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Kovel’s ‘Overcoming Zionism’ was ahead of its time


The writer Joel Kovel died on April 30. This review of his book, Overcoming Zionism, appeared seven years ago in the Journal of the Research Group on Socialism and Democracy.There is to be a memorial for Kovel in St. Mary’s Church, 126th Street and Broadway, at 4 PM today. –Editor

A review of Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine (London and Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, 2007).

Joel Kovel has given us an impressive and important book. Its first printing sold out without a single review, major or otherwise. Nevertheless word of this extraordinary work is spreading. The taboo in the United States (not Israel) against seriously discussing and criticizing Zionist Israel has been broken with the publication of Jimmy Carter’s bold book labeling the situation in the Occupied Territories “apartheid” and with the exposure by prestigious professors Mearsheimer and Walt -– in the London Review of Books after rejection by the Atlantic Monthly –- of the power of the Israeli lobby. Kovel, by focusing squarely on how to “overcome” Zionism, takes the discussion exactly where it needs to go from there. He writes beautifully, even poetically, not just on Zionism’s sordid history, but on its ideology, its ethics, and even on the terrible ecological devastation in Israel itself, where every river is polluted, some to lethal levels. And he writes with courage and hope.

Kovel believes that the creation of Israel in 1948, as a colony of settlers who established an exclusively Jewish and discriminatory state, has created a multi-faceted disaster -– “a dreadful mistake” -– that should be undone, with Israel de-Zionized and integrated into the Middle East. His solution is stated in the book’s subtitle and restated in the title of the last chapter: “Palesrael: A Secular and Universal Democracy for Israel/Palestine.” This is an elegant solution, and he lays out an action program to accomplish it.

How did Kovel, a Jew from Brooklyn, the oldest son of Ukrainian immigrants who did well -– moving with Joel to “the purgatory of Baldwin, Long Island” –- come to this radical critique and equally radical solution? Joel graduated from Yale and became a successful psychiatrist. He taught at medical school before switching careers and taking a social science professorship at Bard, where for a time he held the Alger Hiss chair. He is still there, the only Marxist on the faculty. This book is not going to further his career.

“What kind of Jew am I?” he asks, and answers “a very bad one.” More accurately, he defines himself as what Isaac Deutscher called “a non-Jewish Jew.” Not that he is not spiritual; he writes of reaching for the infinite. But he is not religious. Being part of a sect is too narrowing and confining. He identifies with the Jewish heretics who transcended Jewry, but who are nonetheless part of the Jewish tradition –- he lists Spinoza, Marx, Freud, Proust, Einstein, Kafka, Wittgenstein, and Luxemburg -– and for whom “the true glory” of being Jewish is to live “on the margin and across boundaries.”

Kovel writes that the ethical reference point for Jews is the tribal unit. Since ancient times they set themselves off as “a people apart,” chosen by Jehovah, with whom they have a covenant. In Kovel’s view, “Zionism’s dynamic was drawn from the most tribal and particularistic stratum of Judaism, and its destiny became the restoration of tribalism in the guise of a modern, highly militarized and aggressive state,” which they implanted in the center if Islam. Herein lies the tragedy.

At the turn of the 20th century, a Zionist conference in Vienna delegated several rabbis to travel to Palestine on a fact-finding mission. The rabbis cabled back, “the bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man.” Kovel writes incisively of what ensued. The “tremendous struggle” to dislodge Palestine’s inhabitants would involve three great difficulties:

the resistance of those who stood in the way and would have to be displaced; the exigencies of geo-politics; and one’s own inner being, which would have to be retooled from the self-image of an ethical victim to that of a ruthless conqueror. All of these obstacles could be dealt with by signing onto Western imperialism and capitalism.

Jewish suffering and persecution became justification for aggression in asserting the “outlandish claim to a territory controlled 2500 years ago by one’s putative ancestors.”

The Israelis took 78% of the territory in l948 and the remaining 22% in l967. The logic of Zionism –- to create an ethnically pure Jewish state -– led to organized terrorism; “the essentials had been put in place by the mid-1930s” and the opportunity came in l948. The leaders of Zionism, Chaim Arlosoroff, Vladimir Jabotinsky, and especially David Ben Gurion, quietly articulated the need to drive the Arabs out. South African Prime Minister Henrik Verwoerd said in l96l something the liberals wouldn’t: that the Zionists “took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. In that, I agree with them, Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.” When the smoke lifted in l948, 531 Arab villages had been destroyed, some 750,000 Palestinians driven out. In l948 Menachem Begin (later Prime Minister of Israel) organized the dynamiting of the British headquarters in Jerusalem, killing 88 persons, including 15 Jews. That year also saw the terrorizing of the village of Deir Yassin. With Begin in command, Yitzhak Shamir -– who was also to become a PM and whose frankly fascist organization the Stern Gang had actually made overtures to the Nazis to create a Jewish state along totalitarian lines -– took part in the operation. The terror at Deir Yassin was a decisive factor in the Arab exodus. The ethnic cleansing had been clearly planned by the Zionist leadership, as Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has documented. Thus the Zionists established Israel with a crime against humanity.

Ariel Sharon, the third Israeli terrorist PM, was actually found guilty by an Israeli court for permitting the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon in l982, where as many as 3000 Palestinian refugees were killed. In l953 Sharon led a cross-border raid on Qibya, Jordan, “in which the community was reduced to rubble, with 45 houses blown up and 69 people killed, the majority women and children.” He repeated his mass murder in Lebanon in 2006, using US-made cluster bombs. It is truly remarkable, as Kovel points out, that a terrorist could ascend to national leadership three times and “scarcely anybody has bothered to ponder its meaning.” Kovel notes the consequent bad conscience of the Israelis and remarks on how their resulting feelings “become projected and turned into the blaming of others” –- whether these be expropriated Palestinians or critics of Israel, who are then labeled as antisemites and/or as that curious entity, the “self-hating Jew.”

Israel, as a racist state, discriminates in the critical areas of immigrants, settlements, and land development. Any Jew in the world who can show that his grandmother on his mother’s side was Jewish may obtain automatic citizenship, yet the Arabs expelled in l948 and l967, despite international law and United Nations resolution 194, are not permitted their right to return. 92% of the land in Israel is administered by The Jewish National Fund, which does not allow its use by non-Jews.

Racism is in the nature of a colonial settler state. What is remarkable is the degree to which Zionists deny this. Kovel gives examples of a top Israeli general calling Palestinians “drugged cockroaches in a bottle”; he cites a 2006 poll showing that more than two-thirds of Israelis would refuse to live in the same building as Arabs and that the idea of deporting Arab citizens is popular. Many Jewish soccer fans curse and attack Arab members of their national team.

Kovel writes, reminiscent of Thomas Jefferson, that no state has an absolute right to exist, hence all states are to some degree illegitimate; he adds that states may be relatively or absolutely illegitimate, and that a racist state is illegitimate. Israel, being an exclusively Jewish state, is a racist state. He concludes that “the problem then is with Zionism and the Jewish state as such, and not its illegal occupation of the West Bank.” The point is to change it, “to dissolve the Jewishness of the state. For this, one does not smash or trample Zionism; one overcomes it and frees people from its chains.”

He goes beyond the two-state solution, necessarily, because by steady aggression and aggrandizement the Zionists have whittled the Palestinian territory down to 8% of what it was in l948, leaving the natives with a negligible fragment, without much water, polluted, economically unviable, denuded of its agriculture, isolated by Jewish-only roads, and partly encircled by an obscene wall.

What to do? Speak the truth about Israel. Expose the Zionist lobby. Force it to register as an agent of a foreign government. Bring lawsuits for violations of human rights, as the Center for Constitutional Rights did against an Israeli general for mass killing in a village, or against the US Caterpillar company for making gargantuan bulldozers sold wittingly to the Israeli army for the express purpose of house demolition (one of which, ran over and killed Rachel Corrie, to whom Kovel partly dedicates his book). Place Israel where it belongs, in the company of apartheid South Africa. Cut the threads of Israel’s support system; boycott it academically, economically, and culturally.

Palestinians are the largest and oldest refugee population in the world. Central to the campaign against Zionist Israel is to support their right of return. Zionism can thus be brought down in an entirely peaceful manner. The Right of Return is more basic than liquidating the occupation, which would leave the Zionist state unchanged. The Right of Return would require the end of the occupation as a pre-condition and can directly undo the Jewishness of the state with the returnees having full and equal rights. Even now, counting the occupied territories, the population is roughly 50/50, Jew and Arab.

The new state -– “Palesrael” -– could reshape itself according to the South African anti-apartheid precepts of recognition and responsibility, which point to a society organized along essentially non-capitalist lines. Kovel knows that this will not come easily and that the outcome will depend partly on unforeseeable convulsions in the outside world. He concludes: “Such is the reality facing dreamers for a better world: a slim chance, and a long haul. As ever, it is the journey that counts, the seeking of good conscience, good will, and good comrades.”

This is a rich, multi-layered book, reflecting the author’s wide reading and travel. Kovel’s background as a psychiatrist is evident in his wise understanding. Judaeophobia in Nazi Germany “draws from a time when Jews were, if not blameless, at least powerless and were made to pay the debts demanded by the anticommunism of the fascist state and by Christendom’s bad conscience.” He calls it “intellectual barbarism” to take current criticism of Israel as “antisemitism,” but he well understands that given a situation of invasion and occupation of another people’s land, it is not surprising to find “the whole spectrum of human responses… ranging from emancipatory and nonviolent expression to crude atavisms including racist belief.”

Israel has become, in Kovel’s view, the most dangerous place on earth for Jews. It now has the largest gap between rich and poor in the whole industrialized world. Forty percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Half of Israeli families cannot meet their monthly bills. Kovel reports that the immediate cause of this has been a fierce neoliberal assault on the poor and the public sector, which has left Israel with “the worst primary and lower secondary education in the Western world.” Socialist ideals lie in ruins. As a result, a serious amount of emigration is taking place, with some 760,000 Israelis living abroad in 2004. Jews leaving Russian prefer, ironically, to go to Germany.

I think that if persons concerned about the problems of Jews and Zionism could have but one book on the subject on their shelf, it should be this one.

Review by Michael Steven Smith
Attorney, New York City
Member, National Lawyers Guild and 1985 NLG fact-finding trip to Israel & the Occupied Territories

Michael Steven Smith

Michael Steven Smith is the co-host of "Law and Disorder Radio" ( and the author of the recent book “Lawyers for the Left”.

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J'ai 27 ans (2019) et je suis titulaire un master droit pénale.

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35 Responses

  1. yourstruly on May 5, 2018, 11:57 am

    Palesrael – “Such is the reality facing dreamers for a better world: a slim chance and a long haul.”

    A much better chance once all of us dreamers for a better world unite.

    • RoHa on May 7, 2018, 4:01 am

      “Palesrael” is an awful name. I think the one state should be called

      “The Democratic and Socialist People’s Republic of the Holy Land”.

      No-one could object to that.

      • montereypinegreen on May 27, 2018, 2:59 am

        I agree that “Palesreal” has its limitations. I think there was some question about Israel’s name at the founding, but since both Arabs and Jews are Children of Abraham, perhaps the name of the new One State might reflect that…
        Something like: ABRAMIA, perhaps.
        An older name that some residents in the Ottoman Empire used was “SOUTH SYRIA.”
        Another possibility might be ‘SOUTH LEVANT,” although that has echoes of European involvement in the region.

        It might be wise to get away completely from either “Israel” or “Palestine” in the name.

  2. JLewisDickerson on May 5, 2018, 1:42 pm

    RE: “Ariel Sharon, the third Israeli terrorist PM, was actually found guilty by an Israeli court for permitting the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon in l982, where as many as 3000 Palestinian refugees were killed.” ~ Michael Smith

    MY COMMENT: Yes, apparently the Sabra and Shatila massacre was part of Sharon’s plan to “drive the Palestinians out of Lebanon into Syria”*, but unfortunately his “Christian” Phalangist henchmen got carried away and went so far overboard that the massacre attracted far too much international attention for a second Nakba (this time in Lebanon) to be succesfully executed (unlike Deir Yassin and the original Nakba, thirty plus years earlier).

    * SEE: “The War of Lies” | by Uri Avnery | | September 06, 2012

    [EXCERPTS] Thirty Years ago this week, the Israeli army crossed into Lebanon and started the most stupid war in Israel’s history. It lasted for 18 years. About 1500 Israeli soldiers and untold numbers of Lebanese and Palestinians were killed.

    Almost all wars are based on lies. Lies are considered legitimate instruments of war. Lebanon War I (as it was later called) was a glorious example.
    From beginning to end (if it has ended yet) it was a war of deceit and deception, falsehoods and fabrications.

    THE LIES started with the official name: “Operation Peace in Galilee”.
    If one asks Israelis now, 99.99% of them will say with all sincerity: “We had no choice. They launched katyushas at the Galilee from Lebanon every day. We had to stop them.” TV anchormen and anchorwomen, as well as former cabinet ministers have been repeating this throughout the week. Quite sincerely. Even people who were already adults at the time.

    The simple fact is that for 11 months before the war, not a single shot was fired across the Israeli-Lebanese border. A cease-fire was in force and the Palestinians on the other side of the border kept it scrupulously. To everybody’s surprise, Yasser Arafat succeeded in imposing it on all the radical Palestinian factions, too.

    At the end of May, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon met with Secretary of State Alexander Haig in Washington DC. He asked for American agreement to invade Lebanon. Haig said that the US could not allow it, unless there were a clear and internationally recognized provocation.

    And lo and behold, the provocation was provided at once. Abu Nidal, the anti-Arafat and anti-PLO master terrorist, sent his own cousin to assassinate the Israeli ambassador in London, who was grievously wounded.

    In retaliation, Israel bombed Beirut and the Palestinians fired back, as expected. The Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, allowed Sharon to invade Lebanese territory up to 40 km, “to put the Galilee settlements out of reach of the katyushas.”

    When one of the intelligence chiefs told Begin at the cabinet meeting that Abu Nidal’s organization was not a member of the PLO, Begin famously answered: “They are all PLO”.

    General Matti Peled, my political associate at the time, firmly believed that Abu Nidal had acted as an agent of Sharon. So do all the Palestinians I know.

    The lie “they shot at us every day” has taken such a hold on the public mind that it is nowadays useless to dispute it. It is an illuminating example of how a myth can take possession of the public mind, including even of people who had seen with their own eyes that the opposite was true.

    NINE MONTHS before the war, Sharon told me about his plan for a New Middle East. . .

    . . . His design for the region, as told me then (and which I published nine months before the war), was:
    1. To attack Lebanon and install a Christian dictator who would serve Israel,
    2. Drive the Syrians out of Lebanon,
    3. Drive the Palestinians out of Lebanon into Syria, from where they would then be pushed by the Syrians into Jordan.
    4. Get the Palestinians to carry out a revolution in Jordan, kick out King Hussein and turn Jordan into a Palestinian state,
    5. Set up a functional arrangement under which the Palestinian state (in Jordan) would share power in the West Bank with Israel.

    Being a single-minded operator, Sharon convinced Begin to start the war, telling him that the sole aim was to push the PLO 40 km back. . .


  3. jon s on May 6, 2018, 2:11 pm

    The late Joel Kovel not only broke with Zionism- which I can understand -he abandoned his Jewish identity and converted, which I find a lot harder to deal with.

    The review itself is full of falsehoods. For example : the leaders of Zionism expressed the desire to live in peace with the Arabs, not drive them out ; the “ bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man” quote is phony; the bombing of British headquarters was in 1946, not 1948; Yitzhak Shamir was not involved in Dir Yassin, he wasn’t even in the country…

    • annie on May 6, 2018, 2:40 pm

      Yitzhak Shamir was not involved in Dir Yassin, he wasn’t even in the country…

      so the leader of a terrorist group is not implicated in a terrorist attack by that same group if they are out of the country at the time of the attack?

      the leaders of Zionism expressed the desire to live in peace with the Arabs

      jon — please.

      • Mooser on May 6, 2018, 3:08 pm

        “The late Joel Kovel not only broke with Zionism- which I can understand -he abandoned his Jewish identity and converted, which I find a lot harder to deal with.”

        And why, if I may ask, is that something that you have to “deal with”?

      • eljay on May 6, 2018, 3:29 pm

        || Annie Robbins: Yitzhak Shamir was not involved in Dir Yassin, he wasn’t even in the country…

        so the leader of a terrorist group is not implicated in a terrorist attack by that same group if they are out of the country at the time of the attack? … ||

        I don’t know about you, but I’m surprised that jon s would absolve Osama bin Laden of responsibility for 9/11 because he wasn’t in the U.S. at the time of the attack.

        Why does jon s hate America so much?!

      • jon s on May 6, 2018, 3:42 pm

        The review says that Shamir “took part in the operation”. Just another falsehood.

        And yes, mainstream Zionist leaders and thinkers did indeed express the desire for peaceful co-existence with the Arab population.

      • annie on May 6, 2018, 8:24 pm

        The review says that Shamir “took part in the operation”.

        so the leader of a terrorist group is not implicated in taking part of a terrorist attack by that same group if they are out of the country at the time of the attack?

        mainstream Zionist leaders and thinkers did indeed express the desire for peaceful co-existence with the Arab population.

        iow, when you say “the leaders of Zionism expressed the desire to live in peace with the Arabs, not drive them out” you mean all the leaders, the primary leaders? btw, “expressing a desire” means nothing if your actions demonstrate the very opposite.

      • Mooser on May 6, 2018, 4:18 pm

        “And yes, mainstream Zionist leaders and thinkers did indeed express”

        Oh, I see, they “did indeed express”!
        But once again, the Jewish people failed Zionism.

      • RoHa on May 7, 2018, 4:00 am

        Jon s: “he abandoned his Jewish identity and converted, which I find a lot harder to deal with.”

        Mooser: “And why, if I may ask, is that something that you have to “deal with”?

        Kovel gives the answer: “the ethical reference point for Jews is the tribal unit.” From Jon s’s point of view, Kovel has abandoned the basis of ethics.

      • jon s on May 7, 2018, 10:29 am

        Annie, Eljay,
        Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I think that getting the facts right is important.
        Eljay, your analogy would work if someone had written that Osama Bin Laden took part in the operation.

      • eljay on May 7, 2018, 11:38 am

        || jon s: Annie, Eljay,
        Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I think that getting the facts right is important. … ||

        Which makes it quite amusing that you get them wrong in your very next sentence.

        || … Eljay, your analogy would work if someone had written that Osama Bin Laden took part in the operation. ||

        My analogy works perfectly:
        – You wrote ” … Yitzhak Shamir was not involved in Dir Yassin, he wasn’t even in the country.”
        – Bin Laden wasn’t in the U.S. in Sept., 2001, so according to your “logic” he wasn’t involved in 9/11.

      • Mooser on May 7, 2018, 12:37 pm

        “From Jon s’s point of view, Kovel has abandoned the basis of ethics.”

        Perhaps “Jon s”, in his own inimitable way, is trying to assuage Phil’s sadness at Mr. Kovel’s passing. After all, “he abandoned his Jewish identity and converted”.

      • jon s on May 9, 2018, 6:30 am

        Again, the review states that Shamir “took part” in the operation , which is not true.
        If someone writes that OBL took part in the 9/11 attacks that would also be untrue.

      • eljay on May 9, 2018, 8:00 am

        || jon s: eljay
        Again, the review states that Shamir “took part” in the operation , which is not true. … ||

        jon s,

        Again, I commented on what you wrote, which was this:
        ” … Yitzhak Shamir was not involved in Dir Yassin, he wasn’t even in the country… ”

        So, according to you OBL was not involved in 9/11 because he wasn’t even in the country.

    • Blake on May 6, 2018, 11:49 pm

      The very man credited with coining the term ‘zionist’ or ‘zionism’ (awa ‘Yiddishism) in 1890 – viz Nathan Birnbaum – later broke with the movement and became a devoutly Orthodox anti-Zionist Jew. For a brief time he served as one of Aguda’s spokesmen.

      The founder of ‘israel’ Ben-Gurion himself renounced Zionism in his later years stating, “I’m no longer a Zionist, I’m no longer a Socialist, I don’t belong to Histadrut, I resigned from the Knesset.” – Ben-Gurion’s statements are from “Herzl, Hess, and Histadrut”, by Nahum Guttman, p. 18

      And we all know Einstein did as well.

      • Naftush on May 7, 2018, 3:44 am

        We all know nothing of the sort about Einstein. At the most, Einstein dissociated himself from the Revisionist movements. I say “at the most” because all he did was affix his signature to an anti-Revisionist media piece. And Ben-Gurion? You win the decontextualization award of the century. And while we’re on the general topic, the “bride” remark is most likely false.

      • Misterioso on May 7, 2018, 10:37 am


        “We all know nothing of the sort about Einstein.”


        It is unfortunate that the Truman administration ignored the wisdom expressed by Albert Einstein in his testimony before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in January 1946. When asked whether refugee settlement in Palestine demanded a Jewish state, he replied: “The State idea is not according to my heart. I cannot understand why it is needed. It is connected with narrow-mindedness and economic obstacles. I believe it is bad. I have always been against it.” (Quoted by Dr. Alfred Lilienthal, The Zionist Connection, p. 341)

        Dr. Alfred M. Lilienthal, in What Price Israel?, recounts that on April 1, 1952, in a message to the Children of Palestine, Inc., Einstein “spoke of the necessity to curb ‘a kind of nationalism’ which has arisen in Israel ‘if only to permit a friendly and fruitful co-existence with the Arabs.'” Lilienthal also relates a personal conversation with Einstein: “Dr Einstein told me that, strangely enough, he had never been a Zionist and had never favored the creation of the State of Israel. Also, he told me of a significant conversation with [Chaim] Weizmann [leader of the World Zionist Organization.] Einstein had asked him: ‘What about the Arabs if Palestine were given to the Jews?’ And Weizmann said: ‘What Arabs? They are hardly of any consequence.'” (What Price Israel? p. 131)

        After he immigrated to the United States, Einstein turned down Ben-Gurion’s offer to be the first president of Israel. “In a letter to his friend Ezriel Carlebach, he wrote that he would not be able to perform the duties of the office according to his conscience, and that he would have to tell the Israeli people things they ‘would not like to hear.’” (“When Albert Einstein was a Holy Land Ladies’ Man,” Haaretz, February 3, 2015, by Gili Izkovitch)

        In summing up his views during his final days, Einstein quoted his earlier statement regarding partition: “I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state. Apart from the practical consideration, my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain – especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already to fight strongly, even without a Jewish state.” (Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years, Citadel Press, Secaucus, New Jersey, published in 1956; p. 263)

      • jon s on May 7, 2018, 10:38 am

        Nahum Guttman the artist?

      • Tuyzentfloot on May 7, 2018, 11:08 am

        And we all know Einstein did as well.

        This is completely wrong since Naftush doesn’t know.

      • jon s on May 9, 2018, 6:34 am

        I actually learned something new from MW.
        The only Nahum Gutman (with one t) I was aware of was the artist. It turns out that there was also a Nahum Guttman, apparently a Zionist writer .

      • Mooser on May 9, 2018, 12:26 pm

        “I actually learned something new from MW.”

        Well, that’s only fair, “Jon s”. Before reading your comments I never know how close a cracker is to a matzoh. You can bake ’em from the same D’oh.

    • Misterioso on May 7, 2018, 10:21 am

      @jon s

      “…the leaders of Zionism expressed the desire to live in peace with the Arabs, not drive them out.”

      You live in a fantasy world.

      Let’ take a brief look at the REAL objectives of the “leaders of Zionism.”

      Mistreatment of Palestinians by Jewish settlers caused Jewish philosopher Ahad Ha’am great distress. In 1891 he wrote: “They treat the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, unscrupulously deprive them of their rights, insult them without cause, and even boast of such deeds; and none opposes this despicable and dangerous inclination.” (Ha’am, Ahad, by Am Sheideweg, Berlin 1923, vol.1, p.107; quoted by David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch, p. 24)

      Ha’am concluded that this aggressive behaviour on the part of Jews stemmed from anger
      “…towards those who remind them that there is still another people in the land of Israel that have been living there and does not intend to leave.” (Hans Kohn, Zionism Reconsidered, Michael Selzer, ed. London: 1970, p. 195; quoted by Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians…, p. 7)

      Theodor Herzl’s diaries not only confirm that his objective was the establishment of a “Jewish state” in Palestine, but that it would be an expansionist state. In the year of his death he described its borders as being “…in the north the mountains facing Cappadocia [Turkey], in the south, the Suez Canal [Egypt] in the east, the Euphrates [Iraq].” (Theodor Herzl, The Complete Diaries, 11 p. 711)

      In true 19th century colonialist fashion, Herzl contended that his “Jewish state” would protect Europe and its superior culture from the uncivilized East. “We should there [in Palestine] form a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.” (Theodor Herzl, Judenstaat (The Jewish State), 1896, p. 26)

      Even more revealing as to how Herzl intended to deal with Palestinians is the “Charter for Zionist Colonization of Palestine and Syria” which he drafted sometime between the summer of 1901 and early 1902. Much to his disappointment, however, he was denied the opportunity to present it to the Ottoman Sultanate. Article Vl of the charter called for Istanbul to grant the Zionists, in the form of the Jewish-Ottoman Land Company (JOLC), “complete autonomy, guaranteed by the Ottoman Empire” while Article III gave them in effect, the right to deport the native population to other areas of the empire. Article 111 “[pertained] to the Palestinian and other Arab owners and inhabitants of the three categories of land to be purchased/owned by the JOLC – the large and small private landholdings, the Sultan’s state domain, and the land for which there is no title.”

      Israel Zangwill, the influential Anglo-Jewish essayist and Zionist first believed that the Palestinians would simply “fold their tents and slip away.” It was Zangwill who first voiced the lie that Palestine was a “land without a people, waiting for a people without a land.” (Zangwill, Israel, “The Return to Palestine”, New Liberal Review 11, Dec. 1901 p 627, quoted by David Hirst, p. 19)

      In 1905, Zangwill contradicted himself during a talk in Manchester when he observed that Palestine was “already twice as thickly populated as the United States…. [W]e must be prepared to either drive out by the sword the [Arab] tribes in possession as our forefathers did or to grapple with the problem of a large alien population….” (Zangwill, Speeches, p. 210, quoted by Nur Masalah , Expulsion of the Palestinians…., 1992, p. 10)

      In the February 1919 issue of the League of Nations Journal, Zangwill proposed that the Palestinians “should be gradually transplanted” in Arab countries and at a public meeting in the same year he remarked that “many [Palestinians] are semi-nomad, they have given nothing to Palestine and are not entitled to the rules of democracy.” (Jewish Chronicle, Dec. 12 1919)

      In 1920, Zangwill proposed in The Voice of Jerusalem, that there should be an “‘Arab exodus’…based on ‘race redistribution’ or a ‘trek like that of the Boers from Cape Colony,’ which he advocated as ‘literally the only way out of the difficulty of creating a Jewish State in Palestine.’” He continued: “We cannot allow the Arabs to block so valuable a piece of historic reconstruction….To fold their tents and silently steal away is their proverbial habit: let them exemplify it now.” (Zangwill, The Voice of Jerusalem, p. 103, quoted by Masalha, EOTP pp. 13- 14)

      Other Zionist leaders saw the future Jewish state in Palestine not only free of Arabs, but the first step towards the creation of a much larger country. In 1918, Polish born David Ben-Gurion (nee David Gruen) described the future borders of the Jewish state as: “to the north, the Litani River; to the northeast, the Wadi’Owja, twenty miles south of Damascus; the southern border will be mobile and pushed into the Sinai at least up to Wadi al-`Arish; and to the east, the Syrian Desert, including the furthest edge of Transjordan.” (Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs, pp. 34-34)

      In 1930 (when Jews privately owned only about four per cent of Palestine), Arthur Ruppin, a pivotal figure in political Zionism wrote that displacement of Arab farmers was inevitable because “land is the most necessary thing for our establishing roots in Palestine. Since there are hardly any more arable unsettled lands in Palestine, we are bound in each case of the purchase of land and its settlement to remove the peasants who cultivated the land so far, both owners of the land and tenants.” (Rashid Khalidi, in Blaming the Victims)

      In 1930, Britain’s Shaw Commission concluded: “The plain facts of the case are that there is no further land available which can be occupied by new immigrants without displacing the present population.” (Palestine Royal Commission Report, July 1937, Cmd. 5479, p. 176; cited by Alan George, JPS, #30, Winter, 1979, p. 91.) This situation caused the Shaw Commission to propose placing “limits on Zionist land purchases and on immigration to Palestine.” (John Quigley, Palestine and Israel: A Challenge to Justice, 1990, p. 19)

      The views of the Shaw Commission were echoed by John Chancellor, Britain’s High Commissioner for Palestine. In a memorandum to Colonial Secretary, Lord Passfield, dated 17 January 1930, he called for a complete suspension of Jewish immigration and land purchase to protect Arab agriculture, pointing out that “all cultivable land was occupied; that no cultivable land now in possession of the indigenous population could be sold to Jews without creating a class of landless Arab cultivators.”

      • MHughes976 on May 8, 2018, 1:48 pm

        Brian Stalder ‘Palestinian Christians and the Old Testament’ (2015) p.11 tells us that the phrase ‘a land without and people and a people without a land’ first occurs in a Scottish review of ‘Land of Israel’ by the Scottish missionary Alexander Keith in the early 1840s. It was taken up by many influential people. The words appeared at that point but they were really a Christian rather than a Jewish invention and with a few variations a basic idea of Christian Zionism, 2 centuries old before Keith’s time. I think it’s a little harsh to say that the Jewish Zionists, when they came on the scene, did not generally think that they could achieve a situation of mutual benefit with the Palestinians – that is the idea behind Herzl’s Altneuland. That was a natural idea in the age of imperialism. It was deeply self-deceptive, of course, as the Revisionists were to point out.

  4. Boris on May 7, 2018, 11:39 am


    Someone else wanted to call it Isratin.

    The good thing for Kovel he did not die impaled on a bayonet like the other psycho.

    • zaid on May 7, 2018, 2:56 pm

      Einstein spoke in favor of the 1 state solution.

  5. CitizenC on May 7, 2018, 3:14 pm

    I was at the memorial for Joel on Saturday at St Mary’s, where Michael and other friends and family spoke quite engagingly and movingly about Joel. I don’t think Overcoming Zionism was ahead of its time. Joel never said anything that implied that.

    Au contraire, he mentioned several times that, while he had broken with the ancestral religion in his teenage years, when he overheard two aunts savage his favorite aunt at her funeral, his public break with Zionism was deferred because of his mother’s feelings

    After 1967, a few vocal and visible critical voices emerged in Israel who rejected Zionism on principled grounds, to cite only the Jewish side. These included Matzpen (founded 1962) which overlapped with Israel Shahak and his circle. In other terms, Yeshayahu Leibowitz spoke of Judeo-Nazism at the same time.

    Shahak and Matzpen were self-consciously in the anti-Zionist traditions of the Enlightenment and Jewish emancipation. Before that, Isaac Deutscher, Maxime Rodinson and Elmer Berger had survived Zionism’s triumph in the 1940s with their principles intact. The traditional Orthodox critique had never died out entirely, and Leibowitz I suppose would be considered a variant of that.

    In the US, the 1967 left awakening was not anti-Zionist, but voelkisch, in identity politics and its truncated critique of “the occupation”. This development was led by Chomsky, and still dominates. And I think it delayed Joel’s public break with Zionism.

    But break Joel eventually did, quite decisively, in his conversion, tho his sensibility was not conventionally religious, but more radical idealist, as the content of the memorial showed. In my view Overcoming Zionism belongs to the classical anti-Zionist literature, such as Deutscher’s Non-Jewish Jew, Rodinson’s Cult, Ghetto, State (and his historical critiques), Berger’s various liberal religious statements.

    This tradition is as dead as if it had never existed, triumphantly buried by Chomsky, Joel Beinin, Judith Butler and other merchants of ID politics.

    Joel Kovel was a noble exception.

  6. tony greenstein on May 7, 2018, 6:04 pm

    We will miss Joel, he was a pioneer b4 his time. The Review is a good one even if there are a few too many mistakes.

    The blowing up of the King David Hotel was in July 1946 not 1948.

    It says that ‘a Zionist conference in Vienna delegated several rabbis to travel to Palestine on a fact-finding mission. The rabbis cabled back, “the bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man.” This saying is apocryphal though widely quoted in by Ghada Kharmi and Professor Avi Shlaim in The Iron wall, though whether it is true we will never know. I’m not aware that it was a Zionist conference that sent the rabbis to Palestine but a meeting of non-Zionist rabbis.

    Sharon was not convicted by an Israeli court of anything. The Kahan report found he bore ‘personal responsibility’ for what happened. It was in many ways a whitewash.

    Anni Robbins says ‘mainstream Zionist leaders and thinkers did indeed express the desire for peaceful co-existence with the Arab population.’

    Pathetic. Everything the Zionist leaders did was aimed at dispossessing and transferring the Arabs. That was what Jewish Labour, Land and Produce meant – evicting them from the economy and then from the land altogether. Of course the professed peace whilst planning for war. That has always been the Zionist gift.

  7. echinococcus on May 8, 2018, 10:39 am

    Again –but not in the text, only in the headline, for which the author is almost certainly not to blame, the nonsense of “ahead of its times”!
    So according to someone there, there is a time when it is fit and proper to agree with the abomination of Zionism? Or is there another meaning to that strange “ahead of its time”?

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