Critique of Zionism: In Order to be a Realist, You Must Believe in Miracles
by Michael Brenner
The debate on Zionism often takes a polemical turn; the ideology on which the state of Israel is based does not always facilitate sober discussion. This makes it all the more encouraging to see Micha Brumlik venturing a critique of Zionism that eschews cheap polemics.
In his his “Kritik des Zionismus” (Critique of Zionism), Micha Brumlik begins with the current debate within the Jewish community on the legitimacy of the state of Israel. Brumlik’s essay is the first systematic German-Jewish reply to the isolated and highly publicized critiques of Israel voiced by American, British and French Jews over the past two years.
Though the author does not mince words when discussing Israel’s settlement policies or human rights abuses, he clearly distances himself from the rejection of Israel by prominent intellectuals such as Tony Judt and Alfred Grosser. Brumlik provides a broader context for their moral condemnations, often touted as “taboo-breaking” in German-speaking countries are.
Are taboos being broken?
According to Brumlik, it is impossible to speak of taboo-breaking for the simple reason that Israel has long seen a lively discussion of all these sensitive issues. One need only pick up the leading Israeli newspaper “Haaretz”! In contrast to western intellectuals with their paper protests, Brumlik argues, their Israeli colleagues truly demonstrate moral courage, and “in a state of siege”, at that.
Brumlik definitely shares Tony Judt’s preference for a joint Palestinian-Jewish state, but he accuses Judt of losing touch with reality when it comes to the facts on the ground. When even Czechs and Slovaks refused to live together in a single state and such peaceful states as Canada and Belgium threaten to break apart – not to mention the situation in the Balkans – talk of the “outmoded” nation state is nothing but empty rhetoric.
After long decades of conflict Jews and Arabs, of all people, are expected to open a new chapter in the history of the nation state with an exemplary bi-national commonwealth – for Brumlik this just sounds too good to be true.
Brumlik also takes a clear position against “Schalom 5767”, a “Berliner Declaration” signed by seventy people identifying themselves as Jews and demanding, among other things, the lifting of the boycott against the autonomous Palestinian government, which at the time consisted only of members of Hamas. He accuses the signers of being blind to the anti-Semitic Hamas charter, in which Jews are depicted as a world conspiracy in the spirit of the notorious “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”.
In addition, Brumlik asks that even justified criticism acknowledge Israeli fears in the face of an Iranian president who publicly calls for Israel’s annihilation and whose nuclear program at least feeds speculation that he actually intends to achieve his goal. Brumlik accuses Israel’s sweeping critics of “ultimately immoral moralizing.”
For his part he presents a more in-depth analysis of Jewish critics of Zionism from the past hundred years, from Hermann Cohen, Franz Rosenzweig, Hannah Arendt and Leo Strauss to Emil Fackenheim and the current Israeli minister of education, Yael Tamir. Some may find his selection surprising. What is striking is the heavy preponderance of German-Jewish thinkers, while the Eastern European intellectuals who have had a much stronger influence on Israel – and the relevant criticism thereof – appear only on the margins.
And in a critique of Zionism, can the half of Israeli society that comes from the Arab world simply be factored out? One may not agree with all of Brumlik’s conclusions, but they offer the best German-language basis for a debate which has been going on for a long time in other countries.
Ultimately a utopia
For Brumlik Zionism is a national movement which can only be understood in the context of the 19th century, but which differed in central points from the imperialist and colonialist projects of the European powers with which its critics always conflate it. The Jewish settlers did not come for economic reasons; they were fleeing from European anti-Semitism.
They were stigmatized subjects, often young idealists from the autocratic Tsarist kingdom, hardly gold-diggers from the heart of Europe’s colonial powers.
In the end there is Utopia. Brumlik’s path into the future of the Middle East leads through Europe. He argues for admitting Israel into the European Union, of course well aware of this vision’s remoteness from any kind of realpolitik. Thus he concludes his book with David Ben Gurion’s oft-cited aphorism: “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.”
© Qantara.de 2008
Translated from the German by Isabel Cole
Micha Brumlik, Kritik des Zionismus (Europäische Verlagsanstalt, Hamburg, 2007), 198 p.