Competition for the most licentious definition of the term “criticism of Israel” conceived by the mind of man has for many years been intense. Given the number of academic scribblers with febrile imaginations who are profoundly troubled by having to share the globe with the state of Israel, this should come as no surprise.
Intifada II, during which Palestinian Arab suicide bombers, pogromists, and lynch mobs slaughtered over a thousand people (most of them Israeli Jews) and wounded thousands more, was euphemistically described (in Judaism Magazine, no less) by a Vassar professor of Jewish Studies as “a critique of Zionism.”
A Panglossian sociologist writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education assured readers that “calls to destroy Israel, or to throw it into the Mediterranean Sea…are not evidence of hatred of Jews,” but merely “reflect a quarrel with the State of Israel.”
When questions were raised in November 2003 about the indecency of Harvard and Columbia honoring and playing host to Oxford poetaster Tom Paulin after he had urged that Jews living in Judea/Samaria “should be shot dead” and announced that he “never believed that Israel had the right to exist at all,” his apologists in Cambridge and Morningside Heights defended his right “to criticize Israeli policy.”
The learned Swedish Chancellor of Justice (Goran Lambertz) in 2006 ruled that repeated calls from the Grand Mosque of Stockholm to “kill the Jews” by dispatching suicide bombers to Israel were not unlawful racial incitement to murder. Rather, ruled this Swedish Solomon, they
should be judged differently and therefore be regarded as permissible because, although highly critical of the Jews, they were used by one side in an ongoing…conflict where calls to arms and insults are part of the everyday climate in the rhetoric that surrounds it.
But Shaul Magid of Indiana University has beaten all these redefiners of “criticism” to mean the advocacy of politicide (for Israel): he is ahead of the pack, and has no second in this race for obfuscation. Here is the official description of a course that this “chaired” professor of Jewish Studies and Religion is at the moment planning to offer in Bloomington. In happier times this great university was called “the Athens of Monroe County”; if Magid, a tribune of “post-Judaism,” makes further headway there, it may be renamed New Chelm:
Jewish Critics of Zionism (3 cr.)
REL-A 430 Topics in the History of Judaism / REL-R 541 Studies in Jewish Tradition MW 5:30-7:30 2nd 8 weeks
In the past fifty years, Zionism has risen to become a central component of Judaism and anti-Zionism has been relegated to those considered the enemy of the State of Israel. Many do not know that some of the most vehement critiques of Zionism came not from the enemies of the state but from Zionists themselves. In this course we will read and examine the Jewish critics of Zionism from the early twentieth century to the present. We will read from the works of Kaufmann Kohler, rector of Hebrew Union College, Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt, Gershom Scholem, Bernard Lazare, Hans Kohn, Simon Rawidowicz, The American Council of [sic] Judaism, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Jacqueline Rose, Peter Beinart, and Judith Butler. We will also read some of the recent Israeli post-Zionist debates. This course is intended to give the student a much more complex and multifaceted view of Zionism as an idea and as an ostensible solution to the Jewish question.
The description is so gross, flagrant, and blatant in its willful deception as to be shocking even in these dark times. First of all, like his predecessors in this sordid enterprise, Magid forgets that “criticism” means (in Matthew Arnold’s classic definition) “the attempt to see the object as in itself it really is” and not to destroy the object. But he goes beyond them in identifying people who openly advocate politicide (and even genocide) where Israel is concerned not only as “Jewish critics of Zionism” but as “Zionists themselves.”
Indiscriminately lumped together are people like Scholem, Buber, Kohn, who were cultural more than political Zionists and favored bi-nationalism, but discovered the Arabs had no interest in co-existence; Arendt, who grudgingly acknowledged, in 1951, that Zionism was “the only political answer Jews have ever found to antisemitism,” but harbored what Marie Syrkin called “blinding animus” toward those vulgar Israelis and vast ignorance of their country; Lazare, who briefly associated with formal Zionism in reaction to the Dreyfus affair; Leibowitz, who said Yehuda Halevi, Israel's national poet, was a “racist” and contributed the Israeli-Nazi analogy (which made redundant the declaration that Israel has “no right to exist”) to Europe’s semi-educated intellectuals whose predecessors had already resolved to their satisfaction the question of whether Jews had “the right to live"; the stridently anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism; that worldwide industry called “Peter Beinart,” the highly-publicized prophet of Zionists against Israel; and (culminating the outrage) Rose and Butler, whose hatred of Zionism as well as of Israel borders on the pathological.
Jacqueline Rose aspires to be the psychoanalyst of Zionism. This star in Magid’s galaxy of “critical” Jewish Zionists is so eager to “expose” Zionism’s birth in sin as the new Nazism that, in her book The Question of Zion (a title emulating Edward Said’s The Question of Palestine) she actually conjures up a scene in which Theodor Herzl and Adolf Hitler find themselves seated at the same Parisian performance of Wagner. “According to one story,” she excitedly reports, “it was the same performance of Wagner…that inspired Herzl to write Der Judenstaat [The Jewish State] and Hitler Mein Kampf.” (Apparently Princeton University Press, which published her book, cannot afford to hire readers who know that Hitler did not arrive in Paris until 1940, and that Herzl died in 1904.)
In the same book, much of it a regurgitation of the phobias of the late Tony Judt, Rose declared that “Jewish nationalism will come into being only if it abolishes itself.” She is “appalled at what the Israel nation perpetrated in my name” and, wishing to live “in a world in which we did not have to be ashamed of shame,” hopes to cure her shame-sickness by destroying its cause: Israel and Zionism.
Judith Butler, a literary theorist famous for prose of stupefying opacity, was, prior to the autumn of 2003, somebody who defined her “Jewishness” (not exactly Judaism) in opposition to the state of Israel. A very busy signer of petitions harshly attacking Israel, she was one of 3700 American Jews opposed to “occupation” who signed an Open Letter urging the American government to cut off financial aid to Israel. Later (London Review of Books, August 21, 2003) she expressed misgiving about having signed that particular petition because it “was not nearly strong enough…it did not call for the end of Zionism.” (A strange remark to come from one of Magid’s contemporary “Zionists themselves.”) She looked into the history of Zionism and discovered that there had been “debates among Jews throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries about whether Zionism ought to become the basis of a state.”
From this abstruse research she swiftly concluded that demanding an end to Zionism in 2003, i.e., calling for politicide (and the massive bloodshed it would entail), was no different from taking a debater’s position against Zionism decades before the state was born. She played an important role in the campaign to hound Lawrence Summers out of the presidency of Harvard after he labeled as antisemitic the movement (for which she played the trumpet) “to single out,” in Summers’ words, “Israel among all nations as the lone country where it is inappropriate for any part of [Harvard’s] endowment to be invested.” She has become a matinee idol in Europe, where she helps to encourage the burgeoning feeling that the Holocaust gave antisemitism a bad name. “Butler’s unspoken assumption,” Cynthia Ozick observes, “is that consonance, or collusion, with those who would wish away the Jewish state will earn one a standing in the European, if not the global, anti-Zionist world club.”
It goes without saying that Magid’s course description also implies that there is no difference between articulating, 80 or 100 years ago, a Zionism that was cultural rather than political, or advocating a binational state, or even espousing “Jewish” anti-Zionism, and today’s agitprop of those calling for the erasure of a living society. Israel’s current population of eight million, including six million Jews, live under constant threat of nuclear destruction by the genocidal fanatics of Iran and unrelenting siege by Iran’s proxies: Hizbollah to the north and Hamas to the south.
I would not wish to suggest that people like Beinart, Butler, Rose and scores like them have no strong connection to Zionism. On the contrary, without Israel most of them would no longer be Jews. In “The Sermon,” a famous Hebrew short story of 1942 by Haim Hazaz, a character named Yudka declares that “[w]hen a man can no longer be a Jew, he becomes a Zionist”; nowadays, it would be truer to say that “when a man can no longer be a Jew, he becomes an anti-Zionist.”
One wonders whether, in the course of feeding his students such generous helpings from the works of non-Zionist, anti-Zionist, and post-Zionist Jews bent upon the end of Zionism and often of Israel itself, Magid poses this question: Do the Beinarts and Butlers and Roses ever pause, in their frenzied, apocalyptic demonization of the Jewish state, to consider the old Yiddish saying --
“Come for your inheritance, and you may have to pay for the funeral.”
Edward Alexander’s most recent book is The State of the Jews: A Critical Appraisal (Transaction Publishers, 2012).