What is Neo-Zionism?

Posted: September 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: racism, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about the relations between the Arab citizens of Israel and the Jewish majority. I think it is the most important issue on the agenda today, and the one that will determine the nature of this state in the years to come.

As the price of holding on to the West Bank is growing, more and more Israelis are coming to accept the idea of an Israeli withdrawal. However, on the same time they demand the state to go on favoring Jews, both on the symbolic level (meaning that state symbols, such as the flag and the anthem, will be Jewish ones) and on the practical level, meaning that Jews will enjoy a better position in the citizenship acquiring process, or with regards to ownership over land, etc.  And something else is happening: racism is on the rise, contrary to what happened during the first round of the peace process, in the 90′s.

I’ve been referring here to those people who want to strengthen the exclusive Jewish nature of the state as “neo-Zionists”, as oppose to the “post-Zionists”, who emphasized the liberal-democratic (and sometimes multi-cultural) nature of the state. Post-Zionism was on the rise during the 90′s; neo-Zionism is the dominant intellectual and political force of the past decade, and it hasn’t even reached its full potential.

Among the prominent neo-Zionist one can name Journalists Ben-Dror Yemini (Maariv) and Ari Shavit (Haaretz), Prof Ruth Gabizon from Jerusalem, Prof. Nissim Calderon from Beer Sheva university and Dr. Gadi Taub, writer Irit Linor, and many more. They may all have very different political affiliations, but they share two basic ideas: the understanding that Israel can no longer hold on to the West Bank, together with a desire to strengthen the Jewish nature of the state at the expense of the Arab minority’s struggle for equality. Shmuel Hasfari and Eldad Yaniv’s New Left Manifest which was discussed here last week is in fact another good example of neo-Zionist thinking.

On the political sphere, Avigdor Liberman represents the neo-Zionism in its purest form, and it is no wonder that although he is far from being the head of the biggest party, he was able to control the political agenda in the last year or so.

The settlers are by no means neo-Zionists. They represent the old fashion right wing, the one that still dreams of colonizing Eretz Israel Hashlema (the great land of Israel). Netanyahu was supposed to be their natural leader, but even he is drifting in the neo-Zionist direction, leaving them without real political leadership. Liberman himself, a settler and a right-wing man, has very little support in the settlements, and he is subject to repeated attacks from the extreme-right.

Other neo-Zionists organizations are the student movment Im Tirzu (אם תרצו “if you wish”), who even call themselves “the second Zionist revolution”, and the right wing publishing house Shalem Center, who is sponsored by Billioner Sheldon Adelson and is influenced, and sometimes linked, to the American neo-cons (I will try to add more about the relations between neo-cons and neo-Zionists in the future).

If you understand this new idea – of linking a future retreat from the WB with a strengthening of the Jewish nature of the state, at the expanse of its democratic and liberal nature – you can understand many current political developments, such as Netanyahu’s pre-condition to negotiations with the Palestinians: that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state. A few days before Netanyahu introduced this idea, Ari Shavit wrote the same things in Haaretz.

The American neo-cons never really recovered from the Iraq war, and with the end of the Bush Administration their influence was severely damaged. But in Israel, neo-Zionism’s finest hour is still ahead. While many of the neo-Zionists are not racists themselves, racist tendencies in the Israeli society provide them with popular support, and as Israelis feel ever more isolated and intimidated, more ideas, regulations and laws that threaten the Arabs’ rights are introduced into the public debate. This process is likely to go on for sometime.

Forget the struggle between Right and Left (it’s easy, the Left doesn’t really exist anymore). The ideological battle of the future in Israel is between a Jewish-Arab post Zionist coalition, and a “Jews only” neo-Zionist side. This fight has only just began.


6 Comments on “What is Neo-Zionism?”

  1. 1 Aviv said at 11:53 pm on September 22nd, 2009:

    Would you define yourself as post-Zionist? Would you consider Zionism a bad word, worse than other national movements?

    Last but not least,

    “linking a future retreat from the WB”

    with a strengthening of the Jewish nature of the state,

    at the expanse of its democratic and liberal nature
    Says who? Lieberman says he wants to treat everyone equally based on their contribution to the state. Makes a lot more sense to me than drafting certain populations, exempting others and pretending everybody is equal.

  2. 2 noam said at 12:33 am on September 23rd, 2009:

    Aviv – I don’t consider myself a Zionist nor a post Zionist. If we can say that Zionism was the revolution that led to the establishing of the state of Israel, I think that at the time it was the right thing to do, but I don’t believe in on-going, constant revolution. That was proven to be a bad idea – both in Marxism and in Zionism. As far as identity goes, I am an Israeli, and a Jew.

    As for your second point – conditioning citizen and even human rights on what the majority group defines as a contribution to the greater good is an extremely illiberal and undemocratic idea, which contradicts the whole political concept of Rights. Rights, as opposed to privileges, can not be taken nor given.

  3. 3 Adam said at 4:21 pm on September 23rd, 2009:

    Fascinating post, thanks.

  4. 4 daria shualy said at 1:37 am on September 24th, 2009:

    i agree with Adam, and found the answer to Aviv very helpful too.

    I think it’s really time fir Israeli Jews to understand the nature of being an Israeli Arab, or rather an Israeli Palestinian, and to accept that a country, one country, can be refuge and home for two people, with rather similar histories and needs.

  5. 5 Jochanan said at 12:14 pm on September 24th, 2009:

    I don’t know that either of these labels fit in the rubric of the original question of Zionism in that the State of Israel has been established and within its boundaries, Jews are the majority. Many countries have an established religion while still giving freedom of religion—just about all of Scandinavia—as a result of democratic processes.

    I think what you are trying to say is will Arabs have rights in the Jewish side of the two state solution. It’s hard—very hard—for me not to say that the rights of Arabs in Israel should be exactly the same as the rights of Jews in Palestine. But that wouldn’t be shomer mitzvot would it?

  6. 6 noam said at 3:28 am on September 26th, 2009:

    Jochanan – there are many states that have some sort of official religion, but the situation in Israel is fundamentally different: Judaism is perceived not only as religion, but also as a nation, and this thinking is expressed through state’s laws, regulation and acts.

    What I mean is that in modern democracies, being Christian or Catholic, even in a state that has an official religion, does not give you special rights (and being a Jew or a Muslim in those states does not forbid you certain rights). In Israel, being a Jew means being a part of a privileged group.