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Ben-Gurion University
Gender Studies' Henriette Dahan Kalev promotes 'Post-Zionism' and denounces Zionist males

Head of gender studies, Ben Gurion University, Beer Sheva:



The term "postzionism" was first used   as early as 1989, spurring a fruitful debate among scholars. Critic scholars, from social sciences and humanities,  most notably Uri Ram, Oren Yiftachel, Amnon Raz Krakotzkin, Daniel Boyarin, Adi Ophir, Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappe, Benny Morris Gershon Shafir, Shlomo Swirski,  Azmi Beshara were grouped under the term "New-" "New historian", "New Sociologists".  The accuracy of this labeling, however, whether Swirski or Bishara for example are postzionists or new sociologists, is a matter of dispute as some of the scholars disagree with the definition (Morris) and other use it in order to distinguish
themselves from the mainstream scholars (Shlaim). 


What is distinctive about postzionism is   the attention to and interest in features of the past that until recently were most often ignored. Postzionism,   is a   rereading of  history taking place in the  climate of a critical questioning of the Zionist tradition.  Most of the materials for the radical questioning is found in the tradition itself but looked   with new eyes at familiar places. There is also a concomitant interest in non-Zionist such as the author Sami Michael and anti-Zionist such as Daniel Boyarin, voices that offer different perspectives on the Zionist image of itself and its past, especially regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


During the 1990s discussion of postzionism focused on issues of
periodization. New historians such as Benny Morris Avi Shlaim Ilan Pappe attempt to re describe the   hallmarks of  Zionist history  as in the 1980s the British archives were first opened to the public and offered material classified until then as confidential. Sociologists influenced by the postmodern critics reused and recycled the data in their own discipline. Unlike the heroic mainstream historian or mainstream
sociologist, who created works out of the well established governmental archives, the New historian and sociologist worked according to the Foucaultian method of genealogy, using the givens, trying to reinterpret them in various ways of  juxtaposition  for various ends.


The ultimate aim is to appropriate Zionist materials in such a way as to avoid being utterly dominated by them.   The work of Raz Krakotzkin is a vividly illustration of that  proved useful in criticism of  works linking the Zionist notion of negation of Diaspora, the Jewish study of Kabala, and the political application of notions such as redemption and apocalypse, with the maintenance of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Krakotzkin linked the features of contemporary Israeli phobia of the Palestinians to a more general account of the study of the Jewish history ; adopting Walter Benjamin's      notion of brushing the history fur backwards thus reflecting the material realities of the conflict. Raz- Krakotzkin subverted the tradition historiography that constructed dichotomy between Zionism and negation of Diaspora and could thus conclude by asking a rhetorical question that linked the lives of both people Jewish and the Palestinian: "Can a Jewish collective live in Israel basing its life on the recognition of rights of the Palestinians and taking responsibility on their fate?" [my translation from Hebrew version 2002]  


The term postzionism has led to a crisis in the whole notion of historical and periods. Every distinguishing feature of postzionism can be located in an era prior to our own. Periodization begins to seem a rhetorical creation, a way of constructing a historical "other" that allows us to define a desirable present by contrasting it to a past or to praise the present for sobering the past.   In her article, , "The legend of Sarah: gender memory and national identities( Eretz Yisrael /Israel, 1917-90)", Billie Melman showed how historiography could utterly change in three different eras serving three different purposes while documenting the biography of Sara Aaronson, the women who committed suicide while captured by Ottoman government in Palestine for being suspected of membership in NILI, the underground Jewish group. She was introduced once as a heroin preferring to sacrificed her life rather then give in her comrades names, a second time as one of the first pioneers who paved the way to the establishment of the sate of Israel; in a third time her being a women who did not fulfill herself as a mother and had a family of her own, dominated the historiography.  The rise of theory, particularly of theory inspired by Said Shohat and by leading Franch works of Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucault, imported Orientalism and postmodernism critic into the academy.  The emphasis on the antifoundational and antiholistic aspects   as well as its hostility to eternal, metaphysical truths or realities and to grand narratives   that pretended to provide totalizing explanations are best found in the work of Ophir and Ram. Postzionism is incredulity toward metanarratives.


Critic scholars of postzionism distinguish their writings from the mainstream research   considering itself  high Zionism. Postzionsm spurred skepticism   and antagonistic evaluation of the nation building Zionist myths and of the Zionist founding fathers management of the conflict with the Palestinian people.

The conflict, the postzionist are convinced, is maintained by language, images, and other cultural phenomena. These phenomena are as central, if not more central, to the conflict management as economic or political processes. Baruch Kimerling for example brought in to the Israeli
sociological discourse on the Nakbe, the word for disaster which is aimed to be used simultaneously with the war of independence, stressing that the establishment of the state for the Jews was accompanied by the demolition of the lives of the Palestinians (1999). Gabi Pitterberg 's account of the historiography of the grand Zionist narrative as introduced in the school curricula showed how the Arabs were constructed as The Other put to the service of the Zionist self identity construction (1995).  The Arab-Jews by contrast were introduced as dirty, sick and primitive who threatened the Zionist project (Dahan-Kalev 2oo1) These  works showed how images and language has demonized the Arabs and deepened the chasm that divided Israelis and Palestinians.   One enters a postzionist world once he or she is convinced the production of images and information, not only the production of material goods, of Israeli life and the conflict management  determines who holds power. This "linguistic turn" in postzionist studies
explains the centrality of critic of Jewishness and nationalism   to all current versions of an oppositional politics. But the critics accuse it of having no model of conflict resolution beyond disputes as to how to move from the academy to political action. Given this contested position towards postzionist politics, relations between Palestinians and postmzionists have been wary. The   theorists have paid little explicit attention to the issues raised by Palestinians outside the academic world. The prominent figured amongst those who lead the postzionist scholar remain outside the politics and limit themselves to semi-academic
conferences publicist expressions and at most to NGOs.   The promise to the conflict resolution however, is concealed within postzionism regarding it as the only context in which Israeli politics is made applicable. Individuals and groups participate in a multitude of localities and the lessons, beliefs, and practices become the heart of the study for postzionists and the compos for the resolution.  Pulling Zionism from the hands of the mainstream academic scholars and delivering it to the hands of critical postmodern scholars, allowed exploring the complex relations between the zionism and Israeli-Palestinian conflict contexts. The formal analysis of zionism in terms of victimization, as represented in school curricula for example yielded to an exploration of the conflict determinants of the work and to the ideological impact the work had on its audience on both sides: Palestinian and Israeli-Jews. Politically this was misleading because the very  illusionary materials of the political discourse regarding the conflict (language, images) come from the fundamental Zionist perceptions and because, even more radically, the state and the citizens in Israel are constituted by that Zionism as Raz-Krakotzkin and Pitterberg, showed. The exploration of the conflict determinants of the work and to the ideological impact the work had on its audience was in a sense also synthetic because the purity of the alienated forecloses access to the energies and disputes that are lived while also severing any connection to an audience beyond the Zionist elites. Thus, the postzionists argue that the belief that Israel can enjoy an autonomy from contemporary conditions of the conflict while maintaining the occupation in the territories and the oppression of the Palestinians is thus both misleading and synthetic. Hence, the mainstream Zionists works are left high and dry. 

A politics accompanied this shift in critical paradigms. Against the traditional Zionist history and the Jewish nationalism, the liberating discourse of postzionism inspired study groups and produced works and journals as Theory and Criticism, tough published? Van Leer Institute, an ivory tower at the service of the well established scholars, be it a Zionist or a post Zionist. These works yielded insistence   that practices, linguistic usage, media work, educational   and techniques, were all crucial sites of oppression and of maintenance of the Zionist elites. The disruptive narrative techniques in postzionist works was prominent and stressed the significance of ignoring old distinction between high univocal hegemonic history and low polivocal history of the subordinated groups as the Arab-Jews, the Palestinian-Isralis or the Ultra-Orthodox.   Postzionist study aspired to use the affective power of heterogeneous voices and images   but failed to open the door wide to, mixed genres,  that threatened to breach the decorum, after all, as all the postzionist scholars except Swirski, are active in the well
established Israeli, American and English academia  And preserve the conventions of academic behavior.


Discussions of postniznism are considered  by  academic establishment,   represented by distinguished scholars as Moshe Lissak, Shlomo Deshen, Eliezer Ben Raphael, Anita Shapira Joseph Gorni  as a distorted history. The hidden issues  in the Zionist grand narrative regarding the Palestinian Nakba (holocaust) resulting from the foundation of the state of Israel, its discriminatory relation towards the mass migration of Jews from Arab countries, the close ties between political power and academic knowledge production that nourishes the narrative deplored the postzionists lack of high seriousness. The established ; their apparent contempt for their addiction to "ungratification" of Zionism, as Boyarin for example did in an account of the gender construction of the Theodore Herzle. In this account he employed mimesis and parody methods showing  exposing the monumental image of the founding father Herzle to be a homophobic sexist who wanted simply to join the colonialist club of his days (Boyarin 1997)  .The postzionist scholars (almost always male Jewish of western origin in this Zionist vision of heroic alienation) mixed themselves with the established scholars. Therefore, their potentially revolutionary work in the purity of its contempt for the given and in its attempt to create an alternative  ex nihilo discourse for the Israeli Palestinian conflict failed.   

The multitude critic of the grand narratives  have resulted in a general paradigm of reversing to a discourse on the extent to which Israeli society itself had changed and the fact that the contemporary studies' relation to   the  multiplicity of Jewish religious, national styles and practices was problematic in new ways. There is   multiplicity of "language games",  ceaseless experimentation in all these games  . However, no rules are followed as Jean-Francois Lyotard suggests, except  the rule "To speak is to fight, in the sense of playing, and speech acts fall within the domain of a general agonistics." For example   the notions 'El Nakba' (Kimerling 1999) or  'Mizrahim' (Dahan Kalev1999) were  displayed initial ostensive meaning or situated next to their antonym  thus contributing to plurality and subversion of the cannon unified study.

Many Palestinians have been impatient with the abstruse arguments surrounding epistemological foundations of postzionism and have concentrated instead on more historically informed studies of the political conditions and biases of particular knowledge claims (Bishara).
 Such work ultimately derives from Said, as does  appropriation of  Said's account of Western thought's hostility to and fascination with the other, postcolonial literature. However, Palestinians,   usually want to preserve some kind of distance from the dominant culture, a distance that postzionists theory often denies is achievable.


 doomed to accommodation with it. If you study the origins of the conflict one is doomed to reach an accommodation with it. However, postzionists suggest  no normative criterion to be used as a way out of the conflict.  There is no collectively agreed means of solving the conflict,   on way to solve it among the postzionists.   What remains is the ethics of lessening the suffer (Ophir). The close distance between the    conflict and the theorization as reflected in the "new historians" works and the other "new-" scholars, according to Shafir, generates a motion in search of a resolution. But vision of the conflict resolution cannot be
formulated as long as the univocal Zionist hegemonic view of the conflict is prevailing . Moreover a theory that will be capable of representing the complex realities and components in which the multiplied political entities exist is lacking. The global-local ties and the powers that exploit the vast majority on both sides is not fully comprehended. The debate here focuses on the consequences of postzionism, whether it actually disrupts Zionism by advocating   varied, heterogeneous  "difference" against the unifying, identity-obsessed practices of the massive state and bureaucracies that characterize contemporary Israel Shafir has suggested that it does in a minor way.

In sum, postzionism is   marking the site of related, but not identical, debates among scholars of Arab, Palestinians, Israeli and Jewish humanities and social sciences in the last fifteen years. These debates revolve mainly around the relation of Zionism to the Palestinain conflict context, and to the discrimination against Arab-Jews, and to the relation of theory to political action and to the dominant order. It discusses the relation of political practices to the transformation or maintenance of the conflict in all its aspects. It relates to the collapse of traditional foundations of Zionist ideology as formulated by the founding fathers and aspires produces an effective critique of the status quo. It looks into the relation of an image-dominated Israeli  Jewish Male  to political  practice, and the end of a Zionist tradition that now appears more heterogeneous than previously thought even while it appears insufficiently tolerant of multiplicity. At the very least, postzionism highlights the multiplication of voices, questions, and conflicts that has shattered what once seemed to be (although it never really was) the placid unanimity of the grand narrative and of   Zionism that gloried in it.


Benjamin, Walter, 1968, "Theses on the Philosophy of History," in
Illuminations, Essays and Reflections, edited with an introduction by Hanna Arendt Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc. NY.


Bishara, Azmi, 1993, "On the Question of the Palestinian Minority in Israel"
 Theory and Criticism, vol. 3 (1)


Boyarin, Daniel, "The Colonial Masqued Ball," Theory and Criticism: an Israeli Forum, 11 (Winter, 1997), pp. 123-144.


-------            1993, "Carnal Israel: Reading Sex in Talmudic Culture", The New Historicism: Studies in Cultural Poetics, vol. 25  series ed. Stephen Greenblatt, University of California Press: Berkeley.


Dahan-Kalev, Henriette, 2001. “You Are So Pretty, You Don’t Look
Moroccan”, Israeli Studies, Vol. 6:1-14.


------                    "The Riots of Wadi Salib" , in  Fifty to Fourty Eight Critical Moments in the History of the State of Israel Theory and criticism 1999, 12-13 (Spring)


Kinerling, Baruch, Al Nakba in Fifty to Fourty Eight Critical Moments in the History of the State of Israel Theory and criticism 1999, 12-13 (Spring)


Melman, Billie, "The legend of Sarah: gender memory and national
identities( Eretz Yisrael /Israel, 1917-90)" The Journal of Israeli History, 2002

Volume 21, Numbers 1-2 / (March-October) pp. 55-92


Michael, Sami, "An Author Under Influence" (Sofer Takhat Hashpaah) interviewed by Daliya Karpel, Haaretz 15.4.05Morris, Benny, 1987, The birth of the Palestinian refugee problem, 1947-1949
Cambridge University Press


Ophir, Adi, 2002, "A Time of Occupation" in The Other Isreal: Voices of Refusal and Dissent eds. Roane Carey and Jonathan Shainin


Pappe, Ilan, 2001, The making of the Arab-Israeli conflict, 1947-1951 IB Tauris London


----------       "The New History of the War of 1948" Theory and Criticism 1993, 3, (Winter) Van Leer Institute Jerusalem


Michael Peters, ed., Education and the Postmodern Condition (Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey, 1995) 31.



Pitterberg, Gabi, "The Nation and Its Narrators: National Historiography and Orientalism" Theory and Criticism  6 1996, (Spring) Van Leer Institute Jerusalem


Ram, Uri, 2000, “The promised land of business opportunities: Liberal post-Zionism in the glocal age” in Shafir and Peled (Eds.) The New Israel: peacemaking and liberalization New York: Westview Press


Raz-Krakotzkin, Amnnon, "Between "Brit Shalom" and the Holy Temple: The Dialectic of Redemption and Masianism Following Guersom Sholem" in Theory and Criticism 20 (spring) 2002



Said, Edward W., 1979, Orientalism New York: Vintage Books


Shafir, Gershon, 1996, Land, labor, and the origins of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 1882-1914  Berkeley: University of
California Press


Shlaim, Avi, 2000, The Iron wall: Israel and the Arab world New York: WW Norton


Swirski, Shlomo; 1981, Lo Nechshalim Ela Menuchshalim: Nituah Sociology Vesihot Im Pe’eilim Upe’eilot (Literaly in Hebrew: Not Naturally Inept But Socialized to be Inept: A sociological Analysis and Discussions with Social Activists Both Men and Women, ) Haifa University Press, Haifa. [Hebrew]



Yiftachel, Oren,1995 "Planning as Control: Policy and Resistance in Deeply Divided Societies", Progress in Planning Series, Vol. 44,
Pergamon-Elsvier, Oxford, UK


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