Kovel, Joel. OVERCOMING ZIONISM: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine. 2007. Published by Between the Lines. Toronto ON & Pluto Press, USA & UK.

Overcoming Zionism by Joel Kovel: A Book Review

´This book is absolutely fundamental for those who reject the unfortunate confusion between Jews, Judaism, Zionism and the State of Israel –– a confusion which is the basis for systematic manipulation by the imperialist power system. It convincingly argues in favour of a single secular state for Israelis and Palestinians as the only democratic solution for the region.´ Samir Amin, director of the Third World Forum

Joel Kovel is one the most original and creative thinkers in contemporary USA. His previous books range on subjects from racism to nuclear terror to Nicaragua to red-hunting. He writes from personal passion and the power of a deep intellect.

History and Spirit: An Inquiry into the Philosophy of Liberation, a profound guide to understand the search for meaning and freedom in humanity and, The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? in which he makes a compelling case for the ultimate enemy of nature being capitalism itself, are two of his best previous works. (see reviews)

Kovel is an academic, teaching at Bard College, NY, a political activist in the USA Green Party, a peace, environmental and social justice activists in many movements. He has spoken in Victoria several times & returns soon to speak on the topic of this book.

Kovel was born into Judaism and into Zionism. In his youth, he rejected both and in his intellectual analysis makes it clear that religion, political ideology are and must be understood as separate from ethnicity. The full history and culture of Jews suffers from the narrowness of an identity linked to an organized religion and an aggressive political nationalism. From this perspective Kovel examines and shows the fallacy of the labels: anti-Semitic and the self-hating Jew. He writes, “If the curse of Zionism is to be lifted, then, the identity of Jews needs to detached from the fortunes of the Stare of Israel.”

He is aware that he will be accused of being anti-Semitic and “the self-hating Jew.” He is clear that by overcoming Zionism he has been able to accept his Jewish identity without attaching it to an aggressive nation-state. This he sees as the end of the concept of “the wandering Jew.” He writes that “the wandering Jew is no longer alone. The whole earth itself and all the people and other creatures upon it come into view as our only true home.” It is this sense of deep connectedness which imbues Kovel´s work with a passionate universality.

Overcoming Zionism by Joel Kovel: A Book Review

Photo © Theresa Wolfwood.

In Confronting ZionismKovel explains how a religious state cannot be democratic and that Israel now has ´state-sponsored racism´. He develops his ideas with historic detail and insight into the history of events and institutions that have created the present injustice and insecurity. He quotes David Ben Gurion saying in 1931, “We take the land first and the law comes after.” Thus Zionism seeks “the restoration of tribalism in the guise of a modern, highly militarized and aggressive state.” And it “cut Jews off from what history they did possess…”

He sees the separateness of Zionism, the apartheid treatment of Palestine and the destruction of its physical environment – more than 1 million trees have been destroyed by the Israelis– as integrally related. Kovel quotes Chaim Weizmann, Israel´s first president, as saying that Palestinians were “the rocks of Judea … obstacles that had to be cleared on a difficult path,” that attitude, “also devalues the landscape and undercuts Zionism’s romanticisation of the Palestinian earth, tipping the balance toward the domination of nature.” “Estrangement … is the human form taken by ecological breakdown; it is a failure of recognition between human agents, which … splits humanity from nature as well as itself. It follows that the most severely estranged society will also be the most subject to eco-disintegration.”

He then illustrates that only a single secular state will rid the region of religious dominance and the sense of exclusion and “otherness” in government & be able to become democratic country whose citizens can live in peace together. One of his most important arguments is that by overcoming Zionism, a form of religious political fundamentalism, we will help rid the world of other reactive religious political fundamentalism – like aberrations of Islam and Christianity. Kovel writes that “a Westerner who wishes to undercut the power of Islamic fundamentalism cannot do better than work for the overcoming of Zionism.”

The tinderbox of global war that exists today in Israel/Palestine must be resolved; it is the kindling that has ignited regional insecurity, fear, violence, reaction, massive exile and hostility towards both nations and religions. In answer to the position that Jews deserve a homeland, Kovel says that, “No matter what Zionism does or says, there can be no homeland on stolen land, all them ore so when the expropriated other remains as a daily presence.” That seems to be the most pressing and obvious condition that calls for a single, democratic, secular state.

Kovel has proposed a resolution that calls for serious consideration and implementation by citizens and politicians alike who are weary of war and killing. H uses South Africa as an example of a severely divided, unjust state which was able to overcome “apartheid” when few thought such a change was possible. Although there are many differences in the two situations, Kovel writes in detail about how the ANC was able to negotiate and communicate with the seemingly obdurate Afrikaners. It is one example that can illuminate “the notion of one State which is only dimly stirring in present awareness” towards “the arc that leads to justice in Palestine.” He calls tis state “Palesrael”, a name in which each group has four letters and a shared ´s´. “Overcoming is, then, the movement towards the universal.” With compassion, reason and a will to confront reality and to believe in the ability to change, Kovel inspires hope for not just Jews shedding the burden of Zionism and Palestinians bearing the brutality of its implementation, but for all who believe human, dignity and peace are possible.

“As ever, it is the journey that counts, the seeking of good conscience, good will and good comrades. That, and living out the recognition, which we have scarcely begun to appreciate, much less live, that all human beings are bothers and sisters.”

Filed under Book Reviews, Joel Kovel