NATIV Online        

  Vol. 2  /  2004                                A JOURNAL OF POLITICS AND THE ARTS      


Post-Zionism and Democracy

Raya Epstein

This article is an excerpt from the book,
edited by Shlomo Sharan,
Sussex Academic Press with ACPR Publishers, 2003, 256 pages.


Post-Zionism as Ideology and Reality

Post-Zionism is not just an ideology that seeks to replace the preceding, prevalent ideology, or a new theory that analyzes previous theories that it regards as myths. It is not just a new view that aspires to represent more humane, moral, and democratic values than Zionism, which it sees as reactionary, anti-democratic, and immoral. Post-Zionism is also the reality in which the State of Israel functions and in which its citizens live and face the threat of being murdered by Arab-Palestinian terrorists. This terrible fact is closely and directly related to the emergence of the post-Zionist reality.

The assertion that post-Zionism is a reality, and not just a point of view or a particular ideology, in no way contradicts the fact that it is also a point of view and an ideology. It is only important to note that the post-Zionist ideology and views seek to replace Zionism. Clearly, Israeli Jewry confronts a deep ideological struggle that has, and will have, palpable effects on its social and political life.

From the democratic standpoint, the debate is entirely legitimate. The problem, however, is that the defense of post-Zionism usually involves denying the democratic legitimacy of Zionism. The devotees of post-Zionism do this by attempting to identify their own view with the essence of democracy, while often presenting Zionists as anti-democratic and even as fascist nationalists.

The New Democracy as Post-Zionism and Post-Judaism

The following passage by Eliezer Schweid (1996) addresses the point made here:

In the wake of the Six Day War, a trend arose in Israeli society of the return to Jewish roots, and its varied manifestations lasted longer than the manifestations of nationalist enthusiasm that were awakened during the war... However, a counterprocess also began that intensified in the 1980s and finally succeeded in overcoming the yearning for Jewish roots: the polarization of the conflicts surrounding religious Zionism and “religious coercion”, and the polarization of the debate surrounding the “Greater Land of Israel” led to granting liberal democracy and its scale of values the status of a comprehensive worldview that forms the personal identity and way of life of those on the secular Left. This was an alternative response that fights against the religious Jewish identity on the one hand and the national Jewish identity on the other.

Schweid characterizes the change in terms of the fact that previously

Israel was a national democratic state that was designed according to the European national model. The Left has now posited an alternative definition of democracy in the spirit of American liberalism: civil rather than national democracy, with religion consistently separated from the state (Schweid, 1996).

We wish to add, however, that the change effected by post-Zionism is more profound than the replacement of one model of liberal democracy with another. In the United States, the Democratic party does not play the role of representing the unquestionable ideology of the state, as a one and only truth that requires the existing political parties to act according to it. It is inconceivable that in America one party calling itself “Democratic” that defines its ideology as liberal, would try to impose its views on the Republicans, and, even if the latter won the elections, would actually force them to act and run the country according to the Democrats’ ideology, and abandon the positions that brought them to power. No political party in the United States would dare arrogate to itself a monopoly on democracy and propagate the notion that the other party or parties should bow to its imperatives or else be denounced as a danger to American democracy. If it would do so, its own democratic legitimacy would immediately be denied.

Israel’s Left has done exactly that. It has done so not only regarding the Likud and the religious parties, but indeed regarding Israel’s Jewish character and its Zionism: “Liberal democracy has now been presented not only as a structure and normative basis of the nation’s government, but as a comprehensive worldview and way of life” (Schweid, 1966). The Left has not settled for liberal democracy as merely “a worldview that forms its personal identity and way of life”. Not for that unavailing purpose did it devise its ingenious method aimed at permanently neutralizing the hated national side of the Israeli political map, the old Zionism, and the new spirit of Judaism that arose in the wake of the Six Day War. The transformation that it effected did not merely replace the patriotic and collectivist Israeli values with neo-liberal, individualist principles, but rather with the demand that its principles and values alone – whatever their conceptual content1 – be presented as the embodiment of democracy and that “the religious and national values be subordinated to them”.(1) (Schweid, 1996). In other words, “the aim is that democracy (as the Left, and only it, interprets it) should dictate the public socio-cultural way of life in the state of Israel... Thus emerged radical secular post-Zionism that is a manifestation of the essence of post-Judaism. On that basis appeared the new version of the Israeli identity: not a national realization of the Jewish identity but rather its comprehensive replacement” (Schweid, 1996).

In other words, after the Six Day War, the Israeli Left did not replace one model of liberal democracy with a model of its own. It replaced liberal democracy, whatever its shortcomings, with a ideological democracy that can be defined as an “ideocracy”, or as totalitarian democracy. Talmon (1952) saw the basis of this trend “in the assumption that there exists a one and only truth in politics”. Ironically, this truth was formulated according to a liberal conception. The one and only truth of totalitarian democracy that took control in Israel following the Six Day War is a complete antithesis of religious Judaism, of nonreligious Jewish identity, of liberal democracy, and of Zionism.

Totalitarian Democracy

The last devotees of socialist Zionism who try to defend themselves against the post-Zionist attack by accusing post-Zionists of replacing “the old, patriotic and collectivist Israeli values with neoliberal, individualist values”, fall into the trap that was prepared for them in advance. They confirm (without being conscious of it) the post-Zionist claim about the existence of totalitarian characteristics in the old Zionism and give retroactive legitimization to those characteristics without discerning those very characteristics in post-Zionism. Hence they are unable to reconcile Zionism with anti-totalitarian principles. They try to return Israel to a socialist-collectivist Zionist path that no longer exists, rather than striving to develop a renewed, revised concept of Zionism based on the conservative Anglo-Saxon model of liberalism, instead of the French model with its pronounced totalitarian tendencies (Hayek, 1944; Talmon, 1952). The classical liberal model and Judaism are not contradictory. On the contrary, to a large extent classical liberalism has its roots in the Jewish biblical foundation of Protestant Christianity. Socialist Zionism, however, just like its post-Zionist enemy, is anchored in the totalitarian French model, which is hostile to Judaism.

There are ideologies that exist alongside the given reality, reconcile themselves with the existing order, aim only at improving and amending it and not at destroying it completely. The followers of these ideologies favor developmental-reformist activity that does not shatter the spontaneity of ordinary life. They are not in a hurry, and have the tolerance and patience to wait until their corrective activity bears fruit. That may not happen in their lifetimes, but rather in future generations.

There are, however, other ideologies and views whose authors and implementers are not satisfied with amending the existing order gradually. They are fueled by a messianic energy that has enormous religious power, even if their ideas and beliefs are completely secular. The followers of these secular religions are not at peace with the given reality (Mannheim, 1936) which they perceive as totally evil. They do not see any possibility of amending it via gradual-evolutionary change. They are not reformists but, rather, revolutionaries. These utopians want a “brave new world” here and now, and they aim at utterly destroying the “old world”.

This utopianism was not born in Russia at the time of the 1917 revolution, nor did it disappear with the rise of postmodernism that sees itself as the incarnation of democracy that has finally defeated its rivals and foes. In a seemingly paradoxical manner, it is precisely those ideologies that regard themselves as mostly democratic that will likely be the ones to destroy the implementation of democracy in the real world. This phenomenon is already familiar from the days of Jean Jacques Rousseau (2) (Avineri, 1992) and has appeared in our time as well.

Yaacov Talmon (1952) referred to this phenomenon as totalitarian democracy. He also called it by a number of other names that constitute the basic tenets of his theory, such as: political messianism, secular religion, totalitarianism of the Left, and of course, utopia. This trend in its modern form first emerged in the French Enlightenment movement of the 18th century, in the course of that movement’s bold, uncompromising, and militant struggle against the Christian Church and against any religion whatsoever. Its followers championed values that were emphatically liberal-humanist, while in actuality they justified the imposition of ideas and political tyranny as a necessary and inevitable means to achieve their lofty objectives. The first attempt to implement utopian liberalism in this form was made in the Jacobin republic of Robespierre.(3) After this mode of thought underwent certain changes, though not major ones, in the doctrine of Karl Marx and in the Russian version of Marxism, the totalitarian communist regime made its attempt at implementation, which lasted more than 70 years.

Regarding the phenomenon of totalitarian democracy, it is highly significant that the communist regime collapsed not primarily because of economic or political circumstances but rather because of a gradual process of the demythologization of Soviet society, namely the disintegration of the public’s blind faith in the utopia on which the totalitarian state of the Soviet Union based itself. There still are some who believe that this inhuman regime was a product of the specific circumstances of Russia alone. Peter Berger wrote with some sarcasm yet in full seriousness, that Western intellectuals will stop being deeply impressed by the socialist myth only when Western societies are taken over by socialist regimes (Berger, 1977). He was referring to the enormous influence of leftist ideas over the West throughout the modern era. In the 1970s and 1980s it seemed as if this influence had finally waned, and the victory of conservative liberalism would never again be questioned. It soon became clear that this was an illusion, and that Western societies are indeed being conquered if not by socialist regimes then by a uniform regime based on renewed leftist tenets that constitute a transformation of the old socialist myth. As always, within the trend of totalitarian democracy the renewal, however apparently dramatic, is expressed in ideas only, while the totalitarian pattern of thought, which the ideas that replace each other sometimes display, remains stable and unchanging.

After World War II, a rich and varied critical literature was written in an attempt at theoretically addressing the phenomenon of totalitarianism and finding a way to prevent its realization in the future. Most thinkers deal with the totalitarianism of the Right, while relatively few focused on the totalitarianism of the Left. One reason for the lack of interest in the ideas underlying that kind of totalitarianism is that the inquiries are conducted by Western intellectuals who are susceptible to the influence of those very ideas, as we know not only from Berger’s insights. Another, no less important reason for that lack of interest lies in the magical, enchanting name that refers to and conceals the most dangerous phenomenon of leftist totalitarianism, the name “democracy”.

Two Errors of Yaacov Talmon

Totalitarian democracy, as Talmon showed, emerged from the French Enlightenment movement of the 18th century, and has continued to exist in its different incarnations throughout the modern era. It manifested itself not only in the visions or abstract theories of Western intellectuals but also in murderous regimes, such as the Jacobin democracy and the former Soviet communist state. However, Talmon erred in his optimistic conclusion that political messianism, a later incarnation of the trend in question, “ceased to be a danger after it failed to become a sort of world church whose followers, in various countries, would be inspired to form a revolutionary army that takes orders from a supreme war headquarters”. He erred both in regard to the general intellectual aspect of the issue and in regard to its specific Israeli aspect.

The World Church of Totalitarian Democracy Has Not Died

On the international level, Talmon’s conclusion may seem to be justified, but only if it is applied to the internationalist orientations of Marxist ideology and the far-reaching programs of the former communist bloc, which is precisely what he originally intended. His error stems from his paradoxical failure to take into account what his own theory asserts about the nature of totalitarian democracy. Talmon claimed and demonstrated that democracy of this kind is not characterized by belief in a certain idea (for example, the communist idea). He maintained that its uniqueness lies in the fact that it rests on one exclusive truth, in the belief in a single pre-eminent idea, whether a communist, social-democratic, or ostensibly liberal-capitalist idea. “Ostensibly” because true liberalism, as he defines it, cannot at all be reconciled with belief in a sole, exclusive idea even if it is the liberal idea itself. True liberals, as they define it, cannot at all demand that the rest of society believe in what the liberals believe. Anyone who mandates such a thing, and further claims that those who do not heed his behest constitute a danger to democracy, in fact has a pronounced totalitarian mindset, even if he regards himself (or is regarded by those with a totalitarian mindset like his own) as an enlightened liberal.

Currently it is discernible that the new secular world church is arising not in Russia and Eastern Europe but, rather, in the West. Its followers in various countries are supposed to toe the line that no longer issues from Moscow but rather from Paris, Brussels, or Bonn. The obedient soldiers of its army do not take orders from a war headquarters but, rather, from a peace headquarters. Talmon could not have predicted that after the dissolution of the communist bloc, a new totalitarian church would arise in enlightened Europe that, like the old one that expired, would conceal its totalitarian nature under a guise of putative democracy. The new church inherited from its predecessor the total identification with the PLO murderers and adopted the same anti-Semitism behind the mask of anti-Israelism. It is the very same anti-Semitism that was championed by the former communist church.

The Roots of the New World Church

It is also worth noting that even though this new world church began to form after the fall of the communist regime, its earlier roots were in the “student rebellion” against the existing social order that arose in Europe and America in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This protest was led by movements called the New Left in English-speaking countries, and referred to as “leftism” (Gauchism) or “extreme leftism” (Extreme Gauche) on the Continent. These movements espoused revolutionary-totalitarian ideologies (Trotskyism, Maoism, neo-Marxism, anarchism, etc.), and they fulfill Talmon’s (1960) criteria of “political messianism”. Members of these rebellions were self-declared nonconformists who lived at the margins of society. Subsequently it emerged that their influence on Western society was profound. Many of the former leftist rebels eventually assumed key positions in the Western world in commerce, academia, politics, the organizations of the United Nations, and so forth. There is not enough space here to provide a detailed demonstration of that claim. We will suffice by pointing to the blatant similarity between the stances of the United Nations, which once served to extend the influence of the world communist bloc, and the policy of the European Union. This unholy resemblance is most clearly manifest in the common pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli stance, which is a clear-cut continuation of the anti-Israeli policy of the former Soviet Union, even though initially the place of the now-irrelevant communists was taken by Arab countries. Clearly, even if there is an element of economic-pragmatic benefit in this stance (trade relations with the Arab states, etc.), it plays only a relatively small role compared to the political-ideological aspect. The goal of today’s utopians is the establishment of a global society in which, similar to the “communist society” that was the objective of Karl Marx’s messianic vision, all differences between nations and national cultures are erased and what emerges instead is a united, undivided humanity that enjoys social justice, social equality, affluence, humaneness and morality.

Another parallel with Marxism is the fact that the devotees of the EU and other internationalists regard the wish to maintain national uniqueness as politically incorrect. That is not to say there is no difference at all between the old model and the new one.

The countries of the former Soviet Union, where Marxism was implemented and who have not yet developed the elegant and efficient dissent-silencing system of political correctness adopted various methods to achieve the same goals that were not as refined and liberal as those of today’s enlightened Europe.

It is only natural that the question of the Jews can be resolved as well in the context of the future postmodern humanity, which is already being established more or less in the same form as the old Marxist vision proposed, except that in the role of the wandering Jew who cannot be entirely assimilated, there appears instead the Jewish nation-state. One European Union leader commented about Israel that “the world does not know whether to swallow it or vomit it.” Both literally and metaphorically, Europe forged an alliance of blood with the Muslim world that is fighting a war to the death against the State of Israel and the entire Jewish people. From Europe’s perspective, the nation of Israel and the Jewish People have no right to exist in the “brave new world” that it is building. It is worth remembering that Karl Marx’s futuristic vision was exactly in this spirit, though not regarding the Jewish state that did not yet exist, but “only” regarding the Jews such as they were. The matter has not at all ceased to be relevant.

The resemblance here, however, is not only to the Marxist position. The common EU-UN stance of virulent anti-Semitism toward the Jewish state, adds the new, brutal anti-Semitic elements to the Marxist ideology and the attitude of the already-defunct communist bloc, all of which brings it to the verge of resembling Nazi anti-Semitism.

After the breakup of the communist bloc and Western democracy’s great victory over it, why is Europe reverting to the Marxist model in an altered form and succeeding to do what the communists were unable to do? In my view the main reason, albeit not the only one, is that after World War II the world conducted a process of de-Nazification, and later even went so far as to identify nationalism with chauvinism, racism, and Nazism. Any national, particularist matter, whatever its nature, became entirely illegitimate. This attitude essentially accords with the communist attitude and is considered to be very successful in coping with the totalitarian-rightist danger and a way of preventing its realization in the present and the future.

History, and especially in the 20th century, has clearly proven that the danger of totalitarianism is not limited to the Right. The danger of leftist totalitarianism is no less grave. It is only to be expected that both the European and Israeli Left, which control public awareness, preferred to ignore the second kind entirely. No “decommunization” was ever performed in any country. The universalism of Marxist doctrine is abstract and devoid of all nationalism or particularism. Not only did Marxism not lose any of its previous legitimacy but even became the one and only, unquestioned ideology, the credo of the religion of totalitarian democracy, in its renewed, though no less fundamentalist, form that emerged in the current purportedly “post-ideological” era.

The European “leftist” generation, formed in the turbulent rebellion of the 1960s, have outgrown and replaced its Maoism or Trotskyism with views more fashionable and relevant to the present, but it has not succeeded in changing its previous mode of totalitarian thinking. It is not at all accidental, then, that the Gauchist generation with its totalitarian thought patterns, could undermine the old liberal democracies of the West and replace them with totalitarian democracy under a renewed disguise. It is the same, familiar totalitarian democracy of the past, with a change of outward form only. In all its various versions the great and glorious utopia remains its essence. Along with the 18th century Enlightenment in France, and with Marx and Marxists in the 19th and 20th centuries, the leftist globalists of the early 21st century aim at building a new world order, a “brave new world” that is to rise on the ruins of the old world. The difference is that in today’s renewed version, achieving the sacred goal and fulfilling this supreme idea requires not just individual human victims, but entire nations as victims. The first among them is the Jewish people.

The Local Church of Totalitarian Democracy: Post-Zionism    

Talmon also erred in regard to the internal Israeli aspect of the problem by concluding that totalitarian democracy had “ceased to be a danger”. His error on this level is less surprising than his error on the external level, since in Israel the self-declared liberals in the Western sense of liberalism often end up taking part in entirely non-liberal processes, often unaware that they are doing so.

Talmon did not ignore the less than democratic aspects of the Ben-Gurion socialist regime. It seems that he applied his general conclusions about the necessary link between utopia and totalitarianism to Zionism, which he viewed as a utopia. In this regard, one can dispute or accept his claims, but the real problem lies elsewhere. In the course of criticizing the totalitarian aspects of Ben-Gurion’s rule, Talmon did not devote sufficient attention to the totalitarianism of Ben-Gurion’s critics to his left. Although Talmon disparaged the Jewish nationalist movements that were founded after the Six Day War as a manifestation of totalitarian political messianism, he did not seem to see the pronounced political messianism and utopian nature of the left-wing peace movement. Indeed, Talmon himself was in the forefront of those seeking a utopian peace. Moreover, there is a paradox in Talmon’s stance: He was a classical liberal, intensely critical of the totalitarian Left. Yet, in the local Israeli context, he was no less leftist than some of the most prominent totalitarian leftists in the country. Talmon’s position on Israeli issues faithfully served those opposed to the Land-of- Israel movement. Eventually, this opposition emerged as the group that prepared the ground for post-Zionism and post-Judaism (Schweid, 1996). On the one hand, this movement bore out Talmon’s main insights about a necessary link between political messianism and totalitarian democracy, between utopia and totalitarianism in practice, between totalitarianism of the Left and Jews who repudiate their Jewishness.2 The movement bore out these insights when, thirteen years after Talmon’s death, the secular messianic religion established the Oslo regime, a regime whose terrible totalitarianism has not freed the Jews of Israel from its utopia of blood to this very day.

Talmon did not live to see the appalling Israeli proof of his conclusions. Would he have agreed with the assertion that the world church of postmodern Europe, whose establishment he could not have predicted, and the Oslo regime that embodies a post-Zionist ideology to which he made a significant conceptual contribution, essentially constitute the same totalitarian phenomenon? Would he have reached the conclusion that an international totalitarian regime of the West has emerged that cooperates with Arab-Muslim terrorism in its war against the Jewish people? Would he have realized that the Oslo regime, whose essence is to replace the Jewish identity of the citizens of Israel with a Western-abstract identity, is an organic and central part of this totalitarian war against the Jewish people? Would he have been prepared to apply his profound theory of totalitarian democracy to our existential struggle against totalitarian post-Zionism, which has become post-life, a justification for the murder of the Jewish people?

Post-Zionism in the Modern and Postmodern Contexts; The Jews and Democracy

The Universalist Utopia in the Modern and Postmodern Eras

According to Talmon, the totalitarianism of the Left as opposed to that of the Right, rests on the belief in liberal values and principles of freedom, individualism, rationalism, and universalism. Both his theoretical doctrine and concrete historical reality show that the secular universalist utopia, which lies at the basis of totalitarian democracy, has recurred throughout the entire modern era. It began with the French Enlightenment of the 18th century, and continued in the political-messianic movements of the 19th century, in the Russian communist regime, and, today, in the vision of a new world order that is taking shape in the postmodern era. To repeat: The element common to all of them is the unrestrained, essentially messianic, yearning for the unity of peoples, or even their utter erasure within the totality of humanity. The individuals who constitute that totality, like the totality itself, are nothing but an abstract idea of abstract people who are not dependent on anything.

The issue of the Jews as a particular people, by definition and by nature, is linked to the history of the universalist utopia, both in the modern and postmodern eras, almost no less tragically than it was linked to the history of the nationalist mythology, which, at the end of the humanist, modern, enlightened, and rational period, fostered a Holocaust. The true name of the story is venomous and murderous anti-Semitism. What differentiates the postmodern era from the modern one is that the current anti-Semitism wears the guise of anti-Zionism and of the struggle against “the occupation”, together with the notion of extending the boundaries of the “unity of peoples” in the universalist utopia. There is, indeed, a bit of a problem here, namely, that it is hard to believe in the possibility of unity when one component is the postmodern International of Europe, and the other component is national-Islamism (Ye’or, 2002), clearly the heir of German national-socialism. But when there is a common enemy, even absolute opposites can unite. Needless to say this common enemy is the State of Israel, and along with it, the Jewish people as a whole.

Auto-Anti-Semitism in the Modern and Postmodern Eras

Within the State of Israel itself, the forces of destruction linked to the universalist world utopia of our times are very vigorously active. The ease with which they were able to become part of the utopian anti-national trend without relinquishing the older “modern” universalist utopia of the socialist ideology is itself evidence of the common foundation of the two. They share a common nature in the fact that the communist and socialist universalism of the modern era and the struggle against Jewish nationality are but manifestations of a single universalist utopia.

The universalist forces of destruction in Israel are driven by a tremendous messianic energy that again aims at building a “brave new world”. As in the old days of the Marxists-communists, these circles believe without question in the sacred principle of the utopian international religion. Their motto is, “We will destroy the old world utterly” (i.e. the Zionist entity). Most significant of all, Israeli post-Zionist ideology is a version of the universalist utopia of the postmodern era which is virulently anti-Semitic (Sharan, 2001), similar to the doctrine of the anti-Semitic Jew Karl Marx.

However, both then and now, it is not a case of the “primitive” anti-Semitism of the masses who are fueled by xenophobia, nor of the Nazi right-wing anti-Semitism that draws its dark power from the appeal of ancient myths. Here we are speaking of an intellectual anti-Semitism of the Left: The self-proclaimed progressive, enlightened, moral and rational Left. In fact, the Left regards authentic Jews and Judaism as the primitive and reactionary forces of darkness, who disrupt progress and form an obstacle on the path to fulfilling the purpose of history. The inevitable result of this messianic approach is the striving (conscious or unconscious) to erase Judaism as a particular identity from the map of history. In other words, the “brave new world” of the universalist utopia in its two versions is a new world without the Jewish people.

Just as in the building of the new Jew-free world by the Marxists, so also in the building of the new, Jew-free world by the architects of the postmodern era, the participation of the Judaism-hating Jews is essential. What makes the current situation different is that this time the Jews have a nation-state of their own, in which Jews who are devotees of the universalist utopia can finally fight against Judaism and make their fine contribution to creating a Jew-free world much more effectively than at any time in the past. Furthermore, the struggle to eradicate Judaism is now waged under the guise of democracy. The Marxist, postmodern and post-Zionist pseudo-liberal views on democracy lead back to the totalitarian democracy of the French Enlightenment, in which anti-Semitism formed an essential ingredient.

Anti-Semitism as a Benchmark of Affiliation with Post-Zionism

In a seminal article, Aharonson (1997) discussed the structural anti-Semitism of post-Zionism and the worldview of the 18th-century French Enlightenment, as well as the link between the two. During those days of the growth of the Oslo utopia, it was not yet known that Israel would face an eruption of the anti-Semitism of peace, the combination of Arab and Western anti-Semitism that hardly bothers anymore to don its guise of anti-Israelism and anti-Zionism.

In one regard only should Aharonson’s article be amended in light of recent events. It has emerged that the real post-Zionists are not only those people who have written and published books and articles that openly espouse this position. The al-Aqsa intifada exposed an important benchmark to determine whether a given individual is actually a post-Zionist. That benchmark is the overt or covert justification of murderous anti-Semitism. That anti-Semitism is revealed in the European-Muslim alliance that seeks to eliminate the Jewish character of the State of Israel (Ye’or, 2002). Finally, it is manifest in the manipulative use of the concept of “liberal democracy” in both the European and Israeli contexts, when in fact it is the system of totalitarian democracy that is being implemented to accomplish the goal of annihilating the State of Israel and, thereby, the Jewish people as a whole.

Similarly, using the benchmark of anti-Semitism that was revealed against the background of the Oslo war, one may distinguish between real post-Zionists, i.e. auto-anti-Semites, and those whose completely legitimate purpose was (and perhaps still is) the criticism of Zionism, not the annihilation of the Jewish state. Indeed, one of the first post-Zionists in history, Benny Morris, has done some stringent soul-searching and “repented”; whereas political intellectuals who never vocally took post-Zionist stances, and even proclaim at every opportunity that they are the real Zionists, now reveal their actual post-Zionist views via covert and overt cooperation with the anti-Semitic crusade being waged against the State of Israel and the Jewish people in and outside Israel. As only one example of the latter, one can cite the recent participation of some Jewish-Israeli professors in the European initiative to exclude Israeli scientists from research grants offered in Europe, from scientific conferences, and so forth.

The Common Denominator Between Socialist Zionism and Post-Zionism

Auto-anti-Semitism is central to the post-Zionist ideology. Aharonson (1996) sums up its basic premises and conceptual definitions. “Post-Zionism means the negation of Jewish nationality, the abrogation of its ties to the Land of Israel, or casting grave doubt on their legitimacy...” Some of the post-Zionists are characterized by the wish “to get rid of what is bad in Judaism, particularly the notion of the election of the Jewish people (The concept of “The Chosen People”). Some even “go further and envisage a society in which Jewish nationality will disappear, since it stands no chance within the Arab spatial domain.” Aharonson also notes that post-Zionist anti-Semitism has deep roots in the history of Jewish society in the Land of Israel and in Europe: “To be sure, all these assertions are not new, and were closely tied to Zionism almost from its birth, and now have been adjusted to the current prevailing language and conditions. Furthermore, it was a historical criticism of Judaism itself, and hence was implanted and passed into Zionism...”

The question that remains is, to what extent can the critics of post-Zionism among the old Zionist Left in Israel allow themselves to be truly objective and immobilized, and to avoid willfully or unconsciously ignoring the undeniable points of continuity between the socialist-Zionist establishment that ruled Israel without challenge up to the arrival of post-Zionism, and post-Zionism itself? That kind of continuity indeed exists, and is linked to the universalist utopia that was already discussed above. Socialist Zionism was based more on this utopia than on the concept of Jewry’s election. It aimed more at making the Jews a nation like all the others than at developing the particular Jewish nationality grounded in authentic Judaism. It was concerned more with satisfying the need to establish a country of refuge for the persecuted Jews than with profoundly connecting the Jews who came here to the Land of Israel. That is the real reason for the seemingly strange fact that the liberation of the Temple Mount, Jerusalem, and parts of the historical Land of Israel in the Six Day War prompted the socialist Left immediately to adopt the goal of “returning the territories” to the Arabs “for peace”. It is also the reason for the seemingly no less strange fact that the liberation of the land underwent an immediate verbal transformation, both by the ruling establishment Left and the oppositional radical Left, into the unchallengeable, unofficial term “occupation”. Although everything did not occur at once, the fact is that today, during the cruel war that the “partners in the peace process” are waging against us, we are still blaming ourselves (“One must not rule over another people”, “Occupation corrupts”, and the like), and whoever questions this self-blame and instead blames the enemy is almost certain to be perceived as an extreme rightist, fascist, messianist, enemy of democracy, and enemy of peace.

It was not the post-Zionists but in fact the socialist Zionists who invented the mendacious “occupation” code word, though by now it has penetrated so deeply into the collective consciousness that apparently the general public, too, believes its veracity. All the post-Zionists did was to logically and consistently extend this notion, and proclaim that Zionism and the State of Israel as a whole are “occupied territory”. It was not the post-Zionists, but in fact the Zionists of the ruling establishment who provided our Arab and Western anti-Semitic enemies with this pernicious weapon of defining the Jewish presence in the Land of Israel as “occupation”. The post-Zionists, of course, have done well in riding this Trojan horse toward achieving the essentially anti-Semitic goal of negating the legitimacy of the State of Israel.

Transforming the Jews living in Judea and Samaria into enemies of the people is also a totalitarian project primarily of the Zionist Left, and only subsequently of the post-Zionist Left. One can accept or criticize Gush Emunim and its ideology, but the Jewish people’s links to the Land of Israel are not artificial ideological links. They do not exist by virtue of the Yesha (Judea, Samaria, and Gaza) Council or of any other official body for that matter. Rather, Jewry’s tie to the Land of Israel consists of real historical links, both existential and spiritual. They are non-instrumental links that touch the soul of every Jew no matter who he is, via the historical memory of every one of us, and hence via the collective soul and memory of the Jewish people.

An Alternative to Post-Zionism – Returning to Ourselves

The key slogan in demonstrations of the “peace coalition”, which has been the standard-bearer of post-Zionism and post-Judaism during the Oslo War, is the passionate call to “return to ourselves”. Even though, not only apparently but actually, there is at present a divide between the Zionist Left that fights the enemies of Israel and the radical Left that cooperates with them, this call expresses a profound common denominator between the two. Hence it may well be that at some other time, when the illusion of a utopian peace emerges once again, the differences will vanish. Even today, the difference is not clear-cut, since neither group wants to take part in the “war of occupation”, though one views the operations called Defensive Shield or Determined Path in that light, whereas the other sees them as a “war to defend our homes”.

Stock phrases such as “return to ourselves”, “war of occupation”, “war for our homes”, “war for the settlements”, and so on may seem to be casual slogans without value or meaning. In fact, they are likely to serve as components of the Orwellian language of the totalitarian utopia, which gives them an inverted meaning and uses them as tools of a perniciously powerful mental coercion. First and foremost, we must clarify to ourselves the positive or negative, tacit or manifest meaning, of the post-Zionist position. Failing to do so, we will not comprehend and confront the common denominator of the views expressed by Leftist Zionists and by the post-Zionists. That confusion will prevent any attempt to come to grips with the existential problems of Israel and of the Jewish people as a whole.

Does “return to ourselves” mean to return to the beautiful, small, liberal Israel announced from the stage by the once-popular singer Yaffa Yarkoni that fits neatly with the stance of Prof. Zeev Sternhell regarding the legitimacy of the armed struggle of the Palestinians in the “territories”? (Sternhell’s view leads directly to the conclusion that it is permissible for the Arab-Palestinian “freedom fighters” to murder Jews, be they civilians or soldiers in the Israeli “occupation army”.) This slogan will not help the Jewish people become more moral and humane, perhaps even the opposite. Nor will a “return to ourselves” help us live and survive. Moreover, the essential justice of the struggle for our existence cannot be based on a “return to ourselves”, which means a return by Zionism to a renewed Uganda Project, the settling of the Israelis, i.e., the former Jews, in a self-administered prison in a gray expanse without name, roots, history, or identity, in short, anywhere except in the Land of Israel!

If we do not know how to arrive at this not-so-simple truth by ourselves, the enemies of Israel are there to rise up against us and murder us. It is the mendacious blaming of “the occupation”, a term that Israeli Jews invented and invigorated, that serves as a justification and goad to the genocide of the Jewish people by the Arabs and their political associates. They murder us not just as individuals, but as a people. That murder is not physical only, but is moral, spiritual, and existential as well. This lie of ours murders our soul. Yet, the murderers of hundreds of Jews (at the beginning of January, 2003, the number stood at 694) over the period of less than two years alone (2000-2002), not to speak of the past few decades, are still regarded by many left-wing and right-wing Zionists, and not only by post-Zionists, as our potential allies with whom we must make peace.

The real meaning of “returning to ourselves” cannot be flight from the Land of Israel, from our identity, from Judaism. “Returning to ourselves” means returning to the land that is the historical cradle of Jewish identity, including Joseph’s Tomb, Hebron, Rachel’s Tomb, to our historical memory. It means returning from the Orwellian utopia of the Zionism of universalist normalization, to Jewish Zionism that strives for the national-cultural rejuvenation of the Jewish people.

An Alternative to Post-Zionism – Returning to Ourselves: A Nonpractical View

To a large extent, universalist anti-Semitism is rooted in the first universal religion that sought to replace particularist Judaism, the religion of Christianity. Yet even the cruelest Christians were no more anti-Semitic than secular anti-Semities of the enlightened modern era and of the tolerant and pluralist postmodern era, whether they are anti-Semites of the Right or the Left. On the other hand, there were Christians who spoke and even acted against anti-Semitism with courage and integrity that not many Jews could muster. One of them was Sergei Bulgakov (1991), an influential Russian intellectual who emigrated from Bolshevik Russia to France in 1923 and served for 20 years (until his death in 1944) as professor of theology and dean of the Russian Christian Pravolsby Institute in Paris. This intellectual priest very sharply criticized the Jews who participated in the Bolshevik Revolution. His explanation for their utopian-messianic radicalism was that, having essentially religious souls, they found in Marxism a quasi-religious substitute for their authentic religion that they had abandoned and betrayed. He was regarded by many assimilated Jews as one of the fathers of Russian intellectual anti-Semitism. That is a gross misconception.

Bulgakov viewed the Jewish people as a special people constituting a mainstay of general human history. He devoted the last years of his life to analyzing the nature of German Nazism which he called “ontological” and “metaphysical” anti-Semitism. In his view, this manifestation of anti-Semitism differs in purpose from the ordinary, routine kind. The anti-Semitism of the Germans, he maintained, constituted the essence of Nazi racism. It displayed the Nazis’ envy of the Jews as a special people, as the people chosen by God, as a particular people with a world-universal mission. The Nazis, because of their envy of the chosen Jewish people, built their concept of their alternative chosenness on a materialist-pagan-racist basis. The notion of the German people as a people chosen on a racial basis entails negating the existence of the Jewish people.

Bulgakov saw the Nazi rebellion against the Jews as a total rebellion against the God who had chosen the people Israel to be a special people to Him. Hence, he argued, dealing with the problem of Nazi anti-Semitism was a struggle for Christendom no less than it was a problem for Jewry. As a believing Christian, Bulgakov linked the Jews’ mission and their future salvation with the coming of Jesus-the-Messiah and not with redemption in the Jewish sense. Yet his Christian messianism was less hostile toward Jews than the political messianism of the secular utopias that emerged in the modern period, of which Marxism was only one.

Bulgakov’s perspectives on Nazi anti-Semitism offer a means of understanding the Muslim-Arab anti-Semitism of today, derived primarily from Muslim religious tradition and history, and significantly influenced by Nazi anti-Semitism. That influence has been felt through the years since the Nazi period up to, and including, the present day.3 The metaphysical, ontological, and existential envy of the Jewish sense of their national election by God, as Sergei Bulgakov interpreted it in regard to the Germans of his time, is no less relevant to the national-Islamism of our time. It is evident in Islam’s claim of a historical right to the Holy Land instead of the Jews, in the claim of a historical and religious right to Jerusalem instead of the Jews, and in Islam’s claim of a religious right to the Temple Mount instead of the Jews.

Arab anti-Semitism is evident in the national and religious myths whose clear purpose is to totally eradicate the Jewish presence from the Land of Israel and thereby to totally eradicate the Jewish people from the world in general (Ye’or, 2002). To achieve this goal, an artificial entity known as “the Palestinian people” is being constructed here, in the Land of Israel. According to the Torah (The Five Books of Moses), the Land of Israel was given to the people of Israel as a people chosen by God. The Palestinian entity serves ascendant nationalistic Islamism as a tool for replacing and annihilating the Jewish people.

At this juncture, we must recall the important, perhaps even decisive role of the post-Zionist intellectuals, the new historians and sociologists, in building myths on behalf of an entity that constitutes a weapon aimed at destroying us by rewriting Jewish history according to the needs of the new Palestinian mythology (a rewriting of history that is called “shattering the myths of Zionism and Judaism”). In the context of this appalling trend, envy and hatred toward the Jews who remain faithful to the principle of Jewry’s election in its highly moral rabbinic sense, appears to characterize not a few of the Jews themselves (Aharonson, 1997). Nor is that phenomenon new in history. Although almost one hundred years have passed since the days of the Bolshevik Revolution, Bulgakov’s insights into the motives for the Jewish revolutionaries’ destructive participation in Bolshevism can help to understand this phenomenon as well. Bulgakov drew a quite dismaying parallel between the “bestial racist chauvinism” of the Nazi anti-Semites and the anti-religious savagery of the Jewish commissars in the Russian Revolution. He attributed the latter to the fact that in the minds of the Jewish revolutionary intellectuals, the faith of their forefathers had been expunged.4 under the influence of radical socialism and humanism.Yet because every Jewish person has an essentially religious soul, Bulgakov claimed, even the savage activity of the Jewish revolutionaries was a manifestation of their religiosity. This was, however, a negative and perverse religiosity in regard to the authentic Jewish religion, as reflected in the cruel war waged by these people who were doing the opposite of what their religion wanted.

Bulgakov indeed speaks of the terrible sin of the Jewish revolutionaries against the Russian people, a sin common to both the Jewish and the Russian revolutionaries. It especially took the form of deliberate and monstrous desecrations of sacred Jewish and Christian buildings and artifacts, of systematic anti-religious hooliganism driven by the goal of humiliating the believers and “occupying the temple in place of God”, of anti-religious coercion that revealed “religious envy of an intensity previously unknown in history”. However, the even more dreadful and appalling sin, Bulgakov emphasizes, was the one the Jewish revolutionaries committed against themselves as members of the Jewish people, “against holy Israel, the people chosen by God”.

All this happened to the Jewish people, in Bulgakov’s view, because “in the mystical depths of Israel there is no room for religious apathy and spiritual emptiness, so that there is a constant struggle over its soul.” Thus the inverted and terrible religiosity that emerged in Russian Bolshevism does not express at all the true spirituality of Israel. Rather, it is an abominable mask that covers its true, holy face, a situation of terrible spiritual crisis in Israel, a “Jewish pogrom” that Jewish commissars perpetrated mainly against their own people, against the Jewish people as a special people. They dealt

a terrible blow...against Judaism, a blow without precedent in history...a historical suicide of Judaism, except that it involved only that part of the Jewish people that had betrayed its mission. But even in that part the holy remnant is always preserved, the eternal-immortal, because of which the entire Jewish people will be redeemed.

Of great interest is Bulgakov’s direct treatment of Zionism that is surprisingly relevant to the concerns of this article. Bulgakov wrote the following passage in his article “Zion” in March 1915:

The possibility that the powerful nations of the world will enable the Jews to establish a stable national center in Palestine and develop a full national life in it [einen nationalen Kristallisationskern schaffen] need not be perceived as a way of finding a solution to the “Jewish question” in the internal affairs of the countries of Europe, since even Zionists themselves do not believe they will succeed in attracting the large majority of their people to Palestine... However, sooner or later, Jews will realize the need to solve a much more important and essential problem than what is known today as “the Jewish question” – namely, the problem of their spiritual nature.

This problem cannot be solved without a national center, and the sole sacred center of Jewry is Palestine, the land that was given to the Jews by God. The existence of such a center will help the Jews do the required soul-searching, overcome the tragic dualism, and win the spiritual struggle that has always been waged in the soul of the Jewish people. Zionism’s greatest difficulty at present is its inability to restore the ancestral faith that is disappearing, so that it is forced to rely on the national-ethnic principle alone. However, on such a principle no truly great nation can be based, let alone the Jewish nation. Dostoevsky was indeed correct when he wrote: “It is not possible even to imagine the Jews without God.”

Yet history has furnished this holy name – Zion. There are signs that “the Jewish question” is again intensifying, that its tragic nature in the Diaspora is again being felt with great force. And just at this moment there shines a ray of light toward the future, a possibility emerges of a completely different solution to this eternal question. I pray that this great hope will not prove illusory!

As noted, when Bulgakov the Christian writes about the redemption of the Jews, he does not mean redemption in the Jewish religious sense. With due repect to his Christian faith, we should not forget that Jewry has its own interpretation of our redemption in Zion. Not Christian Zionism of spirituality without matter, nor the materialist Zionism of normalization and flight from ourselves. Not anti-Semitic post-Zionism that reverts to a war by Jews against their Jewishness. Not totalitarian democracy that serves this despicable war and not postmodern relativism that erases the distinctions between truth and falsehood, between good and evil, between human and bestial, between darkness and light. Only loyalty to the truth, to clear moral discernment, only restoring to words their lost meaning, only lighting the candle that will illuminate and expel the darkness. Only a return to ourselves, to Judaism, to the Land of Israel, to true Zionism.



Aharonson, Shlomo (1997) “Zionism and Post-Zionism: The Historical-Ideological Context”, in Y. Weiss (Ed.) Between Vision and Revision, Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Center, pp. 291-309 (Hebrew).

Avineri, Shlomo (1992) The Rule of the Masses, Tel-Aviv: Sifriat Poalim (Hebrew).

Berger, Peter (1977) Facing up to Modernity: Excursions in Society, Politics and Religion, New York: Basic Books.

Bulgakov, Sergei (1991) Christianity and the Jewish Question, Paris: YMGA Press (Russian).

Elbaum, Jason (1998) “The Decline of Democracy in the Global Village”, Tchelet, 5, pp. 11-23 (Hebrew), English Edition: Elbaum, J. (1998), “Global Pillage”, Azure, 5, pp. 118-144.

Hayek, Fredrich A. (1944) The Road to Serfdom, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kasher, Asa (1998) The Democratic Imperative to Strive for Peaceful Settlements, Peace: Legal Aspects, Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University.

Mannheim, Karl (1936) Ideology and Utopia, New York: Harcourt and Brace.

Orwell, George (1945) Nineteen Eighty-Four, New York: Penguin Books.

Popper, Karl (1945) The Open Society and its Enemies, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Schweid, Eliezer (1996) Zionism in a Post-Modernistic Era, Jerusalem: The World Zionist Organization.

Sharan, Shlomo (2001) “Zionism, the Post-Zionists and Myth: A Critique”, Sha’arei Tikvah: Ariel Center for Policy Research, Policy Paper 134.

Talmon, Jacob (1974) In the Age of Violence, Tel-Aviv: Am Oved, pp. 135-136 (Hebrew).

Talmon, Jacob (1960) Political Messianism: The Romantic Stage, London: Secker and Warburg.

Talmon, Jacob (1980) The Myths of the Nation and the Vision of Revolution: The Origins of Ideological Polarization in the 20th Century, London: Secker and Warburg.

Talmon, Jacob (1952) The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy, Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books (1986 edition).

Talmon, Jacob (1957) Utopianism and Politics, London: Conservative Political Centre.

Ye’or, Bat (2002) Islam and Dhimmitude, When Civilizations Clash, Teaneck, New Jersey: Farleigh Dickinson University Press.




It has been suggested that a democracy has the “Obligation of democracy…to strive for peace…” Kasher (1998), p. 343.


  1. For about two hundred years, this faith has seethed in the hearts of millions...since the  18th century the world has been full of prophets, philosophers, flag-bearers, cliques of fighters,  members of the underground, mass parties, that in one form or another anticipate and prepare themselves for the same end, for a revolution in the world order. In this camp, the Jews played a huge role, and in some ways and certain situations – even a decisive one...[This faith] was a lifeline for those of our people who had lost or severed the link to the ancient and all-encompassing heritage of the people, and who did not succeed or were not able to attach themselves to a different culture. There were no revolutionary internationalists among the Gentiles like Karl Marx, Rosa Luxembourg, Trotsky, Karl Radek, Zinoviev, and the Jewish prophets of the New Left of our time. And one also should not overlook the fierce passion to act, to influence, to demonstrate power, and also to rule, which knowingly or unknowingly drove Jewish young people as such a wide, enchanting field of activity opened before them... (Talmon, 1974. Tel Aviv: Am Oved, pp. 135-136 [Hebrew]).

  2. For Rousseau, activity by a group that does not accord with the principles of majority rule does not negate that rule but it is nevertheless legitimate. Such a group claims that in a given situation, majority rule is not capable of making rational decisions, and hence it appropriates the majority’s right of decision. The said group should regard itself as a tool for implementing the “real” desire of the people, assuming responsibility for the perfection of virtues and the purity of morals of the nation’s institutions. Of course, such a group actually negates those virtues and empties the nation’s institutions of their functions. This claim in the name of democracy ultimately destroys the democratic framework and the practice of real political rule. The Jacobin democracy of Robespierre must be understood against this background (Avineri, 1992).

  3. The premise of Jacobin tyranny and theories of totalitarian democracy is the belief that the enlightened members of society possess absolute truth and have the right to force the rest of the citizens to take one path only dictated by that truth. “The question is not, therefore, what the people desire but rather what is desirable for the people and who is qualified to make that decision. It is clear that Rousseau and his followers, and particularly Robespierre, saw that as opening the possibility of dictatorship by the individual or individuals they believed to represent moral perfection…and to embody what everyone would aspire to if everyone would be wise.” (Avineri, 1992, p. 124).


The Hebrew-language journal Nativ has published many studies on this subject.


Ibid., p. 76.