Original Sins: Reflections on the History of Zionism and Israel
By Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi. Interlink, 1993, 224 pp. List: $14.95; AET: $11.95 for one, $14.95 for two.
"Out of the original sins of the world against the Jews, grew the original sins of Zionism against the Palestinians," writes Benjamin Beit- Hallahmi in a line that most closely conveys the conceptual framework of his latest book.
The author, who teaches psychology at the University of Haifa, has long been interested in the factors which have contributed to the development of Israeli political culture and condition that country's behavior within the global community. For example, in his 1987 book, The Israeli Connection: Who Israel Arms and Why, he describes the evolution and motives behind the Jewish state's support for some of the world's most repressive regimes.
Israel's supporters, in particular, will find Original Sins scarcely less unsettling as it constitutes an audacious assault on the totality of cherished assumptions and sacrosanct myths which undergird the entire Zionist enterprise. The fraudulent socialism of Israel's founders, the politicization of Israeli archeology, and the Holocaust "industry" are just a few of the topics covered. Its closely reasoned arguments, supported by some startling and unfamiliar documentation, are presented with luminous clarity.
The book commences with a superb synopsis of Jewish history from the period of the Biblical chronicles--which are reviled as mostly imaginary--to the 19th century advent of political Zionism. In 30 pages, the author depicts clearly the social, political and economic changes which precipitated the dissolution of traditional Jewish life in the modern era. This created a marginalized Jewish intelligentsia susceptible to the idea of a reconstituted Jewish national home, safe from the depredations of anti-Semitism.
Beit-Hallahmi dismisses as nonsensical attempts to portray political Zionism as a "colonialist conspiracy against Third World natives." At the abstract level, and as initially conceived, there was nothing, he maintains, morally reprehensible in its goal of alleviating Jewish suffering through the realization of "Jewish sovereignty and territorial concentration." Granted the erroneous proposition that Jews are a nationality, as the Zionists claim, this was no more than other nationalities were clamoring for in 19th century Europe.
The trouble with Zionism began, says Beit-Hallahmi, when it disembarked in Palestine. There it became an "intended colonialism," which has sought ever since to justify its "dispossession and victimization of a whole people." This has been accomplished, in part, by offering the world "the most original and unique defense."
Unlike colonialist settlers elsewhere, who were inspired by a "civilizing mission" or prospects of commercial gain, Zionist settlers depicted themselves as "true natives" who were simply "returning home after an extended stay abroad." They therefore had to depict the indigenous Arab population as the "foreigners"!
Beit-Hallahmi regards as equally specious the more familiar claim that Zionism is the "national liberation movement" of the Jewish people. In a successful liberation movement, he explains, there should be only victors. The victims, if any, should be the oppressors who, having been defeated, are forced to relinquish their hold on the oppressed nation and return home.
In the case of Zionism, however, the victims--the Palestinians--are completely guiltless, having had no hand in the creation of the religious and racial anti-Semitism which necessitated the quest for Jewish liberation. More to the point, he asks why many Jewish academics who champion Zionism persist in living in New York, Princeton or Cambridge under the "oppressive conditions Zionism was created to liberate them from. …