew University fought a successful battle to implement a virtually unfettered form of academic freedom, utilizing its strong bonds with the parliamentary opposition to derail the proposal of the Labour government to create a measure of state supervision of higher education. Enshrined in the 1958 Higher Education Act, this virtually unlimited academic freedom was tailor-made to assure Magnes’s vision of a professoriate serving as a ‘secular priesthood speaking truth to power’. As a result, the faculty could engage in political battles of the day under the guise of academic freedom - an arrangement that had no equivalents in Western public universities.
In a forceful display of this freedom, a group of Hebrew University professors became deeply involved in the so-called Lavon Affair in the 1950s. The scandal originated in a failed attempt of the Israeli intelligence to foment anti-American unrest in Egypt. The-then minister of defence, Pinhas Lavon, was allegedly framed by the IDF’s military intelligence directorate and was subsequently fired by David Ben-Gurion from the chairmanship of the Histadrut, the Israeli Trade Union. The professors, including Buber, launched an all-out campaign against the prime minister accusing him of dictatorial tendencies and demanding his resignation. Ostensibly a dispute about good political governance, this exceptionally venomous attack on the prime minster reflected a longstanding conflict between Ben-Gurion and Buber. Though a committed secularist, Ben-Gurion was reluctant to view the foundation of the state in exclusively historical-materialistic terms. To him Zionism was ordained by the messianic vision of a Jewish state - a Biblical tradition deeply rooted in Judaism. To Buber this vision was not only a vulgar misrepresentation of religious tenets but a crass attempt to ‘make the political factor supreme’. Charges that Ben-Gurion was a messianic leader on the order of Shabbati Zvi, the seventeenth century false messiah, were, of course, not new. But while Buber was satisfied with decrying the spiritual folly of messianic Zionism, some of the university’s professors went much further.
The eminent historian Jacob Talmon, for example, used his acclaimed work on totalitarian democracy to warn about the utopian impulse of Ben-Gurion’s Zionism. In this view, utopianism ‘postulates a definite goal and a preordained finale to history, for the attainment of which you need to recast and remould all aspects of life and society in accordance with some explicit principle’. In his many public appearances Talmon took to lamenting that utopianism was cursed because it could be perverted into an ‘instrument of power and hypocrisy’. Some scholars linked Talmon’s dark prophecies on the future of Israeli democracy to the Brit Shalom tradition. According to one account, Talmon was a ‘tormented historian’, a ‘kind of martyr in constant anguish of the martyrdom of Jewish people and secret of Jewish survival’. Though a nominal Zionist, his suspicion of the Zionist leaders was much in line with that of Magnes. Talmon amplified this interposition in a subsequent discussion of the Lavon Affair, recalling that the professors were ‘amazed’ by the response from the public that wanted them to participate in political affairs and concluding that there was a real ‘hunger for leadership’ and, moreover, in the ‘depth of their hearts, the masses had more respect for learning than for politics’.
In a well-received essay historian Bernard Wasserstein argued that Talmon’s vision of utopian ideas going rogue was very close to Hannah Arendt’s contention, in her seminal The Origins of Totalitarianism, that both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were launched by a messianic-utopian creed. Though Israel was not one of the case studies in Talmon’s research, his public attacks on Ben-Gurion alluded to the possibility that he didn’t consider Zionism immune to sliding into totalitarianism.
The 1962 trial of Adolf Eichmann gave Arendt another opportunity to link arms with Buber and his followers. Primarily remembered for her controversial depiction of Eichmann as epitomizing the ‘banality of evil’, Arendt’s book on the trial was also in line with Buber’s position that Zionism tried to ‘nationalize’ a universal catastrophe for political gain. In a series of dramatic appeals to Ben-Gurion, Buber argued that since Eichmann committed crimes against humanity he should be tried in an international court of law.
Not surprisingly, Matzpen used the Buber-Arendt argument to legitimize its criticism of the alleged political misuse of the Holocaust. But the anti-Zionist climate prevailing among a segment of the Hebrew University - where some Matzpen members studied and did considerable recruitment - did little to move the group out of its marginality. According to Yoram Hazony, author of the foremost study of the post-Zionist phenomenon in the state of Israel, it took a few decades before Matzpen’s anti-Zionism penetrated the public discourse under the softer cover of post-Zionism. In his view this transformation was all the more remarkable given that the post-Zionists were a ‘minority, even within the Israeli academic and literary circles’. Hazony traces this change to the Buberite tradition, carried on by the ‘leading lights’ of the Hebrew University and their students who ‘continued to refine the very same historical and philosophical theories that had constituted the conceptual undercarriage of Jewish anti-Zionism’.
Hazony came close to positing a formal connection between historic anti-Zionism and the new generation of academic post-Zionists but did not track the dissemination of anti-Zionist values in a systematic way. He argued that ‘academics hostile to the [Zionist narrative] are teaching at all of Israel’s leading universities’ where they were ‘conducting a systematic struggle... against the idea of the Jewish state, its historic narrative, institution and symbols’.
Certainly, a more comprehensive and methodologically rigorous research is needed to understand the transformation of a marginal academic anti-Zionism into the rather prominent phenomenon of post-Zionism. Value transmission is hardly a black box where inputs are automatically converted into outputs; while some scholars were influenced by the Buberite tradition, others rejected it. Indeed, many distinguished scholars at the Hebrew University and beyond have fought the post-Zionists, a fact that Hazony acknowledged.
There is also a glaring lack of a chronological-contextual analysis of the proliferation of academic post-Zionism. The 1982 Lebanon War is often mentioned as the catalyst for this phenomenon, but other events that served as game changers in the post-Zionist march towards respectability were omitted or used parenthetically out of their time frame. Finally, there seems to be no systematic analysis of the academic fields most affected by the post-Zionists. While the ‘New Historiography’ is invoked on numerous occasions, little has been said about sociology, political science and the signature post-Zionist critique of the Holocaust - a subject that has attracted less attention overall.
The present study will seek to fill this lacuna in the study of academic post-Zionism by adopting a rigorous approach based on a central thesis. It will argue that the anti-Zionist themes were preserved and nurtured by the Matzpen group and its supporters whose influence increased after several traumatic events: the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1982 Lebanon War, and the Palestinian Intifada (1987-92). Yet it was only after these ideas had penetrated the liberal arts faculties that anti-Zionism - reconfigured as post-Zionism - obtained the crucial academic legitimacy required for a respectable presence in the a mainstream discourse.
Because of its stealth and gradualism, I was oblivious to the spread of Matzpen notions. After a professors exposed me to the scope of the movement in social science literature, I used my new awareness to cofound a group that monitored the writings and activities of faculty members whose affinity to Matzpen ideology was quite remarkable though they self-identified as post-Zionists.
Having collected and analysed a large number of these writings, I realized that post-Zionism was essentially an adaptation of anti-Zionism to a sovereign existence. Clearly, it was impossible to “undo” the Jewish state, but post-Zionism could “prove” the anti-Zionist of old right by rejecting and delegitimizing the foundational claims of the State of Israel.
While a number of former Matzpen members obtained academic posts in Israeli universities, it was clear that their presence was only marginal to the spread of the post-Zionist phenomenon. Rather, it was the growing cadre of critical, neo-Marxist scholars since the early 1980s that made post-Zionism a household name. Indeed, the speedy diffusion of the once marginal ideology is not possible to comprehend without an understanding of the neo-Marxist, critical scholarship paradigm that competed and/or replaced the traditional, positivist scholarship in the humanities and the social sciences in Israeli universities.
To begin with, my original research revealed that academics who defined themselves as post-Zionists were also avid practitioners of the paradigm that originated in liberal arts in Western Europe and the United States. As a matter of fact, many took great pride in rejecting the traditional positivist paradigm that, in their opinion, served the narrative of the “hegemonic Ashkenazi elite” in Israel at the expense of the “oppressed” member of the society – Jews from Arab speaking countries, Palestinians, women and the working class.
The importance of this synergy created by the neo- Marxism, critical scholarship and post-Zionism cannot be overstated. Whereas the positivist paradigm considered Zionism and its creation, the State of Israel, a legitimate and just solution to the ‘Jewish problem’, the rival paradigm deemed the Zionist enterprise an illegitimate exercise in colonialist imposition and described Israel as a state ‘born in sin’.
Equally important, critical, neo-Marxist scholars have followed in the footsteps of Antonio Gramsci, the Italian communist imprisoned by Benito Mussolini in the mid-1920s. In his famous Prison Notebooks Gramsci urged intellectuals and academics to use their work to change societal values in order to create a more progressive society. While positivist faculty is limited by the paradigmatic requirement of objectivity and neutrality, Israeli scholars-activists have used their positions to imbue societal discourse with progressive values a la Gramsci. By creating a seamless transition between research and activism, they have turned the campus into an extension of their political work. In principle, rules and regulations have been put in place to prevent this occurrence, but the expansive definition of academic freedom in Israel has encouraged the proliferation of post-Zionist scholarship. Not surprisingly, activist faculty have led virtually every domain of civil protest, especially in the field of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Concentrating on academic post-Zionism is not meant to negate other political and societal forces that helped to mainstream the anti-Zionist message. As is well known, intellectual discourse is impossible to be neatly divided into an academic component as opposed to the contribution of lay observers, be it writers, poets, public intellectuals and others. Still, given the academics’ prominence in this process, and by way of making the research manageable, this dissertation will include only a few non-academic sources that had a major impact on academics analysed in the study.
The organization of this dissertation reflects the research strategy outlined above. Chapter 1 provides a theoretical discussion of the two competing paradigms in social science - the positivist and the critical, neo-Marxist. The validity claims embedded in the paradigms shape the legitimacy construct in the membership- territory, authority system and distributive justice system domain and explain why Israel, once conceptualized as a Western liberal democracy, has been more recently portrayed as a colonial, apartheid-type state. While the analysis of the two paradigms is necessarily general, every effort was made to emphasize the facets relevant to understanding the post-Zionist phenomena. In particular, the post-Zionists, like their Matzpen predecessors, have focused on the validity claims that underlie membership- territory of various groups. By adopting the neo-Marxist, critical scholarship reading of memberships- territory legitimacy, they could reject the right of Jews to both territory and nationhood.
Chapter 2 provides an overview of the three anti-Zionist ideologies in the pre-1948 period and their subsequent consolidation under the umbrella of Matzpen and its supporters. Though post-Zionist ideas infiltrated virtually every liberal arts discipline, their impact is most visible in the four scholarly fields - history, sociology, political science, and Holocaust studies. Accordingly, Chapters 3 analyses the impact of post-Zionist thinking on revisionist Israeli historiography known as ‘New Historiography’.
Chapter 4 examines how ‘critical sociology’ has conceptualized the Israeli society as an oppressive Ashkenazi male hegemony dominating minorities and women.
Chapter 5 describes how critical political scientist defined the authority system as a non-democratic regime at best and an apartheid state at worst.
Chapter 6 looks at how neo-Marxist, critical approaches redefined the meaning of the Holocaust - from a unique evil perpetuated upon the Jews - to a universal proclivity to “superfluous violence” exercised by hegemonic elements against the weak.
Finally, since post-Zionists scholars have embraced the Gramscian mandate of combining scholarship and political activism, it is only fitting that Chapter 7 provides a chronological-thematic analysis of their political work, including a leading role in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement.
To further the parsimony achieved by picking four fields, I decided to limit the number of scholars surveyed in each to a handful of undisputable intellectual leaders with broad influence in their discipline and beyond. Methodologically, a systematic analysis of key texts of the scholars is in order rather than the alternative of interviewing them. The concluding chapter summarizes the conclusion derived from the research and offers an impact statement.
Chapter 1 Israel in the neo-Marxist, Critical Scholarship
Analysing a paradigm requires the uncovering of its underlying meta-assumptions. Because such assumptions are deeply entrenched, the community of scholars often takes them as self-evident. As a result, their underlying frame of reference is rarely revealed, obscuring the great philosophical debates about the nature of social reality that generated the meta-assumptions in the first place.
Arguably, the first step in clarification is to elucidate the three elements that define the study of social reality. The first element is ontological in nature, pertaining to the assumptions that concern the essence of the discussed phenomenon. Philosophers and scholars have vied with a basic ontological question of whether ‘reality’ is objective and imposed on individual consciousness from the outside, or whether it is produced by individual cognition. In other words, the issue is whether reality exists independently in the world or is a product of the mind and cannot be separated from an individual prism.
The second element is epistemological, reflecting questions about the nature of knowledge. The contending assumptions here focus on the type of knowledge that social research can uncover; whether it is ‘hard’ and can be transmitted in a tangible form or ‘soft’, that is spiritual or transcendental. In a related manner, there is debate about how valid is obtainable knowledge and how to sort ‘true’ form ‘false’ knowledge. Epistemological assumptions divide those who think that knowledge can be empirically obtained and those who believe it to be experienced.
The third element touches upon human nature as it interacts with the environment. Neither ontological nor epistemic, the question boils down to how human beings interact with the social environment surrounding them. The answer pits those who consider these interactions deterministic, driven mainly by the socio-economic background of individuals and those who argue for ‘free will’, that is a more flexible and undetermined encounter between people and their environment.
While these debates are essentially philosophical, they have had a profound impact on the methodologies employed in research. If scholars subscribe to the view that reality is external and hard, easily deducible and measured, they would search for regularities in order to form universal laws that explain and govern such reality. For those who subscribe to the view that reality is soft and subjective the social world is relativistic, requiring no application of scientific rigor and universal laws for its understanding.
Since the debates highlight two mutually exclusive perceptions of social reality, they contributed to the evolution of two distinct paradigms in the social sciences and humanities. The first is positivist paradigm (also known as objectivist or traditional), which dominated the social sciences in the first half of the twentieth century. The second is the neo-Marxist, critical paradigm which, unlike its relatively homogeneous positivist counterpart, was made up of a complex and somewhat confusing set of critical approaches.
The Positivist Paradigm
The positivist paradigm requires that theories be based on empirical observations, but there have been disagreements about the nature of verification. David Hume was associated with the scientific induction approach that postulated that empirical observations can be generalized into statements that can be proclaimed true or probably true. Karl Popper rejected this ‘naïve empiricism’ in favour of the concept of falsifiability, stating that verification equals falsifiability. In other words, theories that cannot be falsified should not be considered scientific, a determination that he had extended to Marxism. Kuhn elaborated on both in The Structure of Scientific Revolution, arguing that in routine times a set of agreed concepts were used to analyse a situation. They form the entire constellation of beliefs, values, and methodologies shared by the members of a community of practitioners. As long as the paradigm went unchallenged, its normality was widely accepted. In the wake of a severe crisis - that is when anomalous results appeared, the dominant paradigm was subject to questioning and overthrown. With the new paradigm enthroned, its revolutionary character became accepted as normal and routine.
The fortunes of the positivist paradigm in American social sciences were closely linked to the American Social Science Council whose policy goal was to boost behaviourism. The Council offered substantial grants to study numerous aspects of human behaviour in a wide range of disciplines, but it was most interested in analysing political change. As Popper noted, the ultimate dream of the humanities was to emulate the natural sciences: ‘If it is possible for astronomy to predict eclipses, why should it not be possible for sociology to predict revolutions?’ This was hardly surprising as post-war administrations struggled with their new role of a superpower. To prevent Third World countries from sliding into the Soviet sphere of influence, Washington encouraged social science experts to study the process of political change with a view of staving off communist competition.
This scientific model of change attracted Talcott Parsons, David Easton, Gabriel Almond and other political scientists eager to formulate clearly defined laws of political development. In 1966, in his American Political Science Association presidential address, Almond called such a prospect ‘exhilarating’. Indeed, the positivist paradigm seemed to be well suited to formulate universal laws of political change. Emulating Newtonian physics, social scientists claimed that human history had a discernible and predictable way of evolving; the resulting laws of changes were said to develop through a linear progression from a lower to a higher state.
In looking for ways to explain how societies progress from a ‘lower to a higher state’, political scientists had relied on the discursive perspective developed by anthropologists and sociologists. Ralph Linton postulated that in order to survive, a group legitimizes assorted beliefs into a collective belief system that form the parameters of the social order of the group. Borrowing from Ferdinand Tönnies and Max Weber, among others, Mary Douglas likened this process to a normative debate, or discourse, through which a group worked out the three cardinal axes necessary for collective existence. The discourse generates normative validity claims that are ‘reasoned elaborations’ on which the social order rests. The three axes that need to be legitimized by the group are: 1) the principles for granting membership, known as membership legitimacy; 2) the principles upon which the authority system rests, known as authority system legitimacy; 3) the principles that inform the distribution of resources known as distributive justice legitimacy.
With regard to membership legitimacy, Weber postulated that societies evolve from a state Gemeinschaft where the ‘admission ticket’ is based on kinship, to the advanced stage of Gesellschaft which rests on a complex formula such as ‘feelings of interdependence’ and ‘community of fate’. He pointed out that the Gesellschaft legitimacy developed alongside the nation-state where loyalty to the state trumped the more primordial kinship ties. Obviously, Gesellschaft legitimacy is easiest to attain when a homogenous ethnic group resides in a well-defined territory; in cases of polycentric nationalism, where disparate ethnic groups reside under one national roof, tensions can complicate the membership discourse. A dominant ethnic group can treat members of other groups as inferior or, conversely, try to homogenize them by suppressing ethnic expressions. Religious divisions have added vast complication to the membership formula: since religion is still the basis of full inclusion, religious minorities are treated as ‘second class citizens’.
Notwithstanding such complications, behaviourists furnished empirical evidence that the process of modernization moves societies along the Gemeinschaft-Gesellschaft trajectory. Karl Deutch, a leading expert in political communication, devised a series of quantitative indices of modernization such as levels of literacy, communication and industrialization to demonstrate that in more advanced societies, primordial forms of attachment have been replaced by the more inclusive concept of national identity. A number of behaviourally-oriented scholars of the Middle East suggested that the ‘secularization process… is fundamental’ and irreversible. One leading scholar found evidence of ‘the growing irrelevance of Islamic standards and criteria’.
Weber’s concept of the legitimacy of the authority system alluded to a similar linear progression. He identified three pure validity claims:
· Traditional: based on the sanctity of tradition and those who exercise authority in the name of tradition;
· Charismatic: resting on a certain individual and the political order that was revealed to him;
· Legal-rational: derived from the belief in the legality of the process that vests individuals with authority.
Weber’s writings generated an enormous critical literature and numerous suggestions for updating his taxonomy. One popular view holds that legal-rational legitimacy can only ensue when it is underpinned by the consent of the governed. Although Weber did not discuss the mechanism for generating such consent, it has been increasingly accepted that the democratic process is the best way to obtain such legitimacy. In turn, the vast literature on democracy indicates that the system is extremely complex; it entails both structural-func'tional elements as well as the less tangible notions of political culture.
The realm of individual political attitudes that reflect political cultural traits is assumed to be a key to sustaining a successful democratic system; it was in this realm that Weber’s progression towards the higher end legal-rational legitimacy apparently played out. In their landmark study, The Civic Culture, Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba measured political attitudes in five countries, finding ample evidence to suggest that societies move through three states: subject, participatory and civic. The authors suggested that civic culture, most prevalent in the West, corresponded to Weber’s legal-rational legitimacy.
Underpinning the membership and authority system axes is the critical issue of distributive justice - part of the larger question of social justices defined as a series of ‘reasons or criteria for assigning particular things to particular individuals’. This politically sensitive issue has been adjudicated in numerous ways, but three pure formulas can be identified: 1) Ascriptive: traditional claims form the base on which a hereditary social class justified its hold on a disproportionally high share of resources. 2) Utilitarian: productive claim whereby economically meritorious individuals can expect to gain a share proportional to their market merits. 3) Egalitarian: principles that mandated an equal distribution of resources.
The prescriptive claims that inform traditional societies’ economies result in a large inequality of wealth and status while keeping economic growth at a minimum. As conceptualized by Adam Smith, the transition to market economy was made possible when individuals with market skills replaced the ascriptive heredity class as the agents of wealth production. However, capitalism created its own disparity of wealth in addition to debilitating boom and bust cycles, leading Karl Marx to issue his highly influential critique of capitalism. In his magnum opus, The Capital and The Communist Manifesto, co-authored with Friedrich Engels, Marx argued that social justice demanded an equal distribution of resources. To force distributive equality, he called the state to seize command of the means of production. Starting with the Bolshevik revolution, an increasing number of countries have boasted some variant of a command economy.
In the post-WWII world, the Third World could either choose the Western market model or embrace the ostensibly egalitarian system entrenched in the Soviet bloc. In spite of considerable efforts by Washington to block the spread of communism, market economy was not a popular choice in many underdeveloped countries. Still, American positivists believed that the laws of distributive justice were bound to follow the economic trajectory of the West. Walt Rostow, a prominent liberal economist and a harsh critique of Marx, articulated this theory in his influential The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto. He postulated that traditional societies were bound to reach a takeoff position that would eventually catapult them into a Western- style high consumption stage.
Rostow’s theory became part of the developmental model, the single most popular application of the positivist paradigm in the social sciences. Parsons provided the scaffolding for the model by applying the func'tional-structural view to the orderly evolution of the social system. He postulated that the four func'tional parts of the system - pattern maintenance, integration, goal attainment and adaptation - could preserve its homeostasis, making for a relatively smooth transition from one stage to another. Built into the func'tional-structural model was the assumption that Western polity - built on Gesellschaft membership, legal-rational legitimacy and market economy - was universally appealing and worth emulating. In the words of one observer, the modern Western society was ‘the pinnacle of human achievement’.
As noted earlier, Washington policy makers overseeing the expanded domain of international relations were eager for theoretical guidance. The developmental model was very popular as it promised a road map of orderly change that would avoid the pitfalls of communism in the volatile Third World. However, by the end of the 1960s it had become quite clear that the expectations of political change offered by the positivist paradigm did not come through: tribal and ethnic-based rivalries were tearing societies apart and brutal dictatorships sprouted where democracy was expected to flourish; the economies of many underdeveloped countries were in shambles, leading to social upheaval supported by Moscow. One disillusioned State Department official grumbled that the nation-building vision was nothing less than ‘hubris’ of those who believed ‘that American professors could make bricks without the straw of experience’. Another observer wondered how ‘so long as we assumed, a la Hegel, Marx, or W. W. Rostow, that the non-Western world would inevitably follow the same developmental path as the West’. Combined with other factors, the discredited developmental model played a crucial role in opening the entire positivist paradigm to challenges from the neo-Marxist, critical scholarship.
The Neo-Marxist, Critical Scholarship Paradigm
By far, the most important variant of this paradigm was associated with the Frankfurt School of Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer and Walter Benjamin, joined later by Jurgen Habermas. Upon relocating to the United States, Frankfurt School scholars revived interest in Georg Lukacs and Antonio Gramsci who strove to provide a more subjective rendition of Marxist view of the process of political change. Lukacs sought to bring out the more humanist and softer side of Marx, stressing the role of cultural factors such as consciousness, ideas, art and literature in promoting change. Likewise, Gramsci, an Italian communist, criticized rigid Marxist structural determinism; he contended that a softer, subjective approach to human consciousness can produce changes in material conditions without the high cost of a revolution as per the Soviet example. Gramsci believed that capitalist regimes control peoples’ consciousness through ‘hegemonic ideology’ whereby the ruling classes seek to perpetuate their hegemony by creating ‘a belief system which stresses the need for order, authority and discipline’.
Using the New School of Social Research in New York as a base, Frankfurt School scholars determined to promote their ideas in the United States. Starting in the 1950s they produced a series of provocative studies that became de rigueur in critical circles. In his The Dialectics of Enlightenment, Adorno casts doubt on the notion of reason and science, not least because ‘the impartiality of scientific language’ deprived the powerless from the ability to make themselves heard and masked the power of the existing order with ‘a neutrality sign’. For his part Marcuse unveiled the much discussed condemnation of the capitalist-driven, technological and materialist Western society in his One Dimensional Man.
This early critique of capitalism and modernism was bolstered by a trend of literary criticism known under its umbrella term of post-modernism. In the early 1960s literary critics introduced tools like phenomenology and hermeneutics to deconstruct the ‘true’ meaning of texts, but the real political colouration came from a trio of French neo-Marxists - Michele Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan. They argued that texts concealed power relations in society and needed to be deconstructed and critiqued, notably because power elites who authored official narratives suppressed the voices of minorities and other powerless segments of society. In this view, deconstructing their hidden voices was an important step towards empowerment and, over the long term, a change in the legitimacy norms of society.
Jurgen Habermas, a student of Adorno and a rising neo-Marxist star in Germany, helped to bridge the gap between the Frankfurt School and the French critical scholars. Abandoning the classic attention to the material base of capitalism, he focused entirely on communication in post-capitalist society, which he termed communication society (Kommunikatzionsgemeinschaft). The key to success in such society is linguistic competence, which, in his opinion, correlates with power and class. To Habermas this unequal distribution of power created the ‘communicative distortion’ thus preventing the achievement of an ‘ideal speech situation’, a condition where parties to communication arrive at a genuine consensus not affected by material ‘give outs’. Much as Marcuse, Habermas achieved iconic status with his book Legitimation Crisis where he predicted that capitalism would face a crisis of legitimacy because its ability to produce ‘material bribery’ would wane.
The third group that contributed to the new paradigm was comprised of Marxist economists - Raul Prebish, Fernando Henrique Cardozo, Enzo Falleto, Samir Amin, Andre Gunder Frank and Emanuel Wallerstein - who were highly critical of the developmental model, especially as it applied to Latin America. They launched the dependency movement (dependencia) that blamed Western capitalism and imperialism for leaving much of the underdeveloped world in a state of economic dependency. The dependencistas worked hard to reverse the developmental equation: not only did they refuse to consider Western-style democracies and their market economies a model worth emulating but they blamed capitalist countries for keeping the Third World periphery in a state economic dependency and backwardness. Wallerstein, in particular, achieved prominence with his one-world system analysis - described as ‘knowledge movement’ to alter the nineteenth century positivist methods of conceptualizing economic development that legitimized capitalism as the highest stage of human achievement resulting in large inequalities. One-world system theory was adopted by Peter Taylor to create the highly influential field of political geography.
While the different strands of the paradigm made for a certain lack of coherence, they all shared common core assumptions. Ontologically, the new paradigm opted for nominalism, i.e. the notion that there is no concrete social reality but rather a stream of concepts, names and labels. For the nominalists, the external world does not exist beyond such cognitive conventions that serve as organizing and descriptive tools. Epistemologically, the paradigm was based on anti-positivism in the sense that it denied the possibility of finding and formulating laws of human behaviour. To the contrary, neo-Marxist, critical scholars posited that the social world was relativist, as it could only be understood from the point of view of individual perceptions. As a result, social science was deemed to be subjective to the point that no objective knowledge of any validity could be expected. In a corollary of this view, the paradigm founders considered human nature to be voluntaristic and free-willed rather than deterministic in its interaction with the environment.
Methodologically, these core assumptions led to the rejection of empirical observations and rigorous statistical analysis. Frankfurt School scholars led the attack on positivist philosophy in the United States, describing American social sciences in general and behaviourism in particular as ‘naïve, pedestrian, hypnotized by fact and intellectually lazy’. Moreover, ‘they mocked the idea that data is “out there” ready for “immediate interpretation” and ridiculed the “myth” of scientific objectivity’. Other neo-Marxists called social scientists ‘butterfly collectors’ who set up categories, laws and generalization and chastised them for rigid adherence to methodology.
Imre Lacatos, a Hungarian communist who studied under Georg Lukacs and a contemporary of Popper at the London School of Economics, added to the anti-positivist momentum. He attacked Popper for his notion that empirically-based falsification was possible and was also involved in a bitter debate with Kuhn. Lacatos had ideological reasons for trying to discredit Popper, a former communist-turned-liberal whose book Open Society and its Enemies made him a hero in liberal circles. Lacatos was particularly unhappy with Popper’s determination that Marxism could not qualify as scientific theory but his own theory that allegedly made it possible to make a distinction between science and pseudo-science took aim at market economy. Lacatos and his students used the theory to determine that the work of Milton Friedman was pseudo-science because, in their view, it could not predict a testable novel phenomenon. Several years later, Friedman received the Nobel Prize in Economics for original theory, but in spite of the fiasco, Lacatos has remained very popular in neo-Marxist, critical circles. Paul Feyerabend, whose collabouration with Lacatos accelerated his already considerable disenchantment with empirical science, legitimized the ‘rebellion against method’ often described as ‘scientific anarchism’ or ‘anything goes’.
With objectivism and empiricism discredited, the practitioners of the new paradigm developed an alternative research and validation regimen. Some of the methodology was ideographic, embracing soft techniques that emphasized life history and subjective accounts as a primary source of knowledge. Researchers were encouraged to get ‘inside the situation’ of using impressionist accounts in the form of oral history, diaries and other subjective records. In the words of one observer, ‘the ideographic method stresses the importance of letting one’s subject unfold its nature and characteristics during the process of investigation’. Stretching the ideographic method even further, academics who hailed those from a particular social background, ethnic group, or geographic region, were said to have a ‘privileged knowledge’ of the topic under consideration. Gendering was also highly important as women were considered most capable of researching ‘women issues’.
Not unrelated to ideography was the notion that human experience could only be understood in terms of identity categories such as white males, African-American females, and gay persons of colour and so on. The group’s characteristics were assumed to give individuals a distinctive identity, making probing individual opinions redundant. A companion idea known as essentialism minimizes the differences within the identity group while maximizing them among the categories. Because the neo-Marxist, critical paradigm aimed at reversing historical power relations, ‘white men’ were castigated for being dominant whereas former victims of domination including women were considered in a sympathetic way. While this classification created two main categories - oppressors and victims - the complex consideration of power triggered a fierce inter-paradigmatic struggle for victim status, and perhaps more to the point, for the ‘compensatory preferential treatment’ that victim groups expected.
Additional assumptions that made it easy to forgo rigorous empirical verification were built into the paradigm. One was ‘presentism,’ which is a ‘belief in the primacy of the present and refusal to be guided by a vision either of the past or the future. Of course, this was a repudiation of positivist historical research on the ground that the past was not knowable and thus all of its versions should be considered equally valid. Still, because of the activist agenda of the paradigm practitioners, the version likely to be accepted was naturally determined by political conditions of the moment.
Presentism went hand in hand with the ‘postness’, that is, postmodernism, post-structuralism and post-colonialism along with feminism, which were different forms of a critique of scientific positivism. Finally, there was the assumption that reality could be understood through its representation, making texts the primary target of research. However, since texts were considered with great suspicion because of their assumed role in perpetuating elite dominance, they needed to be deconstructed in ways that uncovered the true reality. Such ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ gave critical scholars extraordinary leeway in deciding what reality was, without the need to check facts. With so much emphasis on text, neo-Marxist, critical scholarship developed a style of research where citing of received authorities in the field, most notably Foucault, were most important, while empirical inquiry and verification were given a low priority.
The attack on positivism went hand in hand with disdain for the norms of academic neutrality and objectivity that was built into the traditional paradigm. Keenly aware of the normative base of all social theory, Weber warned scholars to stay above the political fray and adhere to a scrupulous professional objectivity. But neo-Marxist academics declared their fealty to radical humanism, defined as an effort to develop a radical social theory of change from a subjective perspective, as intermediate step towards societal change. Indeed, they promised to liberate humans from the ‘predicament of constrains which existing social arrangements place upon human development’ and transcend ‘spiritual bonds and fetters which tie them to existing social patterns and release their full potential’. To achieve that, they pledged to fight what Marx called ‘false consciousness’ - the mistaken perception of reality that the proletariat allegedly harboured because of the ideological manipulation of elites. Significantly, the new paradigm allowed its adherents to write off individual beliefs as ‘false consciousness’ because they did not consider the collective belief system to be made up of individual preference, a major requirement of behaviourally-oriented positivism. To the contrary, considering groups to be social constructs, critical scholars could claim to be spokespersons for assorted identity group. As a self-appointed revolutionary vanguard, the new academic cadres felt entitled to lead society by dint of their moral mandate. In the words of one practitioner, the ‘moralist needs no evidence other than his senses to judge something right or wrong, and no elaborate scientific calculus to ascertain what the proper course of action should be’. Indeed, the call for action came from Gramsci who urged academics to use their work to expedite political change and undermine the legitimacy of the existing status quo.
The Rise of Radical Professoriate
The political turmoil in the 1960s gave faculty imbued with a Gramscian-like mission of changing society a competitive edge. The behavioural tradition of value-free inquiry was put on the defensive and social advocacy took over. In a programmatic article in the American Political Science Review, Christian Bay urged his colleagues to take up social concerns. David Easton called to make the discipline more relevant to ‘real’ political needs and pleaded for a post-behavioural revolution; for Easton, one of the ‘founding fathers’ of behaviourism, this was an extraordinary about-face.
The rapid expansion of the university system in the 1970s offered a large cadre of New Left and Vietnam-era activists an unprecedented job market; with a steady source of employment and the legitimacy that came from joining the professoriate, the new faculty could combine teaching and research with Gramsci’s mandate of changing society. The neo-Marxist sociologist and a Gramsci disciple, Alvin Gouldner, developed a new blueprint to expedite societal transformation. In a 1970 work, The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology, he suggested that sociologists turn away from seeking empirical truth and engage in generating progressive values, expecting academics - in conjunction with other intellectuals - dubbed the New Class, to use their professional advantage to challenge societal norms and values and replace them with new ones. Arnold Kaufman, a UCLA professor and an architect of the Vietnam era teach-ins, was a close second, urging his colleagues to embrace radical liberalism and challenge the old legitimacy norms, which, in his view represented the money elites. Kaufman’s teach-ins became an important vehicle for delegitimizing the Vietnam War, first on the campuses and then among the general public.
Empirical evidence supported the expectations of Gouldner and Kaufman. Starting in the 1970s, a series of surveys of liberal arts faculty revealed a very high percentage of Democratic-voting professors whose political opinion tended to gravitate to left and radical left. A 1984 study of the Carnegie Foundation revealed that only five percent of social science faculty described themselves as conservatives. Radicalism was especially strong in departments of philosophy, sociology and anthropology but also affected political science and history. Seymour Martin Lipset, the author of many of the surveys of college faculty, began an article by stating that ‘almost all the Western writers who have identified the emergence of the New Class - a socially liberal or radical, highly critical intelligentsia - locate its principal base in the academy’.
Taken together, these methodological and applied imperatives produced a serious challenge to the legitimacy parameters derived from the positivist paradigm. To neo-Marxist academics the idea that at some historical end-point the Western model of nation-state, liberal democracy and a market economy would be universally accepted was anathema. Weber’s membership legitimacy claims spanning the Gemeinschaft–Gesellschaft trajectory was distasteful to the academic disciples, who like Marx considered them a form of ‘false consciousness’ inflicted on the masses by their bourgeois masters. The updated version held that nations were actually invented by a cadre of intellectuals and nation-building entrepreneurs who fabricated history and manipulated cultural symbols to create the myth of a national origin and ‘interdependence of faith’. Eric Hobsbawm, a Marxist professor at Birkbeck College, University of London, had first articulated the idea of nationalism as an ‘invented traditional’ in the late 1940s but it took him a few more decades to co-edit a highly influential book by the same name. Hobsbawm, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, was naturally perturbed by Hitler’s use of hyper-nationalism, but as a life-long anti-Zionist, he also sought to inculcate himself from the ‘temptations of Jewish nationalism’. Hobsbawm’s view was made even more popular because critical scholars found it perfectly suited to their needs to deconstruct the official narrative on the issue. Benedict Anderson span off the theme of invented tradition into a hugely successful book, Imagined Communities, which, together with Ernest Gellner’s work on Nations and Nationalism challenged Weber’s national legitimacy formula. The paradigm was able to present nationalism and nation-building as a contrived or even falsified belief system with dubious legitimacy claims.
In yet another update to Marx’s thesis of nationalism-as-false-consciousness, neo-Marxist scholars claimed that a critical mass of lower class and dispossessed people would be able to liberate themselves from nationalism and patriotism, described as constructs of ‘particularism’, and move on to a universal, one-world community.
Weber’s authority system legitimacy in general and the liberal democratic model in particular, fared even less well in the opinions of neo-Marxist scholars. As noted earlier, the new paradigm rejected the idea that a collective belief was an equivalent to the sum-total of individual beliefs. Gouldner, who had previously disputed Weber’s plea for value-free inquiry, implied that a ‘totalized’ belief system could be best represented by an intellectual vanguard. Thus empowered, critical scholars rejected the legitimacy of the Western model of liberal democracy and its participatory progression as documented by Almond and Verba. Without the need to produce empirical proof they could argue, as Michael Parenti did, that such a model was a sham that covered up the real inequalities in power and economic status.
Such a rephrasing of what constituted a legitimate authority system was clearly related to the issues of distributive justice. To recall, the positivist paradigm accepted the legitimacy of utilitarian-meritorious claims that underpin market economy, but neo-Marxist considered capitalism to be of questionable legitimacy because it failed to address issues of equality. As a matter of fact, by the 1960s, neo-Marxist scholars had developed an advanced version of principles of distributive justices based on the highly influential work of John Rawls. Rawls argued that economic growth should be regulated in such a way as to advance the wellbeing of the poorest members of a given society thus imposing a normative limit on what could be a morally acceptable limit of inequality in an economic system. Humanistic economy pioneered by Johan Galtung and John Burton added moral requirements that went well beyond egalitarianism; in this view, any economic system should be responsive to human needs, including human dignity and human rights. In a measure of its success the Galtung-Burton formula inspired the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1976.
With neo-Marxist critical scholarship making strides in social sciences departments, it was only a question of time before Middle East studies - a bastion of traditionalist historians known as Orientalists, incorporated much of the same thinking.
Middle East Studies and the Neo-Marxist Paradigm
Talal Asad, a Hull University anthropologist, used the genealogical method pioneered by Michele Foucault to conclude in the early 1970s that the anthropological study of the Middle East was influenced by the colonially-driven construct of Western scholars and colonial func'tionaries. He was particularly interested in the way Europeans had defined their colonial subjects as ‘non-Westerns’, notably with regard to customs and behaviour labelled as ‘cruel’. Asad concluded that ‘it was not the concern with the indigenous suffering that dominated their thinking, but the desire to impose what they considered civilized standards of justice and humanity on a subject population - that is the desire to create new human subjects’.
Asad and his colleagues, Roger Owen from Oxford University (currently at Harvard University) and Sami Zubaida from the University of London, began holding seminars on critical approaches to Middle East studies. Like Asad, Zubaida upheld that Western culture was pervaded by racism towards non-Western people because of the colonial history of encounters with the ‘natives’. The Hull group, which sought ‘to expose some of its basic preconceptions, particularly as they related to the use made of its authority to support certain colonialist, imperialist, and Zionist enterprises’, began publishing papers on the subject and in 1975 launched the Review of Middle East Studies, a journal dedicated to offering ‘a critical appreciation of the Middle East and its history’. Asad’s critical approach attracted limited attention and an occasional rebuke; the prominent anthropologist Clifford Geertz dismissed him as a ‘Marxist’ who switched from ‘material-reductionism’ to ‘power-reductionism’ - his name for critical scholarship.
Yet it was only in 1978, when Edward Said, a professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University published his celebrated Orientalism, that Asad’s critique, renamed the postcolonial perspective received a broad exposure. In the introduction to the book Said thanked Michele Foucault and Samir Amin, an Egyptian radical, for inspiring him to adopt the critical approach but relegated Asad to a footnote. Said’s forceful claim that European colonialism distorted Western perception of the Middle East made the book an academic bestseller, propelled by Foucault’s popularity in the United States. While traditional historians like Bernard Lewis criticized Said’s post-colonialism as misguided scholarship at best and a political exercise at worse, the fortunes of positivist scholars declined with the collapse of the developmental model. To make matters worse, the Iranian revolution discredited many of the experts who vouched for the stability of the shah’s regime. For Said and his followers this was a prime example of how, bereft of ‘privileged knowledge’ of the region and misled by developmentalism, traditionalist scholars missed the precipitous decline of the shah’s legitimacy. Worse, they attributed the regime’s fall to U.S. pressure for a Western-style political system and market economy.
With the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) increasingly dominated by scholars from the region itself, Said’s post-colonialist perspective was disseminated in record time. This trend was very much in line with his reasoning that ‘privileged understanding’ comes from ‘indigenous experience’; he welcomed this ‘nativist’ generation, urging them to provide an antidote to ‘cultural Western domination’ and predicting that the new MESA would provide a more accurate view of the region. The large network of MESA-sponsored conferences, journals and centres - many supported by Arab money - spread the paradigm, leading one observer to boast that the new epistemic community made serious inroads into the study of the Middle East. Said himself regarded the change as a triumph of his vision, writing that ‘the formerly conservative Middle East Studies association underwent an important ideological transformation’. But as one critic stated, ‘indigenization has changed MESA from an American organization interested in the Middle East to a Middle Eastern one that happens to meet in the United States’. Another critic accused MESA professors of being short on research and long on polemics and argued that Arab money behind many of the Middle East centres had prejudiced their findings.
Implementing Gramsci’s imperative, MESA became highly politicized and activist with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict leading the agenda. A 1990 survey of Middle East studies found that some 70 per cent of the courses touched on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the number of books and articles on the issue skyrocketed in the 1990s. Said, of course, framed the Palestinian question in the broader context of the post-colonialist theory; but he was also a member of the Palestinian National Council, the PLO’s ‘parliament’. Other prominent MESA members - Rashid Khalidi and Hisham Sharabi - were also actively associated with the PLO.
Reversal of Fortunes: Israel in the Post-colonialist Perspective
Under the positivist paradigm Israel enjoyed good scholarly reviews, not least because it was considered a successful example of the developmental model. Israel’s political system - considered on par with Western democracies - was often favourably compared to the authoritarian regimes of its Arab neighbours. Although the economy was heavily socialist, Israel was never grouped with socialist Third World countries.
Positivism also benefited Israel’s international legitimacy in the sense that the paradigm was closely linked to realism and neo-realism, schools of thought that considered the sovereign state the major international actor and deemed power and self-interest the guiding force in the international system with international institutions, non-government organizations, non-sovereign groups and other sub-state actors given lesser weight. Seen through this perspective, Israel was the winner of the 1948 war and the Palestinians, who defied the UN Partition Resolution 1947, were a losing belligerent. In the upheaval that followed WWII, the Palestinian refugees were only one of the many populations that were moved around, eliciting no immediate demand for action on their behalf from the international community.
Unsurprisingly, neo-Marxist, critical scholars had a very different assessment of Israel’s legitimacy, especially with regard to its international standing. United against realism and neo-realism, they rejected power relations; standing somewhere between realism and idealism, the paradigm’s interpretation of international reality became known as neo-Gramscianism with scholars like Robert Cox and Stephen Gill rejecting realism for postulating the existence of an ‘anarchic’ world that propelled powerful states into a hegemonic position and embraced a ‘problem-solving’ approach. Most important, this approach denied the ontological centrality of states, opting instead for a formula derived from historical materialism that ‘identifies state formation and interstate politics as moments of the transnational dynamics of capital accumulation and class formation’. As opposed to positivism, it rejected the ‘separation between subject and object… and the adoption of a dialectic understanding of reality as a dynamic totality and as a unity of opposites’. As a result, the neo-Gramscian view posited that hegemony was not a projection of the power of state (or group of states) but rather a class relationship; a class that managed to legitimize its interests through international institutions was considered hegemonic. As the globalization process legitimized a neoliberal historic class bloc, the only way to ensure working class interests was to create a counter-hegemonic working class bloc and international institutions that would ensure its interests.
The post-colonialist perspective in Orientalism was quintessentially neo-Gramscian with Zionism viewed as an integral part of the ‘colonialist-imperialist’ expansionism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Indeed, a few years before the book’s publication Galtung derided the Balfour Declaration and the UN partition resolution as belonging ‘to the more tragic mistakes of recent history’, blaming the continuation of the conflict on Israel which, in his words, ‘was conceived in sin, was born in sin, and grew up in sin’. George Haddad was equally scathing. ‘The Jewish problem could have been solved by other means’, he wrote. ‘The claim to Palestine was eventually decided not by notions of legitimacy and obvious rights, but by power politics in which colonial interests and the capitulation of the big powers to Zionist manipulation and Jewish pressure played a decisive role’. Small wonder that he blamed the British, the Zionists, and the international community as culpable for the tragedy of Palestine, whose ‘Arab inhabitants... were not in any way responsible for starting the conflict’.
If one corollary of neo-Gramscianism was the branding of Israel as a colonialist aggressor, another was to portray Palestinians as the ultimate victim of colonialism. The attention given to non-state actors, combined with emphasis on Non-Government Organization (NGOs) and rapid expansion of Humanitarian International Law (HIL) made it easy for the paradigm practitioners to describe Israel as an imperialist creation that has kept the Palestinians in a state of colonial servitude.
As long as the charges against Israel were levelled mostly by Palestinian scholars, they were largely ignored by the Israeli liberal arts community. Things changed when Israeli academics were increasingly swayed by the new thinking, gradually inculcating the new paradigm into Israeli academic institutions.
Chapter 2 Squaring the Circle: A Non-Jewish State for the Jews?
The rise of the modern Zionist movement in the late 19th century and the wave of immigration it spawned were firmly rooted in the national awakenings in Europe. Watching from the sidelines, Jews wondered whether they could re-establish sovereignty in the Land of Israel, then part of the Ottoman Empire, where a Jewish community had maintained an uninterrupted existence since biblical times.
It was Theodor Herzl, a journalist and playwright from Vienna, who put political Zionism on a broader footing. In his 1896 small tract, The Jewish State (Der Judenstaat), which attracted considerable attention in the Jewish world, Herzl argued that Jews were one people deserving a state of their own in their ancestral homeland that would redress their anomalous exilic position and gain them legitimacy in the world; indeed, a reborn Jewish state would benefit not only the Jews but also humankind. Not content to leave the matter to the realm of literary endeavour, in 1897 Herzl convened the first Zionist Congress, which led to the foundation of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) and later, the Jewish Agency.
Despite his passionate national advocacy Herzl’s notions about the identity of the proposed state were, ironically, devoid of a Jewish cultural or religious context. Indeed, in a novel Altneuland (New Old Land), published in 1902, he described the state as multilingual, pluralistic, technologically advanced and European in nature. The ancient Temple would be rebuilt in Jerusalem according to modern principles, along a Palace of Peace that would serve as an international tribunal. Altneuland was designed to be a home of both Jews and Arabs who would interact on equal footing. Rashid Bey, representing the Arabs, expresses joy at Palestine’s economic progress and sees no reason for conflict between the two groups.
While Altneuland might have looked like a good way to solve the problems of Jewish-Arab coexistence, it was essentially utopia. The socialist Zionists arriving in Palestine at the turn of the 20th century shared few of the Western-cosmopolitan characteristics of Herzl’s ideal Jew, were eager to embrace Hebrew, and gravitated towards agrarian socialism. These early pioneers assumed that this new identify was in harmony with the Biblical-Hebraic origins of the ancient Hebrews and would pave a path to coexistence with the Arab population in the prospective Jewish homeland, or state.
Brit Shalom and the Bi-National Idea
Much to the dismay of mainstream Zionism, German Jews proved reluctant Zionists. This highly assimilated community eagerly embraced the ‘Jewish Reformation’, a movement to modernize traditional orthodoxy and place the Jewish faith within the bounds of German cultural enlightenment. Only a small circle of German Jews felt the need to acknowledge the national distinction of the Jews and even a smaller number followed Herzl to the World Zionist Organization. One of them was Martin Buber, a scholar and philosopher who became the first editor of the Zionist publication Die Welt. According to a noted scholar of the subject, it was Buber who imbued German Zionism with a unique blend of ‘Western ideas with radical Palestino-centrism’. In other words, Buber wanted to create a Semitic - Jewish-Arab nation - that would serve as an exemplary humanistic society where both peoples would have the freedom to coexist in peace and harmony. Clearly, Zionism that he once denounced as ‘power hysteria’ did not fit the bill of ‘Zion of the soul’.
A number of Buber biographers and his own writings illustrate the diverse and often contradictory intellectual traditions that brought him to view Jewish settlement in Palestine in such a way. Buber was brought up in a traditional religious Jewish family but early on in life suffered a crisis of faith that apparently brought him to the study of Kant, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche during his stay in Vienna in 1896. Under their influence, Buber developed the notion of religion as an existential encounter with God, a theme central to his famous 1923 essay I and Thou. By definition, this existential-universalistic reading of religion freed Buber from the nationalist definition that inspired his Zionist peers.
If religion was an existential relationship between an individual and God, its spiritual nature was best illustrated, in Buber’s view, by the existence of spiritual communities such as the Hassidic communities in Eastern Europe. In fact, his fascination with Hassidism as a mystical-spiritual community predated his I and Thou evolution but did not negate it, as some critics would later claim. According to Gershom Scholem, an associate of Buber and a foremost authority on Hassidism, Buber saw in the admonition to experience joy in the world as it is an expression of the existential imperative of being in touch with the Here and Now.
Buber’s admiration for the Hassidic community had more than a passing influence on shaping his views on the political structure of the Land of Israel, or Palestine as it was named by the Romans, and renamed by the British, who occupied the country towards the end of the First World War. Hassidism prompted Buber to immerse himself in the study of some Christian communities and Christian mystics whose insights he taught in the ‘New Community’ - a Berlin-based utopian society. Drawing on this experience, Buber developed the notion of a ‘dialogue community’, based on interpersonal ‘dialogical relations’, a sort of communitarian-socialist- pacifist utopia. While he only formalized his idea in Paths in Utopia in 1946, there were indications that Buber considered such a relationship to be of great importance to Arab-Jewish interaction as early as the 1920s.
More to the point, Buber’s unique understanding of Judaism led him to inquire into the proper relations between religion and politics. Like many philosophers and theologians before him he wrestled with the issue of what should be the proper boundary between religion and politics. His answer was a non-dogmatic ‘religious humanism’ in the Jewish prophetic tradition that, in his view, judged politics by religious-transcendental criteria rather than political expediency.
Applied to issues of a sovereign Jewish existence in Palestine, Buber’s theory raised two issues. The first pertained to the moral grounds that Jews used to justify arriving in a place largely settled by Arabs; the second raised the question of whether the use of force to control them was permissible. While Buber decreed that Jews have a legitimate right to live in Palestine, he ruled out the use of force as antithetical to prophetic Judaism. Instead, he proposed a ‘dialogue bi-national community’, a form of voluntary Jewish-Arab coexistence along the lines suggested in his writings on voluntary communal living. Later on, Scholem, by then a prominent Buberite, suggested that by teaching Arab children to read and write and by ‘educating the population,’ Jews could establish communication with the local Arabs.
Arguing that Jews and Arabs should lead a bi-national existence was one thing. Persuading the Palestinian Arabs that there was a common basis for such a union was quite another. It was here that Buber could draw upon the circle of his academic friends and followers, including noted Orientalists like Shlomo Goitein, Ludwig Mayer and Joseph Horowitz to propagate the idea that Jews in Palestine were an integral part of the Orient. As Hazony pointed out, Buber was most anxious to distance himself from Herzl’s vision of the Jewish state as an ‘alien outpost’ of Western culture. Horowitz, a prominent Orientalist and a colleague of Buber at the University of Frankfurt who travelled to the region, became well aware of the growing Arab opposition to the Balfour Declaration. By fusing the Jewish community to the Orient, Buber and his friends hoped to make it more ‘palatable’ to the Arabs.
Even before fully articulating his views on the legitimacy of the Zionist endeavour, Buber felt compelled to confront Herzl. Following a bitter dispute, he resigned from Die Welt in 1904 to become editor of The Jude, a platform for many of his ideas. His followers who migrated to Palestine - including Arthur Ruppin, Hugo Bergman, Ernst Simon - subsequently formed Brit Shalom (Covenant of Peace) in 1925 to implement the bi-national community project. From their vantage point on the ground they realized that the Arabs would never accept a Jewish state - and, in their opinion, without Arab consent all Zionist activity would be futile. Echoing Buber, Brit Shalom members felt that the Jews in Palestine did not need to create a Jewish state per se; instead, together with the Arabs, they would create a cultural centre in the Middle East based on the principles of social justice and ‘the teachings of the prophets and Jesus’.
Apart from implementing the principles of a spiritual-contractual community that Buber greatly admired, the framework proposed by Brit Shalom offered two additional attractions. First, it superseded the nation state, which gave one people, the so-called ‘people of the land’ primary rights as opposed to the minority - considered ‘guests’ of sorts. Bergman asserted that prophetic justice demanded that in a country occupied by two peoples there should be no privileged group. Indeed, Buber, Bergman and others felt that the new entity in Palestine - by eliminating the ills of a national state - would serve as a stellar example of a new of international morality and remove the need for force attending a national state. In their view, creating a sovereign state to protect the rights of the dominant group was immoral and illegitimate.
The first experience of the Palestine-based members of Brit Shalom with the growing violence between Arabs and Jews made, in their mind, this imperative even more significant. By the early 1920s Arab attacks on Jews had ensued, though they were of a limited scope and directed from above. Brit Shalom disciples were especially worried that a violent conflict would delegitimize the Zionist project, a view that received reinforcement from the veteran Jewish thinker Ahad Ha’am. A passionate advocate of Hebrew culture and literature, Ahad Ha’am broke with Herzl over the issue of Jewish sovereignty, advocating the creation of a Jewish cultural centre in Palestine that would usher in a Hebrew cultural renaissance in the Diaspora. In his critique of Altneuland, Ahad Ha’am chastised Herzl for downplaying the role of Hebrew. He was even more unsettled by Herzl’s call for mass migration of Jews because, as an intellectual elitist, he considered large masses detrimental to his vision of an exclusive cultural centre.
Although Ahad Ha’am did not share Buber’s hope of bi-national coexistence becoming an epitome of international morality and justice, he was taken aback by the ‘colonial’ relations that had developed between the Jewish pioneers and the native population. On an early visit to Ottoman Palestine he noted that some Jews treated Arabs with contempt. ‘We are used to thinking of the Arabs as primitive men of the desert, as a donkey-like nation that neither sees nor understands what is going around it’, he wrote. ‘But this is a great error. The Arab, like all sons of Sham, has sharp and crafty mind... Should time come when life of our people in Palestine imposes to a smaller or greater extent on the natives, they will not easily step aside’.
On that and other occasions, Ahad Ha’am warned about the abuse of power that went against the teaching of the prophets:
However, a political idea alien to the national culture can turn the people’s heart away from spiritual power and produce a tendency to achieve its ‘honours’ by achieving physical power and political independence, thus severing the thread linking it with its past and losing the base which sustained it throughout history.
Ahad Ha’am, who settled in Palestine in the 1920s, was quick to imply that Arab violence against the Jews was a product of the colonization project. At the same time, he chastised the Jews for using force in their own defence, reinforcing Buber’s prediction that Zionism required too much military power to serve a cultural-spiritual foundation for the Jewish renaissance.
While Ahad Ha’am had little impact on the political scene in Palestine, Brit Shalom - numbering some two hundred activists - gained a high profile due to dynamic leadership of Judah Magnes who emigrated from the United States to Palestine in 1921. A Reform rabbi and an active pacifist during WWI, Magnes was connected to the affluent and powerful anti-Zionist German Jewish community in New York. The Reform movement’s Pittsburgh Platform of 1885, which defined Judaism as a religion with a universal message unfettered by parochial tribalism and nationalism, provided the group with a rationale. The Platform essentially reflected the German-Jewish ‘Classic Reform’ faith that, as noted above, modernized and acculturated Jewish orthodoxy. The association of Reform Rabbis was unnerved by the nationalism embedded in Zionism and gave the World Zionist Organization a cold shoulder.
More important, prominent anti-Zionist Jews opposed the Balfour Declaration. Henry Morgenthau Sr., a former ambassador to Istanbul, called Zionism ‘the most stupendous fallacy in Jewish history’. Julius Rosenwald, a leading philanthropist whose family founded Sears Roebuck, and Felix Warburg, an equally wealthy banker and philanthropist, were resolved to fight Zionism in Washington. They were part of a group of prominent Jews who signed a petition to President Woodrow Wilson protesting his intention to support the Balfour Declaration. The petition raised a number of concerns about settling Jews in Palestine, including the resistance of the Arabs who already lived there. The signatories warned the president that siding with the Jews would jeopardize Washington’s relation with the Arab world.
The activity of the anti-Zionist group reached a peak during the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, where it joined State Department officials to lobby against Wilson’s plan to support the declaration. When the president overruled his own bureaucrats and put American support behind the Jewish Homeland in Palestine, the anti-Zionists redoubled their disruptive efforts. Magnes, newly arrived in Palestine, became instrumental in this effort.
Having persuaded Warburg to become the chief financial supporter of the Hebrew University he used this connection to have himself instated as the new institution’s president and chancellor, driving the irritated Albert Einstein to comment that ‘the good Felix Warburg, thanks to his financial authority ensured that the incapable Magnes was made director of the Institute’.
Whatever Einstein’s misgivings, Magnes’s control gave Brit Shalom a clear intellectual and political edge. Even before the official opening in 1925, Magnes declared that the university would serve to promote the idea of Jewish-Arab coexistence. Making good his word, academic staff in a number of departments reflected this mission. In short order, the School of Oriental Studies hired Goitein and other orientalists to teach and research subjects that, in Buber’s words, would bring a ‘sympathetic knowledge of our neighbours’. While Buber sincerely hoped that the newly discovered ‘shared past’ would provide a solid underpinning for Jewish-Arab coexistence, some observers were less charitable accusing the School of inventing a new Semitic Jewish history.
Magnes used his own high-profile position to further the political cause of bi-nationalism, mainly through a public relations effort and the Jewish Agency where he was a member. Faithful to the premise that the local Arabs would never accept a recognized and institutionalized national Jewish presence, he warned about an impending clash where Jews would have to take up arms: ‘The question is, do we want to conquer Palestine now as Joshua… with fire and sword? Or do we want to take cognizance of Jewish religious developments since Joshua - our Prophets… and repeat the words, not by might, and not by violence, but by my spirit, saith the Lord’.
The 1929 pogroms in Palestine in general, and the Hebron massacre - where local Arabs murdered 67 Jews and wounded scores of others - in particular, gave the anti-Zionists an opening. While the Jewish Agency appealed to prominent European figures to safeguard both Jewish religious rights of access to the Western Wall and immigration quotas to meet the needs of eastern and central European Jewry, Magnes demanded an immediate renunciation of the Balfour Declaration, writing that ‘we must once and for all give up the idea of a Jewish Palestine’. Reiterating Buber’s position that only total parity and equality could assure a peaceful existence for both communities, he chastised the World Zionist Organization for pursuing a ‘militarist, imperialist, political Zionism’ and urged a policy of pacifism, internationalism and Spiritual Zionism. Moreover, he tried to persuade his patron, Warburg, to threaten the withdrawal of funding for the Zionist enterprise, a suggestion that wealthy American anti-Zionists were quite amenable to. Although nothing came out of this plan, the New York Times, under the ownership of the staunchly anti-Zionist Sulzberger family, launched its own campaign to undermine the Zionists. Sulzberger sent Joseph Levy, his Palestine correspond, to approach the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the effective leader of the Palestinian Arabs. Levy arranged a meeting between Magnes and Harry St. John Philby, a British adventurist and explorer who converted to Islam with alleged connections to al-Husseini, who in turn drafted a memorandum of understanding with Magnes that renounced the Balfour Declaration and gave up any special rights for the Jews in exchange of a Palestinian government where Jews would be a minority.
In spite of its roster of leading academics and the institutional base provided by the Hebrew University, Brit Shalom declined in the 1930s. Ignoring the Philby-Magnes proposal altogether, the mufti drove his constituents to ever growing militancy, culminating in the 1936-39 ‘revolt’ that made it eminently clear that the al-Husseini circles would settle for nothing less than total sovereignty over Palestine and the expulsion of its Jewish community. So much so that even the indefatigable Magnes seemed to have his moments of doubt, noting that ‘the Palestinian Arabs are still half savage, and their leaders almost all small men’.
There were other Jewish movements opposing Zionism too. The ultra-orthodox Neturei-Karta was founded in Jerusalem in 1938, splitting off from Agudat Israel, which had been established in 1912 for the purpose of fighting Zionism but stopped negating it after some time. Over the years, a number of Neturei Karta activists and followers settled outside Palestine, leaving the country in which they and their families had lived for many generations.
As the situation in Europe darkened, the Yishuv became less and less responsive to Brit Shalom’s vision of peaceful coexistence. In May 1939 Arab violence reaped its most significant fruit in the form of a British White Paper that reduced Jewish immigration to Palestine to a trickle, and imposed draconian restrictions on Jewish land purchase, thus causing extreme anxiety and bitterness in both the Yishuv and world Jewry. The outbreak of the Second World War, followed by growing evidence of mass extermination of European Jews forced Brit Shalom leaders to revisit their tactics, without abandoning their overall cause.
The Holocaust Crucible: A New and Improved Bi-Nationalism?
After years of cautious practical Zionism that saw Jewish settlement as a key to future sovereignty, socialist Zionism articulated a bold vision of a Jewish state. Prodded by the situation in Europe and sensing a historical opportunity to seize the initiative, Ben-Gurion gathered some six hundred Zionist leaders in the Biltmore Hotel in New York in 1942 where they declared that Palestine should be established as a Jewish Commonwealth.
The declaration ignited a storm of protest from American anti-Zionists that culminated in the creation of the American Council on Judaism (ACJ). Among the founders were Louis Wolsey, Morris Lazaron, Abraham Cronbach, David Philipson, and Henry Cohen. Elmer Berger became chief executive and its most vocal spokesman while Lessing Rosenwald, a heir to the Sears Roebuck fortune, accepted the presidency. Eugene Meyer Jr., owner of the Washington Post, and Arthur Hays Sulzberger, publisher of the New York Times, supported the ACJ, with Sulzberger being behind the wording of the founding declaration though failing to sign it.
The declaration opposed ‘all philosophies that stress the racialism, the nationalism and the homelessness of the Jews, as injurious to their interests’. The ‘Digest of Principles’ rejected the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, but was kept mostly private. However, in 1943, Rosenwald went public with an article in Life magazine that created enormous controversy. At the same month, a CCAR (Central Conference of American Rabbis) meeting denounced the ACJ, leading to tremendous bitterness between the Zionists and the anti-Zionists. Between 1943 and 1948 the ACJ conducted a ‘fierce public campaign against Zionism’ with its spokesmen emphasizing the ‘purely religious nature of Judaism’ and accusing the Zionists of manipulating Jews and using the Holocaust to advance a Jewish state.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the response of the anti-Zionists was equally fierce. Working closely with the ACJ, Magnes, together with Henrietta Szold, the leader of Hadassah, reconstituted Brit Shalom under the banner of Ihud (Unity) in August 1942. Many of the original members were present among the hundred odd new cofounders; the group could also rely on Buber who arrived in Palestine in 1938 and obtained a position at the Hebrew University, teaching anthropology and sociology. Buber, widely considered the Ihud ideologue, took a lead in attacking the socialist Zionists in general and Ben-Gurion in particular, charging him with relying ‘on imaginary prospects which have no reality’ and conducting foreign policy not based on the ‘real interests of the people’. Scorning the Biltmore Program, he called it ‘fata morgana’ (mirage) as well as a contradiction of the moral principles of the Jewish people, as ‘it is impossible for any length of time to build with one hand while holding a weapon with the other’. Moshe Smilansky, a ranking Ihud member, objected to a Jewish state as part of his general rejection of small states which he considered inferior to a large federation, or confederation, such as the United States or the British Commonwealth.
But it was Magnes who gave Ihud a high profile abroad. In an article in Foreign Affairs he called for a U.S.-British initiative to prevent the partition of mandatory Palestine. To this effect, Magnes testified no fewer than eleven times before the 1947 United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) in an attempt to sway it against partition. Equally important, the ACJ used his writings to lobby the State Department and the Truman administration against a Jewish state. In a conversation with Secretary of State George Marshall on 4 May 1948, ten days before the proclamation of the state Israel, Magnes told the Secretary who bitterly fought Truman on the issue, that Israel was ‘an artificial community’ and suggested imposing economic sanctions that, in his opinion, would halt the ‘Jewish war machine’.
The full revelation of the Holocaust did not alter Ihud’s fidelity to the bi-national ideal. In its only concession, the group agreed to Truman’s 1946 suggestion that 100,000 Jewish refugees be admitted to Palestine. It also argued for 50-50 parity between Jews and Arabs, as compared to its earlier insistence on Arab majority. In the opinion of one historian, Magnes ‘did not retreat one iota from the idea of bi-nationalism’. Such a stand outraged many: the Zionist Organization of America demanded that Magnes be fired as president of the Hebrew University. Szold, an icon among Jewish American women, was subject to barrage of protest from her own organization.
Faced with ferocious opposition, Magnes fled to the United States early in 1948, where, on behalf of the American Council on Judaism, he continued to lobby against a Jewish state, meeting with representatives from the United Nations, Britain, France, and the United States; during a meeting with Secretary Marshall, he pleaded for American military intervention to stop the newly declared state of Israel from defending itself from the invading Arab armies.
Magnes died on 27 October 1948 but Buber and Arendt, who was fast becoming the new face of anti-Zionism, filled in the void. Writing in Commentary, Arendt denounced the ‘fanaticism and hysteria that had brought almost all of Jewry to demand a Jewish state and urged the United Nations to negotiate with Ihud and non-Zionist Jews willing to reach an immediate settlement with ‘moderate Arabs’.
The Canaanite Movement: Ancient Royalists in the Orient
Though mainstream Zionism maintained that compromise with the local Arab population was possible, a smaller group led by Vladimir Jabotinsky challenged the view that the local Arabs could be induced to a compromise with the Jews:
The Arabs loved their country as much as the Jews did. Instinctively, they understood Zionist aspirations very well, and their decision to resist them was only natural... There was no misunderstanding between Jew and Arab, but a natural conflict... No Agreement was possible with the Palestinian Arab; they would accept Zionism only when they found themselves up against an ‘iron wall’, when they realize they had no alternative but to accept Jewish settlement.
In 1923 Jabotinsky broke with Weizmann when the World Zionist Organization rejected the goal of creating a Jewish state on both banks for the Jordan River. He formed the Alliance of Revisionist Zionists and a youth movement, Beitar. Despite the nationalist tenor of the Revisionists Jabotinsky had mixed feelings about traditional Jewish identity. Reflecting his personal distance from the culture of the Ostjude (East European Jew), he criticized his brethren for lack of physical stamina, discipline and military prowess bordering on cowardice. To remedy these allegedly Diaspora-bread attitudes, articulated the philosophy of Hadar, his term for a number of characteristics and qualities such as respect, politeness, loyalty, physical fitness, proper social manners and self-esteem. As befitting a secularist, Jabotinsky made few references to Jewish religion, though the Jewish connection to the biblical Land of Israel was an integral part of the Beitar training. Taking military valour one step further, the Revionists created their underground movement Irgun Zvai Leumi (National Military Organization), commonly referred to as the Irgun.
By the mid-1920s, Beitar had attracted a large following among the nationalist segment of the Yishuv. Among them was Uriel Heilperin who changed his name first to Halperin and then Shelah (later he used the pen-name Yonatan Ratosh). His father Yehiel, a Hebrew educator in Warsaw, brought up the family speaking Hebrew rather than the customary Yiddish. Together with his two brothers - who later renamed themselves Uzzi Ornan and Zvi Rin - Ratosh joined the Irgun where he became close to Avraham ‘Yair’ Stern - the charismatic figure who would subsequently establish the ultra-radical Lehi group. Ratosh, a gifted writer and poet served as editor of the Irgun publication, Ba-Herev, (By the Sword). However, by the end of the 1930s Jabotinsky had demoted Ratosh because of his ‘radical tendencies’, that is, a demand to immediately create a Jewish state and an affinity with Lehi, a splinter from the Irgun that embraced terrorism in an effort to eject the British. Embittered and disillusioned, Ratosh moved to Paris in 1938 where he met Adyah Gurevitch, a historian, known under his Hebrew name as Adyah Gor Horon, or A.G. Horon. According to historian Yaakov Shavit, author of a comprehensive study of the Canaanite movement, during his stay in Paris Horon was exposed to a flourishing school of historical-linguistic-anthropological Orientalism founded by Silverstre de Sacy. Coinciding with French colonial interest in the Orient, de Sacy disseminated the notion of an ancient Canaanite (Phoenician)-Semitic civilization. Victor Berard, the author of works on the Phoenician-Canaanite civilization, had also appealed to Horon, who studied Semitic languages and history. Ernest Renan, a leading 19th century literary figure, was a major influence as well, especially his claim that Jews were not a unified racial group in a biological sense.
In 1928 archaeologists digging in Syria discovered tablets bearing the Ugaritic script, a language that had once flourished in Mesopotamia in 1500-1300 BCE and bore a remarkable resemblance to Hebrew. Umberto Cassuto, a professor at the Hebrew University, was among a number of scholars who claimed that Ugaritic texts informed the Bible. To Horon, the tablets were proof of the Hebrew link to the ancient Semitic civilizations and its lost glory.
Historical interest aside, Horon was also an active member of the Revisionist movement and head of the Beitar office in Paris. Using his position as an insider, in 1931-32 he published a series of nine articles in Revisionist papers expanding on the theory that the Hebrew nation was rooted in Canaanite civilization. An opportunity to persuade his colleagues to adopt the Canaanite theory presented itself in September 1935 when, following their final break from the World Zionist Organization, the Revisionists convened in Vienna to establish the New Zionist Organization (NZO, better known as the Revisionist Zionist Organization). Leading a group of radical atheists, Horon unsuccessfully fought Jabotinsky’s proposal to include a religious plank that called to ‘inculcating deeply the holy heritage among the Jewish society in the future Jewish state’. Upsetting the delegates by urging to separate Zionism from Judaism, Horon derided religion as a reactionary force on top of being anti-national and anti-territorial and urged the delegates to adopt his Canaanite theory. Jabotinsky, by then more open to the religious feelings of his followers, admitted to being deeply hurt by Horon and proclaimed that linking the Canaanites and the Bible was ‘mixing apples and oranges’.
Undaunted by the rebuke, Horon worked hard to publicize his views. In 1938 he gave a series of lectures in the Renaissance Club in Paris, subsequently published in a pamphlet titled Canaan et les Hebreux, which asserted that the ancient Hebrews derived from the Canaanite civilization and that this record was lost when the monotheist scribes in the Temple altered or expunged the Canaanite foundational stories in the Bible. Worse, the rabbinical tradition had corrupted the Hebrew civilization and turned it into a Jewish one. This alarmed Jabotinsky and in December 1938 he warned Horon not to ‘degrade Israel in order to glorify the Hebrews or denigrating Monotheism in order to exalt idol worship’.
Arguably, the timely arrival of Ratosh in Paris saved Horon’s Canaanite vision. Greatly impressed by Canaan et les Hebreux, Ratosh embarked upon his return to Palestine on an effort to re-educate his people on their true origin, alleged to be in the Land of Kedem, an area of the Fertile Crescent inhabited by Canaanites. Urging the Yishuv to embrace a Hebrew rather than Jewish identity and to sever all ties to the Jewish past, he derided Judaism as ‘an ill culture’, a culture of an ‘immigrant society’, a ‘spiritual leprosy’. Clearly, the Canaanites, or the New Hebrews as they preferred to be known, found the ancient sea-faring civilization of the Canaanite-Phoenicians to be a cure for Jewish ‘leprosy’. In a 1943 manifesto, Ratosh urged the Yishuv youth to reject affiliation with the ‘Shtetl and history of the Diaspora’ that he compared to ‘borrowed cloth, faded and tattered and too-tight’ and to embrace the Canaanite past.
His demand from the Palestinian Arabs was even harsher. Since the Canaanite program spoke of ‘a stimulation of the culture of the homeland based on the national Hebrew revival, drawing on the values intrinsic to this land, and transmitting them to all its inhabitants’, they were urged to discard their Islamic-Arab identity and be incorporated into a ‘uniform educational and cultural system based on the Hebrew culture’. As one scholar put it, ‘the Canaanite concept of Hebrew domination amounted to the elimination of the Arab cultural presence’. With his customary attention to details and a flair for the dramatic, Ratosh even designed a flag for Eretz ha-Kadem. In the words of James Diamond, author of the definitive study on the Canaanites: ‘Instead of the Zionist tallit... Ratosh prefers the letter alef, written in its ancient Hebrew or Canaanite form, emblazoned in gold on a field of blue and purplish-scarlet (tehelet v’argaman). These colors affirm for Ratosh the royal glory of the ancient Hebrew past… the alef, which originally denoted a bull, is a ‘primeval symbol of strength and majesty’. 
Bold vision of a resurrected an ancient royal past aside, the New Hebrews attracted virtually no political following. Ratosh’s group numbered some twelve members, including his brothers, as well as a few writers, artists and poets: Benjamin Tamuz, Aharon Amir, Moshe Giora, Yitzhak Danziger, Ezra Zohar, Dani Herman, and Avraham Rimon. Drawing on his Irgun connections, Ratosh tried to convince Stern to adopt the Canaanite precepts, to no avail. In any event, the British killed Stern in 1942 severing Ratosh’s most important link to the Revisionist underground.
The literary establishment of the Yishuv was even more hostile. Nathan Alterman, the reigning poet of the day and leader of the literary circle Turim, attacked Ratosh for his fanciful interpretation of the Jewish past. Avraham Shlonsky, the influential poet and literary editor actually coined the term Canaanite in effort to disparage the group. That Ratosh and his friends continued their brutal critique of Jewish culture in the midst of the Holocaust struck many as insensitive at best and callous at worse. The call to create a pan-Semitic entity in Greater Palestine sounded hollow in the face of Arab rejectionism. Unlike Brit Shalom though, the Canaanites, with a strong grounding in literature and visual arts, survived as a cultural movement that was to gain traction over time.
The Communist Version of Bi-nationalism
Much as the Zionist movement appealed to nationally-oriented Jews it left the sizeable socialist and communist segments unmoved or even hostile. The Bund Party - organized at the end of the 19th century in Tsarist Russia as an ethnic section of the Communist Party - rejected the idea of Jewish statehood and responded to the Balfour Declaration with the slogan of do-igkeit (here-ness), meaning that Jews should develop their own culture in the countries of their existence. When Jabotinsky initiated the evacuation of large number of European Jews to Palestine in the face of the growing Nazi threat he was rebuked by a Bund leader: ‘The Zionists are unable and unwilling to understand that we Bundists cannot accept, even for a moment, the trappings of a capitalist society. They, on the other hand, wish to remain within these trappings. Because they adapt themselves to the existing capitalist society, they cannot understand the urgency of our struggle in Poland’.
Hard-core Jewish communists went further in their rejection of Zionism. Rosa Luxemburg, a prominent German Jewish communist leader, viewed herself as free from national feelings: ‘I feel equally close to the wretched victims of the rubber plantations in Putumayo or to the Negros in Africa… I have no separate corner in my heart for the ghetto. I feel at home in the entire world’. Such declarations were part of the communist ideology that rejected national sentiment as a basis for human organization and expected class interests to trump bonds of ethnicity and nationality - a line that the Palestine Communist Party (PCP), formed in 1923, eagerly adopted. Although mostly Jewish, the party denounced as ‘a movement of the Jewish bourgeoisie allied to British imperialism’ and took the Arab side whenever it resorted to anti-Jewish violence and terror. This created much tension between its Jewish and Arab members, though, ironically, the pro-Arab policy failed to attract more Arabs to the party.
Both communists and the socialists of the Mapam and Hashomer Hatzair movements participated in the League for Arab-Jewish Rapprochement, an organization founded in 1938 by Haim Kalvarisky, a Jewish farmer and peace activist. The League believed that capitalism and imperialism stood in the way of good relations between the Arab and Jewish working classes, advocated Arab-Jewish cooperation and opposed the creation of a Jewish state. Writing on the ‘Arab Terror’ of 1936- 39, Smilansky emphasized the role of foreign imperialist forces: ‘The hostile relations stemmed from foreign influence. Today we witness Arab-Jewish rapprochement taking place naturally, almost spontaneously’.
The outbreak of World War II and the Holocaust threw the party’s Jewish members into turmoil, raising doubts about its rigid, doctrinaire anti-Zionism and culminating (in 1943) in a split into Jewish and Arab groups with the latter forming (in 1944) the National Liberation League (NLL). Both the PCP and NLL opposed the November 1947 partition resolution, holding out for a bi-national state, but the surprising Soviet decision to endorse the resolution and recognize the state of Israel forced them to follow suit. The PCP which subsequently became the Communist Party of Eretz Israel (MAKEI), along with the NLL, bowed to reality and welcomed the new state. After the 1948 war MAKEI and NLL merged adopting the name the Communist Party of Israel (MAKI).
The Marginalization of the Bi-national Opposition
Even the highly idealistic and motivated advocates of bi-nationalism could hardly ignore the fact that the creation of Israel was a huge triumph for Zionism. That both the United States and the Soviet Union recognized the new state was probably even more disheartening for them. International goodwill towards Israel was only part of their problem, however. The mass immigration of Holocaust survivors and Jews from the Arab states changed the country’s demographic balance in ways that made its Jewish nature much more pronounced. In order to survive, each of the three groups had to make a serious adjustment in its philosophy and modus operandi.
To remain relevant, Ihud reinvented itself as somewhat of a pacifist organization dedicated to promoting peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This transition was made easier because Buber, by then a renowned world philosopher, had replaced Magnes as the group’s public face. Though devoting an increasing share of his time to philosophy, Buber was active in Arab-Israeli reconciliation. The American Friends of Ihud, an organization chaired by Maurice Friedman, attracted its share of vocal anti-Zionists, something that Buber seemed to have tolerated.
In his new role as peacemaker, Ihud was quite outspoken on the need to find an accommodation with the Arab states. Ignoring years of Egypt-originated terror attacks on Israeli civilians, and President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s increasingly belligerent policy, Buber scolded Ben-Gurion for the attack on Egypt in 1956, known as the Sinai Campaign or Suez Campaign, which the Ihud publication Ner considered an unjustified expression of militarism. Buber also worked to solve the problem of the 1948 Palestinian refugees in ways that were bound to clash with the Israeli government. In a 1961 conversation with Joseph Johnson, President of the Carnegie Endowment for international Peace and an American representative on the refugee problem, Buber transmitted an Ihud proposal to allow the refugees to choose whether to settle in the Arab countries and receive compensation or to return to Israel as full citizens. This stand contradicted Israel’s adamant opposition to the wholesale repatriation of refugees and its insistence that the refugee issue would have to be resolved as part of a comprehensive peace settlement.
Much as Buber went against core government positions on the refugee issue, his most high profile disagreement with the Labour government occurred during the 1962 Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. Ihud and his leaders launched a protest against Eichmann’s death sentence, provoking a public outcry from Holocaust survivors and their families. Residing then in Germany, Buber let it be known that he was ‘disgusted with the whole process’. His friend Ernst Simon at the Hebrew University pleaded with Israel’s president to commute Eichmann’s sentence. Few applauded Buber’s stand, but most of Israeli citizens were outraged. One of them sarcastically wrote to express ‘condolences to Professor Martin Buber on the hanging of Adolph Eichmann’. Clearly, the divide between Ihud and popular sentiment on this and other issues was too wide to breach. When Buber died in 1965, Ihud seemed like a forgotten chapter in Israeli politics, despite Arendt lending her seal of approval to many of its ideas.
Greatly as Brit Shalom ideals suffered from Israel’s changing demography, the Canaanites vision of a Semitic empire faired even less well. The Canaanites found that the Yiddish or Arabic speaking Jews had no desire to turn into ‘New Hebrews’ preferring instead to become ‘Israeli Jews’. Perhaps most shocking to the Canaanites, the Mizrahim, as Jews of Middle Eastern descent are commonly known, harboured a particular hostility towards Arabs, making them unlikely recruits for a bi-national state. As Diamond succinctly noted, the Canaanites ‘were demographically overwhelmed’ and relegated to ‘coffee shops in northern Tel Aviv’, a pejorative reference to the affluent Ashkenazi neighbourhoods in the city.
Still Ratosh and his small circle, based largely at the Hebrew University, continued the uphill struggle to promote the Semitic theme. Culturally, it was centred on the Alef magazine that first appeared in 1948; the movement was credited with many literary innovations and its impact on visual arts was undeniable. Politically, though, the adjustment to the new reality was more difficult, causing the group to split in 1953. In 1956 a number of former Canaanites and Irgun and Lehi members created the Semitic Action (Hapeula Hashemit). Among its founders were Uri Avnery, Boaz Evron, Nathan Yellin-Mor, Amos Kenan, Shalom Cohen, and Maxim Ghilan. The group’s 1958 manifesto made some concessions to Judaism, acknowledging that the New Hebrew nation in Israel had some connection to the Diaspora, yet urged it to move beyond the ‘outmoded’ framework of Zionism by adopting complete secularism, total equality for Jews and Arabs and support for anti-colonial movements. The manifesto urged Israel to join a Palestinian-Jordanian federation, a smaller version of the original Canaanite-Phoenician empire. Between April 1960 and March 1967, the Semitic Action published a biweekly paper Etgar (Challenge) edited by Yellin-Mor.
However, it was the charismatic Avnery who contributed most to publicizing the Canaanite agenda. A former Irgun member, the German-born Avnery used his sensationalist weekly Haolam Haze (This World) to push pan-Hebrew ideas based on a pamphlet he had penned in 1947 that called for the Hebrew and Arab nations to liberate the common ‘Semitic Region’ from colonialist rule. Indeed, in its new reincarnation, the political wing of the Canaanites took up the banner of anti-colonialist struggle in the Middle East. Avnery chastised Ben-Gurion for teaming up with ‘colonialist’ France and Britain to attack Egypt in 1956. In December 1960, prompted by Henri Curiel, a Jewish-Egyptian Communist and anti-colonialist activist, Avnery and some of his Semitic Action colleagues created the Israeli Committee for a Free Algeria. Curiel argued that, once liberated from French rule, Algeria would ally itself with Israel to form an anti-colonialist regional movement.
The Birth of Matzpen
While the Semitic Action was the first to take up the anti-colonialist theme to create a common Arab-Israeli front, it was a splinter group from MAKI that popularized the colonialist narrative in Israel. As noted earlier, under Moscow’s direction the Israeli communists were driven to accept the reality of a Jewish state. Yet tensions within the party simmered over this and other issues and a small group of young Trotskyites - Moshe Machover, Akiva (Aki) Orr, Oded Pilavsky and Jeremy Kaplan - began criticizing the Soviet line as oppressive. On 28 September 1962 MAKI paper Kol Haam announced their expulsion from the party and soon afterwards they created a splinter group, the Israeli Socialist Organization, better known by the name of its organ Matzpen (Compass).
David Ehrenfeld, a diamond company owner and staunch supporter of Arab-Jewish reconciliation, undertook to bankroll the new group. Though tiny, Matzpen could count on a cadre of talented and energetic activists. Machover - a Hebrew University mathematics student - attracted fellow students, including would be mathematicians Haim Hanegbi and Meir Smorodinsky - later Hebrew University professors (Machover himself would become professor at King’s College London). In 1964 a number of Arab members who had split from the Haifa branch of MAKI signed up; among them were the prolific journalists and polemicists Jabra Nicola and Daoud Turki who joined on the basis of a few principles: rejection of Zionism; rejection of Soviet dominance and the Stalinist cult of personality; support for international solidarity and for Israel’s integration into a socialist Arab union. In the words of Hangebi, Matzpen was established ‘in opposition to the Communist lie’ and ‘in opposition to the Zionist lie’.
While Matzpen was involved with the Trotskyite International, the fight against Stalinism, a signature Trotskyite battle, took a back seat to the more pressing problem of fighting the ‘Zionist state’. It was around this issue that Matzpen reached out to the Semitic Action where Hanegbi worked for Etgar. Some Semitic Action activists joined outright, including Aharon Bachar and Gabriel Lahman; even more important, writing in Etgar in January 1962, Amos Kenan, a prominent journalist and charter member of the Canaanites, expressed admiration for the revolutions in Cuba and Algeria. He also claimed that the left-leaning intelligentsia in the Middle East and Africa had a vital role in spreading socialist revolutions and hoped that a similar group could rise up in Israel. Based on this article, the Semitic Action was the first to congratulate Matzpen and broached the idea of a formal collaboration based on a desire to create a common front against Zionism. Nothing came of these plans, but in 1966 Matzpen joined Avnery in his Haolam Haze-Koah Hadash parliamentary run, netting him a seat in the Sixth Knesset.
Though electorally insignificant, the Matzpen-Semitic Action collaboration was much more fruitful in the realms of ideas. Keenly aware of the need to change ‘public consciousness’ through public discourse, Matzpen activists were effectively going in the footsteps of Gramsci, a popular figure among the Trotskyite and New Left groups who could not trigger a full scale revolution in Europe and elsewhere. Turning necessity into virtue, they dedicated themselves to impacting the public discourse.
Indeed, even before the official launch of Matzpen, its two cofounders, Machover and Orr, had tried altering public consciousness. In 1961 they published a book, Shalom, Shalom Vein Shalom (Peace, Peace When There is No Peace) criticizing Israel’s alignment with Britain and France in the 1956 Sinai campaign as collaboration with world imperialism. The two also provided a novel interpretation of the 1948 war, viewing it as a corollary of British colonialist interests and claiming that the Arabs’ real target were the British rather than the Jews. Most important, Shalom, Shalom Vein Shalom stated for the first time that the Palestinian problem was at the core of Arab-Israeli relations. Machover and Orr blamed the British, their ‘Arab agents’, and Israel for creating the refugee problem and warned that, absent a political (rather than a humanitarian) solution, no peace was feasible.
Other activists pushed the Palestinian issue to the forefront of the Middle East conflict as well. At the end of 1964, Meir Smorodinsky wrote in the Matzpen magazine that Zionism was a special variety of colonialism and denounced Israel as a colonialist state. Smorodinsky and his colleagues were careful to draw a distinction between European colonialism (aimed at exploiting the native population) and the supposed Zionist colonial enterprise built on the expropriation of the land. To prove the case, Matzpen published references to the multi-volume study of the Nakba (the catastrophe), as Palestinians and Arabs call their 1948 defeat, by Aref al-Aref, the renowned Palestinian journalist, historian and politician, which provided detailed statistics about some four hundred Arab villages that existed before the war. Israel Shahak, a Hebrew University chemistry lecturer and a frequent collabourator with Matzpen, adopted Aref’s statistics in his own reports about the expropriation of the Palestinian land.
In 1964 Orr left for London where he cofounded the Israeli Revolutionary Action Committee Abroad (ISRACA), an anti-Zionist publication devoted to a critique of political, cultural and psychological aspects of Zionism. He also befriended a number of prominent New Left revolutionaries and anti-colonialist advocates. One of them, Cyril Lionel Robert James, a Trinidadian Marxist and a leading voice on decolonization, became a close friend. James believed that decolonization should become the most important goal of international revolutionaries.
Adopting the colonialist perspective enabled Matzpen to broaden its critique of Zionism. The magazine was one of the first to claim that Palestinians, as opposed to Arabs, had a separate identity and that they were the primary victims of the ‘Zionist Project’. The October-November 1965 issue attacked Zionism as a racist ideology, listing the alleged racist characteristics of Judaism such as exclusion and domination. The themes of colonialism and domination were prominently displayed in the 1964 proclamation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO); at least one historian claimed that the prodigious literary output of Matzpen had impacted the thinking of the groups that coalesced under the PLO umbrella. In this view, the intellectual infrastructure for the subsequent cooperation between Matzpen and the PLO was created.
Extending the Zionism-as-racism paradigm to the Mizrahim was, from the perspective of Matzpen members, the next logical step. Though predominantly Ashkenazi, the group attracted a number of Mizrahim, including Alan Albert (later Ilan Halevi, a PLO representative in Europe and a former PLO vice minister), a French-born son of a Yemenite Jew who moved to Israel in 1965 after a detour in the United States. In America Halevi met Malcolm X and, by his own account, acquired an insight into the black struggle. Moving on to Algeria, Halevi was exposed to the anti-colonialist struggle; he subsequently explained that his experiences made him understand the plight of the Palestinians. Matzpen thus published a number of articles claiming that Zionism discriminated against the Mizrahim. One of these stated that the ‘dark-skinned [Jews] increasingly feel the sting of racist discrimination’.
Notwithstanding the creative energy of Matzpen and the Semitic Action, and Avnery’s public notoriety, initially the small group of activists made little impact on the public discourse in Israel. Much to their dismay, Gramsci’s formula of avant-garde-triggered change of consciousness seemed as elusive as the efforts of their anti-Zionist predecessors. Like Brit Shalom, Matzpen members were publicly attacked as ‘traitors’. It was thus hugely ironic that they would profit from another Zionist triumph, the June 1967 war.
The 1967 War and its Discontents: Prelude to Post-Zionism
Few could foresee at the end of the war, which put Israel in control of vast Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian territories, its far-reaching implications. Since Egyptian President Nasser precipitated the war by blockading the Straits of Tiran, expelling the UN forces from the Sinai Peninsula and proclaiming Israel’s imminent destruction, the astounding victory was seen by Israelis as a divine miracle and, in a more secular view, a testament to the resilience and valour of the Jewish state. Israel garnered considerable legitimacy in the West that had been embarrassed by its failed diplomatic effort to dissuade Nasser from persisting in his aggressive course. Western audiences also took note of the fact that, in response to a June 1967 offer by the Israeli government to trade almost all the territories gained for peace, Arab representatives at the Khartoum conference in August responded with the so-called three no’s: no negotiations, no recognition, no peace.
Helping Israel to rule the territories, especially the densely populated West Bank, was the ‘low-cost’ model conceived by Minister of Defence Moshe Dayan and his advisers, entailing the retention of most of the Jordanian administrative framework and the ‘open bridges’ policy that gave Palestinians access to Israel’s and Jordan’s labour markets and quickly raised the standard of living of in the territories.
While the majority of Israelis prided themselves on an enlightened occupation policy, Matzpen was one of the few dissenting voices. Ironically, the war provided some new recruits. The radical political activist Ehud Adiv, who would be convicted of espionage for Syria, recalled that it was clear to him that ‘I was losing my life in a war I did not believe in. The Palestinians don’t hate us… they didn’t step on us, we stepped on them. We came to Jerusalem to take their Wailing Wall’. Traumatized by his war experience, he joined Matzpen soon after. Shlomo Sand, a member of the Communist Youth Alliance and later a history professor at Tel-Aviv University, was equally upset. He contemplated leaving the country but Mahmoud Darwish, the noted Israeli Arab poet, persuaded him to stay; the Israeli author Dan Omer introduced him to Matzpen where he became a member in good standing.
Other activists arrived through Matzpen’s social network. Michel Warschawski studied philosophy at the Hebrew University where, shortly after the war, he encountered a group of Matzpen activists handing out the pamphlet Enough is Enough. Warschawski, who by his own admission was ‘passionate about injustice’, read the pamphlet that compared the occupation to the situation in Algeria and South Africa. After extensive talks with Machover and Arie Bober, a Semitic Action-Matzpen freelancer, whom he considered a guru, Warschawski, commonly known as Mikado, joined Matzpen.
Energized by the new recruits, the group set out to fight the ‘ills of Israeli occupation’. The August 1967 issue of the journal featured a picture of a town in the West Bank under curfew and a caption ‘Old Story - Revolt against a Foreign Occupation’. On 22 September 1967 Matzpen published a petition in the daily Yediot Aharonot paid for by Ehrenfeld, calling Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories and insisting that oppression of another people was morally wrong. As the PLO’s growing terror attacks, waged first from Jordan then from Lebanon, triggered Israeli reprisals, the group repeated its dire warnings about the moral wrongs of Zionism. In March 1968 Matzpen organized a petition signed by eighty-eight public figures against collective punishment, administrative detentions, and forced deportations of terrorist suspects. When the petition was subsequently published in other papers, one Israeli official considered it ‘a stab in the back’.
After allegations surfaced that Matzpen had links to Palestinian terror groups, more public outrage followed. On 9 January 1968 Le Monde carried an article in which Machover was said to have praised ‘Palestinian resistance’, his term for acts of terrorism. On 17 March 1968 a member of Fatah, the largest group in the PLO, revealed that Matzpen members were among the few Israelis to support it, praising some of them ‘real fedayeen’. A few days later, Matzpen took a public stand on the issue: it noted that ‘it is both the right and duty of every conquered and subjugated people to resist and to struggle for its freedom. The ways, means, and methods necessary and appropriate for such a struggle must be determined by the people itself’.
If support for ‘resistance’ by whatever means proved a hard sell, Matzpen’s depiction of the conditions of Palestinians was more successful. Actually, even before the 1967 war the group used the alleged exploitation of Israeli Arabs as a major selling point. In early 1966 a short documentary financed by Ehrenfeld, I Am Ahmad, showed the plight of Arab workers in Israel. The film was based on the memories of Ahmad Masarwa and his friends looking for work, allegedly suffering in the process racist taunts, discrimination and other indignities. Although the authorities approved the screening, the documentary upsets the Labour government; one minister wrote that ‘it was a harsh film, telling the “truth but not all the truth”’. With the massive influx of Palestinians in the aftermath of the war, Matzpen could amp up the theme of exploitation and what it saw as the corrupting influence of occupation.
Paradoxically, as Matzpen’s predictions about the moral dangers of occupation took tentative root, the organization was falling apart. First, the arrival of new members created tensions that, as in the case of other Marxist groups, resulted in multiple cleavages. The major one pitted those who wanted Matzpen to spend most of its effort on class struggle as opposed to devotees of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Adding to ideological issues were personality clashes and competition between the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem branches, taking the tiny movement through a titillating series of secessions and regroupings, accompanied by an acrimonious fight over who was entitled to the Matzpen brand name. Disclosure that some group members conspired to commit espionage proved more devastating challenge. In 1973 Adiv and colleagues were tried and sentenced to long prison terms for spying for Syria. The sensational ‘Red Trial’ almost derailed Matzpen and many of its members followed Machover and Orr into self-imposed exile in Europe.
But relocating to Europe benefited the organization in many ways. Their move coincided with the New Left student upheaval that seized France, Germany and, to a lesser extent, Britain in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Matzpen leaders befriended leading student activists, including Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Rudi Dutschke (the former visited Israel as their guest in 1969). Matzpen was also attractive to a group that followed Rosa Luxemburg, finding her call for a spontaneous ‘people revolution’ highly inspiring.
The relations between the European New Left and Matzpen were mutually beneficial. For the former, the plight of the Palestinians added credibility to their Third World credentials as the liberation struggles in North Africa were coming to an end. For Matzpen, the extensive publication and propaganda network of the New Left was a major boon. From their London residence Machover and Orr attracted the attention of Jean Paul Sartre and his publication, Modern Times, and could also rely on Eric Rouleau, the reigning power in Le Monde. They also had access to Bertrand Russell and his organization, the Bertrand Russell Foundation, which issued a number of statements against Israel’s occupation. In fact, shortly before he died, on 31 Januarys 1970, Russell urged Israel to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967. 
In the spring and summer of 1970, Arie Bober, representing Matzpen, made a speaking tour of the US sponsored by the Committee on New Alternatives in the Middle East (CONAME). Among CONAME’s sponsors were Arthur Miller, Noam Chomsky and Pete Seeger; its main activists included Berta Green Langston, Robert Langston and Emmanuel Dror Farjoun - a Matzpen member doing postgraduate work at MIT and later a Mathematics professor at the Hebrew University. In connection with this tour, the Langstons arranged with the leading publisher Doubleday to issue a book titled The Other Israel: The Radical Case against Zionism. The book - consisting entirely of Matzpen material - came out in 1972 under Bober’s nominal editorship - though Farjoun with Langston’s help did the actual editing.
To appeal to the European market, in 1975 Matzpen launched a publication called Khamsin in Paris, where the first four issues were published in French; when the office moved to London it switched to English. Machover and Avishai Ehrlich - later a political sociology professor at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Jaffa - joined the editorial board in 1978 alongside a number of Matzpen members who served in some capacity until the magazine folded in 1989. Khamsin billed itself as a ‘committed journal’ that not merely expressed opinions but was also ‘part of the struggles for social liberation and against nationalists and religious mystifications’. The magazine listed the struggle against Zionism and its ‘power structure’ and the plight of the Palestinians - described as ‘the most direct victims of Zionism’ among its top goals, but also highlighted the problem of Oriental Jews and women. Some of the Khamsin articles where first published in the Matzpen journal and later translated to garner a wider audience abroad.
By the end of the 1970s, working both at home and abroad, Matzpen, with some help from the Semitic Action, developed a comprehensive critique of Zionism. As a matter of fact, sometimes during this period they described themselves as ‘post-Zionists’, though the authorship of the new label is not entirely clear. Whatever its provenance, the rebranding was a clever ploy to adjust the antiquated-sounding anti-Zionist label to new opportunities created by the 1967 war. Avnery, widely credited with coining the term, recognized the historic service of Zionism in creating the state, but deemed it necessary to rethink all aspects of Israel’s identity, including its ‘foundational myths’. As an indefatigable journalist and government critic he also encouraged new historical disclosures and the questioning of normative historical truths, an imperative that blended well with New Left and post-modern assumptions that ruling societal groups produce ‘hegemonic narratives’ of events.
To infuse post-Zionism with contemporary relevance, its intellectual architects advocated the rethinking of a variety of subjects ranging from the circumstances of Israel’s creation to its ethnic and gender structure. In launching the revisionist project, Matzpen borrowed widely from historical anti-Zionists, including Brit Shalom, the Canaanites and the communists as well as contemporary movements such as post-modernism. Such liberal blending of perspectives made a binding definition of post-Zionism difficult. The respected Israeli scholar Eliezer Schweid identified three different strands of post-Zionism: colonialism/post-colonialism, post-nationalism, and post-modernism, but others added post-Jewish tribalism and even ‘spiritual renewal’ of Judaism, to the mix. For the purposes of this study, the domains earmarked by Avnery and Matzpen for revision will be considered post-Zionism.
Allowing for some overlaps, post-Zionists discussed four issues. First, they urged to apply the colonialist theory to Israel’s foundation, producing an alternative narrative to the one attributed to the ‘hegemonic Zionist majority’. Their narrative claimed that Israel was a colonialist creation, albeit with a twist in the sense that the metropolitan ‘mother country’ was Britain, a surrogate parent - as opposed to a real ‘mother country’ relation as in the case of Australia or Canada. Even so, the consequences of Israel’s birth were the same as they led to the dispossession of the indigenous Palestinian population. During the 1970s, Matzpen and Khamsin carried a number of articles based on the colonialist perspective. In July 1975 Ehud Ein-Gil (later an editor in Haaretz newspaper) endeavoured to prove that Tel Aviv was not built on sand, as the Zionist narrative would have it, but on the lands of a number of Arab villages. The May 1976 issue listed Jewish villages erected on top of derelict Arab localities within the Green Line and the last publication, in the summer of 1983, included a long article about Ben-Gurion’s plans to expel the Arabs in 1948.
Second, Avnery and his peers accused Zionism of discrimination and racism towards the Israeli Arabs and the Palestinians. As they saw it, the nationalist Israeli state relegated its own Arab population to second class status through a mixture of institutional discrimination and personal racism. The military administration imposed on the Arab population in the wake of the 1948 war for security reasons was a prime exhibit. Though the military administration was lifted in 1962, the Israeli government restricted the activities of certain nationalist Arab parties, prompting Matzpen to protest. Institutional discrimination aside, Avnery and the post-Zionists argued that, imbued with ‘colonialist spirit’ and Western ideology, Zionist Jews looked down upon Arabs and Palestinians as culturally and socially inferior. Indeed, using the same logic, the post-Zionists argued that Zionism had pushed Israel into the Western hegemonic orbit and away from the culture of the Middle East, a claim not dissimilar to Canaanism.
Third, post-Zionists accused Zionism of racism towards the Mizrahim, or Oriental Jews. Matzpen struck up close relations with the Black Panthers, a movement of mainly Moroccan Jews modelled on the American Black Panthers. Ilan Halevi served as a liaison to the Black Panthers but others provided much of the theorizing on the ‘dialectical contradictions’ in the relationship between Zionism and the Mizrahim. For instance, a Khamsin article maintained that Zionism was an Ashkenazi movement that invented ‘Jewish unity’ to get the largest possible number of immigrants - that is ‘human raw material for the Zionist enterprise’. Once in Israel, the Mizrahim were considered inferior and often referred to as ‘black’; the state reinforced such perceptions by adopting a paternalistic attitude towards these immigrants. In addition, Machover and Orr argued that ‘in the context of the colonial society in Israel’ class and ethnicity overlapped as ‘the majority of the most exploited strata within the working class are immigrants from Africa and Asia’ prevented from social mobility by the dominant Ashkenazi elite which needed workers for menial jobs. Politically, the lower-class Mizrahim provided ‘reactionary’ Arab-hating voters that bolstered right wing parties.
In a rather unorthodox use of the racist label, the post-Zionists even accused Israeli Jews of behaving cruelly towards East European Jews during the Holocaust. The charge was apparently based on a loose interpretation of accusations made by the American Council on Judaism and Ihud to the effect that Zionists refused offers of resettling Jewish refugees outside Palestine. According to the Matzpen version, Zionists, like anti-Semites, called on Jews to leave Europe and ‘go to Palestine’, but did not take part in saving them unless they could be directed there. To prove the so-called ‘cruel Zionism’ theory, Matzpen revealed a ‘hidden truth’ about alleged Zionist machination. Machover and Orr quoted from a 1938 letter where Ben-Gurion allegedly stated: ‘If Jews will have to choose between the refugees and [contributing to the Yishuv], mercy would have the upper hand and the whole energy of the [Jewish] people would be channelled into saving Jews… Zionism will be struck from the agenda’. Machover and Orr implied that Zionists opposed offers from the United States to rescue Jews and transfer them to other countries. To Machover and his colleagues the treatment of Holocaust victims, like that of the Mizrahim, was a prime example of Zionist willingness to manipulate vulnerable populations for the sake of hegemonic goals.
Fourth, the post-Zionists charged that Zionism reproduced the ‘bourgeois’ gender role models and that, because of Israel’s militarization, women could not aspire to genuine equality. Nira Yuval-Davis - an early Matzpen member and later a sociology professor at the University of East London - claimed that Jewish women in Israel were following the ‘false consciousness’ imposed by society and could not aspire to true liberation and freedom in a Zionist imposed nationalism.
Linking women’s issues to a call to settle the conflict by creating a Jewish-Palestinian federation - a standard Matzpen prescription - carried risks. Some of nascent women groups in Israel balked at an association with post-Zionists for fear of hurting their public standing. The first feminist conference in 1972 reflected these tensions and, by way of avoiding a split, adopted a somewhat vague manifesto that called to fight oppression and abuse of women. In practical terms, Matzpen made only limited inroads into the feminist movement, which preferred concentrating on building shelters for abused women. Those truly faithful to a post-Zionist version of feminism were either members of Matzpen, such as Yuval-Davis, Amira Gelblum - later a history lecturer at Israel’s Open University - and wives and girlfriends of Matzpen members, such as Leah Tzemel, Aviva Ein-Gil, Sylvia Kleingberg, and Ilana Hanegbi. Even so, allegations that Matzpen ‘did not care about women’s issues’ dogged the group. In 1982, Gelblum left the group to concentrate fully on feminism.
Devising a more sophisticated and coherent perspective was a significant step towards gaining a wider audience. Yet despite the considerable support abroad, at the beginning of 1980s the post-Zionists were still a tiny movement, more likely to be known because of the flamboyant Avnery. As a reviewer of a recent Avnery biography noted, the journalist and ‘other talented members of his generation’ who dreamed about discarding ‘the traditional foundations of Judaism’ and turning Israel into a ‘progressive Hebrew-speaking nation’ rode on the notoriety of his weekly tabloid, a studious mix of intellectual fare, sensationalist scoops and semi-nude women who appeared on the last page’. Clearly, more was needed to mainstream post-Zionist ideas in the public discourse of Israel. As before, a number of factors seemed to give credence to Mazpen’s ideas.
With its arduous fighting and high number of casualties the October 1973 war undermined much of the euphoria of the previous war. Though ultimately victorious, many Israelis, notably the better educated, came to reflect upon the Zionist concept - long taken for granted - that military power was needed to protect the Jews. Peace Now was formed in 1978 when some 350 officers and soldiers from combat units sent a letter to the Prime Minister Menachem Begin contending that Israel could not retain its democratic nature while occupying a large number of Palestinians and that its only hope was to reach a peace agreement with its Arab neighbours.
It was also around the time of the 1973 war that the Israeli leadership concluded, albeit privately, that Dayan’s ‘low cost occupation’ had become ineffectual. The PLO was gaining dominance in the West Bank and Gaza by undermining the traditional clan-based elite loyal to the Hashemite dynasty in Jordan. In 1974 the PLO was recognized by the Arab League as ‘the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people’, a claim that was effectively accepted by the United Nations. After King Hussein expelled the PLO from Jordan during the ‘Black September’ of 1970, it moved to Lebanon, where it established a state within a state in the south of the country.
The Israeli-Egyptian Camp David Accords of September 1978 and the peace treaty of March 1979 made little change in the increasing difficulty of controlling the territories. The accords stipulated that, during an unspecified transition period, the Palestinians would receive limited autonomy, but when Israel created the civilian administration as part of the process in 1980, it made matters worse. Fiercely opposed to the Israeli-Egyptian deal, the PLO and its public front in the territories, the National Guidance Committee, warned the population not to comply. In what proved to be a vicious circle, the increasingly harsh Israeli reprisals gave the PLO more legitimacy to intensify its attacks on Israel’s civilian population. After a series of failed Israeli efforts to prevent Palestinian attacks from Lebanon, the Begin government ordered the military into Lebanon in June 1982. Much to the surprise of almost everyone, the IDF extended its operation to Beirut where the PLO sheltered among the population. While the operation was successful in forcing the PLO to relocate to Tunisia, its cost was high both to Israeli forces and to Lebanese civilians. When the Christian Phalanges allied to Israel massacred hundreds of Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in September in retaliation for the murder of its leader and Lebanon’s President Bashir Gumayel, the war turned into a huge public relations debacle for Israel at home and abroad. Its architect, Defence Minister Sharon, was directly blamed for the massacre and forced to resign, while Begin, unable to deal with the fallout, went into a slow psychological decline.
The Lebanon war proved a boon for the post-Zionists who hoped to work with new groups that found the Peace Now too timid. Among them was the influential Yesh Gvul - variously translated as ‘there is a limit’ or ‘enough is enough’ - a group of combat soldiers who refused to serve in Lebanon and then expanded its negation of service to the West Bank and Gaza. The Twenty One Year and Dai Lakibush (Enough to Occupation) presented Matzpen themes to younger audiences, including the crucial high school seniors who contemplated service refusal. Speaking for the Zionist left, Amos Oz, a leading literary figure, echoed post-Zionist themes when he lamented the transformation of Israel from an exemplary, egalitarians, cultured, and peace-loving society to one permeated with nationalism, chauvinisms, clericalism and primitive to boot. Oz blamed East European Holocaust survivors for an undue reliance on military power, and anti-socialist immigrants for creating ‘pocket of capitalism’. Others were blunter, charging the Mizrahim who contributed to the victory of Likud and ‘messianic zealots’ - their euphemism for the National Religious Party (NRP) settlers and a critical partner in the Likud coalition - for corrupting the founding vision of Zionism.
In a parallel development the American Jewish community found the Likud coalition in general and the Lebanon war in particular upsetting. The community had greeted Begin’s election in 1977 with apprehension bordering on dismay. To many the new leader ‘with his Polish accent’ and ‘formal manners’ looked like an Old World uncle who had suddenly emerged from the shadows of the Diaspora. His political vision of ‘Greater Israel’ was even more alarming to many of them. Likud supporters - Mizrahim and Orthodox Jews - did not sit well with a community steeped in secular and liberal values. Soon after, a number of groups sprang up to protest Israel’s policies of occupation and the war in Lebanon. Breira and its successor, the New Israel Agenda, as well as American Friends of Peace Now were among the first to organize. The New Israel Fund, which provided funding for post-Zionist-leaning projects, had an important impact. Tikkun, a publication of the architect of Jewish spiritual renewal, the leftist Rabbi Michael Lerner, was equally important as it became a chief forum for post-Zionist writing in America, many by Israeli post-Zionists. Not surprisingly, much of the new protest borrowed themes from the all but forgotten American Council for Judaism, reviving interest in Buber’s ideology.
The turmoil engendered by the Lebanon war and the increasingly explosive situation in the territories gave the post-Zionists a wider exposure and, indeed, political respectability. Even before the outbreak of the Intifada in December 1987, the notion that there was no such thing as a ‘benevolent occupation’ seemed to be getting a wider hearing. The sense of vindication that Mazpen’s warnings about the ‘evils of occupation’ were coming true, was an important asset in changing the public discourse. Still, as per Gramsci’s observations, changing public beliefs could not be accomplished without penetrating the institutions of higher learning. As noted above, Magnes understood full well that a real change of opinion could only come from a cadre of scholars financially secured and intellectually legitimized by academic appointments. In fact, his foresight bore fruit as a relative large number of Brit Shalom professors came of age at the Hebrew University. Some of Matzpen’s own members joined the faculties of the newer universities, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Ben-Gurion respectively. In addition, many students who became radicalized in the aftermath of the Lebanon war went on to obtain graduate academic degrees. Tracing these developments from a vantage point of time, Hazony commented that, although Brit Shalom was virtually written off in the 1950s, its enduring impact became clear in the faculty-based burgeoning post-Zionist movement.
In what was another fortuitous twist for post-Zionism, the new academic cohorts, a majority of whom studied in the United States or Britain, arrived at the time of a sea change in the humanities and social sciences. As shown in the previous chapter, the new development combined the neo-Marxist, critical scholarship paradigm with Gramsci’s call to turn academic pursuit into political advocacy. Starting with post-Zionist history, in due course the Matzpen themes penetrated virtually all of the liberal arts.
Chapter 3 From Rewriting to Inventing History
Surveying the field of critical scholarship and its associated disciplines in the early 1970s, few would have predicted its dramatic impact on the academic depiction of Israel. As we have seen, Galtung was one of the first to apply critical principles to the circumstances of Israel’s founding and the influential neo-Marxist scholars viewed international relations as an asymmetrical ‘top-dog-underdog’ structure where the powerful Western actors subjugated weak indigenous populations. The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a radical leftist group founded in 1963, took Galtung’s arguments one step further. In 1971 IPS launched its Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) and the Transnational Institute under the Chilean communist Orlando Letelier. Four years later MERIP created something of a firestorm with a report titled ‘Middle East Studies in the United States’, suggesting that Middle East scholars were part of the apparatus of subjugation, ‘an instrument of control over the peoples of the Middle East’. Indeed, the report denounced the leading experts of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), known as ‘Orientalists’ for practicing ‘imperialist science’. The journal Race and Class provided accounts of imperialist and colonialist practices in the Middle East, notably against the Palestinian people.
Under normal circumstances the challenge to the ‘orientalists’ would have been more difficult. However, in 1978, under pressure from the Carter administration, the Shah of Iran decided to liberalize his regime triggering a full-scale revolution, which discredited many MESA leaders such as Leonard Binder and George Lenczowski who vouched for the resilience of the regime even as the Shah was losing control. A special issue of Race and Class chastised ‘Orientalists’ for ignoring the fragility of the Pahlavi regime because of their service to ‘imperialism’. Other critics pointed out that the European or American trained scholars were incapable of understanding the realities of the Middle East. But it was Edward Said who, as we have seen, cemented the view that Middle East scholarship in the West was an intellectual construct aimed at legitimizing imperialism and colonialism. As one critic put it, ‘Orienalism made it acceptable, even expected, for scholars to spell out their own political commitments as a preface to anything they wrote or did. More than that, it also enshrined an acceptable hierarchy of political commitments, with Palestine at the top… [as] they were the long-suffering victims of Western racism, American imperialism, and Israeli Zionism’.
While the main brunt of the anti-Orientalist assault took place in the United States, it had its counterparts elsewhere. Roger Owen, then head of the Middle East Centre at St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, called Orientalism ‘politically charged obscurantism’ and praised Said for doing ‘such a good job of undermining the authority of the old guard’. Small wonder that those Matzpen members who had moved to Britain understood that in the climate of shifting academic identity politics the new narrative would be served well if written by Jews, or, even better, by Israeli Jews, who could enhance the legitimacy of the Palestinian narrative and relieve the burden of anti-Semitism: ‘Western liberals previously too frightened to speak out for fear of being called anti-Semitic’. Arguably, Owen’s decision to groom three Israeli academics at St. Antony’s was a step in this direction.
Benny Morris was the first of the trio. Having written his doctorate in Cambridge on Anglo-German relations, Morris became, by his own admission, highly disenchanted with Begin’s right wing government and the Lebanon war. In the 1980s, he spent some time at St. Antony’s College working on his influential The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem. In the forward to the book he acknowledged his ‘large debt’ to Owen for facilitating the research.
Ilan Pappe was equally well suited for the task. As a student of Middle East history at the Hebrew University, Pappe was, in his own words, exposed to ‘the plight of the Palestinians’. Motivated to produce a pro-Palestinian narrative, he rejected the traditional regard for ‘truth’ because he viewed ‘any such construction as vain and presumptuous’ and in the way of his ‘compassion for the colonized not the colonizer’. Working under Owen on a doctoral dissertation about the 1948 war enabled him to take a decisive step towards challenging the ‘pro-Israel narrative’. As Pappe put it, Owen ‘had strong ties to the British left and the pro-Palestinian scholarly world’. He noted that his second adviser, Albert Hourani, who had testified in the 1946 Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on behalf of the Arab cause ‘was well acquainted with the ‘Palestinian narrative’. Indeed, in the words of one observer, Hourani’s testimony ‘remains to this day a powerfully argued statement of Arab opposition to the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine’.
Avi Shlaim, an ex-Israeli scholar, taught at Reading University for almost two decades where he specialized in European issues. Asked to serve as an external reader for Pappe’s doctoral dissertation, Shlaim gradually switched his attention to the history of the 1948 war. The career change paid off handsomely; despite a scant publishing record on the Middle East at the time, Shlaim became a reader at St. Antony’s College in 1987 and later a professor of International Relations.
Owen’s protégées surpassed all expectations by producing a revolution in Israeli historiography that sent shockwaves through the political community in Israel and created a stir abroad.
The ‘New Historians’: 1948 as a tool of de-legitimization
When Morris, Shlaim and Pappe published their books - The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, Collusion Across the Jordan and Britain and the Arab-Israeli Conflict in 1987-88, the initial reaction was minimal. To provide the group with a wider exposure, Michael Lerner, who, as noted in Chapter 2, drew inspiration from the American Council on Judaism, convened a ‘mini-conference’ at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem in 1988. His magazine Tikkun published an article by Morris under the rather sensationalist title ‘The New Historiography: Israel Confronts Its Past’, thus coining the group’s collective name - ‘New Historians’. According to Pappe, the trio adopted the New History label because the alternative revisionist history was associated with Jabotinsky’s Revisionist movement, parent of today’s Likud party.
Taking a page from the ‘anti-orientalist’ playbook, the ‘new historians’ claimed to be free of the alleged political and personal biases of their ‘old’ predecessors, who ‘were unable to separate their lives from this historical event [the creation of the State], unable to regard impartially and objectively the facts and processes that they later wrote about’. Morris found the New Historians ‘to be more impartial’, a view shared by Shlaim who claimed that the ‘old guards’ could not be trusted to deliver an objective account as they were not professional historians or worse, hagiographers comporting to a ‘popular-heroic-moralistic’ version of 1948.
Attacking traditional Israeli history as a ‘popular-heroic-moralistic’ narrative was at the heart of the ‘new historiography’ project. By proving that Israel’s beginnings were anything but heroic or moral, the New Historians hoped to delegitimize the State of Israel in the international arena. In Morris’s words:
If Israel, the haven of a much-persecuted people, was born pure and innocent, then it was worthy of the grace, material assistance and political support showered upon it by the West… If, on the other hand, Israel was born tarnished, besmirched by original sin, then it was no more deserving of that grace and assistance than were its neighbours.
Shlaim was equally explicit, accusing one traditional critic of clinging ‘to the doctrine of Israel’s immaculate conception’.
Broadly based on the Galtung-Said topology, the three new historians offered a view of the 1948 war hand-tailored to prove that Israel had inflicted an injustice on the Palestinian Arabs and - far from being a valiant underdog - was actually a top dog abetted by imperialist Britain. To justify the novel take on the events, all three claimed that the newly released Israeli documents made their research possible.
Morris offered a high profile critique of the traditional view that the majority of the Palestinians fled on their own or on orders from local leaders. Though admitting that ‘what happened in Palestine/Israel over 1947-9 was so complex and varied… that a single-cause explanation of the exodus from most sites is untenable’, his analysis put most of the blame on Israel. Indeed, Morris quoted extensively from the diaries of Joseph Weitz, an official in charge of land settlement, to demonstrate that Israel expelled the Palestinian Arabs to seize their lands. To add historical context, Morris explained that the Peel Commission first suggested population exchange in conjunction with its partition proposal in 1937; the Palestinian Arabs rejected partition out of hand, but, according to Morris, Ben-Gurion and other Jewish leaders mulled over the population exchange, or ‘transfer’ as it came to be known, in private. He described Plan D, developed by the Hagana, the forerunner of the Israel Defence Force (IDF) in March 1948 as a military roadmap for rebuffing the anticipated pan-Arab attack; and while he did not feel that the plan was primarily geared to expelling the Palestinian Arabs, he was clear that Israel drugged its feet during the 1949 Lausanne conference that dealt with the refugees issue and, practically prevented their return.
While Morris concentrated on the dynamics of expulsion he paid considerable attention to the balance of power between Israel and the Palestinians. In an expanded edition of his book, he alluded to the need to debunk the ‘David and Goliath’ depictions of traditional historiography. In Morris’s version, far from being the ‘little David’ facing the Arab Goliath, the Jewish community was actually superior in ‘traditional indices of strength’ such as ‘command and control, manpower and weaponry’ and good intelligence. By contrast, the ‘Palestinian Arabs were backward, disunited and often apathetic’, they ‘failed completely to organize itself into a statehood and [when the British left] they slid into chaos’. In the ensuing ‘confusion and anarchy’ armed bands roamed the neighbourhoods and police abandoned their weapons.
Though Shlaim claimed to provide a ‘novel and undoubtedly controversial interpretation’ of the Palestinian tragedy, his book essentially followed the ‘Arab narrative’ on the issue. He asserted that the Jewish leaders and King Abdullah of Transjordan reached an agreement ‘to carve up the British mandate’, dividing the territory allotted to the Palestinians by the UN partition resolution. This ‘unholy alliance between Abdullah and the Zionists’ was allegedly based on their fear of a common enemy, the Palestinian leader Hajj Amin Husseini. Moreover, in Shlaim’s view Britain, eager to assure its colonial interest in the Middle East, was an active partner in the collusion scheme. In his words, Sir John Glubb, the English commander of the Transjordanian army known as the Arab Legion, was a ‘British proconsul’ implementing London’s directives in Amman. Contrary to the traditional view that Bevin was a ‘callous, brutal enemy of the Jewish state’, determined to ‘cut the Jewish state to size’, Shlaim found the British government pragmatic enough to realize that Israel was important to the wellbeing of Transjordan. No less important was the support of Israel’s new friend, the president of the United States. As Shlaim put it, Harry Truman ‘played a lamentable or duplicitous role’ by assuring the Jewish leaders of his support behind the back of the State Department.
Not incidentally, Shlaim used the collusion theory to debunk some of Israel’s foundational ‘myths’, including the idea that the Jews fought a ‘war of survival in 1948’. He explained that this perception was coloured by the destruction of European Jewry rather than the real balance of power between the parties. But, in his opinion, the agreement kept the Arab Legion, by far the strongest military force, away from an all out engagement with the Israeli forces. As Shlaim saw it, combined with the poor performance of the other Arab armies and the virtual disintegration of the Palestinians, the collusion gambit gave Israel a substantial military advantage. Like Morris, he also attributed some of the Israeli success to an ‘effective intelligence gathering service’, especially an ‘outstanding Arab section’ in the Political Department of the Jewish Agency. Taken together, Shlaim felt that his research undermined ‘the war of survival myth but also the legend of a monolithic Arab attitude toward Israel’.
Compared to Shlaim’s expansive treatment, Pappe’s contribution was relatively modest and, ironically, differed on key issues. He described British policy in Palestine as ‘ad hoc’ with ‘scarcely any planning’ yet opposed to the creation of a Jewish state because of a potential communist connection. As for the collusion thesis, Pappe felt that, at best, it was partial, noting that in Gush Etzion (the site of an early Arab League operation), ‘there was an agreement, but it was neither written nor biding’. In Jerusalem, the difference between Abdullah and the Jews was so great that it had to be settled on the battlefield. Pappe’s portrayal of Abdullah was less than flattering; he was said to be susceptible to pressure from Arab states and at least on one occasion, when cornered, was caught lying about a map delineating a border with Israel.
In subsequent version, Pappe provided a more radical account of events. He agreed with Shlaim that the division of Palestine between Jews and Transjordan was ‘the only peace plan considered’ during the war. Pappe’s stand on the refugees was particularly blunt. Though allowing that some Palestinians left before they were expelled, he claimed that ‘Plan D was an important factor accounting for the exodus of so great a number of Palestinians’. As for the balance of power, Pappe was emphatic that the Jews did not face the ‘Holocaust or Masada’. Repeating the Morris-Shlaim argument, he asserted that the well-organized Jews were ahead of the game whereas the ‘Palestinian elite had abandoned responsibility when it was most needed’. The Arab armies did not change the balance, in his view, because they had no combat experience and could not match the organizational and intelligence skills of the IDF.
Scholars that embraced the Middle East Studies Association paradigm received the New Historians with enthusiasm, though some felt that Morris and his colleagues did not state clearly enough that the ‘Palestine Arabs were expelled systematically and with premeditations’. Much of the commentary lauded Morris, Shlaim and Pappe for proving that Israel was born in ‘original sin’. As Zachary Lockman noted, ‘Zionism’s victims must be made to disappear or, if that fails, to bear the blame for their situation’.
Conversely, the New Historians were harshly criticized by those whom they labelled ‘old historians’ (though some of them were actually younger than the New Historians). Leading the way was Shabtai Teveth, a Ben-Gurion biographer who accused Morris and his colleagues of considerable bias and failure to use Arab sources. Reflecting on the larger discursive context, Teveth argued that the New Historiography mustered sources sympathetic to the Arab narrative while accusing Israel of ‘original sin’.
The New Historians forcefully denied besmirching the image of Israel. Morris wrote that the ‘possibility that [his work] might be subsequently used by propagandists and…politicians is of no concern of the historian,’ adding it was his duty to ‘penetrate the murk of the past’ regardless of the contemporary politics. Shlaim stated that ‘to me the historical truth is more important than the contemporary image or interests of one of the parties’. He accused Teveth of reflecting ‘the hypocrisy that is so characteristic of the Labour establishment’, that he ‘insists on claiming for Israel not just the twenty pieces of silver but also the crown of thorns’.
Under normal circumstance, Morris’s reference to ‘original sin’ and Shlaim’s comment on Jesus and Judas Iscariot should have been puzzling, especially as the decidedly secular theme of the 1948 war did not require Christian imagery to analyse. A number of critics argued that the New Historians were aware that such ‘highly charged language’ was instrumental in delegitimizing Israel in the eye of a Western, Christian audience. One went so far as to suggest that there was a sinister anti-Semitic quality to such usage. Manipulation of Christian symbols aside, a number of scholars offered an in-depth critique of New History project.
Efraim Karsh, a professor of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King’s College London, provided arguably the most comprehensive critique of the New History. Karsh’s major reservation pertained to the misuse of sources by the New Historians. By comparing original documents with the versions presented in their writings, he determined that the New Historians ‘rewrote’, ‘fabricated’ or otherwise distorted certain accounts to suit the conclusions. For instance, he found no evidence that Ben-Gurion condoned or authorized the transfer of the Palestinian Arab population as alleged by Morris and Pappe, and that Shlaim’s ‘collusion that never was’ was lifted from Arab anti-Hashemite historiography that sought to paint Abdullah as a tool of Zionism. Karsh considered the claim that the British were party to the collusion particularly ridiculous, writing that ‘for contemporary Jewish leaders Bevin and his advisers were implacable enemies, and vice versa; to Shlaim and Pappe they were all bosom friends without their own knowledge’ and the ‘guardian angel of the Jewish state’.
Karsh reserved some of his most penetrating analysis to the empirical contradictions and logical lapses in the books. He pointed out that, in his haste to discredit the notion that Jews waged a ‘heroic struggle’ Pappe proclaimed that the outcome ‘had been predetermined in the political and diplomatic corridors of power long before even one shot had been fired’. Karsh asked how was it that the Jews, despite the alleged benefit of an international collusion and battlefield superiority, suffered 6000 fatalities – a full one per cent of the population - in addition to the loss of half of Jerusalem and the destruction of numerous settlements. As for the morale issue, Karsh pointed out that Morris did not mention that the Jews, facing equally severe obstacles and a higher relative casualty rate than the Palestinian Arabs, did not take to the road.
All in all, Karsh asserted that there was nothing new in the New Historiography, which effectively recycled old, partisan accounts so as to give them ‘a scholarly seal of approval’. To Karsh, the distortions of Morris and his peers were not a fluke but ‘a modus operandi of a sizeable group of academics, journalists, and commentators, who had predicted their professional careers on rewriting Israel’s history’ at a time when the scholarly community was extremely welcoming to this approach, in the process violating any and all tenets of scholarly research and integrity.
Oslo and Beyond: Whose New History Is It?
When Roger Owen groomed the New Historians in their early steps, the prospects of Arab-Israeli peace process were grim despite numerous peace efforts by Washington and the Europeans. The PLO remained as opposed as ever to recognizing Israel and give up terrorism while Jerusalem felt no compulsion to negotiate with the organization despite international pressure. Yet the intifada had increased the cost of ‘business as usual’ for Israel. Much to the frustration of the IDF, the popular uprising proved difficult to suppress, generating growing unease in Israel with the unsettled situation with many prominent leftwing intellectuals complaining of the occupation’s growing moral toll on society. David Grossman’s Yellow Wind, portraying in stark colours the reality of Palestinian life under occupation became a bestseller. Opinion polls in the late 1980s and early 1990s showed Israelis to be physically exhausted and morally confused by the intifada.
Desperate to settle the Palestinian issue, in late 1992 the newly formed Labour government headed by Yitzhak Rabin authorized secret informal talks with a PLO delegation in Oslo. The culmination of the talks in the PLO-Israel Declaration of Principles (DOP, or Oslo I as it was known), signed on the White House lawn on 13 September 1993, greatly excited the New Historians. Pappe, in particular, felt that the ‘reconstruction of the past was now clearly connected to contemporary efforts to reach a political settlement’ and that this ‘constituted the most valuable aspect of the new history’. In his account, Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin, who initiated and steered the secret negotiations, had ‘produced the new history books’ to convince the Palestinians that their narrative was accepted.
For Pappe, by then an established activist in the communist Hadash Party, the new agreement offered a golden opportunity for delegitimizing the birth of Israel. Though somewhat of a late comer to the field of critical studies - he recalled being both intimidated and sometimes bored by ‘the postmodernist and neo-Marxist arguments’ - he quickly got involved in Theory and Criticism (Teoria ve Bikoret), a neo-Marxist journal sponsored by the Van Leer Institute. The journal, which specialized in deconstructing Zionism as a colonialist movement, inspired Pappe to view his historical work in the broader ‘anti-colonialist struggle’ of the Palestinian people. Around that time Pappe met Said who left a lasting impression: ‘Ever since then I have felt that his dual involvement in both human sciences and the concrete Palestine case study turned his comments into the best guidelines for future academic involvement in the conflict’.
Pappe put his academic-political activism to work by cofounding, in the summer of 1997, the Palestinian Israeli Academic Dialogue (Palisad), a group of twenty Israeli and Palestinian historians to provide ‘bridging narratives’ between the two people that, by his account, ‘worked almost frantically, motivated by a sense of urgency in the wake of the deadlock and dissatisfaction with the Oslo peace process’. The ‘bridging narrative’, among other things, was meant to help the Israeli participants to accept the Palestinian perspective on 1948 war. Somewhat to their surprise, they learned that the revelations of the New Historiography, notably the ‘ethnic cleansing of Palestine’ (to borrow the title of Pappe’s later book) was already part of the Palestinian narrative.
Pappe’s immersion in critical scholarship and academic activism bore fruit. He renounced the positivist methodology and diplomatic history that had guided his earlier books to accommodate the Palestinian argument that positivism could not convey their part of the story. As he put it, ‘From a positivist point of view, there was no clear evidence for some of the major claims made by the Palestinian narrative, such as the existence of a master plan for the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 or the forty massacres alleged to have occurred during the conflict’. Instead, he decided to write in ways ‘connecting my research on Palestine to the present Palestinian predicament and the contemporary attempt to reach a solution’. 
Overcoming some ‘epistemological and methodological challenges’, Pappe was able to frame his research within the ‘post-colonialist perspective’ claiming that from the outset the Zionist project was aimed at expelling the Palestinians to create an ethnically pure Jewish state. Reiterating that in 1948 the Jews faced no threat of annihilation, he suggested that the military parity on the ground was bolstered by American and British support for the Jews. Departing from his earlier writing and following in Shlaim’s footsteps he argued that, despite his ‘domination’ by Israeli historiography, Bevin supported the idea of a Jewish state, not the least because of the guilt over the Holocaust. Finally, Pappe suggested that, despite the ‘myth of Arab intransigence’, the Arabs were willing to compromise; the failure to prevent the war or to resolve the conflict, in his opinion, laid with the Jews. Expanding further on the theme of ‘Zionism and Colonialism’ he concluded that the Zionist project was comparable to other ‘mixed’ colonialist projects in Asia and Africa.
In yet another effort to make historical research favourable to the Palestinian cause Pappe concentrated on what he would ultimately describe as ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Palestinians. In a lengthy chapter titled ‘Were They Expelled? The History, Historiography and Relevance of the Refugee Problem’ he rejected the argument that the Palestinians fled either on their own or at the urging of their leadership claiming that even the limited call of the Mufti for women and children to leave was ignored by the Palestinians: ‘Before women and children could be evacuated, they were expelled with the men from their homes’. Forgoing his customary use of Morris’s book, he took to citing Walid Khalidi, a Palestinian scholar who was an early exponent of the expulsion theory, stating: ‘So, Plan D was, in many ways, just what Khalidi claims it was - a master plan for the expulsion of as many Palestinians as possible’.
Pappe’s newly-found conviction that Israel was exclusively responsible for the refugee problem was closely related to the peace negotiations. The DOP was sketchy enough to allow an interim confidence-building period before the settlement of such explosive issues as the partition of Jerusalem and the fate of the 1948 refugees. In preparation for the final agreement Palestinian academic-activists launched a major effort to highlight the ‘right of return’ of Palestinians to their former homes in Israel, the standard Arab/Palestinian euphemism for Israel’s demographic subversion. Salim Tamari, coordinator of the Project for Palestinian Refugees Rights & Residency at the Alternative Information Centre run by former Matzpen activist Michel ‘Mikado’ Warschawski, and a participant in the Work Group on Refugees (WGR) created at the 1991 Madrid Conference, asserted that ‘the right of return’ should not be to a Palestinian state only. By proving beyond ‘reasonable doubt’ that the refugees were expelled, Pappe hoped to lend legitimacy to a broader definition of ‘the right of return’, admitting that ‘The demand for associating the Palestinian narrative with the contemporary peace process was made throughout the Palestinian world’.
While Pappe celebrated the post-positivist, critical studies approach, Morris, fearing that political activism could damage his self-proclaimed image of academic objectivity, tried to distance himself from his colleague. To recall, Karsh noted that ‘Morris came to regard Pappe as a “fly in the ointment”, a discordant note when Morris’ sings the praise of “objective” history writing’. Things came to a head during a symposium on the history of 1948 sponsored by the Paris-based Le Monde Diplomatique in 1998 where Pappe censured Morris for failing to provide empirical evidence to support the Palestinian position that Zionism was a colonialist movement bent on cleansing the indigenous population. This, in turn, prompted the Palestinian participants to question the competence of Israeli academics to investigate their ‘cultural holocaust’.
Based on contextual analysis of some of Morris’s writings, Aliza Craimer, an Oxford University researcher, demonstrated his growing ‘idealization of neutrality and objectivity’ in the 1990s. In the early work, Morris maintained that his research ‘may also in some obscure way serve the purpose of peace and reconciliation between the warring tribes of this land’; oddly enough, as the Oslo process got underway, Morris adopted the posture of a historical purist ‘indicative of his rejection of judgment, blame along with apologies’. Craimer observed that Morris insisted that ‘it was possible for an historian to discover objective truth wherever the truth may lead’, but there was a certain sense of defensiveness in the assurance that ‘he did not try or aim to delegitimize Zionism’.
Karsh provided a possible motive for Morris’s growing unease with Pappe’s political use of the New Historiography, surmising that Morris, the chief architect of the ‘assiduously cultivated heroic image of a small and courageous minority, persecuted by Israel's academic and intellectual establishment for its uncompromising quest for truth and justice’, was most likely to lose his lustre as a serious scholar. Craimer hypothesized that Morris was stung by the critics on the left who, as noted, accused him of not going enough in damning Israel. Pointing out that he chided them, as well as Teveth, for applying a ‘simple-cause explanation of the Palestinian exodus’ appropriate for propaganda more than scholarship, she noted an increase in the frequency of such terms like complexity and nuance in Morris’s vocabulary. Whatever the motives, there is little doubt that, by documenting instances of fabrication, Karsh forced Morris onto the defensive. The Economist and the Times Literary Supplement (London) carried several examples of documented falsification prompting Morris to concede that ‘Karsh had a point’.
Apparently affected by the turn of events Morris seemed to have become more subdued when he ‘revisited the Palestinian exodus’. He made a point of emphasizing that ‘transfer thinking’ was spurred by the Peel Committee, but ‘how exactly this thinking affected Zionist policy and actions in the course of the 1948 war remains more complicated than some Arab researchers have suggested’. This was also an apparent rebuke to Pappe, who had meanwhile adopted the Palestinian narrative of expulsion.
With Pappe and Morris pulling in different directions, Shlaim was left to chart his own way. Given his previous efforts to create an image of academic objectivity, he could have been expected to continue on this on path. Indeed, due to harsh criticism of his collusion theory he changed the title of the second edition of his book to Politics of Partition, acknowledging in the preface that his previous terminology was ‘polemical, loaded and pejorative’. Shlaim also reiterated his denials of politically motivated research and professed dedication to objectivity and neutrality.
A closer look at some of these statements, however, reveals a number of ambiguities and contradictions. In 1996 Shlaim expressed regret at dropping ‘collusion’ from the second edition of the book; according to Craimer he subsequently ‘worked in’ the concept of collusion through a variety of means, including such loaded phrases as ‘underhand schemes’ between Abdullah and the Zionists and ‘unholy alliance’ between Transjordan and Israel. Evoking political objectivity enabled Shlaim to denounce Karsh for harbouring a political agenda and for advocating a ‘totalitarian conception of history’.
Yet Shlaim’s admission that he did not shy from passing judgment and took ‘a certain pleasure from targeting of sacred cows of Zionist history’ was telling. In another somehow sarcastic statement he attributed his ‘two decades of further research and reflection in the relative tranquillity offered by British universities’ to his ‘heretical views’. Craimer speculated that Shlaim was still eager to convey the image of a detached and objective academic afforded by Reading and Oxford Universities. But Karsh, who deconstructed such professions of objectivity pointed out that not only did Shlaim enjoy growing media attention for his Israel indictment, but he was ‘the chief academic adviser to a six part BBC series coinciding with Israel’s 50th Independence Day in 1998’ which, in his view, made the Jewish state look like the ‘regional villain’.
Not surprising, Morris was increasingly displeased with his fellow New Historians. He would later admit that Pappe’s penchant for fronting political motivations created a ‘methodological discord’ between them, lamenting that Shlaim showed lack of prudence by admitting during a Hebrew University conference that ‘he willingly took up the office of both “judge and hangman”.’ Morris cautioned Shlaim that such self-revelations undermine the credibility of an objective historian.
Yet for all the talk on methodology, it was a political event that brought these simmering tensions into the open. By the end of the 1990s it had become increasingly clear that the peace process was stuck. When lunched in May 1994, the Palestinian Authority was hoped to be a model of democratic development in the Middle East. Instead, Yasser Arafat’s leadership it became a mismanaged, corrupt, and oppressive political entity. So much so that Edward Said and other champions of the Palestinian cause felt compelled to denounce Arafat and urge him to step down. Arafat’s failure to generate legitimacy played into the hands of the Islamist Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups that constantly sought to undermine the peace process. Unwilling or unable to confront the Islamists, Arafat would not deliver the security-for-territory agreement implicit in the peace process.
Things came to a head at the Camp David summit of July 2000 where Arafat rejected Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s proposal of a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and some 95 per cent of the West Bank, with east Jerusalem at its capital. Much to their surprise, the Israelis and the Americans realized that Arafat would not reach an agreement without ‘the right of return’ for Palestinians - a deal breaker on the Israeli side. For Morris, already harbouring doubts about the PLO’s commitment to peace, the failed summit proved a tipping point. Surprising many fellow travellers on the Left, he went public with his disillusionment in an interview in the daily Yediot Aharonot which he summarized in a Guardian article. Denying having ‘undergone a brain transplant’ Morris explained that his ‘conversion’ was prompted by Arafat’s failure to respond to Barak, a ‘sincere and courageous’ leader. He contended that the ‘root problem’ was Palestinian denial - driven by the vision of a Greater Palestine - of the Jewish right to statehood and that the Palestinians were ill served by Arafat, whom he called a ‘worthy successor’ to Hajj Amin al-Husseini, a ‘trickster and liar’ and a Nazi collaborator to boot. With the centrality of ‘the right of return’ established by Camp David, Morris felt compelled to revisit his own contribution to enhancing the profile of the refugee problem. He pointed out that ‘critics of Israel subsequently latched on to those findings that highlighted Israeli responsibility while ignoring the fact that the problem was a direct consequence of the war that the Palestinians - and, in their wake, the surrounding Arab states - had launched’. As for the new demands for repatriation into Israel Morris was adamant: ‘[I]f the refugees are allowed back, there will be god-awful chaos and, in the end, no Israel’.
Shlaim responded the next day with a blistering attack titled ‘Betrayal of History’. Lamenting the defection of the ‘trailblazer of new history’ he charged Morris’s reading of event as being ‘more in common with propaganda than with genuine history. Like most nationalist versions of history, it is simplistic, selective and self-serving’. Decrying the article as ‘a rambling and self-pitying monologue, seething with contempt and hatred for the Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular’, he suggested that Morris’s inability to see the truth was due to ‘his deficient and defective’ view of recent history that led him to blame ‘the victims for their misfortunes’ and to join ‘the Israeli national sport’ of ‘Arafat bashing’. Shlaim further chastised Morris for having ignored the account of Robert Malley, a former State Department official, whereby it was ‘Barak who mishandled’ the summit, and claimed that Morris ‘can no longer tell the difference between genuine history and fiction or fabrication along the lines of the Protocol of the Elders of Zion. At this rate Benny is in danger of becoming what Isaiah Berlin once described as “a very rare thing - a genuine charlatan”’. Needless to say, Shlaim blamed Israel’s expansionist policies and insatiable appetite for ‘Palestinian’ territory for the Camp David fiasco.
Undeterred, Morris published an interview with Barak in the New York Review of Books to rebut the ‘revisionist’ account of the summit based on Malley’s version of events (which he articulated together with Palestinian activist Hussein Agha). The Morris piece most memorable line pertained to Palestinian and Arab behaviour whereby he quoted Barak describing it as a ‘product of a culture in which to tell a lie… creates no dissonance. They don’t suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian culture. Truth is seen as an irrelevant category’. In a separate article, Morris assailed Arafat whom he accused of failing to negotiate and instead ‘just saying no’. Following a reaction from Malley and Agha, Morris responded with an attack on what he described as the ‘shopsoiled Palestinian Weltanschauung, that someone else, always, is to blame for their misfortunes - Ottoman Turks, British Mandate officials, Zionists, Americans, anyone but themselves’.
Replete with name calling and accusations of betrayal, the breakup of the New Historians made for an interesting public spectacle and much commentary at the popular level. But, as Karsh hypothesized, changing political circumstances were likely to prompt the trio to alter yet again their accounts of the 1948 war, especially on the three key issues: culpability for the refugee problem, the balance of forces, and Zionism as colonialism. In the 2004 revised edition of The Birth, Morris disassociated himself further from the notion that Zionist thinking on transfer was implemented in 1948. Though he was loath to disown his earlier assertions, he seemed to emphasize the ambiguity of the situation and the difficulty of making assessments as to who was responsible for what. Apparently hoping to lessen the impact of his 1987 book, Morris forcefully concluded: ‘But there was no pre-war Zionist plan to expel “the Arabs” from Palestine or the areas of the emergent Jewish state; and the Yishuv did not enter the war with a plan or a policy of expulsion’.
If Morris’s academic prose was quite circumspect, his lengthy interview in Haaretz on 9 January 2004 revealed a profound disenchantment with the Palestinians. He explained that the bombing of Israeli buses and restaurants full of civilians had ‘shocked him’ because they exposed the true depth of Arab hatred. Juxtaposed with the 9/11 attacks, Morris viewed such strategy as a war between ‘civilization and barbarity’ fuelled by an Islamic religion that did not value human life and an ‘Arab tribal culture’ in which ‘revenge plays a central part’. Most astoundingly, current Palestinian behaviour led Morris to radically alter his view of the past. In the interview, he faulted Ben-Gurion for not expelling all of the Palestinians and justified ethnic cleansing on the grounds of self-defence: ‘A society that aims to kill you forces you to destroy it. When the choice is between destroying or being destroyed, it’s better to destroy’.
Back to scholarly language, Morris’s self-revisionism was evident in yet another retelling of the 1948 story. In this new version the Palestinian exodus was viewed more as a flight than a planned Israeli expulsion-operation. He explained that the Palestinian society was ‘backward, largely illiterate, disorganized’; never robust, it ‘fell apart’ and the ‘flight was the earliest and most concrete expression of Palestinian demoralization’. One factor that contributed, in this view, to the crumbling was the early defection of the elites: nurses and doctors fled, followed by func'tionaries at all levels, including medical drivers who fled with their families in their ambulances.
Morris’s new found appreciation for sociological factors led him to conclude that ‘an honest appraisal of balance of strength in war’ should necessarily extend the discussion beyond the parameters of military manpower and weapons roster to include a society’s strength and weakness. He found Jewish society far superior to the Palestinian Arabs ‘with [their] well established tradition of disunity, corruption, and organizational incompetence’. Also, Palestinian Arabs were dependent on outside intervention, displaying ‘a knee-jerk penchant to always blame others’ and relying ‘on the Arab States to pull their chestnuts out of the fire’. Most important in this respect was the contrast in leadership; whereas the Jews were led by seasoned men of stature, the Palestinian Arabs had to contend with the likes of Husseini and his ineffectual acolytes.
In the end, though, it was the total Arab rejection of the Zionist movement and the partition proposal that presaged the war: ‘Western Jews failed to appreciate the depths of Arabs’ abhorrence of the Zionist-Jewish presence in Palestine, an abhorrence anchored in centuries of Islamic Judeophobia’ where ‘Jews were seen as unclean’. In the face of religious edicts from Cairo’s al-Azhar institute and religious authorities against Israel even King Abdullah did not dare signing a peace treaty. As for the others, negotiating with Israel ‘undermined the legitimacy of Arab leaders’. In any event, most of them tended to sound like Jamal Husseini, the Mufti’s deputy, who promised that Jewish ‘blood will flow like rivers in the Middle East’. Morris pointed out that this was not an idle threat: ‘when opportunity arouse, the call Idbah al Yahud (slaughter the Jews) was carried out’. Indeed, ‘the Jews felt that the Arabs aimed to re-enact the Holocaust and that they faced certain personal and collective slaughter should they lose’.
Compared to a genocidal threat posed by a winning Palestinian Arab side, the Israelis, in Morris’s opinion were greatly circumscribed; some expulsions notwithstanding, Plan D was never a blueprint for ethnic cleansing as argued by Khalidi and Pappe, not the least because Ben-Gurion was careful not to upset the Western powers anxious to preserve Arab goodwill. External pressure aside, Morris now implied that the low number of Palestinian civilian casualties was related to the moral code of the Hagana fighters known as ‘tohar haneshek,’, or purity of arms. He also praised the Jews who did not take to the road despite tremendous difficulties.
By moving closer to what Shlaim pejoratively described as the ‘orthodox Zionist’ narrative, Morris not only contradicted his early writings but put distance between himself and his former colleagues. For his part Shlaim, even before the Guardian exchange, escalated his anti-Israel rhetoric in order to keep up with the deteriorating Israeli-Palestinian situation. Writing in an introduction to a coedited book, he proclaimed that it took a ‘generation of critical scholars’ to unravel the ‘fabric of myth’ spun by Zionist history that tried ‘to reaffirm a sort of Zionist manifest destiny while diminishing responsibility for the negative consequences of the war’. It was this changed consciousness that, in his opinion, contributed to the Oslo peace process.
But after these self-congratulatory words, Shlaim described his own trajectory deflated by ‘the three dark and terrible years during which Israel had been led by the unreconstructed proponents of the Iron Wall’ - his allusion to Likud’s rule of 1996-99. As noted earlier, it was Jabotinsky who had coined the term ‘Iron Wall’ to describe the grim nature of the Arab-Jewish confrontation. By using the term as a title for his new book, Shlaim sought to indicate that Zionism had always been driven by military force - ignoring altogether the complex and nuanced nature of Jabotisnky’s ‘iron wall’ concept, which comprised economic strength, social and national cohesion, justness of cause, and other elements of ‘soft power’ on top of military strength. He conceded that ‘the moral case for the establishment of an independent Jewish State was strong, especially in the aftermath of the Holocaust’, but argued that it ‘involved a massive injustice to the Palestinians’. In his opinion, Israel ‘still had to arrive at the reckoning of its own sins against the Palestinians’. In the conclusion, written after Barak’s 1999 victory over Netanyahu, Shlaim seemed to recover some of his optimism, comparing the election to a ‘political earthquake’ and ‘a sunrise’ after Likud’s dark reign, only to unleash on Barak (and Israel) with great ferocity once Arafat declined his far-reaching Camp David concessions.
Trying to change current events by producing yet another version of the 1948 war was equally high on Pappe’s agenda. As a self-confessed critical scholar, he now urged Israel to ‘perform this liberation act… to rewrite, indeed salvage, a history that was erased and forgotten’. The erased chapter in his view pertained to the catastrophe that had befallen the Palestinians: Palestine was not partitioned in 1948; it was destroyed with most of its people expelled. Pappe warned that as long as Israel refused to assume responsibility for its ethnic cleansing, no ‘liberation’ and reconciliation would be possible. To make the liberation and reconciliation real, rather than an empty gesture, Israel should agree to the Palestinian ‘right of return’.
To make the case for this ‘right’ Pappe published his own version of the 1948 war. The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine promised to replace ‘the paradigm of war with the paradigm of ethnic cleansing’ and ‘war crime’. In this perspective, ‘the Zionist movement did not wage a war that “tragically but inevitably” led to the expulsion of parts of' the indigenous population, but the other way around: the main goal was the ethnic cleansing’. As a result, ‘the ethnic cleansing of Palestine must become rooted in our memory and consciousness as a crime against humanity’.
Pappe repeated his claim that Plan D represented a blueprint for wholesale expulsion of the native population that, in his opinion, was expedited by a considerable number of deliberate massacres. In addition to the well known 9 April 1948 Deir Yasin tragedy, when 100 people (including women and children) were killed in the fighting for the village, Pappe dwelt on a supposed massacre in the coastal village of Tantura. The subject of a graduate dissertation by Teddy Katz at the University of Haifa, where Pappe taught at the time, the supposed massacre - glaringly missing from contemporary Palestinian Arab historiography of the war - was allegedly committed by soldiers of the Alexandroni brigade in the course of the battle for the village. Katz was sued by brigade fighters and agreed an out-of-court settlement whereby he would issue a public apology disowning his massacre claim. He then tried to retract his retraction only to be rebuffed by the presiding judge who declared the settlement a legally binding agreement, forcing him to proceed with the public apology. His subsequent appeal to the Supreme Court was similarly rejected, leading the university to appoint a re-examination committee that disqualified his thesis. Ignoring these facts altogether, Pappe quickly transformed Katz into a victim of the oppressive Israeli system, adding the hitherto unclaimed Tantura ‘massacre’ to the roster of supposed Jewish atrocities. In one of them, in the village of Mi’ar, Pappe had the ‘Israeli troops shooting indiscriminately at the villages…When they got tired of the killing spree, the soldiers then began destroying the houses’.
Pappe’s new narrative presented the balance of forces as overwhelmingly favouring the Jews; contemporary fears of extermination, just a few years after the Holocaust, were dismissed as a myth because the ‘reality on the ground was, of course, almost the opposite’. He noted that in ‘public, the leaders of the Jewish community portrayed doomsday scenarios… In private, however, they never used this discourse. They were fully aware that the Arab war rhetoric was in no way matched by any serious preparation on the ground’. Indeed, in making fantastic claims of crimes allegedly committed by the Jews - from rape, to murder, to labour camps, to massacres, to biological warfare by poisoning of water supplies - Pappe clearly insinuated to Nazi-like behaviour, not to mention harping on longstanding anti-Semitic libels.
To cover all the bases of Israel’s immoral origins Pappe placed Zionism within the parameters of the ‘colonialist project’, praising Israeli sociologists Baruch Kimmerling and Gershon Shafir as pioneers of the theory that equated Zionism with colonialism. Drawing on their and other insights of colonialist theory, Pappe contended that, like the early colonialist outposts in Africa, Australia and North and South America, the Zionist enclave ‘was constructed around 1922 by a group of Jewish colonialists from Eastern Europe with considerable help and assistance from the British empire’. As such, Zionism was constructed to defend a ‘white’ (Western) fortress in a ‘black’ (Arab world). And by way of ensuring the country’s Jewish and European character, the Palestinian Arabs had to be cleansed. This is why, in Pappe’s estimate, the Zionists rejected all appeals from Arabs and the Palestinians to resolve the conflict.
As much as he tried to paint Jews and Israelis as irredeemable rejectionists, Pappe was well aware that this depiction was at odds with the role played by the Palestinian Arab leadership in general and Haj Amin al-Husseini, in particular. With his relentless extremism and long history of anti-Semitism, subversive activities, and Nazi collaboration, Pappe understood that the Mufti was in need of image rehabilitation (not least since many of his contemporaries viewed him as culpable for the Nakba). Reflecting on the issue in 1997 he warned that ‘when discussing the Husaynis’ attitude toward Zionism one should be wary of the pitfalls of retrospective analysis’. A few years later he mentioned working on the Husseini family project, first published in a Hebrew edition. In the back cover of the book Pappe explained that by focusing on the Husseini family he wanted to convey to the Israelis that Palestine was a thriving community led by seasoned notables like the Husseinis.
Predictably, Pappe’s portrayal of Hajj Amin was different from the ruthless, rabble-rousing manipulator blamed for leading the Palestinians astray. Downplaying several well documented instances of the Mufti’s incitement to violence, he stated that Husseini ‘did not consciously turn a minor incident into a violent clash’ and made the incredible claim - against all available evidence - that the Mufti did not support the 1936-37 ‘revolt’ (which he actually instigated). When faced with explaining some of Husseini’s more egregious misdeeds, Pappe seems to contradict himself. Forced to concede that ‘Haj Amin gave the green light to eliminate several of his opponents’, he concluded that ‘this chapter of Haj Amin biography marred much what he had done before’. The Mufti’s notorious corruption prompted Pappe to admit that ‘suspicion about how Amin used the fund of the Muslim Council has never been dispelled’, only to try to soften the assertion by making the contradictory claim that ‘there is no doubt that Haj Amin enjoyed a personal reputation of decency and probity - amid the endemic corruption in Arab politics’.
The Mufti’s high profile advocacy of the Final Solution and his personal contribution to Nazi war efforts got Pappe into more contradictions. When discussing the Mufti’s initial contacts with Nazi officials in Palestine, Pappe complained that ‘Israeli historiography would claim, with very little evidence, that by this time the Mufti endorsed the Nazi ideology’. But later on he admits that ‘Palestinian historiography was long uncomfortable’ with discussing ‘his ill-fated liaison [with Nazi Germany]’. Pappe’s solution was to explain that by then the Mufti and his pro-Nazi associates were but ‘a few individuals who were detached from Palestine and its politics’, emphasizing that the Mufti’s ‘identification with the Nazi death machine made it difficult for him to reintegrate into Palestinians politics’. At the same time Pappe lamented that ‘many historians in the world, especially in Israel, have depicted him as a mini Hitler, unjustifiably and inaccurately’.
Pappe’s books triggered a huge, but politically predictable reaction. Observers on the left embraced his findings but many critics denounced it in the strongest language possible. Not surprising, Morris, by now totally alienated from his former fellow traveller, led the chorus of protest, taking the opportunity to reflect on the broader issue of historical revisionism. Concluding that revisionism ‘became too much of a good thing’, he compared it to a ‘veritable tsunami, taking that revisionism to shores and provinces that go far beyond what the available documentation indicates or allows, creating a destructive current that is underpinned by invented and spurious narratives and non-facts presented as truth’.
Morris saved most of his scorn for a review titled ‘The Liar as a Hero’. He described Pappe as ‘at best sloppiest, at worse one of the most dishonest’ scholars who maliciously distorted research to appeal to Western audiences, as when he allegedly mistranslated a comment by Ben-Gurion condoning blinding of dogs in a chemical experiment. Morris noted that both Shlaim and Pappe hardly mentioned ethnic cleansing in their earlier books suggesting that Pappe - ‘a retroactive poseur’ in his words - became radicalized only after getting tenure. In other words, not only was Pappe a ‘poseur’ but lacked the moral courage to stand up for his convictions before receiving job security. Morris lamented that Pappe was riding the crest of critical scholarship that made its home in departments of political science, sociology, and cultural studies in some universities that ‘had become bulwarks of anti-Zionism, in which professing Zionists can barely achieve a toehold’. As for his portrayal of the Husseini family Morris wrote: ‘The Palestinian national movement, since its inception in the 1920s, has sought to establish a unitary Arab state in all of Palestine...This state was to contain only a small Jewish minority - as defined by the first leader of the movement, the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Muhammad Amin al-Husseini, restricted to the Jews who lived in Palestine prior to World War I’. In his own exercise of linking the present to the past, Morris argued that nothing had changed in the ‘basic Palestinian rejectionism, amounting to a Weltanschauung, is routinely ignored or denied by most Western commentators and officials’.
Even though Morris was apparently unaware of the irony, his denunciation of revisionism gone wild and its exaggeration and fabrication of facts, sounded not much different than Karsh’s original critique of the New Historiography. In what could be described as a remarkable coincidence, Morris seconded many of the assertions in Palestine Betrayed, Karsh’s new study about the 1948 war where he chided the Israeli ‘“new historians” - younger, politically engaged academics and journalists who claim to have discovered archival evidence substantiating the anti-Israel case’ for turning the ‘saga of Israel’s birth upside down’, notably by ignoring the ‘Arab commitment to destroy Israel’. In this politicized version, Karsh argued, ‘Zionism emerged, as a colonizing and expansionist ideology and movement, an offshoot of European imperialism at its most rapacious’. Karsh blamed the Mufti for a good share of the problems; among others, he was loathed by his peers who considered him a ‘menace to the general Arab interests’ and ‘a schemer seeking his own personal interests’, who became ‘the most important Arab Quisling in German hands’.
All in all, the New Historians have worked within the relatively well-established Galtung-Said paradigm which, as indicated, portrayed the Jews as Western, white, colonialist top dogs who arrived in Palestine with the blessing of an imperialist power to dispossess an indigenous, downtrodden population. More to the point, most of them presented the Zionist model as anachronistic and harmful to the Jewish people and Israel, a position exacerbated by Pappe and Shlaim after the collapse of the Oslo process. Yet while the colonialist perspective contended that the Jews had no legitimate right to Palestine it did not deny their collective identity. It was left to another historian to take this denigration a step forward by denying the Jewish people’s very existence.
Neo-Canaanism and the ‘Invention of the Jewish People’
As we have seen, in the 1960s the remnants of the Canaanite movement assimilated into Matzpen where, together with other radical-leftists, they challenged the ‘colonialist-Zionist’ system. With hostility between the Arabs and Jews showing no sign of abating, the old paradigm of a common Canaanite origin as a base for future coexistence fell out of favour. Even Boaz Evron, one of the original Canaanites still active in the 1980s, felt compelled to adjust, paving the way for a neo-Canaanite version of Jewish history. In his book A National Reckoning, Evron revisited the old Canaanite thesis but also discussed at some length the ‘artificial Zionist creation’ of a Jewish nation out of disparate exiles and conversion. Published in 1988, the book received virtually no public attention but a number of scholars at Tel Aviv University elaborated upon his ideas, giving it a higher profile.
Joseph Agassi, a philosophy professor, had devoted considerable thought to the link between faith and nationality in Israel, finding the ‘ghetto culture’ of Eastern Europe to be detrimental to the formation of national identity. The so-called Tel Aviv School of Archaeology - Nadav Naaman, Israel Finkelstein and Zeev Herzog - vigorously attacked traditional Israeli archaeology. Their approach was closely patterned on the radical Copenhagen-Sheffield School whose leaders sought to delegitimize the ‘biblical narrative’ of modern archaeology on the ground that such ‘scholars have created a false Ancient Israel’. While Naaman excavated Canaanite sites, Herzog attracted public attention in writing in Haaretz that the biblical narrative of the early Israelites had no support in reality, adding that the Israelites adopted monotheism late in the monarchy period.
By comparison, the theoretical challenge to the conception of a Jewish nation was much less public. Uri Ram, a critical sociologist using neo-Marxist methodology, was the first to determine that modern Jewish nationhood was ‘imagined, invented and narrated’. He blamed ‘Zionist historiography’ in the ‘service of the Zionist movement and the State of Israel’ for this invention. Ram noted that in order to legitimize their claim to Palestine, the Zionists had to prove the ‘unity and continuity of the ostensible nation’. In other words, ‘spatial concentration and temporal endurance’ had to be presented as ‘backbone of Jewish existence’ and a matching narrative created which included an Origin in the Land, Exile, Diaspora and Return/Zionist Redemption. Ram urged the deconstruction of the Zionist ‘story’ and its replacement by a different ‘story’, one that would mould a new national identity in line with a post-Zionist concept of a multicultural, communitarian state.
Prima facie, Shlomo Sand, a professor of French culture, history and cinema at Tel Aviv University with a modest publishing record, was an unlikely candidate to answer Ram’s call to undermine the ‘unity and continuity of the ostensible nation’. But Sand’s long association with Matzpen, his knowledge of Evron’s work, and an appreciation for neo-Marxist interpretation of a national identity gave him the necessary motivation. He credited the ‘challenging work of Evron and Ram’ and ‘non-Israeli scholars of nationalism such as Ernest Gellner and Benedict Anderson’ for questioning anew ‘the root of his identity’.
Indeed, the latter two were essential to Sand’s rewrite of Jewish history because they introduced a neo-Marxist sensibility into the commonly used anthropological conceptualization of national identity. In anthropology, national beliefs, like other elements of a collective belief system are viewed from a micro-sociological perspective positing that individual members of a collective engage in a constant discourse to conceptualize notions crucial to their existence. Following Max Weber, it is understood that national identity evolved from the Gemeinschaft community where group belonging is based on kinship to Gesellschaft association where members are tied by a ‘feeling of interdependent’ and a ‘community of fate’. Anthony Smith, perhaps the best known student of nationalism, used the anthropological, micro-sociological approach, arguing that members of an ethno-national group share a unique sense of group origin, and harbour knowledge of a unique group history, among others.
Neo-Marxists have preferred the ‘holistic’ position - that emerging group properties are not reducible to the sum proprieties of individuals - associated with Marx and Louis Althusser. Suspicious of collective beliefs considered a form of ‘false consciousness’ they rejected any notion of a discursive democratic process. In a somewhat contradictory fashion, Sand quotes Ernest Renan to the effect that ‘a nation’s existence is, if you will pardon the metaphor, a daily plebiscite’ but has little use for Smith after conceding that the latter’s definition actually fits the Zionist historical narrative. He clearly preferred the more radical premise of Anderson’s imagined community and Gellner’s assertion that nationalism was not possible before the formation of a ‘consolidated culture’ coinciding with the rise of an industrial society.
To his credit Sand informed readers that Gellner’s ‘theoretical landmine’ - the idea of ‘nationalism engendering nations and not the other way round’ - shook most scholars. Yet he offered only an indirect defence of such ‘theoretical audacity’ by referring to Eric Hobsbawm, a British Marxist historian who wrote ‘that nations are a dual phenomenon, constructed essentially from above, but which cannot be understood also analyses from below, that is in terms of the assumptions, hopes, need, longing and interest of ordinary people’. Even that was qualified because, as Sand saw it, it was not easy to discover what ‘ordinary people’ had thought.
Liberated from the effort of finding out empirically what ‘ordinary [Jewish] people’ think, Sand proceeded to invoke yet another theoretician of nationalism, Carlton Hays, who suggested that ‘the national theology of intellectuals becomes a national mythology for the masses’. By adding Gramsci to the equation, Sand was able to argue that the intellectual class, the historians, journalists and even civil servants have become the nation’s ‘prince’, a ‘collective corps of intellectuals who control the apparatus of the nation-state’. Even without accepting all of Gramsci’s theory, Sand argued, it was possible to prove that some of these intellectual ‘princes’, notably historians, are truly the ones that create national identity for disparate individuals: ‘With the help of the historians, nationalism became an “optimistic ideology” where the heroism of the receding world prophesized a brilliant future’. 
For those adept at deciphering the somewhat obtuse critical theory, Sand’s methodology was hand-tailored for a critique of the Zionist historians, the intellectual ‘princes’ in charge of producing the ‘spatial concentration and temporal endurance’ of the ‘alleged’ Jewish nation. He identified a number of historians who qualified for the title of ‘high priest of national memory’ due to their alleged contribution to the myth of the Jewish nation. First on his list was Heinrich Graetz (1817-91) who, while not a ‘complete Zionist’, was said to form the national mould for the writing of Jewish history: ‘he created a unified narrative… an unbroken history, branching but always singular’. Next in line was Simon Dubnow (1860-1941), to whom Sand attributed the ‘the fostering the national consciousness through the study of history’. He charged Dubnow with initiating ‘a lasting tradition in Jewish nationalism’ of creating the ‘proprietary claim of “People of Israel and Land of Israel”’. Last but not least on Sand’s list was Ben-Zion Dinur, whom Ram already fingered as the chief architect of the ‘false’ Jewish national narrative in his capacity as both a Hebrew University history professor and Israel’s minister of education (1951-55). Sand accused Dinur of ‘rewriting history’ to create a connection to the Land of Israel as part of the Zionist ‘holy trinity’ of Bible-Land-People, pointing out that Dinur was a guest at the regular Bible circle that met Ben-Gurion’s home in the 1950s, a presumed workshop of Zionist ‘national memory merchants’.
After deconstructing the Zionist ‘nation-and-identity building’ project, Sand offered his own version of history that, not surprisingly, tried to undermine the ‘false’ space-time continuity. First, he dismissed the Old Testament as ‘mythistory’ to denote the contention, based partially on the Tel Aviv archaeologists that Judaism did not take root until of late in the monarchy period. For good measure, Sand also cited the Copenhagen-Sheffield School that described the Bible as a ‘grand library that was written, revised an adapted’ between the late sixth and early second century BCE. The implication was clear: the Jews were imposters who brought monotheism from Babylon and fraudulently turned it into a divine mandate and a title deed to the Land.
Exposing the ‘myth’ of forced exile was Sand’s second goal in the effort to disprove what Ram defined as the Zionist creation of ‘temporal endurance’. With no statistical data, the question of how many Jews were forcibly deported, how many freely migrated and how many stayed before and after the destruction of the Second Temple has been a fertile ground for historical speculation. Sand mentioned a number of historians who tackled the issue but seemed to be intent on highlighting only one category - the ‘exile without-expulsion,’ which, in his opinion, was extremely problematic for Zionist scholars. Sand explained that Dinur and others considered the issue of exile through a Zionist prism: ‘If exile was undertaken voluntarily - God forbid’ it would ‘have undermined their [Jewish] renewed claim’ to the Land. In lieu of statistical evidence to support his own conclusion that exile was almost always voluntary, Sand claimed that, starting with Yitzhak Baer (1888-1980), Zionist historians adopted the Christian myth of the Wandering Jew - Jews punished by exile for rejecting the Messiah. More to the point, once in exile, with small exceptions, Jews were most reluctant to return to their Land: ‘The Jews were not forcibly deported from their “homeland”, and there was no voluntary “return” to it’.
For all his emphasis on voluntary exile to delegitimize Zionist claims, Sand needed to provide more dramatic proof that Diaspora Jews were not linked to the ancient Jewish Kingdom, let alone descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. His solution was to focus on the role of proselytizing and conversion throughout Jewish history, a subject with no statistical grounding. Starting with the forced conversions of the Edomites by the Hasmoneans Sand scoured Jewish and general history for more examples of what he claimed to be mass conversions, albeit voluntary ones, during the Hellenistic and Roman periods, going so far as to argue that the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, was a prelude to Jewish proselytizing. Stretching the argument further, Sand concluded that rabbinical authorities - normally known as opponents of proselytizing - were either tolerant or encouraged mass conversions.
Further down the line, Sand found evidence of mass conversions in Arabia and among the Phoenicians and Berbers. But it was the story of the Khazars that formed the core of the book’s argument that the vast majority of Jews were never linked to biblical Israel. As related by Sand, the Khazars - a nomadic tribe of Turkic and Hunnic-Bulgar clans interspersed with Scythians who created an empire between the Black and the Caspian Seas - converted to Judaism in the eighth century. After the decline of the empire in the thirteenth century, the Jewish Khazars were dispersed but survived as an ethnic group.
Sand was by no means the first to bring attention to the Jewish Khazars. Medieval Arab, Christian and Jewish sources provided fragments of information on their Judaization, a fact that Sand prominently showcased. He also listed a number of nineteenth century Jewish laymen who investigated the Khazars’ Jewishness to prove this thesis as well as Arthur Koestler, the Jewish-Hungarian Marxist author, whose 1976 book, The Thirteenth Tribe, created a stir in the West. Missing from Sand’s inventory is the multitude of writings and websites that make ideological use of the Khazars-as-Jews theory. A minority is philo-Semitic or evangelical Christians trying to reclaim these long ‘lost Jews’ for Christianity. The bulk of the literature, however, is highly anti-Semitic, propagated by such disparate sources as Henry Ford, Christian identity movement in the United States and assorted British anti-Semites.
After his forced retirement from command of Jordan’s Arab Legion, the notoriously anti-Semitic John Bagot Glubb (better known as Glubb Pasha) devoted a great deal of time to tracing the ‘true’ origins of East European Jews. In a 1967 lecture, ‘The Problem of Jewish Noses’, he asserted that, with their fair hair and blue eyes, East European Jews were descents of pagan Slav proselytes and the Khazars, whereas the Arabs of Palestine were closely linked to the Judeans. The anti-Zionist implication of this alleged racial makeup did not escape Glubb who concluded that the Palestinians had more right to Israel than the Jews. In the early 1950s Douglas Reed, a famous British journalist, author and playwright published The Controversy of Zion in which he ‘proved’ that Jewish ‘bloodlines’ did not run to the Holy Land. He mentioned the forced conversions of the Edomites but his key proof were the Khazar Jews, whose East European Jewish decedents allegedly applied the ‘Khazar warrior acumen’ to seek world dominance.
The collapse of the Soviet Union generated more anti-Semitic use of the Khazar-Jewish theory. Lev Gumilev, the son of the famed poet Anna Ahmatova and a student and protégé Mikhail Artamonov, a Soviet historian and archaeologist who pioneered the study of Khazaria in the 1930s, sought to scientifically prove that the Jewish descendants of the Khazars were parasites feeding off the Russian Slav society. A number of strange bedfellows picked up Gumilev’s theory. On the one hand there was the Russian Orthodox Church that posited that Jewish Khazaria was locked in an epic struggle with Russian Christianity. Russian pagans, on the other hand, accused the Khazar Jews of bringing Christianity to Russia. In a report by the Vidal Sassoon International Centre at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Victor Shnirelman demonstrated how these and other anti-Semitic groups used Gumilev’s ‘scientific theory’ of Jewish Khazars to portray Jews as a group of alien parasites on the Slavic super-ethnicity. Reviewing Shnirelman’s report, London University Professor John Klier, a leading expert on East European Jewry, pointed out that the Jewish Khazars have proved a mother lode for all kinds of ideologically motivated writing.
It was ironic, but probably inevitable that the anti-Zionist American Council on Judaism joined the long list of consumers of the Jewish Khazaria lore. Alfred Lilienthal, a prolific writer who emerged as the Council’s most eloquent spokesman, maintained that Americans had no religious obligation to support Zionism because most of the Jews were decedents of the medieval Khazars. Small wonder that Lilienthal’s writings were featured in a multitude of anti-Semitic, Islamist, and pro-Palestinian websites.
While it is not difficult to surmise why Sand failed to mention these questionable fellow travellers, Tel Aviv University historian Anita Shapira, who labelled Sand the ‘Jewish people denier’, was willing to give him the benefit of doubt as being unaware ‘of the suspect company that he keeps’. A more plausible explanation, however, is that Sand was anxious to dissociate himself from rampant anti-Semites, conspiracy theory buffs and assorted crackpots who championed the Jewish Khazaria theory. Indeed, he was at pains to emphasize the academic nature of his work by quoting from the limited but respectable pool of scholars like Douglas Morton Dunlop, an authority on the Khazars at Columbia University in the 1990s, and Peter Golden, a Rutgers University professor. He also mentioned Abraham Polak, a Polish Jewish historian who taught at Tel Aviv University in the 1950s and even Dinur and other ‘Zionist historians’.
In spite of Sand’s efforts to establish scientific credibility, his work was met with withering criticism, something that he expected and apparently welcomed. Like the New Historians, Sand could portray himself as a courageous ‘speaker of truth to power’ in the quest for ‘a new Jewish history’ not obscured by the ‘dense prism of Zionism’ or hindered by ‘stubborn refusal’ of Jewish history departments ‘to open up to new historiography’. As for his critics, they were the ‘old guard’ Zionist and nationalist historians unwilling to appreciate the new methodologies that made the book possible.
Much as Sand presented himself as a victim of ideological attacks, his work raised a number of valid concerns. One pertains to his rejection of established scholarship and the privileging of ‘alternative narratives’ of questionable academic legitimacy. As noted, Sand dismissed Smith and his views of national identify formation because it did not fit the neo-Marxist notions of Anderson, Gellner, Hobsbawm and Gramsci. As a neo-Marxist he was apparently not comfortable with the democratic idea of discourse, let alone with the possibility that ‘yearnings for Zion’ and the temporariness of the Exile could have had some popular resonance in Jewish history - a sentiment that would have been at odds with his theory of Zionist- ‘manufactured’ peoplehood. Much in the same way, Sand elevated the marginal Copenhagen-Sheffield School and its Israeli clone, the Tel Aviv Archaeology School, while dismissing virtually all mainstream biblical archaeologists.
Yet another problem is concerning Sand’s lack of expertise necessary to write a study of this kind. Indeed, by his own admission, his research would have been better served by a team of scholars. The treatment of the complex issue of conversions in the late pagan-early Christian period was a case in point. Sand stated that masses of Gentiles flocked to Judaism without specifying that most of them were arguably followers of the new Christian faith preached by Paul to Jews and Gentiles alike. Even a cursory reading of the history of the Church would indicate that the fluidity of faith came to an end under Constantine and his fellow Christian emperors. At times, Sand’s understanding of Judaism is not much better. For example, Shapira noted that the idea that Jews were punished by exile was firmly anchored in the Talmud, more than a millennium before the advent of Zionism.
But it is Sand’s eagerness to prove that the Khazars morphed into the Yiddish civilization of Eastern Europe that is most troubling. While there is enough evidence to indicate that the Khazar aristocracy accepted Judaism, there is virtually no proof that they were followed by the entire population as Sand asserted. His argument that after the collapse of their empire the Khazars-turned-Jews moved westward creating the ethno-demographic base of the Ashkenazi population is even more problematic. There are no records to indicate what happened to the Khazars who disappeared from the annals of history. Based on available sources, most scholars have suggested that many of the Khazar Jewish nobility were killed while others converted to Christianity or Islam and some, retaining their Judaism, established a small settlement in Crimea and as far as Kiev. Dunlop described the alleged mass migration westward as an ‘assumption’. There is also nothing in Golden’s doctoral dissertation to support Sand’s theory that the descents of the Khazars formed what he calls ‘the Yiddishland’ of Eastern Europe.
Sand skated on thin scientific ice when trying to prove that the Yiddish language is of Slavic rather than Germanic in origin. Paul Wexler seems to be the best known defender of this theory, but neither he nor Polak, who surmised that Jews were linguistically influenced by German traders who travelled to the East are mainstream scholars. Sand’s use of demographic data is equally questionable. He argued that the small Jewish communities in medieval Germany could not have resulted in the large population of Yiddishland. But, as Shapira pointed out, census data from Poland indicates that up to the nineteenth century Jews numbered in the ten thousands, not millions: ‘one way or another, these figures match both the migration rates of Jews from the west and the natural increase without having to resort to masses of Khazars to balance the account’.
Posing even a greater challenge to Sand’s theory has been the new genetic data indicating a similarity among the disparate Jewish communities. Genome surveys carried out by Gil Azmon and Harry Osterer (United States) and Doron Behar and Richard Willems (Israel and Estonia) showed the closeness of the European Jews and their Middle Easterner counterparts. Azmon noted that ‘members of any Jewish community are related to each other as close as fourths of fifth cousins in a larger population’, about ten times as high as a random sample from New York City. This genetic closeness surprised the researchers given that the communities have been separated for so long. One commentator observed that the results refute Sand’s contention ‘that Jews have no common origin but are a miscellany of people in Europe and Central Asia who converted to Judaism at various times’.
Sand’s response to genetic research seemed odd. Evidently he took little time to study the subject and dismissed the older studies as inclusive or contradictory. He failed to understand that the prevalence of some Jewish specific mutations such as Tau-Sachs and the more recently discovered BRCA1 and BRCA2 that make Jewish women of Ashkenazi origin highly susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer are related to the so-called ‘founders gene’, a mutation created by a ‘genetic bottleneck’ originating in small population with a history of endogenous marriages. The extremely high frequency of breast cancer in Israel has prompted the authorities to consider genetic testing for women of Ashkenazi origin, the strongest acceptance yet of the genetically-based theory.
As for the cutting edge new studies - published in the prestigious American Journal of Genetics and Nature - his response bordered on the bizarre. He dismissed Behar as part of a group of ‘Zionist’ geneticists lead by Karl Skorecki, an Orthodox Jew, bent on proving the existence of a Jewish gene. In the afterword to the 2010 paperback edition, Sand noted that ‘it is a bitter irony to see the descendants of Holocaust survivors set out to find a biological Jewish identity: Hitler would certainly have been very pleased! And it is all the more repulsive that this kind of research should be conducted in a state that has waged for years a declared policy of ‘Judaization of the country’.’
Sand’s theory took another hit when Martin Richards, an English archagenecist and a team of scientists conducted a study indicating that the conversion among women in the Mediterranean and further north in Europe were part of the Jewish maternal lineage of the Ashkenazi branch. Osterer considered the findings plausible, noting their correspondence to the outline Jewish migration - as it pushed north from the Mediterranean. Skorecki and Behar were somewhat more sceptical, but there was an agreement that the Richards research - like its predecessors - found no support for the Khazar theory.
In the end though, Sand’s book was more about current politics than scientific research. By denying a distinctive Jewish identity he tried not only to delegitimize Zionism but to help the formation of a non-Jewish bi-national state – Matzpen’s ‘Holy Grail’. He asserted that the ‘Jewish nationalism that dominates Israeli society is not an open, inclusive identity’ but an exclusive one ‘that segregates the majority from the minority’, denying ‘active and harmonious participation in the sovereignty and practices of democracy’.
Personally, Sand, even more than the New Historians, profited from the unprecedented success of his book. He boasted that much claiming that ‘the “authorized” body of historians fell on the book with academic fury’ yet ‘the book stayed on the [Israeli] bestseller list for nineteen weeks’. The English edition created even more of sensation, catapulting Sand to ‘stardom’ in Western anti-Israel circles. Most dubiously, Sand legitimized the anti-Semitic Khazar websites which could now claim academic pedigree.
With the addition of Sand, post-Zionist historians achieved a high profile role among Israel’s international critics. Close behind them were radical sociologists whose research strove to portray the Jewish state as a racist-apartheid state.