Post-Zionism Didn't Die, It's Badly Injured

Like historian Tom Segev, Dr. Uri Ram, a senior lecturer in the Behavioral Sciences Department of Haifa University, considers post-Zionism to be a climate rather than an ideology.

Dalia Shehori
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Dalia Shehori

Like historian Tom Segev, Dr. Uri Ram, a senior lecturer in the Behavioral Sciences Department of Haifa University, considers post-Zionism to be a climate rather than an ideology. But unlike Segev, who last week told Haaretz the intifada had killed post-Zionism, Ram believes that not only is it not dead, it is in its infancy or maybe just fetal.

He says: "Post-Zionism is the opposite of dead. It's true only few people bear the title `post-Zionist,' but the post-Zionist situation is much broader than that." In his opinion, post-Zionism is a social phenomenon that has infiltrated deeply and now has many intellectual, cultural and artistic expressions. It exists in many areas of life, in the non-ideological viewpoint of many Israelis.

Ram says that in Israeli universities there is today "a critical mass of researchers who are postmodern, postcolonial, post-Zionist, post-Marxist. In effect, something has been created in Israel that could be called `the post-Zionist bookshelf,' which is of course smaller than the so-called `Jewish bookshelf,' but is definitely a respectable one already."

In the draft of an article entitled "Post-Zionism at the age of 10: Disappearance or dissemination?" Ram writes that since the beginning of the post-Zionist discourse, universities have invested a great deal of effort in the debate with post-Zionism and in refuting it. He says "80 percent of historians are involved in this debate and it may be that discussion of the collapse of post-Zionism (after the failure of Camp David and the outbreak of the second intifada) has been too hasty." He believes post-Zionism, "which is now hidden under the clouds of terrorism and explosions and despair, is once again becoming a real option."

Post versus neo

Ram sees a battle being waged over the redefinition of collective identity in Israel between post-Zionism and neo-Zionism. "Post-Zionism is citizen-oriented (supporting equal rights, and in that sense favoring a state of all its citizens within the boundaries of the Green Line), universal and global. Neo-Zionism is particularist, tribal, Jewish, ethnic nationalist, fundamentalist, and even fascist on the fringe." Post-Zionism, admits Ram, is today at a low ebb against neo-Zionism - the right-wing, post-Zionist stream of the settlers - which has the upper hand.

Ram believes, however, that this is a temporary situation, a swing of the pendulum, and that post-Zionism will return in a big way. One reason is that the problems that it deals with - the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the debate about a Jewish and democratic state - have not disappeared. If Segev believes that this debate doesn't interest anyone today, Ram's opinion is that not only does the debate exist, it is even likely to reach a point of decision soon, since "this is the principal watershed in Israeli society."

According to post-Zionism, says Ram, "a Jewish and democratic state can no longer exist, because it is an internal contradiction that cannot be resolved." Therefore, he says, "the state will have to decide whether it is democratic or Jewish."

Neo-Zionism is represented in Israel by the National Religious Party, the settlers, the parties of the extreme right and large parts of the Likud and Shas. "We are seeing the return, in a big way, of the nationalist-religious discourse, and even of unabashed racism and colonialism," says Ram.

"This is a process that has been going on since the murder of Rabin and the failed governments of Netanyahu, Barak and Sharon, the second intifada and 9/11 in the United States." The presence of the Arab citizens of the country, who comprise about one fifth of the population, within the civic society, is likely to force Israel to make a decision on the issue of their rights. "If it doesn't want to become a Jewish apartheid state, it will have to become a democratic, civic and pluralistic state."

Ram, 54, defines himself as a socialist post-Zionist, and he is optimistic about the future of post-Zionism, although "the way things look now, it's hard to glimpse any light" at the end of the tunnel. "Since the murder of Rabin we have had regimes leading us from one catastrophe to the next." One thing he accuses Israel of is that although the conflict with the Palestinians is limited and can be solved by territorial compromise, Israel "is deliberately attempting to create a conflict for itself with the entire Muslim world. It is gleefully subscribing to the concept of a clash of civilizations. Sharon's regime is turning us into the forefront of this colossal conflict."

Well connected

Is there a connection between his political opinions and his academic work? Of course, says Ram. His political viewpoint, he says, is anchored in the analysis of the social situation and of political history, which he carries out as a sociologist. The idea that it is impossible to separate the ideology of the researcher from the subject of his research is often heard as a criticism of post-Zionism.

Ram doesn't consider that a bad thing. Quite the opposite, he claims there is always a connection between the academic work of the researcher and his opinions, and the claim that there is presumably such a thing as objective social sciences is a "science-oriented" claim that stems from a mistaken understanding.

Ram believes that two major destructive phenomena, which have not been sufficiently researched, are occurring simultaneously in Israeli society. One is the development of what he calls a neo-colonial political regime, which is expressed in the patterns of occupation, dispossession and oppression of the Palestinians, as well as in the pattern of prolonged built-in discrimination against Israel's Arab citizens.

This, he says, is a consequence of neo-Zionism, which is encouraging the creation of an apartheid regime toward the Arab minority in Israel and toward the Palestinians in the territories. He says that "the entire process of the prolonged occupation, the settlements and militarization creates a violent, unequal situation, which endangers the continuation of democracy in Israel, insofar as it exists."

The second phenomenon is the development of a neo-liberal social regime, which is creating class differences in Israel that are among the most drastic in the Western world. "That is the dark side of neo-liberalism," says Ram, "in the sense that there is a process here of discarding collective solidarity. One aspect of it is civic equality, which should be welcomed, but the other aspect is an attack on the welfare state, and that is a very problematic aspect."

Ram argues "the social sciences and humanities are not doing enough to sound the warning bell and to flash warning lights regarding the dangers both of social inequality and of apartheid."