- The Challenge of Post-Zionism: Review
(This review is dedicated to the memory of Edward W. Said, who died 24 September 2003)
For political theory exploring how always-unsettled settler-colonial societies contemplate and rework and reinterpret their creation stories, Ephraim Nimni’s fine collection of essays has intimate comparative interest. In his Introduction, Nimni explains that the aim of the book is modest, to evoke for the English-reading public key aspects of a debate, widely viewed as posing a fundamental challenge to the old Zionist order, that has gripped contemporary Israel. He notes that the debate is ongoing, that the perspectives of post-Zionism are often contradictory, and that of the contributors to his own collection some are supporters, some critical, others ambivalent. This, of course, makes the volume all the more interesting. It is evident throughout that there is little or no agreement amongst the contributors how post-Zionism should be defined. Does the term refer to a new era? Does it indicate a political movement, a cultural mood, a mode of critique? Is there a continuing relationship between post-Zionism and Zionism?
The book also poses the question of how we create discussion of controversial issues that is open-ended, engaging, and self-reflexive. In terms of genre, rather than a formal academic handbook the collection is more like an intricate Levantine arabesque, where different forms and stories and viewpoints weave in and out of and comment on each other. It begins with chapters of sustained critique and analysis by Israeli Jewish, Israeli Palestinian, and feminist scholars, followed by an autobiographical essay by a Jewish-Israeli of North African descent, then a conclusion not by the editor as we might expect (wrapping things up authoritatively) but by Nira Yuval Davis (well-known for her influential book Unsettling Settler Societies — a phrase I borrowed for my opening sentence). Yuval-Davis’s conclusion, we then see, is critical of much of the rest of the book, including the editor’s own contributions! Then her essay is followed by an epilogue by Edward Said reprinted from Al Ahram Weekly, where Said reflects on a public meeting that took place in Paris in 1998 between three Palestinian intellectuals, including himself, and three Israeli intellectuals, who included Ilan Pappé, a contributor to Nimni’s collection and increasingly prominent in Israel and round the world for his urgent warnings concerning Israeli government plans to intensify oppression of the Palestinians and for his support for the academic boycotts of Israel launched in 2002.1
The collection inscribes gender into its very form. In her lively chapter, feminist sociologist Hanna Herzog argues that while in Zionist discourse gender loyalties became subordinate to national loyalties, post-Zionist discourse makes claims for alternative politics and agendas, often looking to the similarities of the experiences of Jewish and Palestinian women. Post-Zionism opposes the normative modes of masculinity, evident in military service, that are prescribed for women in a society marked by its militarism. Post-Zionist feminism has engaged in what Herzog refers to as “polyphonic discourse”, a “reflexivity” where women of various positions (Mizrahi, national religious, ultra-orthodox, secular, single-parent, lesbian, poor, bourgeois, Palestinian) become part of a heterogeneous conversation whose voices simultaneously compete with and criticize each other. The post-Zionist feminist conversation is inclusive, multicultural, and multi-voiced, often mixing forms ranging from presentation of academic research to personal testimonies. Ephraim Nimni has structured his collection in this mode and spirit, inviting readers to begin where they will on opening the volume (nicely produced by that courageous publisher in Middle East studies, Zed Books).
So, I’ll begin at the end and then move haphazardly about. In his short closing essay, “New history, Old ideas”, Said writes that Ilan Pappé impressed him the most in the 1998 Paris discussions; Pappé was “open in his espousal of the Palestinian point of view” and “provided the most iconoclastic and brilliant of the Israeli interventions”. In Nimni’s collection, Pappé’s contribution also stands out, in its refreshing irony and because...