Strenger Than Fiction / To a Martian, Zionism Could Be Confusing

Imagine an anthropologist from Mars sent to earth to compile a report on Israeli political culture, and to understand the distinction between Zionism and anti-Zionism.

Imagine an anthropologist from Mars sent to earth to compile a report on Israeli political culture. His government is particularly interested in understanding why there is such a raging campaign against people who are called anti-Zionists and post-Zionists in Israel, and they want to understand what threat they constitute.

As a good Martian anthropologist, he first collects empirical material. He looks up the term ‘Zionism’ and finds out that it is a "Jewish political movement that, in the broadest sense calls for the self-determination of the Jewish people and a sovereign Jewish national homeland." He makes a note that he doesn’t understand why people should call themselves Zionists, when such a country already exists.

So far his research has shown that once national sovereignty has been achieved, national liberation movements cease to exist. So he comes to the conclusion that maybe there are people who threaten this national sovereignty.

And indeed he finds that there are Jews called anti-Zionists who live in Israel. He feels he finally has a lead, and tries to find who they are. Searching the internet, he is lucky enough to find a website called Isracampus, which tracks anti-Zionist and anti-Israeli activity.

Fortunately this site even contains an alphabetically ordered "gallery of rogues", and he takes a random sample from it: Bernard Avishai (who has written an excellent book showing how Israel can flourish as a Jewish State), legal scholar Chaim Gans, whose book A Just Zionism tries to show how Zionism and international law can be combined; Law Professor Kenneth Mann, who served as Israel’s first Chief Public Defender; Avishai Margalit, last year’s Israel Prize recipient for philosophy; Israel Prize recipient Zeev Sternhell, who was injured in a bomb attack at his home, and Prof. Yuli Tamir, a political philosopher who served as minister of education in Olmert’s government.

Encouraged, he goes on to check on these anti-Zionists, who must obviously be against Jewish self-determination (which, he now knows, is the definition of Zionism) and checks their background.

But the results are utterly confusing. They all claim that they are in favor of maintaining the Jewish character of Israel. What unifies them is the belief, that in order to do so, Israel must withdraw from the West-Bank to preserve a Jewish majority. So he wonders: if Zionism originally meant that the Jews should have a sovereign state, why are these people called anti-Zionists?

Trying to find out what it means to be a Zionist, he checks into what those who accuse people of anti-Zionism really want. Looking for representatives he finds out that the current Vice Premier of Israel has said a number of times, that Jews have an eternal right to all of the land west of the Jordan River. He also finds that a leading Zionist thinker named Moshe Arens has recently argued that there should only be one state west of the Jordan River.

Our anthropologist is thoroughly confused: his first results, after all, have been that Zionists are people who want Israel to be a Jewish state. So why are those who make every effort to maintain a Jewish majority in Israel described as anti-Zionists, whereas those who make every effort to create a state in which Jews don’t represent a majority are defined as Zionists?

Here, then, is the executive summary that the Martian sends to his government: “Israel today is a very strange country. There is a large group of people who insist on calling themselves Zionists, even though the Jews have a state. Even more strangely, they pursue a policy that seems to be leading to the annexation of a territory primarily populated by Palestinians. From what I gather, it would be close to impossible to run such a state, because Jews and Palestinians have lived in great enmity with each other for decades, so I don’t understand why Zionists want to have such a state.”

“They also claim that there are Jews in Israel who are anti-Zionists or post-Zionists who are very dangerous, because they undermine the country’s Jewish character. This is very strange, because these so-called anti-Zionists seem to have only one goal: to preserve the Jewish character of Israel by democratic means.”

“Because the so-called anti-Zionists seem to be so obviously right, the so-called Zionists must be making a sophisticated joke when they say: ‘If you want a country that is Jewish and democratic, even though it doesn’t have a Jewish majority, it is not a dream.’ That would make a lot of sense, because Jews are supposed to be smart and to have a special sense of humor”. Aren't they?

A boy peering from under an Israeli flag