A small but growing number of Israeli and American Jewish critics have come to regard traditional Zionism as an anachronism and a major obstacle to a just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the future I will be making an argument about this issue, but for now I wish simply to define, explicate, and clarify the distinctions between different forms of Zionism. If I have made any errors, I would be very grateful to hear from the true experts on the nature of Zionism.
The most radical critics of Zionism are probably best described as “anti-Zionists,” for they argue not only that Zionism should be cast aside today but that because of the inherent conflict between Zionism and the rights of the Palestinians, the creation of a Jewish state in a land belonging to another people was never justified, not even in the aftermath of the Holocaust. The anti-Zionists favor a “one-state solution” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, meaning a democratic binational state of all its citizens (Jews, Israeli Arabs, and Palestinians in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza), irrespective of whether the Jews continue to constitute a majority. Indeed, anti-Zionists tend to support the Palestinian “right of return” to Israel itself, which if realized would certainly guarantee that the new binational state would have an Arab majority.
A second position is that of “post-Zionism,” which holds that while Zionism and the creation of Israel was initially justified because of the Holocaust and previous periods of murderous anti-Semitism, it is no longer either necessary or desirable that Israel continue as a Jewish state—meaning a state in which Jews are a large majority and have political sovereignty, which is heavily Jewish in culture and religion, and which allows, as a matter of right, unlimited Jewish but not non-Jewish immigration. Post-Zionists believe that Zionism has become an anachronism and an unbridgeable obstacle to a just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and they therefore join with the anti-Zionists in supporting the concept of Israel as a fully democratic state of all its citizens, with no special privileges for the Jews, and irrespective of whether the Jews continue to constitute a large majority (currently, as in most of its history, about eighty percent).
The position of post-Zionism on the nature of an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement is less clear—to my knowledge, there is no single position. My understanding of post-Zionism is that most Israelis who identify themselves with that position favor the one-state solution, a democratic binational state. On the other hand, it apparently does not necessarily follow that most post-Zionists also favor a large-scale Palestinian right of return to pre-1947 Palestine—that is, before creation of the state of Israel and the subsequent expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. In the absence of such a return of the Palestinian refugees and their descendents, a binational Israel would almost surely remain predominantly Jewish. Even so, post-Zionists oppose all measures and practices that compromise full democracy and are designed to ensure that there will always be a large Jewish majority.
There is no one definition of “liberal Zionism.” However, most Israelis who identify themselves as liberal Zionists—or are so considered by others—share a number of characteristics. First, liberal Zionists believe that the creation of the Jewish state of Israel was justified because of the Jewish right and demonstrable need for a refuge. Secondly, however, most liberal Zionists reject traditional Zionism’s other arguments for a Jewish state in the land of Palestine on the basis of religious claims, Biblical mythology, ancient territorial “rights,” or colonial impositions (i.e. the Balfour Declaration).
Third, all liberal Zionists are adamantly opposed to the occupation and to the settlements, favor a fair two-state peace agreement with the Palestinians and generally share the international consensus of what such an agreement should comprise (the main components of which include the end of the Israeli occupation and the withdrawal of most of the Jewish settlements over the 1967 lines; the creation of a Palestinian state in some 95-98% the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, which will become the capital of the state; Palestinian or Muslim sovereignty over the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) mosque and other religiously important Islamic sites; strong limitations on the size and armaments of a Palestinian army, but with international peacekeeping forces stationed along the state’s boundaries, to help guarantee the security of both Israel and Palestine against military attacks, from whatever quarter).
Fourth, liberal Zionists certainly oppose the demand that the Palestinians must formally recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition for negotiations, and most of them would not even insist that a final settlement must include such Palestinian recognition. Even so, there is a certain tension, or perhaps a potential internal contradiction, in the liberal Zionist position. On the one hand, in principle liberal Zionists wish Israel that to be regarded—and become— a truly democratic state of all its citizens. On the other, for both political and cultural reasons, most liberal Zionists continue to wish to live in a state that remains heavily Jewish, and support the continuation of an Israel that can serve as a potential refuge against a revival of severe anti-Semitism elsewhere in the world—which means privileging Jewish immigration into Israel and perhaps other measures that are designed or would have the consequence of maintaining a large Jewish majority in Israel.
Thus, the implicit—and sometimes explicit—premise of liberal Zionism is that Israel will and should remain a state in which the Jews are a large majority, and that is one of the most important distinctions between liberal and either anti- or post-Zionism. The fullest and most sophisticated statement of the liberal Zionist position is that found in a major book by a distinguished Israeli legal and moral philosopher, Chaim Gans A Just Zionism; On the Morality of the Jewish State (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).
Gans argues that while many components of traditional Zionism are unpersuasive, and that the Zionists undoubtedly committed crimes against the Palestinians, especially in expelling or killing hundreds of thousands of them in 1947-48, the Holocaust proved (made “indisputable,” in his words) the need for a Jewish state. Moreover, Gans contends, the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, leading to an Israeli sense of insecurity, continues to justify the retention of a Jewish majority in Israel and Jewish control over the army and other security institutions, although only temporarily and “circumstantially,” pending the end of the conflict is settled.
The unavoidable implication of the liberal Zionist position—but not that of the anti-Zionist or post-Zionist arguments--is that its commitment to genuine democracy and to viewing Israel as a state of all its citizens would be put to a severe test if the Jews were, for whatever reason, to lose their large majority in Israel
Most traditional Zionists, by far the overwhelming majority of Israelis, adhere to all the Zionist arguments justifying the creation of Israel in Palestine as well as the standard mythology about Israeli innocence in the ongoing conflict with the Arab world in general and the Palestinians in particular. However, there are differences over what to do about the Israeli occupation, the expanding Jewish settlements, and an end to the conflict with the Palestinians.
Centrist traditional Zionists tend to be uneasy about the continued occupation and support a two-state settlement with the Palestinians—in theory. However, when it comes down to the necessary specifics, in practice even the centrists typically oppose the Israeli concessions that are a sine qua non of a two-state settlement, especially over sharing sovereignty in any part of Jerusalem with the Palestinians and even a minimal Palestinian right of return to Israel.
Rightwing traditional Zionists, especially but by no means exclusively the settlers, are opposed to ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank; on the contrary, they want to take over more and more of “Judea and Samaria,” including formerly Arab East Jerusalem. Therefore they oppose a two-state settlement and any compromise with the Palestinians, for their true goal is a one-state solution--not a binational one, however, but an expanding Greater Israel over as much of Biblical Palestine as feasible and with as few Arabs as possible, using force or other means to make life miserable for the Arabs in order to induce them to move elsewhere.