The purpose of this study is to present a philosophical analysis of the justice of contemporary Zionism as realized by the State of Israel, including Israel's territorial and demographic aspirations and the way it conceives of itself as a Jewish state. Specifically, I will examine the justice of contemporary Zionism in the light of the gap between a particular version of Zionist ideology that oculd be considered just and the situation today, which is a consequence of both current Israeli policies and the Zionist past. I will mainly focus on three components of this situation: the Palestinian refugee problem...; the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip...; and the policies of the State of Israel toward the Arab minority living within Israel's pre-1967 borders.What Gans does in the book is to attempt to establish what is morally defensible and and reasonable about Zionism, and then compare it with the principles and policies of the Zionist state founded in 1948. Thus, for example, he argues from a liberal Zionist perspective in chapter one that the Jews constitute a people with a legitimate claim to national self-determination and self-rule -- but that this does not confer on them automatically a right to Jewish hegemony in a Jewish nation-state. Such a hegemony is only justifiable "circumstantially" and only applies to restricted domains of demography and security, and then in much more limited ways than implemented now. Nor must there always be a need for a Jewish nation-state in order to realize Jewish self-determination. While Gans defends some of the special considerations that the Jewish state gives to its Jewish citizens, for example, in the sphere of immigration, he sharply restricts these special considerations and declares them in principle undesirable as permanent policies. Most of the time he picks apart the classic arguments used by liberal Zionists to defend Zionist policies of preference and discrimination. Those passages are, of course, my favorite parts of the book. One final word: on the back cover there are two blurbs, one by American Jewish political thinker, Michael Walzer, and the other by Israeli philosopher, Avishai Margalit, both liberal Zionists. Margalit praises Gans' fairness; Walzer, Gans' meticulous presention of the arguments. Neither endorse the positions taken by the author, and I think that this is significant. It is a pleasure to read a book where, agree with the thesis or not, one can admire the intelligence and the moral sensitivity of the author. Criticisms will follow.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Chaim Gans' "A Just Zionism: On the Morality of the Jewish State"
I have in my hands -- well, next to my computer -- not only one of the most interesting books ever written about the morality of political Zionism (and the morality of Israel's policies), but one of the most sensible and sensitive books ever written about Israel and Palestine. Although I don't agree with many of the author's arguments or conclusions -- he still cuts political Zionism and Israel too much slack, in my opinion -- I have no hesitation in giving him and his book a moral "heksher"/seal of approval. In A Just Zionism: On the Morality of the Jewish State (2008, Oxford University Press), Tel-Aviv University law professor and moral philosopher Chaim Gans presents a defence -- albeit a limited one, as we shall see -- of the right of the State of Israel to continue to exist as it was founded, and of some of Israel's controversial laws and policies, e.g., the law of return. His arguments position him to the the left of the Israeli-Jewish consensus (including much of the Meretz party), but to the right of the post-Zionist crowd. Gans is a liberal nationalist, that is, he believes that nationalism is defensible because a common national heritage has great possibilities for enriching the lives and identities of individuals in a liberal state. So if you're a post- or anti-nationalist, this book is not for you. In fact, what I like about most about the book it that is assumes, for the sake of argument, the truth of the Zionist narrative of Jewish history and the legitimacy of liberal nationalism. The author then explores what justifiably follows from such assumptions. And his answers will not make make most Israel advocates happy, those who, like most of us, are content with fallacious and self-serving moral arguments. Because of its importance I plan to discuss the book in a series of posts. I have also put a widget on the right side of the page for the convenience of people who want to buy the book. Let me say this upfront: if you are reading this blog, you should read Gans' book. And that includes anti-Zionists, non-Zionists, and ultra-rightwing Zionists. The only people who shouldn't read the book are those who don't like to follow, or can't follow, a philosophical argument, or those who don't care to read anything written by an Israeli. Whatever pennies I get from Amazon Associates I will donate to leftwing Israel-Palestine causes, so if you are a rightwinger, you may want to get the book directly from Amazon. Here are some lines from the Introduction: