- Editor's Introduction:The Commemorative Moment of 2017
Commemorative years are, in a purely logical sense, artifices, no more consequential than the preceding or following year. And yet, they assume lives of their own through the symbolic and affective meanings that we ascribe to them, granting them a presence that is real and full of impact, and projecting an organizing or reorienting focus onto the past. Of course, commemorative years also afford us an opportunity to reflect on the import of past events and the ways in which they continue to inform the present.
The year 2017 is an example of some distinction, particularly for the history of Zionism and Israel. The idea of devoting a forum to 2017 arose, as with so many good ideas at JQR, from our late colleague, Elliott Horowitz z"l, who thought that we should try our hand at offering a fifty-year retrospective on 1967, an undeniably consequential year in the history of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As we bounced ideas around, we decided to expand the focus to include other years that end in "7" and see what came of it. And thus we came up with five key years: 1897, 1917, 1947, 1967, and 1977.
JQR asked the five forum participants to gauge the resonances of these key dates up to the present, and the result is an illuminating, if necessarily incomplete, history of the path to Jewish statehood and its multiple effects. Their critical analysis surfaces both achievements and failings of the Zionist project and Israel, as seen from the perspective of 2017.
Derek Penslar opens the forum by juxtaposing the founding meetings of the world Zionist organization and the Jewish socialist Bund, both in the year 1897. He argues that the revolutionary fervor of the Bund did not yield tangible results over time, while Zionism, for all its fractious divisions, did realize its revolutionary dream when a sovereign Jewish state was seated at the United Nations in 1949. Penslar charts some of the [End Page 517] evolving and competing sensibilities within Zionism, as well as a number of the unforeseen consequences of the movement that would likely make Theodor Herzl, the founding father of political Zionism, both proud and disappointed if he were to see the state today.
Liora Halperin tackles the impact of the Balfour Declaration, the tersely worded endorsement by the British government on November 2 calling for "a national home for the Jewish people." One hundred years after the Declaration was announced, Halperin identifies a deeply embedded paradox in the document that was present at birth. The support of Western powers, as epitomized by Balfour, has not only been a key source of Zionism's claim to international legitimacy. It has also been a prime cause for the abiding enmity of the Arab world toward Zionism, which it regards as a "highly malevolent colonial force." As Halperin casts it, Balfour was a Faustian bargain which Zionists were in no position to refuse, but which contained the seeds of persistent—perhaps unending—discontent.
Zvi Ben-Dor Benite picks up the story of Zionism's quest for validation with United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181, from November 29, 1947, that called for the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. He observes the date's hybrid and ambiguous status in Israeli public culture: it is known as "Kaf-tet be-November," a formulation that mixes Hebrew letter-numbers as used in traditional Jewish dating and the gentile month. Ben-Dor Benite then moves on to suggest that the UN Resolution belonged to a unique moment in history, the "long 1947" in which territorial partition was attempted in many different conflict zones around the world including India, Korea, Germany, and Vietnam. The results of this experiment in conflict resolution were decidedly mixed; in some cases, the partition plans were replaced by unification processes of varying degrees of success, and in others, by the continuation of tension-filled divisions of terrain (as in the Koreas). Ben-Dor Benite concludes by noting that Israel's Proclamation of Independence, declared less than six months after Resolution 181, contains some of the earlier...