Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Was Zionism a case of 'national liberation'? (Walzer vs. Falk)

National liberation movements are usually thought of as movements against colonial rule.  Although Zionism doesn't fit that template, Michael Walzer in The Paradox of Liberation (discussed here) nonetheless treats Zionism as a national liberation movement.  The implicit (or sometimes explicit) justifying steps are that: (1) the Jews are a people or "nation"; (2) their condition of 'exile' constituted a form of 'national oppression'; (3) Zionism as a political movement sought to end the condition of exile and hence counts as a case of national liberation.  

In a critical essay on The Paradox of Liberation published online last year, Richard Falk argued that since the establishment of the state of Israel involved, among other things, the (unjust) displacement of Palestinians from land they occupied, Zionism was not a national-liberation movement in the sense that the Indian and Algerian independence movements were.  Falk acknowledged Ben-Gurion's statement in 1947 to a meeting of his political party (quoted by Walzer on p.99 of Paradox) that "[i]n our state there will be non-Jews as well, and all of them will be equal citizens, equal in everything without any exception, that is, the state will be their state as well."  However, Falk wrote: 
In my view, it is questionable in the extreme whether this idealistic goal ever represented the actual intentions of Zionist leaders. It should be evident to all that such egalitarianism was never expressive of Israeli policies and practices on the ground from even before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
Walzer for his part (Paradox, p.100) judged that "[t]he invasion of the new state in 1948 by five Arab armies must count as one of the reasons, perhaps the crucial reason, why none of the governments over which Ben-Gurion presided lived up to the commitments he described." [See the discussion in the comment thread.]

My own position may fall somewhere in between Walzer's and Falk's, though I'm also not entirely convinced that the actual gulf between them is quite as big as Falk thinks (though it may be).  Certainly they differ on various historical and normative questions, but it's not clear that their views on the current way forward in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are all that radically different.  But to hash these issues out thoroughly would require too long a post than I have time for right now and also a more detailed knowledge of the relevant history than I can command without some substantial research (which I have no present intention of undertaking).


Peter T said...

The standard narrative conflates the initial period after UN partition plan was adopted (November 1947) with the period after May 1948 when Arab armies intervened. In that six months, wikipedia notes, "the "Palestinian Arab military power was crushed" and most of the population in the combat zones was fleeing or had been driven out..". It was that defeat and displacement that prompted intervention.

LFC said...

Which wikipedia entry is this? Just so I can look it up at some point.

Peter T said...

I just googled "Palestine 1947". Wikipedia goes into a lot detail on particular incidents, but the gist is that there was ongoing communal violence, it ramped up after November, the Palmach was better organised, equipped and directed, Palestinian militias were defeated and Palestinian civilians forced out of key areas. The defeat and dispossession prompted Arab state intervention, and their defeat led to a further round of expulsions (which continued, IIRC, up to 1955).

My point is that this looks very much like a standard colonialist settler war, of the sort that was commonplace in the US or Australia, or also like the ethnic sorting that marked the end of World War II.

LFC said...

looks very much like a standard colonialist settler war

In some respects, no doubt.

The defeat and dispossession prompted Arab state intervention

But would the Arab states have intervened anyway, after the declaration of the state of Israel, even if the issue of Palestinian dispossession had not existed on the same scale? Perhaps such a counterfactual is pointless, I don't know. But what I'm trying to get at is to what extent the intervention was prompted by Palestinian dispossession and to what extent it was prompted by the Arab states' opposition to the creation of the state of Israel under any circumstances.

As I pointed out in the other comment thread, there is at least one difference betw. colonial settlement in the U.S., say, and Israel, and that is that there was a historical connection btw Jews and Palestine/Israel. I'm not saying that that justified dispossessing the Palestinians of land they lived on, but it does explain why, e.g., the Uganda plan went nowhere.

LFC said...

p.s. anecdote: my uncle, now 90 yrs old (or thereabouts), was one of the volunteers who went from the U.S. to fight w the Israeli army (the Haganah, I guess it was called at that pt) in the '48 war. I don't raise these issues w him and he does not read this blog, which is just as well in this case.

Peter T said...

"would the Arab states have intervened anyway"? Maybe. Possibly not if the local Palestinians had come out on top (or maybe even then - did Syria, Jordan or Egypt have claims on Palestine?)

I have no particular dog in this fight - it would have been tragic either way, and the middle ground of partition was unsustainable.