Could there have been Zionism without a state?
Updated: Oct 28
I just read Amos Oz's last novel, Judas Iscariot. It's a masterpiece for all kinds of reasons. Not only does Oz beautifully evoke the wintry Jerusalem I grew up in, but he also provocatively explores the notion of a Zionism that does not seek to create and maintain an independent political entity.
Oz's vehicle in so doing is the made-up character of Shaltiel Abravenel, a follower of the cultural Zionist thinker Ahad Ha'am.
Abravenel has recently died, but his memory is kept alive by his secretive daughter, Atalia, and her chatty, disabled, and incredibly lonely father-in-law, Menahem Wald.
Abravenel was a Sephardic Jew, born and bred in Jerusalem, who spoke Arabic (as well as many other languages) and had multiple Palestinian, Egyptian, and other friends from all over the Arab world.
As Atalia makes clear, Abravanel was not a particularly good man. Instead, he was a neglectful father and an abysmal husband, abusing her mother verbally and ultimately driving her to flee their home.
Abravenel participated in the Zionist executive governing body of the pre-state Jewish Yishuv and ultimately concluded that if the Jews created a state of their own in Mandatory Palestine, the result would be war, dispossession of the Palestinian residents, and an unending cycle of hatred and violence.
He arrived at this position during the 1920s when serious Arab opposition to Jewish immigration began, and during the 1930s, when that opposition erupted in the Arab Revolt of 1936-39.
Abravenel registered his opposition to the Zionist executive as the British Mandate wound down, arguing instead for an international mandatory arrangement to rule Jews and Arabs together in a shared political space.
Abravenel's ideas were not welcome. His fellow executive members labeled him a traitor and forced him to resign. He retreated to his apartment in Jerusalem, endured the subsequent 1947-49 war, and watched his son-in-law, Atalia's husband, killed gruesomely by Palestinian irregulars in the desperate battle for the road to Jerusalem.
Abravenel never leaves his apartment again, dying there a few years later, along with his ideas.
Abravenel's warnings were prescient, however. The Palestinian displacement happened just as he warned, and the cycle of violence continues.
To learn more about James Ron, please visit www.jamesron.org. You can read his publications at https://www.researchgate.net/profile/James-Ron, and see his posts at www.jamesron.net, www.jamesron.org, and @James_ron01.