Ilan Pappe says Israel Is the Last Remaining, Active Settler-Colonialist ProjectHistorians in the News
In the 1990s, a movement was growing in Israel that questioned the country’s foundational myths. Among those leading the charge of what was later dubbed the “post-Zionist” movement were the Israeli “New Historians” who acknowledged the existence of Palestinians and readily admitted mass atrocities were committed in establishing a Jewish state. Like the post-Zionist movement itself, the Israeli New Historians reflected a broad spectrum of ideological thought ranging from so-called liberal Zionists like Benny Morris to anti-Zionists like Ilan Pappe.
Pappe is most well-known for The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, which garnered him notoriety, but also convincingly argued the Jewish state was established through the concerted ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population, the Palestinians. In 2007 Pappe relocated to the UK, where he currently teaches at the University of Exeter, after receiving death threats for his outspoken Palestinian solidarity work and his endorsement of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement.
One of Pappe’s latest books, now out in paperback, The Idea of Israel, is a remarkable historiographical account of modern Zionism. Pappe tackles the foundational myths of Israel, the post-Zionist movement and the “neo-Zionist” backlash, all while offering commentary and history on trailblazing anti-Zionist figures, Israel’s representation of Palestinians and Mizrahi, or Arab, Jews. As the subtitle suggests (A History of Power and Knowledge), Pappe uses the methods propounded in Edward Said’s Orientalism to examine Zionism, the Jewish state’s raison d’être, dissecting the ideology and inspecting each element for what they reveal about Israel.
Pappe and I talked about the post-Zionist movement, Noam Chomsky and Bernie Sanders’s politics, and trailblazing anti-Zionists.
What factors coalesced and led to the post-Zionist movement?
After 1973, critical elements in the society and members of more marginalized and repressed groups such as the Mizrahi Jews and women began asking more serious questions about the state, the nation, the meta-ideology that supposedly connected them together. Since 1973 Israel did not fight a major war. It had military clashes in Lebanon with the PLO and Hezbollah and ever since then with Hamas in Gaza, but these are not wars that engulf the whole society as did the ’48, ’67, 1973 war.
It’s relative calm in Israel. In a relative calm you cannot, for instance, tell Jews who came from North Africa and lived in impoverished neighborhoods that they have to be there because security takes precedence. Security did not take precedence in ’74, ’75 and that’s when you had the emergence of protest movements among North African Jews,. This was also a good time for socialists and communists to ponder the reality in which they lived. This relative calm was one factor.
Second, it was in 1982, the aggressive war in Lebanon. There was a military operation in Lebanon and this sense that maybe there’s something wrong in the way we were told as Israelis about reasons for wars. This sense was accentuated by the First Intifada when you saw unarmed Palestinians resisting occupation. You couldn’t easily buy into the Israeli propaganda that this was terrorism, anti-Semitism, whatever they were using in order to explain why there is violence against the state of Israel.
Also the peace initiative by the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in ’77 to ’79 was breaking the myth that there was no one there to talk to in the Arab world. Suddenly the leader of the biggest Arab state is willing to extend his hand for peace. That also challenged the basic foundation or mythology. ...
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