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Book Review: On Ari Shavit's 'My Promised Land'

The Zionist story, re-told by the elite, for the elite.

A new book by Haaretz journalist Ari Shavit won rare compliments in recent weeks from the liberal Jewish elite in the United States. A couple of prominent Jewish writers—Leon Wieseltier and Thomas Freidman—praised the book on the pages of the New York Times, the New Yorker’s editor held a party for the book and its author at his home, Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg handed the Natan Prize to Shavit, and more.

The 17 chapters of My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (Random House, English only) re-narrate the story of Zionist and Israeli history in this land, while investigating what Shavit recognizes as an existential crisis from which the nation is suffering. The first half of the book travels along the familiar Zionist path—the first waves of Jewish immigration to Palestine, the Arab revolt, the 1948 war, etc. The second, more polemic part, focuses on social forces and political developments.

Throughout the book, Shavit explores and analyzes social and historical developments through the eyes of dozens of Zionist Jews and Israelis. Most of them were interviewed by the author; some are historical figures. It is a wise choice that highlights Shavit’s greatest quality as a journalist—he is a patient and focused interviewer.

Yet the identity of Shavit’s interviewees reveals the limits of his analysis. All the book’s heroes save for a few—and there are, as I said, dozens of them—are Ashkenazi men. The handful of exceptions highlights the similarity between all the rest: A couple of Mizrahi Jews are interviewed on the Mizrahi problem and the Mizrahi experience, two or three Arabs are quoted in the chapters dealing with the Palestinian problem, and women are almost completely absent from the book. Even 2011’s social protest—a unique historical event in the Israeli mainstream because its most important leaders were women—is examined through the eyes of (male) Itzik Shmuli, who found himself in the leadership circle due to his role as chairman of the national student union. Shmuli never played a major part in the events; and the remarks that Shavit is able to extract from him are among of the dullest in the entire book.

In a world that celebrates diversity, Shavit’s decision to narrow his story to the Ashkenazi-male experience is more telling than any of his observations. The ghettoization of all other voices — the fact that a women can’t discuss the Palestinian story or that a Palestinian is never asked about the Mizrahi experience or that a Mizrahi doesn’t analyze the economy, and so on — constructs Shavit’s story more than any other choice he makes. Every social or political group remains the object of the the same view; deprived of an existence that stretches beyond the role it plays in the Ashkenazi elite’s drama. Needless to say, Shavit identifies himself with this elite.

* * *

It’s a long book, perhaps too long, and Shavit’s overly dramatic prose doesn’t make things easier. At its weakest moment, My Promised Land feels like a 100,000-word op-ed (“what we all face is the threefold Israel question: Why Israel? What is Israel? Will Israel?”); but there are also powerful parts, written with real passion and confidence. Such is the story of the rise and fall of the Shas party’s Aryeh Deri —a tale which every newspaper reader knows well, but Shavit still manages to tell in a way that feels new and exciting.

Ari Shavit: ‘My Promised Land’

The chapter on the 1948 war also stands out from the rest of the book, both in style and in message. Shavit follows a unit of Israeli soldiers that murder, loots and steal the property of Palestinians. He then narrates the expulsion of Lydda in details, including the horrific massacre of men, women and children who found refuge in the city’s small mosque. (Shavit’s attempt to bring the Nakba out of post-Zionist writing and into Zionist history is the most original theme in the book.) My Promised Land also excels in other moments of great violence – the Holocaust, the Arab Revolt – and at times, it feels that there is a side to Shavit that is fascinated with Power, in and of itself.

This, no doubt, is part of the book’s appeal. The intellectualization of violence – and ultimately, murder – is a central theme with elites in the U.S. and Israel, due to the inherent contradiction between their values and the massive implementation of military force they often pursue. The specific genre of war-crime confessions is nicknamed “shooting and crying” in Israel, and traces of it are all over the book. That shouldn’t, however, be mistaken for a moral debate, since like others before him, Shavit avoids any serious discussion on questions of responsibility and accountability.

In fact, the confessions sometimes serve as a justification for more violence. According to Shavit’s rationale, since the Palestinians will never forget or forgive the Nakba, Israel is destined to fight them again and again. Indeed Shavit, who refers to himself as a peacenik, has become an advocate of war in recent decades. He supported military campaigns that were well within the Israeli consensus, such as Operation Defensive Shield (2002) and Cast Lead (2008), but also ideas which were met with considerable opposition: The disastrous ground invasion into Lebanon in 2006 and a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

* * *

Whereas the first part of the book is written in an admiring tone that idolizes the success of the Zionist elite in the state-building and later in the nation-building project, in the later chapters Shavit is much more critical of his interviewees, occasionally even bitter. The settlers are “zealots,” “mad,” suffering from “tribal psychology” and a “bizarre ideology.” The Left is “stuck in adolescence,” “never built [anything],” lacks love, “is all about negation.” The Sephardic Jews (“Oriental Israelis,” Shavit calls them) “are not aware” that Israel saved them from “a life of misery and backwardness in an Arab Middle East.” Tel Aviv’s party goers don’t care for the dying soldiers in the Lebanon War; the Russian immigrants felt superior to Israelis, and much like the ultra-Orthodox, failed to cherish democratic values; and so on. Together, all those groups turned the nation into “a political circus,” one that prevents Israel from confronting the existential threats it faces in a hostile region, and so on.

Shavit’s observations are disputable. He makes life easy for himself by searching the roots of the settlements project with its most radical, messianic of activists. Yet by now, most of the historical research refers to the settlements as a state-run, state-initiated project, which was carried out mostly by the government bureaucracy and supported by the mainstream, even when the same mainstream rejected Gush Emunim.

Contrary to what Shavit implies, the anti-democratic legislation of recent years didn’t come from the Orthodox parties but from Kadima and the Likud – the two centrist parties which Shavit himself supported at times (Shavit praised Ariel Sharon and called for him to break from Likud and establish a new centrist party, but he was disappointed with Kadima pretty early on); the new generation of Russian immigrants actually assimilated more rapidly than any wave of immigrants that preceded it (Lieberman’s rise in popularity is with veteran Israeli Jews, not Russians). Shavit’s rants against the Left are so abstract – what does “not building anything” refer to? – that it’s hard to extract any meaning from them.

In the same way, Shavit condemns the destruction of Sephardi culture by Zionism but sees Arab culture as dark and primitive – without recognizing that those are two sides of the same coin; the rejection of the Arab culture is the destruction of Arab-Jewish world – it was not “a mistake” but rather an inherent feature of the project. And while going to great lengths to describe the challenge posed to Israel by its Palestinian citizens, Shavit doesn’t allow any space in his writing for non-Jewish Israeliness; he rejects the Palestinians long before they can reject him. In short, what Shavit refuses to recognize is that all those groups don’t want to play a role written by others; they want their share in power, they want their identity recognized, and they want their stories heard, and not just in reference to the “problem” they pose.

* * *

Ultimately, arguing with Shavit would be missing the essence of the book. My Promised Land is a conservative manifest that fits well into the current wave of Zionist romanticism that Israel is experiencing. It is not the Zionism of the 40s or 50s  – there are no second rounds in history – but neo-Zionism. I believe this neo-Zionism (or Israeli neo-Conservatism) to be the most influential ideological force of the recent decade.

It is a theory which is not exactly Left and not exactly Right, an approach that seeks to respond to post-Zionist trends of the nineties, that sees the multi-cultural nature of Israeli society is a threat, that seeks to renew Ben-Gurion’s melting pot and views the conflict with the Palestinians as a zero-sum game that can’t really be solved; it doesn’t support the settlements but it prefers to form political pacts with the Israeli Right and not the Left. Other prominent neoconservatives are journalists Ben Dror-Yemini, Gadi Taub and Irit Linor (like Shavit, all three had their roots in the Israeli left), MK Elazar Stern and Finance Minister Yair Lapid. Even a phenomenon like Im Tirzu needs to be understood in the context of Zionist Romanticism, and not (purely) as a right-wing element.

Apart from certain nuances, what separates Shavit from these other writers and politicians is that he doesn’t attempt to hide his elitism. In fact he embraces it, and by doing so reveals the degree to which Zionist romanticism has to do with the maintenance of power; with insiders and outsiders.

My Promised Land is a book for the Zionist “1 percent,” not so much in terms of money but political power and cultural assets. (The gossip entry in an Israeli newspaper for the book launch party at the New Yorker editor’s home stated that “an aerial convoy of [Shavit’s] wealthy good friends from Israel arrived,” then listing the names of Israeli billionaires, a high-society attorney, a journalist known for her adoration of Israel’s tycoons, and more.) Shavit’s own journalistic career is one of extreme proximity to power: he supported Netanyahu in the late 1990s, then aligned with Ehud Barak, then became closer to the Sharon family (Shavit gave a personal testimony in favor of Omri Sharon just before the young Sharon, who took the fall for his father, was sent to prison), then Barak again. In Barak’s service, Shavit tried to politically assassinate Tzipi Livni ahead of the 2009 general elections, and traces of Barak and Bibi’s resentment for former head of Mossad Meir Dagan runs through the Iran chapter.

One can also try and make sense of the praise from liberal Jewish-American intellectuals, who welcomed the book. My Promised Land was lavished with endorsements from the most important columnist in America, the editor of the most important magazine, the head of the most important Jewish organization, the most important literary critic and the most important Jewish journalist.

These people often feel like they are the same person. Like many of Shavit’s heroes, they are powerful Ashkenazi-Jewish men. Their feelings of identification with Israel were built on the myths from the early decades, which Shavit revisits; their more intimate encounters with the country, however, were in the 80s and 90s, and they bear the mark of the rise of the second and third Israel, and the rapid decline of the old elites.

Much like Shavit, these Jews feel a certain anxiety from the voices coming out of Israel; they don’t recognize “their Israel” and they don’t understand or even know the settlers, the ultra-Orthodox, the Sephardi or the Palestinians (one of the least explored topics in Israeli-Jewish American relations is the political effect of the ethnic identity of the American community on those relations).

Shavit provides his readers with an appealing explanation for the crisis, and while there is something unpleasant with an elite that schools minorities for not playing their part in the fulfillment of the Zionist dream (or fantasy), the comfort the book can provide to many readers is beyond denial. Will it give them a better understanding of the real people living in Israel/Palestine, their needs, their hopes and their dreams? I am not all that certain.

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    1. Danny

      I don’t need to read Noam’s review of the book, much less the book itself, to know that it is a 100,000-word waste of time. Shavit is not a serious writer, but rather – like Noam observes – a skilled interviewer who knows how to ask all the right questions so that the answers always seem to reinforce his worldview.

      I’ve stopped reading anything he writes since he took the unofficial role of chief warmonger at Ha’aretz; the man has literally never come across a war he has not liked, and I don’t think I’ve ever read or heard a single word of doubt or uncertainty from him with respect to war and its consequences.

      One last thing about Shavit – he is a peacenik the way Netanyahu and Barak are peaceniks.

      Reply to Comment
    2. No wonder

      I think the following now distinguish the “serious/radical left” form the “establishment left”, and Shavit’s book seems like a dated and pompous version of the latter, tailored for the “Liberal Jewish elite” that does not want to be really critical:

      1. The idea that the settlements and the occupation just “happened” by accident or as something “they” (settlers, private persons) did vs. the idea that it is a policy Israel has pursued almost without interruption for the past 48 years.
      2. the idea that a Palestinian state is just around the corner vs. the realization that the reality is of one state with an apartheid regime (this can be held by supporters of 2 states).
      3. The army, Shin-Beth etc. are fine organizations that sometimes stray vs. the view that they have become instruments of the occupation governed by despicable norms.
      4. An image of politics that is exclusively Jewish, vs. the recognition that cooperation is now a prerequisite for any thought about politics.

      Reply to Comment
    3. “In a world that celebrates diversity…” : I believe that the dominant political ideology (in the making) in Israel is a reaction to the extremes of diversity, where diversity become lethally alien. “Infiltration” is as an attack on the body and differentiates what is in and outside the body. Nakba talk makes Palestinian citizens “infiltrators,” and the body must inoculate itself in its schools; boycott mutates one into an “infiltrator”; asylum seekers are “illegal infiltrators” which upset culturally, economically, criminally; taking money from international organizations for the promotion of social issues and human rights (the latter now a form of deviation) makes one a fifth column for foreign infiltration; Bedouin refusing Prawer are ungrateful, foreign, parasitic, pampered, become hidden infiltrators. The proposed loyalty oath for citizenship is a litmus test for infiltration, much like the sf movie “The Thing,” where a shape shifter must be revealed through identity threats; similarly, the proposal to have “Jewish” trump “democratic” evokes a bodily purity defense under distress.

      In all of this I see a reaction to the suicide bombing campaign, where the State and a majority of its active polity reached out, only to be bludgeoned by otherness. A kind of infinite merit results, where those killed by bombings in their innocence sanction the identification and removal of “infiltration.” This merit is corporate, to the State and People, and so too is blame. So the Knesset reacts hysterically to the High Court’s ruling on asylum which effectively requires individualized hearings; such hearings are repulsive, for they limit purity (what if one is wrong and some remain who should not). What if one bomber gets through.

      Zionist romanticism harks back to a time when expansion removed infiltration, when expansion and purity were identical. So the settlers are emotionally ambiguous beyond Biblical warrant to land, for they promise expansion which brings purity. Kept so abstract, no one is hurt, and only peace results. Yet a single act against a settler is an attack on the body: individualization of outcomes is restricted to the hurt of the pure; infiltrators remain a class to be blotted out. A young Israeli soldier shooting a WB Palestinian cannot be identified for fear of the harm it will cause him/her; to protect is to hide. But the slain or wounded Palestinian is no more than a member of a class, an instance of inevitability; to individualize him/her threatens the logic of protection against that class.

      Suicide bombing admits no nuance. Caveats over State policy here are betrayal; there can be no excuse. So too there can be no excuse anywhere for denying the purity of protection. Indeed, there seems a near taboo over the bombings save for venom. How do you speak of them without excusing or approving them? The question will recur.

      Courts are individualistic by case. Purity is inherently abstract. So the rule of law finds itself outflanked, oppose, by dominant ideology, with infiltration slowly attributed to Israeli Jews let alone Israeli Palestinian/Arabs.

      I don’t think the suicide bombers knew how effective they would be.

      Reply to Comment
    4. I’m a committed American Jew with a strong Labor Zionist background who has fallen off the Zionist bandwagon. I support Jewish Voice for Peace which the ADL has defined as “out of the tent.”

      When reading Ha’aretz I read Amira Haas and Gideon Levy.

      I’ve read Hillel Cohen’s Army of Shadows
      Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917–1948 and Good Arabs.

      On 972 Noam Sheizaf is my favorite.

      I have not followed Shavit’s career nor have I read any of his previous books.

      I’m 2/3 of the way through Shavit’s book and I think it is an important book. Noam is really missing something here, at least from an American perspective.

      In parentheses Sheizaf writes “Shavit’s attempt to bring the Nakba out of post-Zionist writing and into Zionist history is the most original theme in the book.” That is huge, absolutely ground-breaking, especially in the United States where post Zionist history is barely known within the Jewish community.

      Shavit describes the dispossession in great detail. True he tells the story more from the perspective of Jews than from Palestinians, but he makes absolutely no attempt to call it anything less than the dispossession of a people. And he does interview and bring back to Hulda one of the dispossessed and again, makes no attempt to paint anything less than a horrific picture.

      The book is an important challenge to liberal Jews in the United States. As problematic as the occupation is; it does not cover over the problem of the founding of the State of Israel.

      I don’t believe in zero-sum Israel/Palestinian. And it seems like Shavit does. But what is worse than a zero-sum Israel/Palestine are liberal Jews who claim that it never was zero sum. Shavit is right to quote Moshe Dayan’s 1956 eulogy of Ro’i Rotenberg. I respect Dayan for his honesty in that speech and I respect Shavit for his honesty in the book.
      In the US we still get “The Arabs rejected partition and the Jews accepted it.” In Shavit’s book we get quotes from Ben Gurion in 1938 saying the Arabs need to be transferred. The war needed to happen if for no other reason than to make the demographics better for a Jewish Israel.

      In a way I’m glad of Shavit’s Zionist credentials are so strong and I’m willing to suffer is zero-sum conclusions. Because the details he provides, the story he paints is so much truer and more honest than most American Jews know. This is a book that I can safely give my father-in-law, because of Shavit’s Zionist credentials. Along the way there will be many American Jews reading things for the first time and they will be shocked.

      Reply to Comment
      • Hi Shai – see my comment to Richard on the same issue.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Richard Witty

      I found the article to be ungrateful and equally a projection as he criticizes.

      The significance of publicly writing and presenting the nakba to hundreds of thousands that saw the Charlie Rose interview, or others, is not incidental, not a buried acknowledgement.

      He is allowed to present his reasoning. I too thought of the Lebanon war and Cast Lead as defensive originally, then excessive, as did most of my generation.

      From Noam, or others that he is reporting on, I expect leadership, meaning new proposal, new agenda, that is sufficiently thought out to comprise a viable goal.

      If I hear only critique, I am left in the mud.

      Noam has posted some uniquely insightful and informative articles, and some less so.

      Reply to Comment
      • Thanks for your comment Richard. At this point, I don’t think we should celebrate any mainstream writer who is ready to acknowledge the Nakba, just as I don’t think that right now saying someone supports the two state solution qualifies him as an anti-occupation activist. The Nakba is a historical fact, and if Jews want to live in denial it’s their problem, not the worlds’. I am interested in Shavit’s message, and this, I think, is a very conservative one, and not just on the Palestinian issue.

        Reply to Comment
        • Richard Witty

          I don’t know Shavit well. I’ve heard from others that I respect that he vacilates in his positions fundamentally, and is somewhat narcisistic.

          For me, from an uninformed distance, his trip to the US was much more enlightening than deceptive.

          The nakba is now a question, out, whereas before it was dismissed.

          And, the Palestinian people in the present are described as deserving, honorable, sophisticated, not in racist terms.

          The past and then the present. Eye-opening. Then conveying permission to speak of wrongs.

          He has the J Street formula to be listened to, loving Israel so as not to one of the demonizers, not one of the killer of the dream, and criticizing Israel, so as to be one of the constructive critics trying to make a better Israel.

          Reply to Comment
          • He loves the Israel of his mind, the idea, while ranting on the real people living here. that’s the main problem.

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          • Richard Witty

            “He loves the Israel of his mind, the idea, while ranting on the real people living here. that’s the main problem.”

            It is also true of much of the left and solidarity, that they hate the real people living there, as well.

            Isn’t the path of loving Israel and Israelis and loving Palestine and Palestinians more productive?

            Reply to Comment
        • Noam wrote, “The Nakba is a historical fact, and if Jews want to live in denial it’s their problem, not the worlds’.” I totally disagree with you. As long as American Jews have influence, it IS the world’s problem.

          His assessment that Israel was the “adult in the room” regarding nuclear weapons is preposterous. His Iran analysis is dreadful.

          But none of that undoes his portrayal of the Nakba and Palestinian dispossession. And it’s not just in the Lod chapter. In some ways, his outing with the Palestinian Arab lawyer to the Galillee. He allows that lawyer to make a full-on argument for a bi-national state and he never really refutes it.

          But even more powerful than allowing the Palestinian lawyer to give voice the one state idea is how he allows him to paint a vivid picture of the Palestinian ruins buried just below the surface of an Israel that denies them. When he says that Palestinians will never forget those ruins the reader believes him.

          Another really important thing that Shavit does is try to address the issue of how people who are not evil can create evil. The chapter on his reserve duty at the Gaza detention center was powerful in this regard. In order for people to accept that Israel has done evil, addressing that issue is quite helpful.

          Reply to Comment
        • Aaron Gross

          I don’t agree that “if Jews want to live in denial [of the Nakba] it’s their problem.” It’s all Israelis’ problem, and all Jews’ problem, not just the problem of those who deny it. I’m kind of surprised to see you say otherwise.

          I’m not going to waste time reading the book – I’ve read a couple positive reviews, and they convinced me that the book was not written for me – but I agree with Greg that any politically centrist public figure who tells the story of the Nakba deserves lots of credit. Unfortunately, that story is becoming associated with the far left.

          Reply to Comment
    6. Anyone who is praised by Zionists with criminal past like Jeffrey Goldberg, must be part of Israeli Hasbara.

      On December 11, 2013, Jeffrey Goldberg, an Israeli concentration camp guard, who has turned into an American journalist and author, wrote a column at the Jewish Bloomberg.com, titled ‘John Kerry Is Israel’s Best Friend’.

      “Kerry was at his most emotional – and yes, pro-Israel – when he described the benefits of peace and when he warned of what would happen to Israel if it continued to settle land that needs to become part of the new state of Palestine for that state to be viable,” wrote Goldberg.


      Reply to Comment
    7. Ron Feldman

      The key part of this discussion is that this book was written for an American pro-Israel audience, and as Richard notes, he has the J Street formula, for better and worse. I saw him speak in San Francisco, and after the talk at the book signing my friend (who bought the book) asked him in Hebrew why he wrote the book in English and not in Hebrew. Shavit would not answer, even though asked twice. The point is, it is a very different audience – mostly and inevitably less knowledgeable.

      Reply to Comment
    8. daniel gavron

      I think the first half of the book is quite well written, although the prose is over-heated. The second half runs out of steam and is simply a re-run of Shavit’s unexpeptional op-eds from Haaretz.
      His editor deserves our contempt.

      Shavit deserves some praise for dealing with the Nakba in the fmous “Lydda” chapter, but fundmentally he is a phony.

      He creates a flawed balance between the sins of the left and right. The right is guilty of the occupation–well done, Ari, but the left’s {equal) sin is thinking that the end of the occupation will bring peace. How does he know it won’t? It hasn’t come close to being tried.

      Those of us who spent time in the Palestinian territories during the early Oslo years were witness to a wonderful raising of the spirits among the local population and a genuie desire to start the Arab-Jewish relationship over again.

      To balance these two “sins” is totally invalid.

      Above all, the man is hysterical and cowers in fear of almost eveything Arab and Muslim: a sad demonstration of the failure of Zionism to produce a new, rational Jew, without the paranoia of centuries.

      He claims to have taken five years to write the book. In my opinion he shouldn’t have bothered, but no doubt he feels vinidcated by Tom Friedman and company.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Al

      Interesting review. Will read the book now, having read this. I have waited for the haaretz review of their star writer’s book for some time now, but nothing. Maybe the newspaper doesn’t share his observations?

      Reply to Comment
    10. C. Bendavid

      Post-Zionist ranting

      First of all, Ari Shavit is neither a conservative, nor a neo-con. He simply believes that Hamas, Hezbollah and the Mullahs in Tehran are a threat for Israel. As for the Nakba, it may be a fact, but it’s not a colonial conquest (unlike what you seem to claim.)
      1) The Palestinians were expelled after they tried to destroy Israel
      2) The Palestinians also expelled many Israelis during the 1948 war (10% of Israeli Jews were forcefully displaced during this war).
      As for the Mizrahi culture, it was not destroyed, it is thriving. Nonetheless, it is true that it was repressed until the late 70’s, but the Yiddish culture was repressed as well. In fact, all countries require immigrants to abandon a part of their culture in order to join the new society they live in. Since the 1970’s, a certain degree of multiculturalism is accepted in most Western societies. However, there are still countries like France which openly promote the cultural assimilation of immigrants.
      Regarding the fact that Ashkenazi males are overrepresented in this book, it’s totally normal.
      Most policy makers or leading intellectuals in Israel are Ashkenazi males. There is no conspiracy theory behind that. And plese, don’t tell me about the ”subaltern’s narrative”. It’s just another way of referring to an old-fashion marxists class analysis. Sorry, but given the disastrous balance sheet of marxism, Shavit cannot be blamed for not subscribing to this world view! Besides, ”subalterns”, as post-modern leftists call them rarely subscribe to this marxist world view as well. Mizrahi Jews vote for Likud or Shass and Muslim Arabs are either traditional conservatives or islamists. Actually, the only sector of the Israeli society where it’s fashionable to be a Jusith Butler style, post-modern radical leftist, is in the Ashkenazi cultural elite of Tel Aviv! But anyway, your real problem with Shavit is not the fact that Ashkenazi Jews are overrepresented in his book. The real problem for you is that he’s a Zionist. He doesn’t believe that Israel is a colonial state and he’s right about it. Ever since the second aliya, the Zionist movement was no longer colonialist, whether you like it or not. Borochov, Ben Tzvi and Katznelson were all anticolonialist. Furthermore, as soon as 1913, the Zionist movement offered an alliance to the Arabs. In the 1930’s, Ben Gurion even called for the creation of a Semitic confederation uniting Jews and Arabs. Not bad for a colonialist! Nonetheless, it is true that Israel was established in a territory occupied by another people. However, the Jews were a landless people. This is why it was justified, from a Zionist point of view, to partition Palestine; so that both the Jews and the Arabs could have a state of their own. You may disagree with this idea, but wanting nations that already have a territory to share a part of their land with landless peoples has nothing to do with colonialism. It is called distributive justice. Otherwise, expropriating land from rich landlords in order allow landless peasants to have their own plot of land as well, should be called theft! This sort of morality suits the Tea Party much more than self-proclaimed leftists! By the way, this was the argument invoked by the left to support the creation of Israel in 1948. It’s quite strange that all of a sudden, in the late 1960’s, this argument became irrelevant for you guys. The truth of the matter is that the left became anti-Zionist at the same time that it became anti-Western as well (in the late 1960’s, with the advent of the New Left). Thus, I don’t believe that your anti-Zionism has anything to do with antisemitism. It’s merely anti-Westernism (and stupidity).

      Reply to Comment
    11. Frank John

      I’ve read all the comments made so far and yours seems to be the most biased of them all.
      Your knowledge of the history of Israel seems at best very rudimentary and about as one-sided as it gets.
      I suggest that you read the book entitled THE ETHNIC CLEANSING OF PALESTINE, By Prof.
      Pappe, who has done far more research on the subject then younger will.
      By the way calling other people’s ideas as ‘stupid’ is a childish way debating a topic.

      Reply to Comment
      • C. Bendavid

        Well, Ilan Pappe has very little credibility outside the extreme-left. Besides, he accused Israel of perpetrating a genocide in Gaza. Well, the Syrian civil war has killed, in three years, more people than the entire Arab-Israeli conflict over the last 100 years! How should we call this, a super genocide?! But anyway, I did not deny the expulsion of the Palestinians. By the way, in Pappe’s book you cited, he says very little about the expulsion of Israeli Jews by Arab forces during the 1947-49 war. Thus, he is the one who denies what really happened in 1948, not me. Nonetheless, what I said, is that the Palestinians were expelled after they refused the partition plan and tried to destroy Israel instead. Moreover, ethnic cleansing is something almost inevitable in war time, especially in the middle of the 20th Century – after WW2, the Albanians were expelled from Greece, the Germans from Eastern Europe, the Hungarians from Czechoslovakia, etc, etc. One has to understand the historical context before judging, especially since, as Uri Avnery said, the ethnic cleansing was committed on both sides. As for the use of the term “stupid”, I’d like to apologize. But when you are being constantly called racist, merely because you believe in the Jewish people’s self-determination right, it wracks your nerves. However, take note that I did not accuse Sheizaf or other post-Zionists like yourself of “antisemitism” or “self-hatred”. When Chomsky accuses NATO of perpetrating a genocide in Afghanistan, or when Naomi Klein and Michael Moore endorse the islamist rebellion in Iraq, it becomes obvious that their problem is not only with Israel. They hate the West in general, not just Israel.

        Reply to Comment
        • Frank John

          I’m an old man and have only recently taken an interest in the Jewish/Palestinian question, so have not read much of what has probably been debated for the last 100 years or so. I have, however, always taken an interest in the old term, “Armaggedon.” Because of a baptist upbringing, there was always a fear of being left out, as a non-Jewish person, from ever reaching the “Golden Gates.” This has also brought about a fear of a possible fire-storm preliminary brought about just before the final judgement day, initiated between the forces of “good and evil” in the Middle East.
          So my interest is piqued by books written by such as Pappe, and “The History of Isreal” a 1000 page tome by Howard Sachare (a Jew). I also subscribe to the writtings of Jonathan Cook, a journalist living in Nazareth, who you would probably think of as left of left in his leanings.
          I also came from a family that was forced out of Russia during their civil war of the 1920’s. They lost all of the land which they had purchased from Russia, I lost most of my aunts, uncles, and the rest of their relatives who didn’t make it out and had to spend their days in Kazachstan, etc.,if they didn’t die in the forest camps of Siberia. However, those of my family who got out safely, were immediately accepted into countries in the West — Canada, the USA, etc.

          The question that has always been at the basis of my mind is this:
          Why was it that the Jews of Western and Eastern Europe (including Russia) were not accepted by ANY country after WWI and particularly after WWII when they had suffered so many losses at the hands of the Nazis?

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    12. Michael Nathanson

      I read the book and heard Shavit on a book tour. The book does justice when describing Israel post 1948. I disagree with Shavit on a crucial point. The tragedy of Israel did not begin in 1948 when Israel directly or indirectly, expelled 2/3 of the Palestinian population. The tragedy began with Jewish immigration to Palestine in 1882 and further, with the Balfour declaration. How could the Zionist endeavor to establish a Jewish home in Palestine be compatible with the preservation of human rights of the non-Jewish population there who aspired for self-determination?

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      • C. Bendavid

        Well, Chaim Gans has written extensively on this topic. The principle of historical rights, invoked by the Israeli right, to defend the right of the Jewish people to establish their state in Palestine, is moot. However, the principle of “distributive justice”, invoked by the Zionist left and even by Jabotinsky himself, is morally sound. The Jews were a landless people, whereas the Arabs occupied a huge territory. Thus, it was fair to require the Arabs to share a small part of this land with the Jews, so that both peoples can have a state of their own. Redistributing the wealth is not theft, it is called distributive justice. By the way, this was the argument invoked by the left, all over the world, to support the creation of Israel in 1948. However, ever since the late 60’s, it seems that sharing the wealth has become good for everyone expect for the Jews. Nowadays, according to the Western left, when the Jews ask for their own part of the cake, they become “colonialist”!

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    13. Daniel Levine

      Thanks for this thoughtful review, Noam. I am assigning the book for my class; will use this as a ‘countertext.’

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    14. Carol

      The book is a treatise on the hopeless situation of the Jewish people. Israel will never live at peace with it neighbors; the situation can only be managed through a strong army to defend its European citadel, protection from the U.S., and assistance in preventing other countries in the region from acquiring weapons that might threaten it with genocide because their leaders are not to be trusted. Oh, and assimilation is silently annihilating Jewry everywhere but Israel. It is a most unhelpful scenario.

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