Carlo Strenger: Liberal Zionism

Roundup: Talking About History

[Carlo Strenger is Chair of the Clinical Graduate Program of the Department of Psychology at Tel Aviv University.]

Zionism didn't begin as a unitary ideology. There was Theodor Herzl's liberal Zionism; Ahad Ha'am's and Judah Magnes' cultural Zionism. Socialist Zionism initially carried the day, dominating Israeli politics for the country's first three decades. In the remaining decades revisionist Zionism took over, fused with the messianic Zionism that gave religious significance to land and none to human rights.

Until a few decades ago, discussion between the different streams of Zionism was still possible. Now, alas, the self-appointed representatives of the Zionist cause - primarily from the right - make it seem as if Zionism requires blind allegiance to Israeli governments; that a Zionist is someone who admires Jewish power, whatever form it takes; and that Zionism requires shutting off your critical faculties. They have made a habit of calling all those who disagree with them 'post-Zionists' and accusing them of disloyalty.

Well, that makes Herzl and Ahad Ha'am post-Zionists avant la lettre. Herzl believed that while the Jewish state should provide room for Jewish religion and Jewish clerics, these institutions should be completely isolated from the state and from politics. He also saw no place for theological notions that Jews had some God-given right to the Land of Israel. He simply believed that they needed a state of their own.

Ahad Ha'am would, today, be accused of being a self-hating post-Zionist: He recoiled from certain manifestations of Jewish power in the Yishuv, and put emphasis on cultural renewal instead of militarism. used with the messianic Zionism that gave religious significance to land and none to human rights....

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