I greatly admire and respect Stephen Salaita’s sacrifices and steadfastness for Palestine, but I think there is too much here, at least to start. The first step must be to recover the canonical terms of Enlightenment liberalism and Jewish emancipation which followed. These have been abandoned for the golden calf of “the Jewish people,” on the left no less than the right.
The Enlightenment dissolved the pre-modern Judaic community, ruled by the rabbis and the rich, and admitted Jews to liberal society, as a religious minority, or secular citizens. Before 1914 and the political consequences of WW1, increasing acceptance of Jews on these terms was the norm. Fundamental was the rejection of “Jewish peoplehood”, in the words of the 1885 Pittsburgh Platform of American Reform:
“We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state.”
Reform was socially the vehicle of the German Jewish bourgeoisie, and attained its apotheosis in the US. In the 1940s this outlook, led by Rabbi Elmer Berger, Lessing Rosenwald and others, mounted a vigorous rear-guard action against the Zionist campaign for statehood. After 1948 Berger became an outspoken advocate of Palestinian rights, lionized in the Arab world. After the June, 1967 war, Berger, with a core of classical Reform supporters, renewed the struggle. He co-authored UN GA Resolution 3379 that held Zionism was a form of racism, and wrote on it himself. The Institute for Palestine Studies published his books.
Berger, like Israel Shahak, viewed Zionism as a reaction against liberalism and assimilation, an attempt to preserve the closed, medieval Jewish world and its obscurantism view, notably its anti-gentilism. Shahak was not a Marxist, much less a Reform Jew, but considered himself a secular humanist after Spinoza, the greatest of the 17th c rationalist philosophers. He wrote acutely on Zionism as a secularization of the obscurantism of medieval Judaism. Neither Berger nor Shahak were social radicals, though they were liberals, and Shahak’s circle of supporters included Matzpen, which was Marxist.
Spinoza and classical Reform predated Marxist internationalism, which is also an important strain of anti-Zionist thought. The opposition of Zionism and internationalism emerged in the classical debates over the “national question” in the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party in 1903. Rosa Luxemburg was the most rigorous internationalist, and the greatest figure of socialism’s Second International period, who famously wrote, in a 1917 letter from the jail where her opposition to WW1 had landed her:
What do you want with this theme of the “special suffering of the Jews”? I am just as much concerned with the poor victims on the rubber plantations of Putumayo, the Blacks in Africa with whose corpses the Europeans play catch. You know the words that were written about the great work of the General Staff, about General Trotha’s campaign in the Kalahari desert: “And the death rattles of the dying, the demented cries of those driven mad by thirst faded away in the sublime stillness of eternity.” Oh that “sublime stillness of eternity,” in which so many cries of anguish have faded away unheard, they resound within me so strongly that I have no special place in my heart for the ghetto. I feel at home in the entire world, wherever there are clouds and birds and human tears.
Internationalism survived WW2 and its epochal tranformations in figures like the Polish Communist Isaac Deutscher, and the French Communist Maxime Rodinson. Deutscher left Poland for England in spring 1939, survived the war, visited Israel in the early 1950s, and wrote with perfect clarity about its militarism, colonialism and nationalism. He died in August, 1967, having lived to see Zionism enter its maturity, and viewed the war as arising from Israel’s conduct.
Rodinson, a scholar of Middle East languages, survived the war in Syria. Afterward he was attached to the French embassy in Beirut; when word arrived that his parents had perished in Auschwitz, he was offered an embassy car to join “his people” in Palestine. He refused as it would violate his internationalism. In 1964 he took the negative in a debate organized by the Union of Jewish Students in France, on the proposition, “Israel is a socialist state”. On the eve of the June, 1967 war, he published “Israel, a Colonial-Settler State”, which appeared in a special issue of Sartre’s Les Tempes Modernes. His “Israel and the Arabs” appeared in 2 editions, and included a sharp criticism of Israel’s role in the origins of the June 1967 war. He passed away in 2004.
Before anti-Zionism can be anything else, it must recover its foundations in the Enlightenment and Jewish emancipation, which have been abandoned by the left, from Chomsky on down. Chomsky is a Zionist, believes in Zionist shibboleths of “the Jewish people” and the “secular Jew”, views the kibbutz, an instrument of racialist Ashkenazi Jewish settlement, as anarchism.
These illiberal, anti-modern fallacies underlie his minimal critique of “the occupation”, his rejection of the “Israel Lobby” argument about the US-Israel relationship, his opposition to BDS beyond “the occupation”, his dogged defense of the “two-state solution” etc. The whole Jewish left is comprised of such Zionist foundations and equivocal, compromised politics, notably Jewish Voice for Peace. This epic failure can be called “the end of modern Jewish history”, my term and others’, with varying interpretations. See