Meet the Post-zionist Zionists: Tom Mehager

This post is part of a week-long series of interviews with Jewish Israelis discussing their connection to the idea of Zionism. We hope this series will spark a conversation over the what Zionism means today. For more on these interviews see this post.

TomMehagerTom Mehager

“It used to be that service wasn’t a question,” Tom Mehager, 32, says, explaining that he grew up in Gilo, a settlement outside Jerusalem that lies just east of the Green Line. “But then there was the moment.”

It was a split-second decision in 2003. Mehager was on reserve duty, deep in the West Bank. “I was at a roadblock east of Ramallah, near to Jericho,” he recalls. “The road connected one Palestinian village to another. It didn’t even lead to Israel.”

When Mehager, a staff sergeant at the time, asked his commander why they were erecting the roadblock, his commander replied that it was collective punishment. Mehager’s choice was “crystal clear,” he says. “I refused. And I spent four weeks in a military jail.”

Mehager joined an organization comprised of other soldiers that had objected to service. From there, he branched out into working with human rights NGOs. And he began to question the Zionist narrative.
“My father was born in Iraq. All my family names are Arabic. I’m Arab,” Mehager says. “From the Zionist point of view, I’m supposed to be the same as a Jew from Holland. But I really feel connected to Israeli Arabs. [We] speak the same language.”

Zionism creates another paradox, according to Mehager. “The guy from Holland has rights in both Europe and Israel. The Palestinian who is born here has no rights here or anywhere else.”

Though Mehager feels that Israel’s contemporary problems stem from the country’s Zionist roots, he points to the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, a cultural Zionist and an advocate of a binational Jewish-Arab state, as an early visionary who foresaw a solution. Mehager also admires left-wing politician and activist Shulamit Aloni, who famously supported and echoed former President Jimmy Carter’s statement that Israel is an apartheid state. Like Aloni, Mehager disputes Israel’s claim to being a moral army, “The ‘moral army’ is a lie.”

“But I’m not a pacifist,” Mehager adds. “I would join the army again if we weren’t occupiers anymore.”

Mehager maintains that his criticisms are a form of patriotism. “If we recognize the full rights of the Palestinians,” he remarks, “I could be a Zionist.”
 

Posted in Israel/Palestine

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

  1. sammy says:

    The first article in the series where the Palestinian position is considered. For that I applaud you, your ability to see the Palestinians as part of your narrative distinguish you from many Israelis, Zionist and post Zionist.

    I’m Arab,” Mehager says. “From the Zionist point of view, I’m supposed to be the same as a Jew from Holland. But I really feel connected to Israeli Arabs. [We] speak the same language.”
    Full points for recognising that being a Jew in the Middle East is about more then the Zionist narrative. The loss of Arab Jewish culture and their subsequent identity as Arabs has been one of the profound losses that Israel has caused, among many others.

    “If we recognize the full rights of the Palestinians,” he remarks, “I could be a Zionist.”
    How would that work? What rights, in your opinion would the Palestinians have?
    What is your opinion about Palestinian refugees? The right of return?

    If you were to join the army, what would you defend? A Jewish state or a state for all the citizens?

    • Shmuel says:

      Good comments, sammy. I have a feeling that Mr. Mehager has principled and well-thought out answers to the questions you raise. He recognises the basic humanity of Palestinians, rejects the Zionist claim to Jewish privilege, and is willing to act and even pay a price for his convictions. The rest is, as they say, commentary. Which brings me to another problem with this series (beyond lack of depth), and that is the Zionist frame of reference. Tom was asked about his “connection to Zionism”, and so made some vague remark about a kind of post- or non-Zionist patriotism that could conceivably be called “Zionism”.

      I would also like to add a small cultural-linguistic note. In the Israeli word mill (or “laundry”) “Zionism” (tziyonut) can often just mean civic-mindedness or selflessness, as in the sentence: “Your volunteer work at the homeless shelter is wonderful.

      • Shmuel says:

        The “punchline” of my message got cut off. The last bit should read: “Your volunteer work at the homelss shelter is wonderful. What Zionism!”

        • sammy says:

          Thats very enlightening, since it means that Zionist means different things other than the desire for the [ancient] homeland for Jews. It brings to my mind the slogan of “Swarajya” [Self Rule] which came to mean anything from noncooperation to militancy to civil disobedience to standing in line for the Brits to knock you down [with sometimes lethal strikes on your noggin] without retaliation, to free speech, to burning cotton imported from Manchester to bombing police stations at Chauri chaura.

          Ideology has the luxury of being very flexible as a weapon.

        • Shmuel says:

          Thanks, sammy. I really appreciate your perspective. I think we have a lot to learn from the Indian experience in particular, as well as the general contextualisation of Israel and Zionism. Part of the reason the Nazi analogy comes so quickly to mind (another thread) is that both Nazism and Zionism have been de-contextualised, removed from history and treated as exceptions, on a number of different levels.

        • sammy says:

          Thanks Shmuel. I think we are the privileged generation, one which is astride many worlds. I find Tom Mehager more sincere in his “post Zionism” than the others, because he appreciates that there are many perspectives other than the rigid frame of reference he is confronted with. He steps outside of himself, outside his “role” as an Israeli, a soldier and steps into the shoes of the Palestinians subjected to collective punishment. He recognises this is wrong and he steps back, making his choice of humanism over tribe.

          The history of humanity is the history of these steps that Tom has taken, we grow up with the limited perspective of family and tribe, we move out and find ourselves part of a bigger tribe, community, village, nation, continent, world, beyond colour, ethnicity, religion, species. We weep for dogs. We adopt children. We learn languages, customs, enjoy foreign films and cuisines and the more we shed one skin for another, the more rich our experience of life becomes. We are indeed, enriched by giving up. That does not mean that we do not cherish some above others, anyone who has had a favourite meal in a foreign country or heard a native language in a foreign port, knows that the heart does beat a little faster for that familiar face. But to be able to recognise that everyone has a heart that beats like your own, thats where your humanity lies.

        • MRW says:

          “both Nazism and Zionism have been de-contextualised, removed from history and treated as exceptions, on a number of different levels.”

          Hooray: de-contextualised

        • I actually disagree with that historically.

          The idea that the time of nationalism and nation-state is nearing an end. The United States in 1783 when we formed our federal constitution suggested it. The recent formation of European Union and many other regional and global trade protocols suggested it. The formation of the UN suggested it.

          And, at the same time, in the last two decades, since the breakup of communist states, there have been MORE national states formed than at any time in history, and there is still pressure for more, though the big rush is passing.

          There are pressures in Pakistan to break up into multiple states. Periodically in India, Iraq.

          Its not clear that the era of post-Zionism is upon us.

          One thing that many find difficult about Zionism is its “settler” nature. But, that is caused by two things:

          1. The LONG period of absence of land base for those that self-identified as Jews (religiously and socially)
          2. The implication that any people were “always there”, or that migration from ecological and/or social pressures will not be critical in the future.

          In the global warming discussion, there are two issues discussed.

          One is to reduce the phenomena itself by decreasing CO2 emissions with the hope that that will delay the melting of glaciars. (Everyone ignores the recurring glacial cycles every 100,000 years that result in 300-350 feet swing in sea level).

          The second discussion is of HOW to deal with the migration of then displaced peoples, accordion-like pushing their neighbors as peoples migrate.

          If the norm becomes, “no change is allowed”, that is a dysfunctional global norm.

          Rather than an specific exception accepted, an irrational norm imposed.

          There has to be a fair way to facilitate the new, the Zionist, into what might have become Palestine.

          A way to establish a home without making or keeping others homeless.

        • I think you are really dead wrong Sammy.

          This, yesterday, and soon may be a time of new associations, but the era of mutual aid and voluntary association/identity is not over.

          You yourself identify us’s and them’s. Us includes those that think like you. Them includes Zionists.

          An alternative is acceptance which makes a larger us, than an ideological them.

        • sammy says:

          The difference between us, Witty, is that if there were a pogrom and you came knocking on my door for help, I would help you, because you would be a human in distress to me. But I would never knock on your door for help, because I know that your tribe means more to you than my humanity.

        • That is prejudicial and entirely innaccurate, both about me personally and about my tribe(s).

          You indulge in projection.

          You need a cooler head to live a progressive life, that respects others, even those that disagree with you, and those that illustrate an exception or discontinuity to your ideology.

          When I come to your door for protection from you, will you offer me sanctuary?

        • Citizen says:

          Sammy and Schmuel–you guys are a real treat. Thank you for your sharing of your thoughts. I always feel hope reading your thoughts–that’s a treat for an old geezer like me who’s been on his own since his later teens.

        • Citizen says:

          Witty, Sammy already answered your question. He said if there were a pogrom
          and you came knocking on his door for help he would help you simply because you are a fellow human being. What do you gain by asking the question when he already answered it? As for your character, you have answered it over and over again on this blog; and that is why Sammy wouldn’t turn to you for help–you have continually displayed your priorities for over two years on this blog.

        • Eva Smagacz says:

          Richard,
          How did you manage to respond to Sammy’s post and call it prejudicial and entirely inaccurate when you didn’t read it (hint: look at the last line of your comment!)?

          Sammy is not the first nor only person that wonders what your reaction would be if goys needing sanctuary were to show up on your doorstep. Ever wondered what could have given them this impression?

        • shmuel- et tu brute?

          as if the constant, knee jerk overuse constant use of the analogy on this site is a true intellectual attempt to contextualize and is a symptom of deep thinking and not as a facile attempt to marginalize and cut off all discussion.

        • Chaos4700 says:

          Do yourself a favor, WJ, and stop trying to emulate Witty. Pseudo-intellectualism just isn’t your style, especially when you can’t be bothered to even capitalize properly.

        • Shmuel says:

          WJ,

          Judging by your response, you’ve noticed that I don’t use the analogy – for reasons, others (especially tree, I think) have explained quite well on another thread. My intention in the comment above was to note one of the reasons I think the analogy crops up so often. When I wrote about the de-contextualisation of both historical phenomena, I did not mean that they should necessarily be compared to each other, but rather that they should both be treated and measured by the same standards as the rest of history.

          With regard to Nazism and the Holocaust, I was thinking particularly of Arendt and Wistrich (although their perspectives are very different). In terms of Zionism, just look at how every historical analogy is rejected (not necessarily by you) – colonialism, Apartheid, etc. – as an anti-Semitic insult. I was talking about history, but the concept of PEP also takes Zionism out of the context of international law, standards and principles. This is all shorthand of course, but don’t assume “knee jerk” or an attempt to cut off discussion. On the contrary.

        • Shmuel,

          Martin Buber used the analogy at least to the extent of dividing the reactions to history as either that of the spirit or that of might and he is someone I respect. Isaiah Leibowitz used the analogy not for pre 67 Zionism, which he respected as necessity (correct me if I’m wrong) but in regards to the occupation of post 67 Zionism, which he rejected outright and viewed as dangerous, a danger that has been borne out by history. Although Leibowitz would have been ignored (by the majority and the authorities) no matter what his rhetoric, I don’t see that his rhetoric really helped his cause, I see it more in the tradition of Israeli causticity that chases away anyone who doesn’t agree with the speaker 100%.

          I don’t view Nazism as an isolated phenomenon and it is useful to study it and Zionism in terms of the history of colonialism and nationalism and with the implications of race and segregation.

          Zionism is not a perfect ideology, but it became the means for the survival of hundreds of thousands of Jews who found refuge there in the years 39 to 45. The danger that Herzl saw heading towards the Jews was no illusion and his primary sin in regards to the Jewish people was his failure to achieve a Jewish homeland before the advent of Hitler rather than afterward. (If you had a time machine and could travel to Basel 1897 what would you tell the delegates or what would you have them do?)

          Today there are between five and six million Jews living in Israel and the Zionism- Nazism equation only increases their fears. (For what is the reasonable reaction to Nazism, but total war?) I am not reassured that history is heading in a positive direction regarding Israel-Palestine, but certainly the cause of compromise or reconciliation is not helped by this form of rhetoric.

          You, as an individual commenter on this site, may wish to place Israel and Zionism in a historical context to increase wisdom. But many others use the analogy not to illuminate but to close discussion. If you can find a way to increase wisdom without encouraging others in their attempts to marginalize and close discussion, that would be a path that would be worthy.

        • The question was “if I came knocking on his door for protection from HIM”

        • Shmuel says:

          WJ,

          As you point out, the analogy sometimes has its uses, although I agree that it is somewhat overused on this blog. Leibowitz turned a lot of people off (I assume you are specifically referring to his “Judo-Nazi” remarks), but had far more influence on Israeli society than you might think. He was cantankerous and provocative, and most reasonable Israelis I know take that into account.

          Zionism did help save some Jews, while putting others in danger – both before and after the establishment of the state. To the extent that it has saved Jews, it is debatable whether a state or the ethnic cleansing of Palestine were necessary or prudent (all other considerations aside). That is a Zionist myth that needs a lot of deconstructing.

          You ask what I would do as a time-traveller. Had the early Zionists heeded the warnings of Ahad Ha’am, for example, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now.

          I agree that the Zionism-Nazism analogy is often unhelpful – even when it is appropriate – and that is why I don’t use it. That is not the same however, as trying to understand why others use it. If you think that my comments on this subject have contributed to closing discussion, that is your opinion. I disagree. Witness the discussion we are having now.

        • I think that Zionists did heed the words of Aham Ha’am, and that the mess that we are in now is a result of

          1. Recalcitrance on the parts of the Arab world to accept Jewish migration to the region, and Jewish desire to retain its Jewish culture. The majority of labor Zionists originally sought co-existence with the local population but were rebuked.
          2. Adoption of the attitude of “fuck them if they won’t accept us” on the part of the majority of Israelis (middle to far right).

          The IMPORTANT questions are of how to change both of those realities.

          Among Fatah, there is the willingness to accept. Some among Hamas are, though only potentially inter-personally not politically, and their willingness to adopt anonymous terror historically – that doesn’t distinguish, scared the shit out of most Israelis.

          Among Israelis, even if neighbors reject them, they are still neighbors and deserve a predisposition of respect and adoption of fair law and willingness to forgive.

        • Mooser says:

          You said it Shmuel! I sure hope both of you will keep commenting, a lot and often. (But if Sammy ever cries “ESL” again I’ll squeal like a stuck pig.)

        • Mooser says:

          The main, and in many way the most significant reason to campare the Nazis to the Zionists is that both rely , on the strength of “will” and recognise no other restriction on their actions than lack of will. And of course, their belief that they can be the arbiters of who lives and who dies.

          And worse than being just like a right-wing totalitarian ideology, it’s horribly, disgustingly un-Jewish.

    • potsherd says:

      It seems that Mr Mehager is a post-Zionist, not a Zionist at all.

      The difference is that he has looked at the face of the Palestinian problem, while the others keep their eyes averted.

  2. Chaos4700 says:

    I think more than any other article, this interview gives us the full insight into how Israel works and what makes it a complete and utter apartheid, racially stratified country, and how phony notions of consolidated “Jewishness” like what Witty touts lead only to cruelty and injustice — even toward Jews in Israel who are not of European descent.

  3. yonira says:

    i don’t think Chaos talking point #6 or 10 applies to this gentlemen:

    even toward Jews in Israel who are not of European descent

    he said nothing of the sort:

    I’m supposed to be the same as a Jew from Holland. But I really feel connected to Israeli Arabs. [We] speak the same language.”/em>

    and why do you have to mention witty in everyone of your posts?

    • Chaos4700 says:

      The same reason you seem to fixate on me with everyone one of your posts, maybe? Am I supposed to be flattered by the attention, yonira?

      • Mooser says:

        Careful, Chaos! You know the sort of standards I expect of you when dealing with the distaff! An anti-Zionist is alway, and foremost, a gentleman!

  4. Eva Smagacz says:

    I fully understand the drive and desperation of post war European Jews for having a place of safety – a sanctuary that they will not be haunted, rounded up and killed. We forget that many countries, USA and UK included, fought tooth and nail to prevent Jewish refugees from entering their countries.

    Lets assume that Israel and Palestine, together or apart will become genuinely a country of all it’s citizens, that religion will be separate from state and Palestinian refugees will all return (or will be compensated and given passports, but will not physically move back).

    It STILL leaves a question of universal Jewish right of return.
    How do you give a country that is ethnically and religiously mixed a right of return for just one ethnicity and religion without trampling on principles of equality of all human beings?

    • MRW says:

      I just want to correct one small thing in your post, Eva. It was Zionist leaders in London who prevailed upon their government contacts in the US and Canada not to accept Jewish refugees; they wanted the refugees to go to Palestine. Source: “The Transfer Agreement.” The US Prez and Canadian PM were as much under the moneyed Zionist thumb then as they are now, and did what they were told. We didn’t have the Internet then as we do now, so these lies propagate, just the way all the untruths about the Gaza Massacre are attempting to catch hold but can’t, because they can now be independently verified.

      • Americans were afraid that the depression that had been interrupted by world war II would resume, so they were in no mood to let an influx of refugees in. I suspect that the Zionist voices were merely background music compared to the constituency of Americans who did not want immigrants.

        • sammy says:

          Not really

          “one cow in Palestine is worth more than all the Jews in Poland” –Izaak Greenbaum
          It was of course, the elitist Jews of the US who first gave the name “kike” to their less enlightened brethren from the Eastern European refugee section.

          I recommend you look through Lenni Brenners work on Zionism
          link to en.wikipedia.org

        • MRW says:

          WJ – You’re wrong.

          (1) Americans were not afraid the depression would return. They were full of hope because they believed they won the entire war. All by themselves. American military might did win the war. We backed the Soviets and General Zhukov’s amazing 5 million-strong push through the Eastern Front. We believed after the Nuremberg trials that we defeated the Nazis, when it was the Soviets. The GI Bill was sending everyone to school, and Levitt was building suburbs.

          (2) The British Zionists got their agreements in the last half of the 30s.

        • MRW says:

          And there’s nothing like war to boost the economy. Except we dont have that now because the Israelis are getting the defense contracts that should be in Arizona and South Carolina, etcetera.

        • MRW says:

          Just to amplify Sammy’s comment:

          “If I knew that it was possible to save all the children of Germany by transporting them to England, and only half by transferring them to the Land of Israel, I would choose the latter, for before us lies not only the numbers of these children but the historical reckoning of the people of Israel.”
          – David Ben-Gurion

        • And, the US was denying immigration permits requested.

        • MRW says:

          “If I am asked, “Could you give from the UJA moneys to rescue Jews, ‘I say, NO! and I say again NO!”
          ….Izaak Greenbaum — head of Jewish Agency Rescue Committee
          February 18, 1943 Addressed to the Zionist Executive Council.

          As late as 1943, while the Jews of Europe were being exterminated in their millions, the U.S. Congress proposed to set up a commission to “study” the problem. Rabbi Stephen Wise, who was the principal American spokesperson for Zionism, came to Washington to testify against the rescue bill because it would divert attention from the colonization of Palestine.

        • Mooser says:

          Richard, why would the United States do anything as anti-Semitic as deny the voices of leading Jews who said those displaced and dispossesed people belonged in Palestine?
          But of course, if you want to believe that all Jews will always do, above all, what is best for other Jews, with no other motives, go ahead.
          Ah, it feels good to belong to such a singular people, who defy every limitation the rest of the world is forced, by their very humanity, to live with! It’s so nice to be perfect!
          And you should see the antlers I’m growing this year, well over seven feet in breadth!

        • In deference to existing American law and threats from organized labor and America firsters to retain existing immigration quotas.

          Jews weren’t the only ones affected, but the US conspicuously did not rise to the challenge and its a fraud to state that that was due to Zionist pressures.

        • Citizen says:

          Right, Witty, Zionist pressures had no impact at all. It was just because
          Americans were anti-semitic and, gee, worried about having a job. Next time, we will use Israel as our role model, ok?

        • Colin Murray says:

          When has a Zionist ever had deference to American law when it was inconvenient? … AIPAC … Need I say more?

        • Not on requested immigration.

          As I said, the rejection of immigrants after WW2 was general (with odd exceptions), and motivated by domestic pressures.

          They disregarded the then special condition of Jewish and other survivors, and the harrassment that they received on return to their former homes.

          If you personally identify with the America First line of thought, then you do bear some ideological responsibility for the failure to invite Jewish refugees to the states.

  5. “Mehager maintains that his criticisms are a form of patriotism. “If we recognize the full rights of the Palestinians,” he remarks, “I could be a Zionist.”

    Lets get there already.

    Not post-Zionist perse, conditional Zionist. Maybe after there is real peace and Zionism is less necessary, much more integration with Palestine will be possible.

    • MRW says:

      The point is justice. Period.

      • potsherd says:

        The point is that you can’t be a Zionist and seek justice. When you admit the necessity of justice, you must reject Zionism. Anything else is hypocrisy.

      • Mooser says:

        I would settle for a cessation in the killing and the amelioration of the Palestinians suffering as a start, and as an indicator of Israeli good faith. Doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

        I know, Witty, “shelling” “rockets” “Hamas” and “The Whole World Sucks”

    • Citizen says:

      Gee, it’s like the Balfour Declaration might be honored in whole? It never happened because once Zionism left the page onto the ground it copied the Germans–who now have been paying for quite a while for their mistake–time for Israel to catch up.

  6. Mooser says:

    Is any body besides me wondering about the missing person in all of this? I’m talking about the writer, Mya Guarneri.
    Until I know more about her, it’s completely impossible to come to any conclusions, but all my experience tells me it’s a new form of hasbara in some kind of counciliatory mode.
    Without Ms. Guarneri speaking up and telling us where she is coming from (besides florida and Israel, there’s no way to know what is what.
    Why is she so absent from the articles?

  7. Comment / Settlers can stay, but only as citizens of Palestine

    By Alexander Yakobson

    link to haaretz.com

  8. Pingback: Meet the Post-zionist Zionists: Gilad Zwick