The Zionist ideal of a Jewish state is keeping Israelis and
Palestinians from living in peace.
By Ben Ehrenreich
March 15, 2009
It's hard to imagine now, but in 1944, six years after Kristallnacht,
Lessing J. Rosenwald, president of the American Council for Judaism,
felt comfortable equating the Zionist ideal of Jewish statehood with
"the concept of a racial state -- the Hitlerian concept." For most of
the last century, a principled opposition to Zionism was a mainstream
stance within American Judaism.
Even after the foundation of Israel, anti-Zionism was not a
particularly heretical position. Assimilated Reform Jews like
Rosenwald believed that Judaism should remain a matter of religious
rather than political allegiance; the ultra-Orthodox saw Jewish
statehood as an impious attempt to "push the hand of God"; and Marxist
Jews -- my grandparents among them -- tended to see Zionism, and all
nationalisms, as a distraction from the more essential struggle
To be Jewish, I was raised to believe, meant understanding oneself as
a member of a tribe that over and over had been cast out, mistreated,
slaughtered. Millenniums of oppression that preceded it did not
entitle us to a homeland or a right to self-defense that superseded
anyone else's. If they offered us anything exceptional, it was a
perspective on oppression and an obligation born of the prophetic
tradition: to act on behalf of the oppressed and to cry out at the
For the last several decades, though, it has been all but impossible
to cry out against the Israeli state without being smeared as an anti-
Semite, or worse. To question not just Israel's actions, but the
Zionist tenets on which the state is founded, has for too long been
regarded an almost unspeakable blasphemy.
Yet it is no longer possible to believe with an honest conscience that
the deplorable conditions in which Palestinians live and die in Gaza
and the West Bank come as the result of specific policies, leaders or
parties on either side of the impasse. The problem is fundamental:
Founding a modern state on a single ethnic or religious identity in a
territory that is ethnically and religiously diverse leads inexorably
either to politics of exclusion (think of the 139-square-mile prison
camp that Gaza has become) or to wholesale ethnic cleansing. Put
simply, the problem is Zionism.
It has been argued that Zionism is an anachronism, a leftover ideology
from the era of 19th century romantic nationalisms wedged
uncomfortably into 21st century geopolitics. But Zionism is not merely
outdated. Even before 1948, one of its basic oversights was readily
apparent: the presence of Palestinians in Palestine. That led some of
the most prominent Jewish thinkers of the last century, many of them
Zionists, to balk at the idea of Jewish statehood. The Brit Shalom
movement -- founded in 1925 and supported at various times by Martin
Buber, Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem -- argued for a secular,
binational state in Palestine in which Jews and Arabs would be
accorded equal status. Their concerns were both moral and pragmatic.
The establishment of a Jewish state, Buber feared, would mean
"premeditated national suicide."
The fate Buber foresaw is upon us: a nation that has lived in a state
of war for decades, a quarter-million Arab citizens with second-class
status and more than 5 million Palestinians deprived of the most basic
political and human rights. If two decades ago comparisons to the
South African apartheid system felt like hyperbole, they now feel
charitable. The white South African regime, for all its crimes, never
attacked the Bantustans with anything like the destructive power
Israel visited on Gaza in December and January, when nearly1,300
Palestinians were killed, one-third of them children.
Israeli policies have rendered the once apparently inevitable two-
state solution less and less feasible. Years of Israeli settlement
construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have methodically
diminished the viability of a Palestinian state. Israel's new prime
minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has even refused to endorse the idea of
an independent Palestinian state, which suggests an immediate future
of more of the same: more settlements, more punitive assaults.
All of this has led to a revival of the Brit Shalom idea of a single,
secular binational state in which Jews and Arabs have equal political
rights. The obstacles are, of course, enormous. They include not just
a powerful Israeli attachment to the idea of an exclusively Jewish
state, but its Palestinian analogue: Hamas' ideal of Islamic rule.
Both sides would have to find assurance that their security was
guaranteed. What precise shape such a state would take -- a strict,
vote-by-vote democracy or a more complex federalist system -- would
involve years of painful negotiation, wiser leaders than now exist and
an uncompromising commitment from the rest of the world, particularly
from the United States.
Meanwhile, the characterization of anti-Zionism as an "epidemic" more
dangerous than anti-Semitism reveals only the unsustainability of the
position into which Israel's apologists have been forced. Faced with
international condemnation, they seek to limit the discourse, to erect
walls that delineate what can and can't be said.
It's not working. Opposing Zionism is neither anti-Semitic nor
particularly radical. It requires only that we take our own values
seriously and no longer, as the book of Amos has it, "turn justice
into wormwood and hurl righteousness to the ground."
Establishing a secular, pluralist, democratic government in Israel and
Palestine would of course mean the abandonment of the Zionist dream.
It might also mean the only salvation for the Jewish ideals of justice
that date back to Jeremiah.
Ben Ehrenreich is the author of the novel "The Suitors."
Home > Jews_for_justice > Statehood and Expulsion 1948
Statehood and Expulsion — 1948
What was the Arab reaction to the announcement of the creation of the
state of Israel?
"The armies of the Arab states entered the war immediately after the
State of Israel was founded in May. Fighting continued, almost all of
it within the territory assigned to the Palestinian state...About
700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled in the 1948 conflict." Noam
Chomsky, "The Fateful Triangle."
Was the part of Palestine assigned to a Jewish state in mortal danger
from the Arab armies?
"The Arab League hastily called for its member countries to send
regular army troops into Palestine. They were ordered to secure only
the sections of Palestine given to the Arabs under the partition plan.
But these regular armies were ill equipped and lacked any central
command to coordinate their efforts...[Jordan's King Abdullah]
promised [the Israelis and the British] that his troops, the Arab
Legion, the only real fighting force among the Arab armies, would
avoid fighting with Jewish settlements...Yet Western historians record
this as the moment when the young state of Israel fought off "the
overwhelming hordes' of five Arab countries. In reality, the Israeli
offensive against the Palestinians intensified." "Our Roots Are Still
Alive," by the Peoples Press Palestine Book Project.
Ethnic cleansing of the Arab population of Palestine
"Joseph Weitz was the director of the Jewish National Land Fund...On
December 19, 1940, he wrote: 'It must be clear that there is no room
for both peoples in this country...The Zionist enterprise so far...has
been fine and good in its own time, and could do with 'land buying' -
but this will not bring about the State of Israel; that must come all
at once, in the manner of a Salvation (this is the secret of the
Messianic idea); and there is no way besides transferring the Arabs
from here to the neighboring countries, to transfer them all; except
maybe for Bethlehem, Nazareth and Old Jerusalem, we must not leave a
single village, not a single tribe'...There were literally hundreds of
such statements made by Zionists." Edward Said, "The Question of
Ethnic cleansing - continued
"Following the outbreak of 1936, no mainstream (Zionist) leader was
able to conceive of future coexistence without a clear physical
separation between the two peoples - achievable only by transfer and
expulsion. Publicly they all continued to speak of coexistence and to
attribute the violence to a small minority of zealots and agitators.
But this was merely a public pose..Ben Gurion summed up: 'With
compulsory transfer we (would) have a vast area (for settlement)...I
support compulsory transfer. I don't see anything immoral in it,'"
Israel historian, Benny Morris, "Righteous Victims."
Ethnic cleansing - continued
"Ben-Gurion clearly wanted as few Arabs as possible to remain in the
Jewish state. He hoped to see them flee. He said as much to his
colleagues and aides in meetings in August, September and October
. But no [general] expulsion policy was ever enunciated and Ben-
Gurion always refrained from issuing clear or written expulsion
orders; he preferred that his generals 'understand' what he wanted
done. He wished to avoid going down in history as the 'great expeller'
and he did not want the Israeli government to be implicated in a
morally questionable policy...But while there was no 'expulsion
policy', the July and October  offensives were characterized by
far more expulsions and, indeed, brutality towards Arab civilians than
the first half of the war." Benny Morris, "The Birth of the
Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949"
Didn't the Palestinians leave their homes voluntarily during the 1948
"Israeli propaganda has largely relinquished the claim that the
Palestinian exodus of 1948 was 'self-inspired'. Official circles
implicitly concede that the Arab population fled as a result of
Israeli action - whether directly, as in the case of Lydda and Ramleh,
or indirectly, due to the panic that and similar actions (the Deir
Yassin massacre) inspired in Arab population centers throughout
Palestine. However, even though the historical record has been
grudgingly set straight, the Israeli establishment still refused to
accept moral or political responsibility for the refugee problem it-
or its predecessors - actively created." Peretz Kidron, quoted in
"Blaming the Victims," ed. Said and Hitchens.
Arab orders to evacuate non-existent
"The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) monitored all Middle
Eastern broadcasts throughout 1948. The records, and companion ones by
a United States monitoring unit, can be seen at the British Museum.
There was not a single order or appeal, or suggestion about evacuation
from Palestine, from any Arab radio station, inside or outside
Palestine, in 1948. There is a repeated monitored record of Arab
appeals, even flat orders, to the civilians of Palestine to stay put."
Erskine Childers, British researcher, quoted in Sami Hadawi, "Bitter
Ethnic cleansing- continued
"That Ben-Gurion's ultimate aim was to evacuate as much of the Arab
population as possible from the Jewish state can hardly be doubted, if
only from the variety of means he employed to achieve his
purpose...most decisively, the destruction of whole villages and the
eviction of their inhabitants...even [if] they had not participated in
the war and had stayed in Israel hoping to live in peace and equality,
as promised in the Declaration of Independence." Israeli author, Simha
Flapan, "The Birth of Israel."
The deliberate destruction of Arab villages to prevent return of
"During May  ideas about how to consolidate and give permanence
to the Palestinian exile began to crystallize, and the destruction of
villages was immediately perceived as a primary means of achieving
this aim...[Even earlier,] On 10 April, Haganah units took Abu
Shusha... The village was destroyed that night... Khulda was leveled
by Jewish bulldozers on 20 April... Abu Zureiq was completely
demolished... Al Mansi and An Naghnaghiya, to the southeast, were also
leveled. . .By mid-1949, the majority of [the 350 depopulated Arab
villages] were either completely or partly in ruins and
uninhabitable." Benny Morris, "The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee
After the fighting was over, why didn't the Palestinians return to
"The first UN General Assembly resolution--Number 194- affirming the
right of Palestinians to return to their homes and property, was
passed on December 11, 1948. It has been repassed no less than twenty-
eight times since that first date. Whereas the moral and political
right of a person to return to his place of uninterrupted residence is
acknowledged everywhere, Israel has negated the possibility of
return... [and] systematically and juridically made it impossible, on
any grounds whatever, for the Arab Palestinian to return, be
compensated for his property, or live in Israel as a citizen equal
before the law with a Jewish Israeli." Edward Said, "The Question of
Is there any justification for this expropriation of land?
"The fact that the Arabs fled in terror, because of real fear of a
repetition of the 1948 Zionist massacres, is no reason for denying
them their homes, fields and livelihoods. Civilians caught in an area
of military activity generally panic. But they have always been able
to return to their homes when the danger subsides. Military conquest
does not abolish private rights to property; nor does it entitle the
victor to confiscate the homes, property and personal belongings of
the noncombatant civilian population. The seizure of Arab property by
the Israelis was an outrage." Sami Hadawi, "Bitter Harvest."
How about the negotiations after the 1948-1949 wars?
"[At Lausanne,] Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinians were
trying to save by negotiations what they had lost in the war--a
Palestinian state alongside Israel. Israel, however... [preferred]
tenuous armistice agreements to a definite peace that would involve
territorial concessions and the repatriation of even a token number of
refugees. The refusal to recognize the Palestinians' right to self-
determination and statehood proved over the years to be the main
source of the turbulence, violence, and bloodshed that came to pass."
Israeli author, Simha Flapan, "The Birth Of Israel."
Israel admitted to UN but then reneged on the conditions under which
it was admitted
"The [Lausanne] conference officially opened on 27 April 1949. On 12
May the [UN's] Palestine Conciliation ,Committee reaped its only
success when it induced the parties to sign a joint protocol on the
framework for a comprehensive peace. . Israel for the first time
accepted the principle of repatriation [of the Arab refugees] and the
internationalization of Jerusalem. . .[but] they did so as a mere
exercise in public relations aimed at strengthening Israel's
international image...Walter Eytan, the head of the Israeli
delegation, [stated]..'My main purpose was to begin to undermine the
protocol of 12 May, which we had signed only under duress of our
struggle for admission to the U.N. Refusal to sign would...have
immediately been reported to the Secretary-General and the various
governments.'" Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe, "The Making of the Arab-
Israel Conflict, 1947-1951."
Israeli admission to the U.N.- continued
"The Preamble of this resolution of admission included a safeguarding
clause as follows: 'Recalling its resolution of 29 November 1947 (on
partition) and 11 December 1948 (on reparation and compensation), and
taking note of the declarations and explanations made by the
representative of the Government of Israel before the ad hoc Political
Committee in respect of the implementation of the said resolutions,
the General Assembly...decides to admit Israel into membership in the
"Here, it must be observed, is a condition and an undertaking to
implement the resolutions mentioned. There was no question of such
implementation being conditioned on the conclusion of peace on Israeli
terms as the Israelis later claimed to justify their non-compliance."
Sami Hadawi, "Bitter Harvest."
What was the fate of the Palestinians who had now become refugees?
"The winter of 1949, the first winter of exile for more than seven
hundred fifty thousand Palestinians, was cold and hard...Families
huddled in caves, abandoned huts, or makeshift tents...Many of the
starving were only miles away from their own vegetable gardens and
orchards in occupied Palestine - the new state of Israel...At the end
of 1949 the United Nations finally acted. It set up the United Nations
Relief and Works Administration (UNRWA) to take over sixty refugee
camps from voluntary agencies. It managed to keep people alive, but
only barely." "Our Roots Are Still Alive" by The Peoples Press
Palestine Book Project.
Click on the next section you wish to read.
Early History of the Region
The British Mandate Period 1920-1948
The UN Partition of Palestine
Statehood and Expulsion—1948
The 1967 War and Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza
The History of Terrorism in the Region
Jewish Criticism of Zionism
Zionism and the Holocaust
Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel
Intifada 2000 And The "Peace Process"
Views Of The Future
Conclusion I For Jewish Readers
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Jews for Justice in The Middle East
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