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Zionism and its Discontents

Zionism and its Discontents: A Century of Radical Dissent in Israel/Palestine, by Ran Greenstein, reviewed by Richard Kuper

October 1, 2015
2 min read

zionismdWe live in dark times, particularly with regard to the Middle East and the Israel/Palestine conflict. So Ran Greenstein’s book is particularly welcome, providing a compelling history of those radical movements of the past hundred years in Israel/Palestine that challenged the conceptual bases of Zionism in theory and opposed its practices on the ground. It makes for sad and sobering reading.

Four substantive chapters deal with binationalism, an essentially Jewish movement, under the Mandate; the Palestine Communist Party in the same period; Palestinian nationalism subsequently; and the origins and fate of the anti-Zionist left, particularly the revolutionary socialist organisation Matzpen.

Binationalist critics, for whom a Jewish presence in Palestine was part of a renaissance of Jewish life worldwide, wanted it to be in partnership with the Arab inhabitants, not at their expense. An important internal critique, it wanted a Zionism divorced from what were to become Zionism’s three defining characteristics: the ‘redemption’ of the land, the ‘conquest’ of labour and the Jewishness of the state.

The other forces analysed here were all, in one way or another, rejectionist, stressing the colonial-settler aspect of the Zionist project and trying to organise progressive nationalist and/or class responses to it. The problem of how social forces could be mobilised in the very different Jewish and Palestinian constituencies before 1948, and then in the context of a Jewish-dominated Israeli state and fragmented and divided Palestinian communities after the Nakba, was analysed and worked at in many different ways. There were hopes that Zionism could be eroded, that class struggles within and across national boundaries would be dominant, that the Arab national revolution would come to the rescue of the Palestinians, that armed Palestinian struggle would prevail, that divisions within the Jewish working class and Jewish society within Israel would prove decisive.

All have failed. An honest appraisal of these failures is the necessary basis for new perspectives on the struggle and Greenstein’s insightful critique of past movements is an important contribution to this.