What is your opinion on Zionism

IsraelJewish criticism of Zionism

"If I have succeeded in showing that one can fall back on Jewish sources to criticize state violence, the colonial oppression of population groups, expulsion and expropriation, then I have at the same time been able to show that a Jewish criticism of the state Violence is at least possible, if not necessary. "

On the back of her book "At the Crossroads. Judaism and the Critique of Zionism", Judith Butler makes it clear what it is about: a fundamental criticism of Israel or its abolition as a Jewish state. It is important to emphasize this because, unlike other critics of Israel, she considers a separation between Israel within the 1967 borders and the West Bank, where Israel is the occupying power, to be wrong. It is not about the occupation alone.

"With such a restriction, we would not only agree to forget the 1948 claims and bury the right of return, we would also accept unjust discrimination within Israel's current borders."

The right of return of the Palestinians displaced when the state of Israel was founded - the numbers fluctuate between 700,000 and 900,000 - is non-negotiable for Butler, and the memory of the Naqba, the Arabic term for catastrophe, is indispensable. Memory, she writes, referring to Walter Benjamin, is the true measure of life. In addition to Benjamin, it is mainly Hannah Arendt, Primo Levi, Edward Said and Emmanuel Levinas that Butler works on in order to underpin her political-ethical point of view. Above all, she adopts his concept of the face from the French-Jewish moral philosopher Levinas. At its core is the thought that everyone has a responsibility for their fellow human beings, regardless of whether they want it or not. Israel's politics, on the other hand, veil the faces of many people, writes the philosopher with a view to the wars in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

"It is astonishing how the lives of the Israeli soldiers were personified, associated with names and families and openly mourned, while the lives of Lebanese and Palestinian soldiers and civilians remained nameless and in fact unbearable."

In addition to Levinas, it is above all Hannah Arendt who Butler serves as an example of a Jewish ethos, out of which the politics of Israel must be criticized. In fact, Arendt, who herself was stateless for some time as a refugee, took a critical look at Zionism and nationalism. She warned against founding a purely Jewish state in Palestine and thus marginalizing the Arab population or treating them as second-class citizens in their own country. And yet there are serious differences between Arendt and Butler. Unlike Butler, Arendt was not a dedicated anti-Zionist. Despite all the criticism of Israel, she was always very afraid that the homeland of the Jews would be in danger. While Butler draws on the Jewish thinkers to give her criticism a Jewish basis, she mainly refers to Edward Said in the search for political alternatives. The Palestinian literary critic called for a binational state for Jews and Palestinians in the area between the Mediterranean and Jordan.

"It should be noted that binationalism, both for Said and in my own argument, does not result in a two-state solution, but in a single state, a state without any discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, race or religion."

That sounds tempting, but in practice the question arises: With which people does it want to realize this state? The majority of Jewish Israelis clearly oppose such an idea. And the majority of Palestinians would probably only agree to such a plan if it were linked to the hope of sometime pushing the Jews in the common state into the role of the minority. Butler's central conviction is that the Jews have to live with that.

"No democratic community has the right to ensure the demographic superiority of any particular ethnic or religious group."

Shlomo Sand shares this belief. Like Butler, the historian is a fundamental critic of Israel and the oppression of the Palestinians. And yet his book "Why I Stop Being a Jew. An Israeli Point of View" differs significantly from Butler's, not least because of the subjective form that Sand chose. He speaks of himself and of the fact that he does not believe in God. His Jewish secular identity can only lie in his origins and is thus a product of the past. Or more precisely: a product of the constructed memory of this past. After all, the history of the Jews was largely an invention of European Zionists. But he does not want to submit to this story of persecution.

"I have never devoted myself to pain that belonged to a past time, nor dreamed of healing all the old suffering. Rather, I belong to those who want to point out unnecessary injustice in the present, stop it or at least try to reduce it. Because the persecuted and the victims of the past are in my opinion much less important than the persecuted of today or the victims of tomorrow. Furthermore, I know only too well that hunters and hunted, the strong and the weak all too often play the roles on the stage of history To deceive."

For a long time he felt part of a persecuted minority, writes Sand, but in Israel the Jews are undoubtedly the dominant group. And also in some circles of the western culture and media world it has long been pretty popular to be Jewish and therefore something special.

"Now that I clearly recognize that by law in Israel I am being slammed into a fictional ethnic group of persecutors and their supporters and all over the world a closed club of the chosen and their admirers, I would now like to leave this club and stop calling myself To look at Jews. "

It remains to be seen whether sand can or will really leave being a Jew, the important thing is its justification. Unlike Butler, he does not invoke a Jewish ethic for his criticism of Israel, but considers the idea of ​​such an ethic to be part of the problem. The core of the Torah and Talmud did not contain messages of universal solidarity, but were traditionally based on a tribe.

"In other words, the egocentric aspects of traditional Jewish ethics are probably not directly responsible for the rise of anti-liberal and anti-democratic tendencies in Israel today, but they have undoubtedly made these tendencies possible and continue to make them possible."

But despite the great differences in the justification - Butler argues with Jewish ethics, sand against them - both authors come to a similar conclusion: As a democratic state, Israel must move away from its claim to be exclusively Jewish. The fact that these positions do not meet with much approval in Israel - and on the other hand also against some anti-Semitic resentment, as Sand and Butler admit - should not prevent one from seriously dealing with their criticism.