A Two-Meaning Solution For Zionism

Why Amos Oz's Definition Is Far Too Narrow

Unpacking Zionism: Amos Oz says Zionism means support for the two-state solution. Not so, says Philologos.
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Unpacking Zionism: Amos Oz says Zionism means support for the two-state solution. Not so, says Philologos.

By Philologos

Published January 28, 2013, issue of February 01, 2013.
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To be sure, the right-wing Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky attacked Weizmann and his supporters for having abandoned Zionism, and in protest dramatically tore up his membership card in the WZO at the 17th Zionist Congress in 1931. Yet Jabotinsky was for a one-state solution, too. He and his followers rejected all proposed partitions of Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state, and he held that once the Jews had a majority of “even one person” in Palestine, a Jewish state should be established in all of it. (Jabotinsky also adamantly opposed any talk of encouraging Arabs to emigrate from the country, which he thought would always be “a land for two peoples.”)

As for the Labor Zionist left, which in the 1930s was both anti-Weizmann and anti-Jabotinsky, it did not officially endorse the idea of a Jewish state until 1942, when its leader, David Ben-Gurion, did so at the so-called “Biltmore Conference” in New York City. Then, too, Ben-Gurion spoke not of a fully independent state, but of a “Jewish commonwealth” within the framework of the British Empire.

One can argue that Weizmann, Jabotinsky and Ben-Gurion — the most important figures, along with Theodor Herzl, in Zionist history — were all thinking within a given historical context; that both Ben-Gurion and Weizmann backed a two-state solution by accepting the 1947 United Nations partition plan, and that Jabotinsky, too, might have come to different conclusions had he not died in 1940. That may be true, just as it may be true (although in the case of Jabotinsky, at least, one very much doubts it) that all three men might have agreed with Amos Oz about what needs to be done were they alive today. Yet Ben-Gurion and Weizmann were not less “Zionist” before changing their positions, nor would Jabotinsky have become more “Zionist” had he changed his.

Today there is a Jewish state, and no Jew in his right mind, let alone one claiming to be a Zionist, wants to lose it. But it is certainly possible for Zionists today to differ about the best way of maintaining this state, just as they differed in the 1920s and ’30s about the possibility or desirability of creating it. Apart from the shared belief that Jews should live in Zion, the word “Zionism” has never referred to a single outlook on even the most fateful of questions. This is no time to narrow its definition.

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com


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