Friday, May 21, 2010

Teaching Israel

Phoebe's whole post on how to interest liberal Jews in Israel is good, but I particularly endorse part II:
Place Zionism into a postcolonial-studies framework. Young, liberal, educated American Jews who hear "Israel" and "colonialism" assume what's meant is that Israel is a colonial entity. We need to get everyone to read Memmi, and to think of Israel as a state that came out of oppression, that's flawed in all the ways one expects of such states, but that's surprisingly successful, considering. No, the right-wing friends-of-Israel won't like this. But if young Jews had a better understanding of Zionism as a liberation movement for a people who'd been faulted for centuries for not having a land of their own ("Go back to Palestine" was a cry yelled at Diaspora Jews, after all), a movement that couldn't possibly have emerged in response to the Holocaust because it began well before, then perhaps the necessity of Israel as a Jewish state would become a starting point. How to best and most ethically protect Israel - and how to criticize its current actions that some read as colonialist but that I'd choose to criticize with other language for reasons I won't get into here - could then be discussed from a place where the country's very existence isn't up for debate by those who don't quite get where it came from in the first place.

This is a class I'd love to teach, though unfortunately I'm completely unqualified to do it (but somebody I know is getting her Ph.D. in French and French Studies with an emphasis on French/Jewish relations....). So I'll have to settle for owing Phoebe a huge debt for introducing me to Memmi in the first place.

1 comment:

N. Friedman said...

Teaching Zionism as a liberation movement might even be good history, placing it in line with other liberation movements.

I am, however, rather doubtful that such is really a left wing approach to Israel's history. Historian Bat Ye'or, who is definitely not on the left - although she has been inaccurately painted as being on the very, very far right, a label -, long ago advanced a liberation movement theory about Israeli history. To her, Israel's history has quite a bit in common with the Greek liberation movement, with European diaspora Greeks instigating a movement within the Ottoman Empire to create a "Greece" where it resides today and return "Greeks" (i.e. Christians from what is now Greece but also from those scattered from across the Ottoman Empire) into Greece to, for the first time, create a country called Greece. In the case of Israel, European Jews, in addition to liberating themselves, awakened Jews throughout, once again, the former Ottoman Empire including in Israel and created a country called "Israel."

This view, while it may be a loosely interesting historical analogy, was severely criticized for not being politically advisable. The Greek liberation movement displaced and killed substantially more people than the Jewish liberation movement. Hence, the view was that to associate the Jewish liberation movement with other such movements (and nearly all liberation movements displace large numbers of people) would focus more attention on those displaced in the Jewish liberation movement. Of course, one substantial difference between the Jewish and Greek liberation movements is that the Greek movement overtly aimed to displace all Muslims living in Greece - such being central to the movement - while that was not the political agenda of Zionism, although clearly quite a number of people were displaced.

My gut reaction is that, for the far left, Israel is irredeemable. The country has become too important to them for any rational argument to succeed. Maybe the next generation of kids can be helped.