May 30, 2013
The Question of Zion, by Jacqueline Rose
The argument, in nuce:
- The messianism at the heart of Zionism means that the fulfillment of the dream is also its apocalyptic end. Catastrophe and the culmination of a destiny, ordained from on high, fall together.
- Zionist nationalism, which views itself as destined, represses its own contingency. In doing so, it negates any potential national claims of the indigenous people and brooks no dissent with regard to its legitimacy. To question the latter is to attack it.
- The militarism that has become emblematic of the Israeli state is a response not so much to the suffering of the Holocaust but to the humiliation and shame associated with the Holocaust (and the pogroms that proceeded it). A strong and aggressive Zion is the only way to blot out this shame and undo the legacy of Jewish passivity and powerlessness. Survival becomes the overriding value of the state, justifying any means employed to ensure it.
Which is not to say that this book serves simply as a critique or dismissal of Zionism. Instead, we find something like an archaeology of it. Rose takes pains to find within the history of Zionism itself critiques of its messianism (Sholem), nationalism (Buber and Arendt) and its militarism (today’s refuseniks).
In the end, we’re left with a portrait of Zionism that is complicated, internally contested, utopian and tragic. As such it allows us to see how statements such as, “Zionism is racism” or, alternately, “Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism,” freeze Zionism into one of its aspects and concomitantly erase all others.
It should also be noted that this book was published in 2007. Since then, of course, Israel has withdrawn from Gaza (with rather fraught consequences) but also continued to expand the settlements and, with Netanyahu once again Prime Minister, doubled-down (as far as I can tell) on the militarism Rose describes.