Delegitimation of Israel or social-historical analysis? The debate over zionismas a colonial settler movement

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INTRODUCTION Alan Dershowitz’s book The Case for Israel is a catalog of sins Israel is accused of by its enemies, systematically refuted by the author. The very first chapter deals with the accusation that Israel is a colonialist, imperialist state. Dershowitz concludes his refutation of this claim by stating that “the claim that Israel is a colonial or imperialist state is so farfetched that it simply serves to illustrate how language is willfully distorted in the service of a partisan agenda.” According to Uri Ram: In Israel … the identification of Zionism as a colonial movement is usually regarded as slanderous. The consideration of Israel as a colonialist society, implying that the Jews conquered and expropriated a settled land and exploited or expelled the native dwellers, goes against the grain of the Zionist self-portrayal as a movement of a people without land returning to a land without people. It is considered repugnant by Israel’s Zionist left wing, which traditionally has professed self-liberation and redemption of a wasteland through toil, and by Israel’s right wing, which traditionally has advocated that the “Whole Land of Israel” is an incontestable asset of the Jewish people by “historical rights” and providential covenant. Chaim Gans, a prominent liberal Zionist legal scholar, admitted that Zionist practice necessarily involved a certain degree of colonial practice (in the sociological-descriptive sense of the term), because the Zionist enterprise involved the settlement of one ethno-cultural group in a land already occupied by another group for generations, and the new settlers did not intend to integrate with the local group and adopt its culture but rather to establish a society separate and distinct from the local group, culturally and nationally. However, he contended that while post-Zionist scholars (Gershon Shafir and the present author are specifically referred to) “believe that the very classification of the original Zionist practice as colonial indicates that it was unjust,” the justness or otherwise of Zionism should be determined by considering its nationalist ends, rather than its colonialist means. In this chapter I would like to consider the question of Zionism as a colonial settlement movement in its “sociological-descriptive sense” only (henceforward “the colonial thesis”), leaving its normative implications to the judgment of the reader.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationJews and Leftist Politics
Subtitle of host publicationJudaism, Israel, Antisemitism, and Gender
Editors Jack Jacobs
Place of PublicationUK
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)1107256526
ISBN (Print)9781107256521
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2017

RAMBI Publications

  • rambi
  • Anti-Zionism -- History
  • Anti-imperialist movements -- History
  • Land settlement -- Eretz Israel
  • Religion and politics -- History -- 20th century
  • Zionism -- Philosophy


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