‘The Netanyahu government is the most anti-Zionist Israel has ever had,” Israeli author Amos Oz declared at a gathering for the left-wing Meretz party a few days before Israel’s elections. This is because, Oz said, Zionism means a Jewish state, and unless the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his colleagues have been loath to promote is implemented, “there will not [even] be a bi-national state here but an Arab state.”
One can agree or not agree with Oz’s prognosis, but is there any justification for using a word like “anti-Zionist” for Netanyahu and the Israelis who voted for him, or for parties allied with him in his bid for another term as prime minister?
I think not. Oz, who is not only an accomplished Hebrew writer but also a man with a knowledge of Zionist history, should know better than to make the word “Zionist” conditional on support for a two-state solution. Zionism has always meant different things to different people who participated in its struggle and its politics. Many of these people were for a one-state solution — and some were even ready, at one point or another in their political careers, to let this one state have an Arab majority.
But surely, you object, I am talking about a fringe element that was never taken seriously by the Zionist movement! Not at all. Take, for example, Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization for many years during the period of the British Mandate and first president of the State of Israel. In 1930, at a meeting in Berlin of the Zionist Executive, the political Cabinet of the WZO, he declared:
“A Jewish state was never a goal in itself, but only a means to a goal…. The Balfour Declaration [which spoke of the establishment of a ‘Jewish national home’ in Palestine] makes no mention of it. What Zionism is about is the creation in Palestine of the material foundations on which a productive, autonomous [Jewish] society can be constructed.” This society, Weizmann emphasized, did not even have to constitute a majority of the population of Palestine to satisfy Zionist aspirations.
Soon afterward, Nahum Sokolow, who was about to succeed Weizmann as the WZO’S president, issued a statement in the organization’s name that “a Jewish state is not part of the practical program of Zionism.”