Noam Pianko: Clash Of Zionisms In Academia

Noam Pianko’s new book  focuses on forgotten cultural Zionists.
Noam Pianko’s new book focuses on forgotten cultural Zionists.
Group of scholars pressing idea of cultural Zionism, amid pushback.

From the United Nations to the capitals of Europe to the pages of the New York Review of Books, Zionism — and the Israeli policies that undergird it — have lately come under withering attack. Israel is reeling from the international condemnation following the failed flotilla attack. And Peter Beinart’s essay in the NYRB — which attacked Jewish leaders for failing to inspire a new generation of Jews committed to Israel — urged a more liberal Zionism as a way to get young Jews back in the fold. But beneath the headlines, a skirmish within academia over the very definition of Zionism has been intensifying. The debate broke into full view here last week at the biannual conference of the American Jewish Historical Society, as a group of scholars, pressing a controversial line of thinking, sought to reformulate Zionism for the 21st century. At root, their re-examination of the ideology amounts to a struggle over the very meaning of Zionism — or, in simplest terms, why Israel should matter to Jews in the diaspora.

While these scholars are galvanized by the sullying of the term in the international arena, they are perhaps more concerned that Jews themselves understand Zionism to be chiefly a political position — “support for the Jewish state,” period. But Zionism, they say, should mean much more than that.

“I think there’s a lot of confusion about what Zionism means today,” said Gideon Shimoni, an emeritus professor at Hebrew University’s Institute of Contemporary Jewry and author of “The Zionist Ideology.”…. READ MORE

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