Zionism Revisited

 Claude Klein. Israel Affairs. Volume 11, Issue 1. Winter 2005.

After having defined Zionism through the Basle Declaration (1897), according to which Zionism wishes to establish a homeland, and later a State, for the Jewish people (in Palestine), this article looks at what appears to have been the major problem for Zionism: the search for legitimacy, both international legitimacy and internal (to the Jewish people) legitimacy. Finally, this article looks at the major difficulty faced in achieving the goals of Zionism: coexistence of the Jewish State with the Palestinian people.

Why Zionism? Why do we still care about this fin-de-siecle ideology? Is it not now time to consider that the moment has come to look for normality after the accomplishment of the first 50 years of the State of Israel and over 100 years of its official appearance on the international political and ideological scene? In other words, does it still matter in Israel or is its relevance merely historical? The answer is not easy. There is indeed a clear interest in what could be defined as ‘theory and practice’ of Zionism. In other words, it is of a certain political and intellectual interest to compare the ideology which guided the establishment of the State of Israel, i.e. Zionism, with the reality which prevails now (in 2004). Thus, from the viewpoint of political theory, it appears that Arthur Herzberg was right when he wrote: ‘Zionism exists, and it had important consequences, but historical theory does not really know what to do with it.’ Indeed, political or historical theory has not been able to classify this particular ideology. As Herzberg aptly stresses, Zionism could not be easily explained as a ‘normal’ kind of national risorgimento. According to his analysis, the difference with nineteenth century nationalism is to be found in the fact that those movements based their struggle for political sovereignty on an already existing national land or language, whereas Zionism proposed to acquire both of these preconditions of national identity by the élan of its national will. It followed that Zionism could be perceived as a ‘maverick’ in the history of modern nationalism or as a parochial stage of the inner history of the Jewish community. In fact, it appears quite clearly that Zionism can and probably must be apprehended in two different ways: first from an inner Jewish point of view and, second, from an external one, as perceived by the international community and by the most concerned people (with the exception of the Jews), i.e. the Palestinians. Thus the most important question pertaining to Zionism, which concerns its legitimacy, must be considered through that double angle: the internal and the external. Zionism has to conquer its internal, Jewish legitimacy as well as its external, international one. Has this been achieved? In what sense or in what measure? Those are the questions I would like to address. Attempting some form of answer is tantamount to ‘revisiting’ Zionism. What remains from the Zionist ideology? Is it still relevant?

I will argue that though Zionism has formally reached its main goal (the establishment of a state for the Jews) the achievement appears to be more than problematic. There are serious doubts whether Zionism has been able to reach a certain homogeneity of the population. Moreover, Zionism did, for a long period, ignore the Arab-Palestinian dimension of the enterprise and, since it has discovered it, does not know how to cope with it. But first, one must define or try to define Zionism.

Zionism and Its Original Meaning: Back to Basics

Has there ever been a good definition of Zionism? As a matter of fact, the answer is positive. From its very first day, Zionism, i.e. political Zionism, has been clearly defined by the Basle programme, i.e. by the first Zionism Congress held in Basle in August 1897. The programme was worded as follows: ‘The aim of Zionism is to create for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public law.’ Let us analyze the various elements of the definition.

The concept of a Jewish people. The declaration implies, as an axiom, that there exists a ‘Jewish people’. This, of course, was never as obvious as alleged here: I do not need to examine whether the affirmation or the existence of a Jewish people is or is not well-founded. Zionism poses the principle of the existence of the Jews as a people and not, for instance, just as a religion. It appears that it is a central and necessary part of any form of Zionist ‘Weltanschauung’. In other words, there can be no Zionist view without a belief in the existence of a Jewish people. Thus, such a belief is not commonly accepted among the Jews themselves, as well as among opponents of Zionism. In his Judenstaat (the German title of his seminal book), the founder of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, uses a very strong formula in this regard. He writes (in German): ‘Wir sind ein Volk. Ein Volk’, which can be rendered as ‘We are one people. One people’. This formula is tantamount to recognition of the unicity or oneness of the people. One cannot help but hear at this point the Shema prayer, the basic Jewish credo relating to the unicity of God: Hear Israel, our God is our Lord, our God is One.

A home. The concept is unclear. It renders the German term Heimstätte which, according to Herzl’s diaries and other reports, has been used in order not to antagonize the Turkish authorities. It must be understood in light of Herzl’s book, Der Judenstaat, which appeared a year before the first Congress. The book represents the basis of political Zionism and in it Herzl proposes he establishment of a state for the Jews as a ‘modern solution of the Jewish question’. In other words, what was meant was, for a later stage, a real state. For the time being, due to political caution and prudence, the concept of home was coined (it was unknown previously). It will reappear, 20 years later, in the Balfour Declaration. It announces one of the major themes of Zionism: the search for normality through statehood. Hence the significance of all statehood symbols in the newly established State of Israel (flag, seal, anthem, etc.).

Secured by public law. This is a continuation of the previous theme. The German concept was that of ‘öffentlich-rechtlich’. It should be recalled that Herzl had obtained a law degree (from the University of Vienna). He actually signed the Judensstaat as Theodor Herzl, Doctor of Law. The distinction between public law and private law is one of the basics of all European legal systems. This concept was used instead of the proposed concept of (public) international law which might have antagonized the Sultan.

‘Palestine’. This is the translation of the Hebrew concept ‘Eretz Israel’. In spite of the discussions about other geographical locations: for instance, at the sixth Congress of 1903 the Uganda proposal was considered. It was presented by Herzl himself, who thought that since the Palestine plan was uncertain it was urgent to find an ‘asylum for the night’ since he foresaw great dangers for the Jews in Europe. But for the East European Jews it was always clear that ‘the’ place where Zionism could realize itself was only and exclusively in Zion. They rejected the Uganda proposal even if would be able to save them.

To sum up, Zionism from its inception was clearly established on the following very simple premises: the affirmation of the existence of a Jewish people; and the necessity of a protected political framework in Palestine, i.e. the necessity of a state for the Jewish people. No moral or political justification was given in the Basle Declaration itself, though one may infer at least one internal justification, linked to what used to be defined as the ‘Jewish question’. The Basle programme tells us that Zionism is a way of solving the Jewish question, as stressed by Herzl in his Judenstaat published 18 months earlier: ‘An attempt to a modern solution to the Jewish question’. For Herzl the aim of Zionism was mainly to propose a solution to the Jewish question at a time when a catastrophe was, in his view, imminent. This was the ultimate legitimacy for the entire project: no question was raised regarding the legitimacy of the Zionist project vis-à-vis the existing population in Palestine. Later, it was argued that Herzl did not know that there were Arabs in Palestine: in fact, Herzl paid no attention to the fact that Palestine was not ‘A land without a people, for a people without a land’. Herzl saw the Arabs when he came to the Holy Land, in 1898, after he published his book. Thus the sentence means that even if he knew that there were Arabs in Palestine, he did not consider it an important fact. Note also that one of the Arab leaders of Palestine (Ziah-El-Khaldi) did actually write to Herzl (through a letter sent to Zadoc Kahn, the French chief rabbi) in 1899 in order to advise the Jews not to imagine any independent state: they will be welcome only as ‘loyal subjects of the Sultan’. Herzl answered in a very superficial tone, though he seemed to imply that if the Palestinian project should prove unfeasible, another site could be chosen. History has proven that Herzl was wrong on that issue.

Having recalled, even briefly, the ‘basics’ of Zionism, I would like to move on to examine some issues pertaining to the construction of its legitimacy. I distinguish between internal legitimacy and external legitimacy. By internal legitimacy, I address the internal debates among the Jewish people around the Zionist ideology. By external legitimacy I refer to the way Zionism had to struggle in order to gain international acceptance.

Zionism and Its Search for Internal Legitimacy

In this section I examine the way Zionism established itself among the Jewish people, even before trying to conquer international recognition. Thus I think that I must first look at Zionism in its relationship to its acceptance by the Jews.

Zionism and the Jewish Response

Let there be no misunderstanding or mistake: as a movement or as a political option, Zionism has always represented but a minority of the Jewish people. When Zionism was launched, at the end of the nineteenth century, it was seriously contested by other Jewish movements and trends: bundists, territorialists, autonomists and, of course, all the assimilationists. One should also mention the ultra-orthodox, who were quite hostile to Zionism (a great fraction of them still are today).

Zionism, as presented by Herzl, was at first an address to his Jewish fellows. The Jews must be convinced by the Zionist discourse. If and only if this objective is realized then the second objective will be looked after: international recognition. For a long time, Herzl addressed mainly the Jewish circles. Later he started his diplomatic efforts in order to gain international recognition for his project. He also went to Constantinople, but he never really cared about gaining Arab approval.

Zionism has never been recognized by the majority of the Jews as the solution to the Jewish question, which does not mean that there was no great sympathy for the project among the Jewish masses in all parts of the Jewish world. It was certainly the most articulated movement of all and since the establishment of the State of Israel it has been in a very strong, almost dominant, position. It has rewritten history so as to present Jewish history as being oriented towards one unique goal: national redemption in Zion.

Herzl tried to convince the Jews that the only way out of the looming catastrophe—the explosion of anti-Semitism—was the establishment of a state. But even with that ‘minimalist’ approach, Zionism failed to become the major trend in the Jewish world. In the west, Zionism had always been considered with great suspicion by the Jews themselves. It was reported that during the discussion of the Balfour Declaration by the British Cabinet (in 1917), the only real opponent was the sole Jewish member of the Cabinet: Lord Montagu. Hence also the reservations in the Balfour Declaration. It is worth recalling them together with the main proposition:

His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

In other words, the establishment of a national home for the Jews (in Palestine) affects only those who are interested in it: mildly put, it means that the Jews of Western Europe are not personally concerned. They may have sympathy for the project: it is not their project. This is the real meaning of the reservation regarding the Jews. It remains to ask what kind of state was envisioned.

A Jewish State or a State for the Jews

I refer to the discussion regarding the main definition of the state as a Jewish State or as the State of the Jews. According to the ‘Jewish State’ approach, the Zionist project included also a cultural aspect. In its modern version it implies even a religious content whereas the other approach is purely national and concentrates on the population and on the Jewish majority in the state. The debate starts with the question concerning the translation of Herzl’s book title, in German, Der Judenstaat. The traditional translation into English has always been ‘The Jewish State’. The translation to French was similar and was coined ‘L’Etat des Juifs’. In my Introduction to the French translation (1989) I have argued that by Judenstaat Herzl meant the State of the Jews. Yoram Hazoni has contested my new translation. One (good) argument of his is the fact that Herzl himself approved the translations into French (l’Etat juif) and into English (The Jewish State). Hazony argues that Herzl approved of the title and that he knew both languages quite well. In contrast, it must also be noted that the Hebrew translations always were ‘Medinat Hayehoudim’, i.e., the State of the Jews.

I have not been convinced by Hazony’s argumentation. Besides the real meaning of ‘Judenstaat’ which despite all his (Hazony’s) attempts to show to the contrary, Judenstaat means the ‘State of the Jews’. Herzl could have easily decided to adopt the expression ‘Der jüdische Staat’. The argument according to which Herzl accepted the translation ‘The Jewish State’ is self-destructive since it bears its own contra-argument: we must remember in the original language, the choice was clearly open. Herzl made that choice. The main reason for the ‘wrong’ translation (according to my view) into French and English—and its acceptance by Herzl—is mainly the aesthetics of language. One could assume that Herzl did not foresee all the implications of the choice. But nowadays no hesitation is possible. The choice between the two terms is of the utmost importance. Yet in both languages (French and English), the ‘wrong’ translation is better in terms of aesthetics. In English, for instance, it is not easy to write ‘The State of the Jews’ or even ‘The Jews’ State’. The same applies to French. The new translation I proposed in 1989 is certainly not as good as the classical one, from the aesthetic point of view. Traduttoretraditore, as the Italians say. As a matter of fact, the best translation would be ‘A State for the Jews’ or in French ‘Un Etat pour les Juifs’, even though it is somehow far from the original and appears as interpretative. That was the reason I did not adopt it in 1989.

Contesting my approach, Hazony argues that I have brought no new evidence relating to the true meaning of the title, besides the well-known passage in the book where Herzl attacks theocracy. One could add also the remarks regarding the impossibility of adopting the Hebrew language. In other words, for Herzl the state to be was a state for the Jews, but, for instance, he did not consider the possibility of introducing a ‘Jewish’ language for that country. Moreover, I have argued and maintained that the entire essay rejects any orthodox religious approach, though Herzl did not reject the importance of the Jewish religion per se. His approach was mainly national, i.e. in terms of a nation state. Herzl did not really care. He did not imagine what the real cultural identity of such a nation state could be.

Should we need more evidence to that approach, it should be enough to refer to Altneuland, where the culture of the country was all but Jewish. Here is the way Amos Elon refers to Altneuland’s approach to the characteristics of national culture in Zionist Palestine:

Culturally, the new polity of Altneuland was not Jewish, but cosmopolitan. It was an open, secular, pluralistic society of Jews, Christians, Moslems and Buddhists speaking a wide variety of languages. There was no official tongue, although German seemed to predominate (in the rural areas Yiddish was spoken). Hebrew was used by Jews only for prayer and at funerals. The citizenry attended German opera and French theater, and engaged in English outdoor sports.

In my view, this discussion throws light on the entire Zionist project, from its very beginning. Zionism in a sense was conceived as quite ‘neutral’: a national entity, without any clear representation of a possible content of the future state. Jabotinsky would, in a sense, recall those elements when he coined the concept of ‘Had ness’, i.e., one flag only: no socialism, no religion, etc. Herzl did not perceive the necessity to define more precisely the nature of the state. This necessity appeared much later, after the establishment of the state.

As a matter of fact, the establishment of the state has not been able to solve this question, which concerns the internal legitimacy of the state. Great sections of the Israeli population are unable to identify with the common basic values of the state. This is true for the Arab minority (roughly 20%). Second, the ultra-orthodox sector of the population (over 10%) also rejects the main components of Zionism.

In other words, the group forming the ‘We’ (the people) is certainly not broad enough. The question here is not only the understanding of the failure of the melting pot according to its Israeli version. The question is deeper: inasmuch as Zionism has been established upon the basic credo of the existence of a Jewish people it must be asked, frankly, whether the practical results after over 50 years have been able to show success in that regard. I will not hazard an answer. Suffice is to state that this question is valid regarding the internal legitimacy of Zionism. Let us now look at the broader question of the external legitimacy of Zionism. We will see that Zionism has actually been revisited and is now perceived quite differently from its initial perception.

Zionism and Its External Search for Legitimacy

Zionism and the Discovery of the Arab Question

Very soon after the beginning of political Zionism it appeared that there was indeed a ‘hidden question’ which was roughly presented as the Arab question: the logic of the Zionist project was perfect—it just forgot that there were Arabs in Palestine. As a matter of fact, various leaders (Ahad Haam having been perhaps the very first) were already aware of the Arab presence and of their hostility towards the Zionist plan. Quite rapidly, it became obvious that the Arab dimension of the question was actually central to the entire Zionist mission. Soon after the Balfour Declaration and the establishment of the Mandate, it became evident that the ‘hidden question’ surfaced. The history of Zionism would become, in part, identified with the history of the Arab-Israeli (Jewish) conflict.

Looking for recognition at the international level, Zionism presented itself for long as a modern movement of national liberation. This was even true during the pre-state years (from 1945 to 1948) when Zionism was not far from identifying itself with some movements fighting for their liberation from a colonial superpower (here Great Britain). One could even say that the Zionist struggle during the period 1945-48 is one of the first great decolonization struggles in the post-war period. Hence, the Zionist combat is that of the revolutionary liberation of the Jewish people. This has been one of the (minor) reasons for the communist support of Zionism during that period. Alas, the Zionist movement soon encountered the Arab national movement: first at the pan-Arabic level and then—mainly after the 1967 war—at the Palestinian level. The apprehension of the conflict as one of two movements in a struggle for the same piece of land transformed itself, at least in the eyes of part of the international community, as a conflict between a strong occidental type of state (Israel) with a Third World population. After 1967, the perception of the conflict changed completely as Israel invested in building settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the midst of overwhelming Palestinian population. The struggle became to be viewed as a classical colonial struggle, like, for instance, the Algeria War.

Let us have a look at Zionism from the point of view of its international (external) legitimacy. I see two different aspects, which I examine successively. The first is related to the project of the establishment of a state for the Jews. This state exists now. What is its legitimacy? The second derives from the first: the State of Israel professes a certain ideology known as Zionism. How is this ideology internationally considered?

Zionism and Its International Legitimacy

Recall the infamous UN General Assembly Resolution 3379, adopted on 10 November 1975, which stated in its last sentence that the General Assembly determines ‘that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination’. Later, on 16 December 1991, this resolution was formally abrogated. It was one of the rare occasions in which the General Assembly abrogated one of its resolutions. Nevertheless, the condemnation of an ideology as such is very strange. Zionism has ceased to be a politically correct stream. How did such a transformation happen? Some 50 years ago, this was certainly not the case. The word ‘Zionism’ used to be positively charged. For a long period it was even considered as a revolutionary movement or a movement of national liberation. It was the revolution of the Jewish people in search of a solution to its historic tragedy. Today, in most circles, the charge is completely negative. Let us try to understand why.

The State of Israel is part of the international community. Prima facie this is not contested any more. The progressive steps of this conquest of legitimacy are well known: from the Balfour Declaration, through the establishment of the British Mandate over Palestine (1920) to the UN General Assembly Resolution of 29 November 1947, which suggested partition of Palestine into two states: Jewish and Arab. Later Israel was admitted to the UN (in May 1949) and became a ‘normal’ state within the community of nations. The ongoing conflict with the Palestinians has eroded Israel’s position but, in my view, this is not enough and does not explain the way Zionism is (negatively) perceived world-wide.

I see mainly two reasons for this transformation of the image of Zionism. They are intimately connected. The first is related to the perception of the conflict since 1967. The second is even more profound, it is connected to the very essence of Zionism, i.e., the attempt to establish a state for the Jews in a region where they are mingled with Arabs and where the question of the relationship between majority and minority is becoming acute.

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Until 1967, the Palestinian problem was only indirectly connected to the image of Zionism. The occupation of a large part of Palestine has completely changed the perception. Zionism is now perceived as a movement having expansionist tendencies. The settlements and their poor image are contributing to the rapid degradation of the image of Zionism which becomes more and more identified with such policies. In the last analysis, it seems as if some deviations are completely inherent to Zionism, even though this was not initially the case. One interesting analogy could be drawn: in the discussion around communism which is another important ideology of the twentieth century. It has been often argued that the aberrations (like Stalinism) were actually consubstantial to communism. Of course, there are still true and honest communists who think things could have been done otherwise. This remains an open discussion. With regard to Zionism, it could be argued that the very essence of the ideology would necessarily lead to some exacerbations. Moreover, the question arising is whether the Zionist ideology was capable of accepting in Palestine a concurrent nationalist movement. This position is taken (in part) by Chaim Gans in his recent book The Limits of Nationalism. Basically, Gans questions the right of the Jews to self-determination in Eretz Israel since the territory was not vacant (even at the inception of Zionism). Moreover, he states that ‘There may be doubts concerning the right of the Jewish people to realize its self-determination in Palestine because the Palestinians did not originally wrong them’. Restitution and return have their limits. The solution for him is the realization of both rights (Palestinians and Jews) of self-determination in the form Gans qualifies as ‘sub and interstatist form of self-determination’.

In other words, Zionism appears today as impeding the realization of Palestinian self-determination. The question is whether this is purely conjectural or, as it has been argued by the enemies of Zionism, this is a necessary consequence of Zionism. I consider that Zionism has most obviously harmed the Palestinians, but, as a matter of fact, their political consciousness has benefited from Zionism. It has enhanced their possibility of defining themselves within the broader Arab world community. But there is another aspect to it: that of the Arab minority in Israel and its relationship to the Jewish nation state.

Israel As a Nation State and Its Arab Minority

Ever since the beginning of Zionism, the question of the relationship between majority and minority has been central to all debates in Palestine and later in Israel, as perceived by the Jews. Zionism was sometimes defined as the search for a Jewish majority and a Jewish power (in a Jewish state). Thus the demographic conditions of such a state had to be created. This was finally done in 1948, leaving the new state with ‘only’ 160,000 Arabs and 650,000 Jews.

The State of Israel is clearly a nation state—that of the Jewish people. This is the political meaning of the definition of the state as ‘Jewish and democratic’. Conceptually, Israel can be described as an imperfect nation state. I use here the word ‘imperfect’ in the framework of a Weberian ideal-type: in other words, I want to examine the pure model of the nation state and then analyze the imperfections of that model. I suggest that an ideal (the ideal) nation state should fulfil the following conditions:

  • all citizens of the state would belong to the core nation of that nation state. Thus, the ‘ideal’ nation state would be a state without any minority (in the national sense) on its territory. Needless to say, there are no such states, though there are states with tiny minorities (with Italy with less than 3%) of citizens belonging to another group: French speaking or German speaking.
  • all those belonging to that same core nation of the nation state are included in that state.

Thus, the ‘imperfections’ of the Israeli model are obvious. On the one hand, not all the citizens of the state are Jewish. We could adopt the figure of 80% Jews v. 20% non-Jews (those non-Jews are mostly Arabs, whether Moslem, Christian or Druze). On an international comparative basis, a minority forming 20% of the population is indeed very high. Such a rate of internal distortion with regard to the perfect nation state model could lead at some point to a methodological interesting question: whether Israel is a nation state with a minority or whether it is becoming a bi-national state (de facto if not de jure). Among the countries with a ratio more or less comparable we find the new republic of Slovakia (with a Hungarian minority of 11.5%). Generally, the ratio is much lower: Finland has a minority of 5.8% of Swedish speaking people. Romania has various minorities (the largest being the Hungarians who constitute 7.1%). Those are only examples. Of course, there are cases of new minorities, where there has been an influx of immigrants (for instance Turks in Germany, Arabs in France, etc.) but all those cases are conceptually different: immigrants have no national rights they can refer to in the new country. This is different from the position of the Arabs in Israel.

On the other hand, the imperfection also has an external character: it is related to the fact that the majority of the Jewish people dos not live in Israel. According to the Statistical Abstract for 2004 40% of the Jewish people now live in Israel. It is quite clear that this percentage will grow rapidly, mainly due to the ageing of the Jewish population in the Diaspora, but also due to intermarriage and assimilation and secondarily to emigration (to Israel). From an ideological point of view, this external imperfection is problematic. The assumption that Jews in the world are to be considered as part of the core nation of Israel is not self-evident. It may be accepted only as a one-sided view of the official ideology of the country, as conveyed for instance by the Law of Return. In other words, Israel offers unilaterally its nationality to the Jews all over the world, but this nationality cannot be imposed. At the moment of the adoption of the Law of Return, in July 1950, the then Prime Minister Ben-Gurion made this point clear in his presentation of the bill to the Knesset. At that time, representatives of Jewish communities in various countries objected to the formulation of the Law of Return, as if Israel was trying to impose its nationality on persons who were not interested in acquiring it and thought they could be jeopardized by Israel’s legislation. This was the reason Ben-Gurion insisted that the Law of Return had to be linked to obtaining a visa (a certificate of immigration), which has to be formally requested by the Jewish person who wants to immigrate to Israel.

One important question is that of the consequences of that imperfection of the Jewish nation state? In particular, the question is relevant with regard to the demographical structure of the state. The contradiction between the Zionist ideology and the reality in Israel becomes more and more apparent. Interestingly enough, demography has become a popular discipline in Israel. Demographic projections are looked after. The general view being that, given the significant difference between the Arab birth rate and the Jewish birth rate and, given the progressive drying out of the sources of immigration, the only real question would be to calculate the growth of the Arab population as compared to the growth of the Jewish population in order to estimate the evolution of the respective populations in the future. A survey of the various projections shows that within 20 years the Arabs would constitute at least 30% of the general population in Israel. This proportion could subsequently grow rapidly.

And, after all, why is all of this relevant to the revisiting of Zionism? From the legal point of view, Israel is now defining itself as a ‘Jewish and democratic state’. This is the very basis of the self-affirmation of Israel as the Jewish nation state. The question is whether such a delicate definition will be able to be kept when the proportion of the Arab population grows rapidly, or whether it will seriously endanger the democratic character of the state. Is the outcome of all of this not tantamount to the progressive appearance of a real bi-national state within two generations, which in fact means the end or the failure of Zionism? Various commentators (mainly Arabs) have already stressed that point by sustaining the demand for replacing the ‘Jewish and democratic character’ of the state by an affirmation according to which this state should be presented as the state of ‘all its citizens’. This is, for instance, the programme of Azmi Bishara, who is member of the Knesset. Since he had expressed very nationalistic political views (as an Arab), the discussion on the question of the legitimacy of such a position is not really central at this stage. He was finally allowed—by the Supreme Court—to run for the elections in 2003, in spite of the fact that the Central Committee for the Elections had decided otherwise, on the basis of the Basic Law: The Knesset.

I would like to add here a specific legal consideration. In various countries we are witnessing the introduction of super-protected provisions in the constitutions. Those provisions cannot be amended or abrogated at all. Generally they concern the protection of the regime, the democratic character, etc. One can easily imagine that the time will come when such a technique will be introduced in Israel. The efficacy of the technique is problematic. It is also quite strange that such a way should be envisioned to protect the Jewish character of the state. At best, it could protect the Jewish character of the state for a certain period. Thus, should demography transform completely the basic parameters of the society, nothing could or should prevent the new majority adapting the state to the new situation. It is not astonishing that great attention is now given to that aspect of the problem: enhancing Jewish growth of the population is considered a first priority. It includes both enhancing internal growth and external growth (by way of immigration to Israel). Some political parties have gone so far as to envision a transfer of part of the Arabs: I cannot consider such an option even as a theoretical one.


Zionism is presented either as a great success or as a source of great injustice and as a practical failure. To paraphrase Kant in one of his later essays, ‘This might be right in theory but in practice it is worth nothing’.

Prima facie, Zionism has achieved its main goal, i.e. the establishment of a state for the Jews. The question is, of course, whether this obvious achievement is in itself sufficient to sustain the concept of ‘full success’ of Zionism. The question is certainly debated. The evolution of the state, the internal and the external struggles, may lead to some harsh questions in that regard. Truly, one may also present the Zionist movement as a kind of revolution in the history of the Jewish people: an attempt by the Jews to enter history on the active side, after having been only on the passive side. Thus, the Jews discovered that entering history has a price, even a terrible price: the loss of their historical innocence. Becoming full actors in history, acting in the realm of political reality, has a meaning which the Jews were not accustomed to bear: that of responsibility and sometimes that of culpability. But the Jews had been accustomed to being considered as responsible or even guilty only in the traditional way, for instance in the framework of historical anti-Semitism. Hence, today, very often the confusion between the two worlds and the confusion between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

Some adversaries of Zionism consider that the establishment of the new state led to one of the greatest injustices of the twentieth century, that of the Palestinian refugees. The existence of Zionism, symbolized by the Law of Return, is considered an obstacle to the realization of the return of the Palestinians. We are witnessing here a very interesting parallel between the Law of Return and the Palestinian request for a right of return for the refugees. Zionism appears as having provoked precisely—with the Palestinians—the kind of problem it wanted to solve for the Jews. Does the affirmation of the rights of one side necessarily destroy those of the other side? This appears nowadays the great moral and political question of Zionism. For a Zionist, revisiting Zionism means precisely this: how can we reconcile the success of Zionism with the ‘collateral damage’ which appears quite inherent to it. This historical examination might be painful but it is necessary.