Thoughts on Zionism and AntiZionism

Matthew Gindin
9 min readApr 30, 2024


How do we move forward?

In the early 20th century a coterie of Jewish thinkers promoted a version of Zionism often called “cultural Zionism.” I think its fair to include Martin Buber, Echad Ha’am, and Hannah Arendt in this list, as well as many other lesser known figures. They didn’t agree on every detail, as Jews rarely do, but the basic idea was that Jews should establish a flourishing community in their ancestral homeland which lived in cooperation with the already present Arab population. This movement aimed to honour Palestine as the birth place of the Jewish people and to reinvigorate a Jewish culture which was not limited to Orthodox Judaism (which already had a small and ancient presence, based on devotion to the Jewish holy land, in Palestine).

As Zionism grew, however, the movement came to be more and more political in nature, as well as more colonial in attitude. Finally it became statist and militarist as well. The shape of mainstream Zionism, by the time of the Holocaust, was something like this: Jews should build a state or state-like infrastructure in Palestine for our own use. Arabs should be left to pursue their own destiny as a people and not be directly collaborated with in building this infrastructure. Jewish security and self-determination would lay in economic and infrastructural strength, the increase of Jewish population, the control of land, political alliances, and military capacity.

The Holocaust acted as steroids on all of these ideas, and by the end of World War 2 Zionists were attacking the British overlords of Palestine, skirmishing with Arabs, running an international spying and smuggling network, and actively trying to create a Jewish state in Palestine which would prevail by numbers and might. The Arab resistance to having what had seemed to them to be their country and lands taken over so aggressively and rapidly by massive Jewish immigration and state-building was construed by mainstream Zionists as either antisemitic or foolish (“they don’t know what's good for them.”)

Buber and others, meanwhile, warned of the unethical and shortsighted nature of this approach and created peace organizations like Brit Shalom and Ichud, while actively campaigning against the ideas and methods of mainstream Zionists like the emerging leader David Ben-Gurion.

The realworld Zionism that emerged from this time of struggle followed the following logic: Jews should have a state in Palestine that controls a strategic landmass and whose demographics (ie what percentage of the citizens are Jewish) will ensure Jewish rule. Thus significant amounts of land belonging to Palestinians must fall under Jewish control, and the refugees who fled the war of 1947 which created Israel must not be allowed to return. This is what Palestinians call the Nakba, or “catastrophe” and Zionists call “Israeli independence.” For more on the pre-state period, please see this piece I wrote.

Since 1947 the logic has been that Israel must maintain a Jewish majority. The Arab minority in Israel who remained can have the fullest rights possible short of threatening Jewish majority power. In 1967 the Israeli government fulfilled the dream of reuniting Jerusalem under Jewish rule- Jerusalem which was the ancient capital of the classical Jewish state and a mythic, beloved city in 2,000 years of Jewish imagination. They also seized the West Bank from Jordan and Gaza from Egypt, strategically expanding the Israeli state and coming to rule over millions of Palestinians.

These Palestinians were not given Israeli citizenship (because of the aforementioned logic above) but rather kept as refugees, citizens of no state under Israeli Occupation. Yeshayahu Leibovitz, an Orthodox Jewish public intellectual and academic, wrote immediately that the land should be given back or the Israeli state risked falling in to “Judeo-nazism” and raising future generations of Jews to rule over Palestinians in the draconian, soul destroying way that such occupiers, torturers and secret police rule over people in other countries.

The actual path taken by the Israeli state was to keep those lands and to begin building Jewish settlements on them (which is illegal under international law for good reasons). I want to stop briefly here to note that there is no difference between the Israeli occupation of parts of Jordan and Egypt and the Russian occupation of certain parts of the Ukraine, or the German occupation of France. I am opposed to violence and war in almost every instance, including Palestinian violence and warmaking, but militant Palestinian resistance is, from an impartial point of view, no different than Ukrainian resistance to Russia or French resistance fighters in WW2, and this is in fact the way international law and UN resolutions regard the matter.

In any case, several Israeli politicians, including Netanyahu, are on the record saying that the settlement project has as its aim the expansion of Jewish flourishing and the prevention of a Palestinian state. The Israeli occupation has made Gaza into an open-air prison, and the West Bank into a nearly unlivable network of ghetto like areas broken up by Jewish roads and checkpoints, with heavily defended Jewish settlements living alongside Palestinian areas which are patrolled at will by the IDF and which have been subject — for decades- to the attacks of Jewish settlers which the support or indifference of the state.

What of Palestinian violence? I will get to that more below, but first I want to come to the first point I’m trying to get to. Given all that I just wrote, the recent horrific violence that erupted on Oct 7 and afterwards in the brutal, immoral slaughter of Palestinians by the Israeli government has led a lot of Jews and others to think that it is time for Zionism- the actual, realworld Zionism I have described, to come to an end. Contrary to a common misunderstanding, this doesn’t mean the destruction of the Israeli state any more then ending freemarket capitalism means the destruction of the US or ending communism meant the destruction of China. It means the end of a certain political system and the imagining of a different one, as has happened numerous times in numerous countries during the 20th century (and throughout human history).

As I began saying in my last article, I don’t actually think it matters whether a reformed Israeli state is called “Zionist” or not. What matters is how it treats non-Jewish citizens and those it currently dominates under the military rule of the Occupation. It would be just as legitimate to conceptualize this new Israel as a reformed version of Zionism, a new Zionism which embodies other traditional Jewish values besides mere survival — like the pursuit of justice and the love of the stranger.

Of course it is clear that for the victims of the Israeli state and for much of the world now in the wake of “Operation Iron Swords” the word Zionism is severely besmirched, and maybe irredeemably so. I don’t know, but I do know that I think what matters is action, not words and semantics.

I do think that within the Jewish community arguing for a “reformed Zionism” is likely to get more traction that arguing against Zionism, and after watching the reactions of the mainstream Jewish community for the last seven months, I have come to question my own positioning of myself against Zionism, rather than simply focusing on the real issue: horrific and unjustifiable violence towards Palestinian civilians.

An Addenda on Palestinian Violence

How I long for a world where people did not deflect moral criticism against themselves by pointing at others who are supposedly worse. This debating move is so flagrantly lacking in substance when rationally examined, and yet it is so popular.

It is obvious to me that Jews need to focus on what we ourselves are doing wrong. This is our moral obligation, and it is also good strategy, for the simple reason that we can change our own behaviour, and we cannot change someone else’s.

Nevertheless, let’s discuss Palestinian violence. After the creation of the Israeli state and the fleeing of 800,000 Palestinian refugees during the ensuing war, displaced Palestinians raided Israeli border towns, occasionally killing Israeli citizens. Eventually these coalesced into militant groups who skirmished with the IDF and mounted attacks against Israeli citizens both in Israel and abroad, including unquestionably heinous attacks on innocent civilians.

Since then Palestinian groups have mounted both violent attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians and non-violent campaigns such as the Boycott, Divest and Sanction Campaign. The Israeli state has aggressively attacked both types of Palestinian resistance.

Since the 1950s terrorism has been met with consistently disproportionate reprisals from the Israeli state where many more Palestinians are killed then the Israeli victims of terrorism. This has not ended Palestinian terrorism.

Since the launch of the BDS movement the Israeli state has launched a massive international campaign costing tens of millions of dollars to resist it and paint its leaders and members as antisemites motivated not by resisting the Israeli occupations and its human rights abuses but by simple hatred of Jews. In the territories controlled by Israel, non-violent Palestinian activists have not been welcomed by the Israeli state as possible collaborators, but rather have been surveilled, interrogated, jailed, tortured and/or killed.

The two Palestinian organizations that have received Israeli support are the militant — but tamed — PLO in the West Bank, who collaborates with the state on security and other matters in return for money and other forms of Israeli support, and Hamas, a more radically militant Islamist organization who rules Gaza and who Netanyahu helped raise to prominence and has supported for years. Netanyahu has publicly said that he sees Hamas’ presence in Gaza as essential to his goal of blocking the creation of a viable Palestinian state, something which works in tandem with settlements in the West Bank, which numerous Israeli officials have characterized as means to block the same thing. While some Israeli politicians appear to have actually been willing to negotiate a two state solution, the overall thrust of Israeli policy since the 1970s has been against allowing such a thing to come into being, and in the last couple of decades it is clear that Israeli government actions have been arrayed to prevent it.

I am opposed to Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians, but I am also aware that this is like being opposed to someone I am punching in the face kicking me in the balls. I can keep punching the person and complaining that they are hurting me, and I can also loudly point out that my punches are not “making them” kick me, that they have agency, etc.

I can even tell bystanders that blaming me for the fact they are kicking me is infantilizing towards them. I can point down the road to some other people in a fight and accuse interfering bystanders of discriminating against me because they are trying to intervene in my conflict instead of interfering in other conflicts (while ignoring the fact that these bystanders are giving me money and bought the brass knuckles I’m wearing, as well as the fact that there are actually people trying to intervene in the conflict down the road).

Yet the time comes when I have to take responsibility for my own actions and decide whether I am going to keep punching this person- who, hey presto- I see beneath my fists is now a man, now a woman, now a child, now a baby — or whether I am going to stop.

I can insist they stop first, sure, or say they started it. One thing is sure, though: as long as I keep punching them — these men, these women, these children — they will keep hitting me back. In the case of Israel, it is also inescably true that there is a massive disparity of resources involved. It is not just that we are hitting each other, it is also true that they are drastically impoverished of every imaginable resource compared to me.

This has been going on for almost 80 years. Will I stop?

Does it matter if we call the stopping Zionism or not?

Maybe it does, but I would humbly suggest that whether we do or not should not be as important to anyone — not to antiZionists, but also not to Zionists! — as that we stop the horror.

Stop punching the bloodied child.

Just, for the love of God, stop it.