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  • From Diaspora Nationalism to Radical Diasporism
  • Allan Arkush (bio)

In the first week of June 2007, on the fortieth anniversary of the Six Day War, the weekend supplement of Ha'aretz featured a dialogue between the journalist Ari Shavit and Avraham Burg, former chairman of the Jewish Agency, former Speaker of the Knesset, and a onetime candidate for leadership of the Labor Party. Having already expressed on numerous occasions his deep dissatisfaction with Israel's general trajectory, Burg went much further in this conversation than he had in previous writings and appearances and actually stepped over the line dividing Zionists from non- and anti-Zionists. He rejected the idea of a Jewish state as unworkable, dismissed the notion of a "Jewish-democratic state" as "schmaltzy, nostalgic and retro" and repeatedly echoed the all-too-familiar post-Zionist line.

Among other things, Burg strongly denounced the Zionist "negation of the Exile," countering it with a very positive evaluation of contemporary Jewish life outside of Israel.

I maintain that just as there was something astonishing about German Jewry, in America too they also created the potential for something astonishing. They created a situation in which the goy can be my father and my mother and my son and my partner. The goy there is not hostile but embracing. And as a result, what emerges is a Jewish experience of integration, not separation. Not segregation. I find those things lacking here. Here the goy is what he was in the ghetto: confrontational and hostile.

Shavit responded to this statement and Burg's disparagement of Israeli culture in general by suggesting that "you see in American Jewry the spiritual dimension and the cultural ferment that you don't find here." Burg not only affirmed that that was the case but proceeded to proclaim the nullity and doomed character of Israeliness and to clarify his own personal priorities. "I am going to the world and to Judaism. Because the Jew is the first postmodernist, the Jew is the first globalist." His own personal "hierarchy of identities" was "citizen of the world, afterward Jew and only after that Israeli."1 [End Page 326]

Hearing Burg say these things was very dispiriting to Zionists in Israel and around the world. Post-Zionists, on the other hand, were no doubt heartened to see their ranks augmented by such a prominent son of the Zionist establishment.2 Even more gratified, one has to assume, were the scattered champions of what one might call the new diasporism.3 Burg is their first really big Zionist catch. Soon, I suspect, they may be quoting him with great regularity.4

Even if they do so, not too many people are likely to notice. Diasporism is currently a relatively weak force in the Jewish world. Now and then, here and there, one or another left-leaning Jewish academic departs from what is nearly a global Jewish consensus and writes a manifesto or an article or a book trumpeting the need for Jews around the world to reappraise their overall situation in a way that de-centers Israel. Some of the new diasporists simply see a need to put Israel in its proper place, as one among many Jewish communities. Others are outspokenly anti-Zionist. All in all, however, there are not many of them, nor are they very influential (outside of certain precincts of the academic world, at least).5

This is reassuring, but it is not enough. Things change. There may be more Avraham Burgs on the way. Marginal as they may seem to be, the new diasporists could represent a (if not the) wave of the future. They should not be ignored.

I myself have been paying fleeting attention to them for some time but have never examined all of them thoroughly and I do not intend to do so here. What I wish to do on this occasion is simply to compare a few of these late twentieth and early twenty-first century diasporists both with each other and with their most outstanding predecessor from a century ago, the Diaspora nationalist Simon Dubnow. To a limited extent, I would even like to offer some thoughts on how contemporary issues might...


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pp. 326-350
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