Meet the Post-zionist Zionists: Sivan Fridman

Over the next week we will be sharing a project from Tel Aviv-based freelance journalist and writer Mya Guarnieri. She has interviewed a group of Jewish Israelis on what Zionism means to them. We share these profiles as part of our continuing effort to challenge and complicate the idea of Zionism today.

Guarnieri explains the reason for her project:

In all the discourse about Palestine/Israel, I see the words Zionism and Zionist flying around a lot. Sure, we might know what these terms meant when the first Zionist congress convened in 1897. And we have an idea of what it meant in 1948. But what does Zionism mean today?

Many Israelis have a complicated relationship with the word and hesitate to stand behind it (or even near it). Most live by their own personal definition, which sometimes bears little resemblance to the conventional or historical definition of Zionism. Ask seven Israelis and you’ll get seven completely different answers—like I did.

Because I was interested in the gray areas, because I was looking for messy ideology, I spoke mostly with left-wingers. To get a sense of the mainstream view, I checked in with a guy on the right—and he managed to surprise me. In short, it’s complicated. And I haven’t tried to simplify it.

Meet the Post-zionist Zionists: Sivan Fridman

sivanfridmanSivan Fridman

It was the avocadoes that made Sivan question things. The moshav she grew up on had three varieties—Haas, Fuerte, and HaNatoush. “HaNatoush,” Fridman repeats. “The abandoned.”

As a child, she didn’t understand why avocadoes would bear such a name. But when she rode horses through the fields, she noticed other abandoned things. There were stone remains of a village. They reminded her of the Old City in Jerusalem. “You don’t realize that they’re sort of new,” Fridman recalls.

When Fridman was 14 and attending school on a nearby kibbutz, she learned about the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. “I thought it was a kind of avocado. It was a shock to realize these lands were ‘abandoned’ in 1948.” Fridman became aware, too, that Palestinians hadn’t left their land as willingly as the agricultural nomenclature might imply.
Upset about this part of her country’s history, Fridman looked up the property records of her moshav. She was happy to learn that some of the land was purchased from Arabs in 1933, including the plot her parents’ house was built on. “These lands were legally owned,” she says. But some were not.

For Fridman, the granddaughter of four Holocaust survivors, “coming to terms with everything was a process.”

Her understanding and definition of Zionism changed. But it wasn’t abandoned. “Being a Zionist is something primal for me,” she says. “It’s who I am; it’s who I was raised to be.”

Today, Fridman, 29, is a counselor for a program that brings Jewish volunteers from the Diaspora to Israel to work with needy populations in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, the adjacent Palestinian city.

Some of these visitors end up staying, becoming “immigrants, not olim,” Fridman emphasizes. Though she dislikes the term “aliyah” because it implies exclusivity, she is not ashamed she has facilitated immigration. “I don’t think we [Jews] shouldn’t live here. But the meaning of Zionism isn’t to build settlements,” Fridman says. “The meaning of Zionism is to fight for how you want the country to look.”

Fridman points to Tel Aviv, hotbed of activism and host to organizations like that she is employed by, which emphasizes pluralism, social justice, and Judaism’s humanistic values. This is the future of Zionism, she says. “The new kibbutzim are the cities.”

Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 40 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Mooser says:

    “Fridman points to Tel Aviv, hotbed of activism and host to organizations like that she is employed by, which emphasizes pluralism, social justice, and Judaism’s humanistic values….

    As long as we are willing to forget how “Tel Aviv” got there in the first place?

    Oh well, at any rate, these posts will be lagniappe to Richard Witty. He’ll eat it up and ask for seconds.

  2. Shmuel says:

    Sivan (I hope you’re reading),

    Your instincts are good, but you have to follow through, rather than pretending it’s all ok by joining Tel-Aviv’s liberal scene, and even helping some needy Palestinians in what’s left of Arab Jaffa. Look a little further, beyond the name of an avocado. Maybe speak to some of the people you work with in Jaffa, ask them to tell you their stories. Question your upbringing as a Zionist, rather than taking it for granted. Does Zionism really mean “fighting for how you want the country to look”? Or does it imply a particular vision of the country – one that necessarily entails ongoing injustice toward Palestinians? It’s not an easy process (ta’amini li – believe me, I know), but it’s the right thing to do.

    • Citizen says:

      How does David Duke want his country to look?

    • Thank you Shmuel for offering Sivan a reasonable critique of her current stance. Zionism, in my opinion, is a malleable philosophy, which accommodates both Martin Buber and Meir Kahane. But history is not malleable, the past certainly cannot be changed and the future has limited possibilities as well.

      • Shmuel says:

        WJ,

        The juxtaposition of the points you make is interesting. In theory, and historically, Zionism has also taken on benign and even admirable qualities, but as you say, “history is not malleable”, and Zionism has turned out the way it has. I admire Jerry Haber (Magnes Zionist) for his views, and respect the fact that he prefers to express them in Zionist terms – just as I respect the intellectual integrity of atheists or pantheists who prefer to retain the liturgy and language of traditional theism. Haber is an anomaly however, and Zionism – even liberal Zionism – has come to imply, at some level or other, the dehumanisation of Palestinians. Of course I prefer Shulamit Aloni to Benny Elon, but they have something in common that is neither admirable nor benign.

        • Shmuel says:

          Clarification: I didn’t mean to imply any sort of equivalence between Aloni and Elon. I admire Aloni tremendously; she has done a lot of good in Israel – something I cannot say about Elon. Sadly however, “normative” Zionism is much closer to Elon than Aloni.

        • Danaa says:

          Shmuel – adding to what you and WJ say – In the end, societal, social and political models are judged not by the lofty aspirations of a few founders but by the reality that ensues. That, I think, is what’s meant by “history is not malleable”. No better example, I think, than communism. Who can disagree with the grand wish of ‘to each what he needs, from each what he can give..” ? (atrocious paraphrase, I know). But the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat” became in the end just a dictatorship – the proletariat be damned. When we think of communism now, we don’t think of the grand designs of marxs and engels; we think of the russia of stalin, the rot of brezhniev, the cultural revolution of mao, the destitution of albania, the killing fields of pol pot, the forlorness of north korea.

          I think that’s what’s happening with zionism too. The word has long been dissociated from the IDEA of a zion. Construed by some zionist founders (not all!) something to aspire to, a place of freedom and realization of collective security but one where the individual can thrive – a marriage between tradition and modernity, a light unto the nations, etc etc. Now, like communism, zionism has turned almost into a curse word. an epitaph thrown about, a label that can be used to smear others or to wrap around oneself. It is, above all, a COLD word now. Because, like communism, it came to reflect the frozen hearts of the people as they became in history – a far cry from the warmth the word was meant to project.

          That’s what I think must be very difficult for people like Aloni, Avnery and no doubt, the magnes zionist. To try to keep a small fire burning in the middle of a frozen tundra, lone voices desperately trying to remind people it wasn’t always so – pathetically trying to remind the huddled masses that it didn’t and doesn’t have to become a wasteland where hearts and minds are turned into stalactites – modern versions of pillars of salt.

          Thanks for the inspiration, as always.

        • Shmuel says:

          Danaa,

          Communism did come to mind, but things aren’t that simple in Europe – especially in Italy, which once had the largest Communist party in the West. Despite some unsavoury identification with Stalin (more Togliatti than Gramsci), Italian Communism was mostly of a very different variety, and still has many decent disciples and adherents (although the party itself has virtually disappeared).

          Apart from your imperialist American bias ;-) your analysis is spot on.

        • Danaa says:

          Sorry about the bias – old habits (of thought) die hard, as they say. Wanna exchange places for awhile? I miss europe something awful. I CAN become enlightened in no time (when in Rome, etc….)

          Another day, another time, the comparison zionism/communism could use some elaboration – not the concepts but more what happens to words, when events overtake the original meaning. I am thinking of the kibbutzim now – and how things can be done on small scale (at least for a while) that fall apart when scaled larger.

          Oh well, now it’s my turn to go back to that living-making business (darn….)

  3. MRW says:

    Sivan,

    Some food for thought:
    History of Jewish Opposition to Zionism – Yakov Rabkin – link to z.pe

  4. Rehmat says:

    Tel Aviv has many historical faces.

    1. It was built on stolen land.
    link to rehmat1.wordpress.com

    2. Israelis proudly call it “Pink City”.

    3. It is home to over 200 brothels.

    • Chaos4700 says:

      To be fair, Israelis call it the “Pink City” because of the color of the traditional building materials that made up most of the city. I use past tense, because, in their haste to preserve what they consider the “ancient Jewish homeland”… Zionists opted to demolish an awful lot of the traditional architecture in favor of post-modernist “upgrades.”

      And yes. I am completely aware of the irony of my commenting on this, given recent revelations. Rest assured, I am chuckling myself.

    • Mooser says:

      “3. It is home to over 200 brothels.”

      None of the girls who work their are Jewish, of course. Nor the boys, for that matter. And if these fictional brothels do even exist, they exist only to serve the foreign and Arab populations.
      I beg my Jewish brothers not to succumb (or fuck ‘em, for that matter) to the lure of commersialised sex. Remember, liver is still cheap.

  5. VR says:

    I would imagine that coming to an understanding of what is currently taking place (in a subdued form like Tel Aviv, or in a blatant sense on the settlements) it becomes a bit of a shock. Something never becomes what it previously was, and the more you discover or become aware the more traumatic it becomes –

    LET ME TELL YOU WHY YOU ARE HERE

    It does not matter how you re-define Zionism, that is, it does not matter to the Palestinians – it makes it no less wrong or deadly.

  6. “How should we live?” is a wonderful question, forward.

    “How should we be ashamed to live?” is suppression/murder.

    • Mooser says:

      Ho-Kay! Another wonderful comment from Witty, in which senility competes with reprehensibility.
      But I’m sure every other Jew who reads this can support Witty. I’m sure you remember when they told you in Hebrew School that if the Jews don’t have a country where Jews can lord it over everyone else, and Askenazi Jews can dominate every kind of Jew, we should be ashamed to live. It’s just like they’re killing us!

      Remember, Israeli Jews: You’re fighting for Witty’s honor…

      • I know you didn’t get this historical lesson, but the term “Never Again” means something to Jews.

        Those that adopt the phrase “Zionism is racism” in all conditions ignore the change in attitude that most Jews had experienced.

        The best outcome would be for Jews to get to an objective condition and an attitude that they can say “Never Again. To Anybody. And not by my hand.”

        Jews should say and act for that currently, even without the perfect objective conditions, but most approach politics conditionally. That means that when it is possible to be humane, that is our choice. When it is impossible, other logic gets in.

        Its easy to dismiss Israel and Israeli attitude, and then incrementally adopt suppressive attitudes in the name of dissent, and ask that Jews again live a life of apology, rather than of acceptance.

        Better that objective change occurs, than to ask Jews to return to groveling. We’re bored with that, sick of that. We won’t live a life of apology for being. Actions maybe, if we feel that I’s have acted wrongly. But for existence or for desiring to self-associate, never again.

  7. sammy says:

    I’m curious. Does Sivan invite any non-Jews or Palestinian refugees in her exercise?
    What is her interaction with Palestinians who are dispossessed by the Zionist state?
    What is her opinion of these refugees and their condition, whether in Ramallah, East Jerusalem, Gaza or Jenin?

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  9. Citizen says:

    “Judaism’s humanistic values.”

    How does this differ from Kipling’s “white man’s burden?”

    • Mooser says:

      “How does this differ from Kipling’s “white man’s burden?”

      The main difference is that Kipling assumed the White Man would shoulder that burden for himself (his son was killed fighting other, possibly even whiter men)
      and Zionism assumes everyone must shoulder that burden for the Zionists.

  10. There are somewhere between five and six million Jews living in Israel. Most of them are unconcerned about the Palestinians. A minority are concerned about the Palestinians both those in Israel and those in the territories. If people on this site feel that those who are already sensitive to the suffering of the Palestinians need a further education, fine. But there might be some use to eschew comparisons to David Duke or to Rudyard Kipling and to educate with a drop of honey instead of gallons of vinegar.

    • Chaos4700 says:

      Most of them are unconcerned about the Palestinians.

      Ayep. And most Germans were unconcerned about the Jewish minority. Or, if you’d like a marginally less inflammatory example, Most white Americans were unconcerned about African slavery.

      Being polite to people like you hasn’t helped, WJ. It only ties one arm behind our backs when you lash out in a frenzy, denying factual information.

    • Mooser says:

      See that! Jews are very concerned with humanistic values! In fact, whenever you get within fifty feet of a Zionist he’s screaming about humanistic values!

      And some day, they might even extend their concern to other humans! It could happen! No, really!

    • sammy says:

      Do you also believe the Germans should be applauded for the Holocaust?
      Or is your honey pot only reserved for Israel?

    • Mooser says:

      “educate with a drop of honey instead of gallons of vinegar.”

      I have never ever seen a drug which creates a sense of entitlement like ziocaine.
      Regular cocaine doesn’t even come close! And the omnipotence!

      So you don’t like the vinegar, Wonderful? Tough shit, you better learn to love it, you’l be getting plenty more! You got a way to stop it?

    • Shmuel says:

      WJ,

      There’s certainly a lot of fire ‘n brimstone here, but speaking as someone who knows the target audience all too well, Israelis are drowning in self-administered honey. This is no less true of liberal, sensitive Israelis than of the “hilltop youth”. The “nice” Israelis were so pissed off with Carter (or at least the free-floating title of his book) because he placed them in an unflattering global, historical context (or at least that’s what they thought he had done). The same goes for Goldstone and other criticism of “Cast Lead”. Most need heavy doses of reality and universal contextualisation. They need to be “historicised”. They need to read Hanna Arendt (still not translated into Hebrew, to the best of my knowledge – except for bits and pieces). They need to take off their prosthetic blinders.

      Having said that, even harsh messages are usually best delivered in a calm, reasoned fashion.

      • Danaa says:

        “historicized” – is that like “exorcized”?

        Now how do you historicize the historified without causing hysteria?

        If you know the answer to that, you could join many a great prophet. Not that it comes with any job security….

        • Shmuel says:

          Danaa: “historicized” – is that like “exorcized”?

          More like “iodised” or “galvanised” – putting stuff in (history in Zionists and Zionists in history) than chasing it out.

          Danaa: Now how do you historicize the historified without causing hysteria?
          You can’t historicise the historified, only the hist-horified, and hysteria is de rigueur.

          Now where do I pick up my prophet profit? :-)

        • Danaa says:

          “hist-horified” that’s cute as hell. But seriously, i was thinking that the problem with “hitoricizing” is that history has a kind of built-in hysteresis – one can’t go back the way one came in. Didn’t say because it would all sound too scientific-ky and I try ever so hard not to let it show (now look what you did!).

          As to your new mantle: gotta pick the prophet outfit before collecting profit….:-)))

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