Rebels Against Zion


Introduction à Rebels Against Zion. Studies on the Jewish Left Anti-Zionism, The Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw 2011. [Contributor’s biographies]


Written by historians, political scientists and activists from a number of countries, the collection of papers in this book deals with the many different ways in which the Jewish Left has contested Zionism and the State of Israel.

Zionism emerged as a political movement towards the end of the nineteenth century. It took as its starting point the idea of a mass exodus of Jews to Palestine and the establishment of a new Hebrew-speaking Jewish nation there. One of many movements in Jewish communities before the Second World War, Zionism became politically dominant in those communities after the Holocaust. The different Zionists groups varied from one another in their nature and continue to do so, ranging from the extreme Right to the extreme Left, and from anti-clerical to religious.

While acknowledging the existence of different definitions of Zionism, it can be said that Zionism is a political idea based on four elements: the primacy of the Jewish community in Israel over Jewish communities around the world; the primacy of Jews over Palestinian Arabs within the borders of the former colonial mandate in Palestine; the elevation of ethnic-religious conflicts over class conflicts; and attributing to Hebrew the status of being the main or even only national language (and rejecting Yiddish in particular). Some Zionists did not, it is true, meet all the criteria of this definition, and especially so in relation to the language question. Yiddish was defended, for example, by the Poale Zion Left and Zionist-oriented anarchists such as those linked to the magazine “Problemen” (published in Israel between 1959 and 1989).

The Zionist project remains linked to an indisputable fact: the oppression – national as well as political, economic and religious – of the Palestinians in both the State of Israel and the Occupied Territories. This fact took on an even more dramatic form with the acceptance of the State of Israel (as of 1988) by the main current in the Palestinian national liberation movement, the PLO. This oppression violates, of course, not just international human rights laws but also the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which promised full social and political equality for all its citizens, regardless of faith, race and gender. Any analysis of trends in the thinking of the Jewish Left is therefore significant not only from a historical point of view but also in terms of facilitating ways to find a solution to the explosive mixture of ethnic and religious violence in the Middle East.

Proceeding from the above definition of Zionism, those who fall to be considered as anti-Zionists are those who challenge at least one of the first three elements of the definition (although it should be noted that the defining elements are closely interwoven and are difficult to treat in separation from one another) and also adopt a negative self-definition towards Zionism. Rejecting one of the first three defining elements almost automatically means going beyond a nationalist discourse in favour of a position of empathy and openness to co-operation and co-existence with the Palestinians and the Arab world.

This abovementioned additional self-defining element is absolutely indispensable due to the existence of many Jewish peace organisations which follow the pattern set by the Israeli Gush Shalom organisation, the political practice of which is in fact anti-Zionist, although it does not define itself as such and does not exclude the participation of moderate Zionists.[1]

In considering such basic issues of definition, a line must also be drawn between justified criticism of Israel (anti-Zionism) and that criticism of Israel which leads to the stigmatisation of Jews as such. This distinction is all the more important given that the most common and most striking post-Holocaust expression of anti-Semitism is the adoption of an “anti-Zionist” standpoint, which is then combined with many of the traditional themes of anti-Semitism (in particular,
the notion of behind-the-scenes Jewish rule, which today finds expression in the theme of the power of the Jewish lobby in the USA). There are many different approaches to analysing the circumstances under which anti-Zionism becomes a form of anti-Semitism. Particularly worthy of note is that adopted by the Canadian researcher Todd M. Endelman, for whom anti-Zionist criticism of Israel crosses over into an expression of anti-Semitism under the following circumstances:

1. When it questions the legitimacy of the Jewish state, but no other state, and the legitimacy of Jewish nationalism, but no other nationalism, either in the Middle East or elsewhere.
2. When it denies to the Jewish state, but no other state, the right to express the character of the majority of its citizens (that is, to be as Jewish as France is French).
3. When it demonizes the Jewish state, turning the Arab-Israeli conflict into a morality play, a problem that Jews, and Jews alone, created and for which Jews, and Jews alone, are responsible.
4. When it expresses an obsessive, exclusive, and disproportionate concern with the shortcomings of the Israelis and the sufferings of the Palestinians – to the point that a conflict between two small peoples is transformed into a cosmic, Manichean struggle between the forces of Good and Evil.

When criticism of Israel crosses any of these lines and becomes an obsessive narrative of fantasies and fears – that is when we are dealing solely with anti-Semitic notions.[2] Examples of left anti-Semitism, from which Poland also has not been immune,[3] have generally not been covered in the analysis of the authors whose writings are included in this book (with the exception of the articles by Philip Mendes and Stan Crooke).

To complete the list of definitions involved in this work one further concept needs to be introduced: post-Zionism. For post-Zionists, Zionism has already fulfilled its historical role in that it has founded the economically, demographically and militarily powerful State of Israel. Given these circumstances, it is  no longer a question of thinking solely in terms of the fight for its survival but a question of its integration with its neighbours. Post-Zionists support Israel becoming a “normal liberal-democratic state,” the state of a new nation – the Israeli nation which is not an emanation of the international Jewish community.

Some post-Zionists, such as the peace activist Uri Avnery, Gideon Levy (“Ha’aretz” journalist), historians Norman Finkelstein and Ilan Pappé (one of the authors included in this book), Meron Benvenisti (former Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem and currently a supporter of a “two nations state”) and Abraham Burg (former Knesset Speaker) are accused – especially by the Zionist Right – of either straightforward anti-Zionism or post-modernism. Post-Zionist thinking, however, appears to be utopian in the extreme in a situation when 68% of Israeli Jews do not want to have an Arab as their neighbour[4] and none of the thirty plus governments formed in the history of Israel have ever included an Arab party. The first Arab minister (who was not a Muslim but a Druze, and therefore a representative of a religious minority traditionally loyal towards the State of Israel) was given a post only in 2001. The first Muslim minister was Ghaleb Majadele, appointed by the Labour Party in January of 2007.

The concept of post-Zionism is criticised not only by the Israeli nationalist Right but also by part of the Left. One example of this is the article included in this collection by Bashir Abu-Manneh, who points out that the majority of post-Zionists conflate arguments about peace in the Middle East with attributing to the USA the role of defender of the international order. This, of course, differs from the way in which the Marxist Left perceives the USA, i.e. as an imperialist state with its own particular interests.

The book includes articles which illustrate how Zionism has been criticised by Communists, Trotskyists, Bundists, anarchists and other leftist radicals.

These political trends were all minority currents in Jewish communities, and so too in Israel as well. (But this is usually the case, apart from moments of capitalist collapse, with such movements.) Their dissident nature, however, has attracted the attention of many observers. It should also be noted that, as a result of legislation concerning political parties adopted in 1992, parties that reject the existence of Israel as a Jewish state are banned in Israel.

In discussing the contemporary fate of anti-Zionism on the Jewish Left, it is difficult not to be struck by its evolution from constituting huge organisations in the workers’ movement to an incomparably smaller cluster of weak and dispersed groups today. Such groups also clearly have much less of a media profile than anti-Zionist religious activists such as the American Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss from Neturei Karta International (Neturei Karta: Keepers of the City in Aramaic). Weiss has become well-known as a result of his numerous protests against the existence of the State of Israel, especially his participation in the conference “The Holocaust, Global Vision,” organised in Tehran in December of 2006 by the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Apart from attracting publicity for statements about dissolution of the State of Israel, Ahmadinejad also achieved notoriety for inviting to the Tehran conference pseudo-historians and other speakers who deny the scale and nature of Nazi crimes against Jews.

But the decline over time of Jewish left anti-Zionism does not justify coming to a verdict on whether its rich traditions have already reached the limits of their power to inspire new generations of activists and thinkers in Jewish communities, or whether it will eventually decline into nothingness. Reaching a verdict on this question becomes even more difficult given that, despite the current weakness of Jewish left anti-Zionist organisations, it is precisely the intellectual tradition of those organisations that has dominated the way in which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is perceived by considerable segments of the international anti-globalisation movement and by organisations and movements to the left of the mainstream social-democratic parties.

The studies which make up this volume were collected in 2007 and 2008.

They include new texts and also a number which have already been published but are not known to a wider public. The editor would like to express his thanks to the following: Dr. Urszula Ługowska, Barbara Pomorska, Grzegorz Dąbkowski, Dr. Piotr Weiser and Prof. Andrzej Żbikowski.

August Grabski


[1] Gush Shalom (Hebrew, Bloc of Peace) was founded by Uri Avnery in 1993 and is based on the following principles: withdrawal of the Israeli Army from the territories occupied in 1967; recognition of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinians; recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to establish their own sovereign state alongside of Israel, with East Jerusalem as the capital of this state. With respect to Palestinian refugees, Gush Shalom anticipates recognition of the right of return of the Palestinian refugees, allowing each refugee to choose freely between financial compensation and repatriation to Israel or Palestine. The number of returning refugees would be fixed in annual quotas by mutual agreement, in such a way so as “not to undermine the foundations of Israel.” Gush Shalom is open to activists from political parties but does not identify itself with any one political party. The Gush Shalom website is at:

[2] Todd M. Endelman, “Antisemitism in Western Europe Today,” in: D. J. Penslar, M. R. Marrus, J. Gross Stein (eds.), Contemporary Antisemitism, Canada and the World, Toronto 2005, p. 71.

[3] On the reception of the phenomenon of leftist anti-Semitism in Poland, see, e.g., August Grabski, Piotr Kendziorek, “The Return of ‘Left Anti-Semitism’ in Poland?” in: August Grabski (ed.), Żydzi a lewica. Zbiór studiów historycznych, (The Jews and the Left. A Collection of Historical Papers), Warszawa 2007, pp. 329-337.

[4] “Counterpunch” 23 March, 2006.

Une Réponse to “Rebels Against Zion”

  1. Yves Coleman Says:

    « Rebels against Zion. Studies on the Jewish Left Antizionism » (2011), publié sous la direction d’August Grabski, réunit des contributions de plusieurs universitaires, mais aussi de militants de gauche, proches du PC israélien, du Fatah et des trotskystes. Au sommaire (certains textes se trouvent sur Internet en anglais):

    – Roni Gechtman, « Les débats sur les questions nationale et juive dans la Deuxième Internationale et le Bund », 1889-1914 ;

    – Rick Kuhn, « L’antisionisme juif dans le mouvement socialiste de Galicie (lituano-polonaise) » ;

    – Jack Jacobs : « L’antisionisme du Bund dans la Pologne de l’entre-deux-guerres » ;

    Henry Srebrnik : « L’ICOR, Association pour la colonisation juive en Union soviétique, et la campagne contre le sionisme, “ennemi des masses juives” 1924-1935 » ;

    – Bat-Ami Zucker : « Les communistes juifs américains et la Palestine durant les années 1930 » ;

    – Silvia Schenkolewki Kroll, « Idéologie et propagande dans la construction de la mémoire collective : sionisme et communisme en Argentine » ;

    – August Grabski, « Matzpen et l’Etat d’Israël (1962-1973) ;

    – Gennady Estraikh, « Un antisionisme opportuniste, Sovetish Heymland, 1961-1991 » ; Philip Mendes « La négation de l’expérience juive de l’oppression : les Juifs australiens contre le sionisme et l’antisémitisme (JAZA) et le débat sur la radio 3CR » ( ;

    – Bashir Abu-Manneh, « Israël dans l’Empire américain, réflexions sur le post sionisme »;

    – Polly Pallister Wilkings : « Les anarchistes contre le mur : un défi post-structuraliste contre le sionisme » ;

    – Uri Davis, « Pour la solution hybride d’un seul Etat » ;

    – Ilan Pappe, « La construction et la destruction de Hadash » ;

    – Stan Crooke, « Faut-il boycotter Israël ? »


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