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THE ISRAEL REPORT

September/October 2000
Jerusalem

MEMRI: Leading Israeli Author Aharon Meged on Post-Zionism

Part One
Israel is in the midst of a cultural civil war between those who would like to see Israel continue to exist as a Zionist state and those who believe that Zionism, the founding idea of the state, has reached its end. The latter group describes itself as "post-Zionist." By their own definition, post-Zionists are anti-Zionist, believing that the Zionist enterprise has lacked moral validity since its conception and, therefore, must be undermined. Further, post-Zionists also question the moral basis of Judaism.

Although post-Zionism is found primarily among left-wing Israeli intellectuals, Aharon Meged - one of Israel's most renowned authors and a leading figure in the Israeli left - has taken the lead in challenging post-Zionism. In the following interview, he warns against post-Zionism, which, in his view, undermines Israel's national and moral right to exist. He also argues that post-Zionism strengthens anti-Israeli claims while weakening Israel's morale and beliefs. Following are excerpts from the interview with Meged, which was published in a summer 2000 issue of the Israeli quarterly Ha'Uma [The Nation]. This interview took place before the death of Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad, and while the Barak government was still conducting peace negotiations with Syria.

Ha'Umah: The Zionist movement wished to renew the connection between the Jews and their land and between the Jews and their affinity to Judaism. In retrospect, is it fair to say today that Zionism is not a myth? Or perhaps Zionism failed?
Meged: Zionism did not fail. The bond between the people and the land [of Israel] is still very much alive, and so is the connection to their Jewish roots, despite existing trends which tend to treat Zionism as an obsolete concept, as a myth.... Post Zionism [is now emerging as the prevailing trend]. These trends have a strong voice in the media. But as a matter of fact, they have neither a strong hold on the people or on reality. Some things [are inherent] in our existential instinct; and this existential instinct will not allow our historic and symbolic affiliations to end. These [historic and symbolic affiliations] bestow our survival, and the Jewish existence is an existence of generations, and it is impossible to obliterate it.
Ha'Umah: The state, which we established, was supposed to answer not only a severe existential and spiritual problem, [but also to] strengthen national affinity, the linkage to ancient symbols. Did all this indeed happen?
Meged: Symbols change with time, but the connections to the symbols that pass from generation to generation are [unchangeable] and not null and void. The connection to the land of Israel, to its landscape, to certain traditions, and to traumatic events in Jewish history still exist even for those who declare that they are not Zionists. A hundred years of Zionism here produced a generation of native Israelis who without a doubt have this affinity [to the land and the nation].

Continued Arab Rejectionism

Ha'Umah: In your 1975 book A Tumultuous Zone you wrote about the Arabs: "The number of Arabs who are willing to recognize our rights to the land [of Israel] and who are willing to compromise is so miniscule that a boy could count them. For the decisive majority, we are a thorn in the flesh of the Arab nation, [a thorn] which must be forcefully uprooted in one way or another, if not by guile then by war, if not in one blow then in phases." Is this your outlook today as well?
Meged: To my regret, yes. The situation did not change. The Israeli left ignores the fact that this is the situation regarding most of the Arab world. The Israeli left is turning a blind eye to the fact that this is the prevailing attitude among most Arabs; they turn a blind eye to the truth. We are encircled by a fire of hatred that will not burn out. Millions of Arabs have yet to come to terms with our right to exist. The incitement continues, the formally declared intentions of annihilation remain unchanged, not only towards us as Israelis, but also towards us as Jews. If we look at the facts, beyond the hazy screen of wishful thinking, we will see that the intentions to uproot us from the land [of Israel] are [still] firm and abiding despite the peace agreements. The agreements and negotiations take place between diplomats and politicians. These are agreements between the elites, whereas the Arab people have not changed their attitudes towards us in the past 100 years. When you read what is being written about us in the school textbooks of different Arab countries, including countries we have peace agreements with such as Egypt and Jordan, it is clear that the [anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic] incitement has not subsided at all, [rather] it is [still] on the rise. This is also true throughout the Palestinian Authority, and all the more so in Syria, (1) where the wording of writings in both the media and school textbooks are reminiscent of Der Sthrmer and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. (2) [In these countries] Zionism is presented as Nazism, and the State of Israel as a satanic enemy whose intention is to annihilate the Arabs. Those who speak in the name of peace too, for example in Egypt and Jordan, insist on peace without normalization; this translates to peace with no peace between peoples - peace between elites, without tourism, trade or cultural ties. And if we have tourism - it is one sided. We are quick to go to them, to flood their markets and tourist locations, and they avoid coming to us.
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Footnotes:

(1) In March 2000, MEMRI published the first study of the Syrian textbooks, The Schools of Ba'athism: A Study of Syrian Schoolbooks, by MEMRI Executive Director Dr. Meyrav Wurmser.

(2) Der Sthrmer (The Attacker) was a weekly newspaper first published by Nazi party member Julius Streicher in 1923. It was violently anti-Semitic in content. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is an anti-Semitic forgery published in the 1800's that describes an international Jewish conspiracy.

Israel's Loss of Self-Respect

Ha'Umah: If the peace is not in fact peace, what is your conclusion, where does this lead to?
Meged: I belong to a tribe that is becoming extinct from this land…I was a member of a group which… held the belief that it is our right to live here and that we must defend ourselves. Something happened to Israeli society, a withdrawal from the belief in this right of ours… I was never one of the Eretz Israel Hashlema people [who believe that the Jews have an inherent historical right to the West Bank, Gaza and other territories, because these were a part of biblical Israel and are opposed to any territorial compromises]...[Although] I believe that the entire land [of Israel] is ours. Historically, culturally, and emotionally all of our literature and poetry, from biblical times to present time, is connected to the landscape, to the culture, and to the language of this land, [yet] I realize that we will have to make territorial compromises, since our Arab neighbors have lived here for several hundred years, and there is no other way but that of territorial compromise if we want to live with them on this land… But it is hard for me to come to terms [with the fact] that trends of self-flagellation, especially among intellectuals, are growing ever stronger and lead to [doubt] in our [national] rights, in our rights of self-defense, and ultimately… this is a renunciation of our right to exist here. The entire Zionist enterprise is presented as a bunch of myths...I do not accept this and it infuriates me.
Ha'Umah: What is so infuriating about this?
Meged: [What is] infuriating, first of all, is the loss of self-respect. [This trend represents] an appalling obsequiousness. We are idling in the presence of enemies, who declare their desire to annihilate us every morning and evening. This is grotesque. Take for example the negotiations with the Syrians. [With the Syrians] matters are reaching absurd dimensions. It seems that we are more interested in handing over the Golan than they are in accepting it. We are pushing them to accept the Golan Heights territories to the last inch as if we are begging them: "Accept, accept, why are you lingering?" I respect Assad. He stands firmly on his principles. [He] is not willing to give up until the last inch is given to him. And we? Groveling, begging: "Please, come towards us, we will give you anything you ask for!" And why? If [we were in] weak and trying to avoid annihilation - it would make sense that the agreement is necessary for us, there being no other choice. But our leaders say precisely the opposite. [PM Ehud] Barak speaks of Israel as the strongest Middle East power. [Barak speaks] of Israel's ability to defeat everyone. If that is the case, why is he so eager to give up? The same goes for Shimon Peres. When he was asked whether it is impossible to keep the settlements on the Golan Heights without evacuating them [if Israel withdraws from the Golan]? His response [was]: "Do you expect the Syrians to agree to this?" In other words, if the Syrians do not agree, we must give it up. Why do we never hear this version of the Israeli argument coming from the Syrian side? Did we ever hear a Syrian leader arguing that it is impossible to demand a complete withdrawal from the Golan because the Israelis will not accept this?… The situation is ominous: to my regret, the sycophancy that we display resembles the same sycophancy displayed by Diaspora Jews before their [non-Jewish] landlords. We treat ourselves as a small and weak people... If someone stands in front of you and spits in your face and calls you a "scum," would you beg him and compliment him the way Barak complimented Assad?
Ha'Umah: How do you explain this situation, how did we deteriorate to this stage?
Meged: Our leadership, our intellectuals and the media - all project weakness, we lost the spirit of national pride, our uprightness. It is amidst the ordinary folk, among what is called "the simple every day people" where this national pride is not lost. This obsequiousness is controlling the media and it has a great influence. Large divisions of journalists, in radio, in television, in newspapers, defend everything that the Arabs are saying and doing, including acts of violence. It is possible that the reason for this lies in the fact that high-ranking media executives who earn high salaries and are well off, want to maintain the comfortable conditions in which they live, [and] to live in peace. They fear every conflict. [For them] it is better to give in to the enemy then to fight. In the past we were willing to give up our bread [if necessary] to fight for principles we believed in. Today, [people] are afraid to give up their luxuries. The media incessantly pushes the leaders to give up, to not insist on what is ours, to bring peace at all costs... And it is hard for us to evaluate how much the leaders are influenced by what is written in the press. Barak, for example, is a practical individual at his core, but the media pushes him to [different] positions and he is afraid to lose its support, now and in future elections as well.
Part Two
Aharon Meged - one of Israel's most renowned authors and a leading figure in the Israeli left - has taken the lead in challenging the growing trend of post-Zionism. Post-Zionists, who are found almost exclusively on the Israeli left, claim that Israel committed enormous atrocities in its founding in 1948 and that Zionism is an inherently immoral enterprise. In the following interview, Meged argues against post-Zionism, claiming that its premises are false and that it undermines Israel's national and moral right to exist while strengthening anti-Israeli claims. Following is a continuation of Meged's interview, which was published in a summer 2000 issue of the Israeli quarterly Ha'Uma [The Nation]

Arabs See Our Weakness

Meged: In the past I was affiliated with "Peace Now" circles… [But] in the past few years I kept my distance from them. Now [the peace movements are] no longer about moving towards the Arabs, about meeting them half way, influencing them to come closer to our positions, or understanding us. [Rather], today the "Peace Now" people are joining the Arabs in protests against the government, against settlements, [they] forcefully disrupt settlements, and this happens while in the Arab camp there is not even a shadow of an attempt to establish a peace movement to match [the Israeli] "Peace Now." So I ask: "Are these [Arabs] your friends? They scorn you! Your conduct only brings disrespect upon you, since they do not respect he who does has no dignity and he who begs his enemy." And the worst thing of all is that the Arabs [can] see how we are weakened, how our morale loosens. Our internal conflicts intensify, and the fact is that they grow morally stronger as we become morally weaker. They are attentive to what is happening on our side, to which way the winds are blowing, aware of the pressure that is being applied on the leadership to give up more and more, and this [knowledge] plants a sense of security in them that they can beat us without firing a single shot. We are defeating ourselves.
Ha'Umah: Is there a chance for an awakening, for a change for the better, for an improvement in our situation, or perhaps we do not stand a chance? You sound very pessimistic.
Meged: I am pessimistic. Is anyone among the left's circles or in the government willing to see reality the way I view it, to listen to the sober forecast I offer? They see me as a dangerous element precisely because I am not identified with the right, and I am not one [who insists on] the territorial integrity of Israel. Many from the left voice encouragement and express support for my arguments following articles I publish in newspapers, but they do it in secret, with a whisper, because they fear the "intellectual terrorism" of the left. If you do not identify with them all the way - you are "burned," you are outside the "well-intentioned" camp.

[We] already signed peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan - and the enmity did not subside as a result of those agreements. And one of the most worrying and grotesque phenomena is that, of all people, it is the intellectuals, the authors and the academics in these countries, who are against peace and against us. And these [individuals] are supposed to represent the moderate group, the progressive and enlightened…

Settlements Must Remain

Meged: Peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan are the beginning, they exist, and they gained international support. It is impossible to back-peddle and to speak of "not even an inch [of Israel's territory in exchange for peace]." It would not make things better if we insist on the claim of not returning even an inch. [If we do this,] the entire Arab world will unite against us. For me, the land of Israel, the land of our historical memories, is the whole [biblical] state [of Israel]. But, if a Palestinian state is established, and in my opinion it is impossible to stop this process, we need to hope for open borders, so we can be anywhere in the land of Israel. If not to settle there, at least to travel there, to research there, to walk there freely and of course, [we] must not uproot or evacuate the existing settlements in the West Bank and [the Gaza] strip. Barak knows this as well, even [Justice Minister Yossi] Beilin does.

New Historians

Ha'Umah: In your struggle against the "new historians" you are unswerving and critical. You publicly debate them on different public forums, and warn of their influence. What is the danger in presenting a different narrative to the Zionist history?
Meged: The danger in accepting their positions and arguments is the loss of faith in our essential right to be here. If you do not believe in your right, you lose your power to stand up for yourself and [your ability] to fight for your existence. If we accept their refuted claims: that we invaded a land that is not ours, that we came here to disposes the Arabs, that we struggled [for the idea of] Hebrew labor [only] in order to prevent work from the Arab worker etc., and sink into a guilt trip about being here in sin - [then the Arabs] will write us off this land. If indeed we came here to exploit the Arabs and to oppress them and not in order to "build and to be rebuilt" and not for the purpose of the ingathering of the [Jewish] exiles then our whole existence is based on exploitation, and we are better off going back to the Diaspora.
Ha'Umah: But, they that claim this is the truth...
Meged: It is necessary to carefully examine each and every one of their claims. For example: the idea of Jewish labor resulted from the aspiration to "turn over the pyramid" of the Diaspora's structure, to create a nation of laborers here. Why claim that our goal was to dispossess and exploit Arab workers? Why present it as an idea with the aim of dispossessing the Arab workers? In reality there were almost no Arab workers prior to the Zionist settlement... why portray us as the ones who supported dispossessing the Arabs?

If during the war of 1948 there were expulsion incidents - and indeed there were - [we] must remember that there was a war going on. Had we not won we would have been annihilated. For us, a defeat translates into physical annihilation. [They] would slaughter all of us. But there are a few "justice-seekers" like Nimrod Aloni and Baruch Kimerling [well-known Post-Zionist writers], who claim we committed "ethnic cleansing" against the Palestinians. An expression that, in a masochistic passion, was borrowed from the war in Kosovo. In other words, we, like the Serbs in Kosovo, committed mass slaughter against the Arabs. And if, in the midst of a savage war's frenzy, we deported Arabs from one part of the country to another, do these self-righteous [individuals] forget whom we had to face and [who] wanted to annihilate us?

Ha'Umah: The left presents its way as sensitivity to the injustices that they claim [Israel] committed against the Arabs, and they claim that their sensitivity to these injustices represents their moral side. Does the freedom of expression not allow them the right to voice such criticism?
Meged: I never claimed that they do not have such a right. I argue that they present a distorted picture, and twist the facts and the aims regarding the return-to-Zion phenomenon, which was free of racism and from any ambitions of eliminating another people. Read the Hebrew literature of the past 100 years, and you will not find even five poems or stories containing hatred towards the Arabs. On the other hand, you will find a great number [of Hebrew literature and poetry] expressing longing for brotherhood and [the wish for] bringing the [two] people together.
Ha'Umah: Nevertheless, you attack a new trend in [Hebrew] literature, plays and research regarding Zionism. You describe these trends as self-alienation. If indeed freedom of expression exists, what is so bad about these discoveries?
Meged: I never voiced doubts regarding the value of freedom of expression. The fear is [that] the unquestionable acceptance of the new historians' positions presents an absolutely distorted picture of the Zionist enterprise both to the people of Israel and to the world. I resent the revolting adulation of anyone who denies our right of existence in the land [of Israel].

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) is an independent, non-profit organization providing translations of the Arab media and original analysis and research on developments in the Middle East. Copies of articles and documents cited, as well as background information, are available upon request.

Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI)
Washington, DC 20006
Phone: (202) 955-9070
Fax: (202) 955-9077
E-mail: memri@erols.com
Website: www.memri.org

[MEMRI holds copyrights on all translations. Materials may only be cited with proper attribution.]


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