The March/April 2010 issue of Moment magazine features a final interview with Howard Zinn, the counter-historian whose People’s History of the United States has become a bible of the campus Left.
Then Zinn answers questions about Israel itself, which he calls, in retrospect, a mistake.
How did you react to Israel’s creation in 1948?
I didn’t know a lot about it, but I remember speaking at some gathering to celebrate its founding. I wasn’t a Zionist. I just vaguely knew that a Jewish state was being created and that seemed like a good thing. I had no idea that the Jews were coming into an area occupied by Palestinians.
Were you critical of Israel before 1967?
Before 1967 Israel did not loom large in my consciousness. I was aware that there was a war between Israel and the Arab states in 1956, but it really wasn’t until 1967 and the taking of the occupied territories that I realized this was a serious problem. I remember reading I.F. Stone, who was very concerned with Israel.
How do you discuss Israel and Palestine with Jews who might be resistant to claims that Israel bears some responsibility for the conflict?
As always in very complicated issues where emotions come to the fore quickly, I try to first acknowledge the other party’s feelings. In the case of Israel I try to say, yes, I understand your sympathy for a Jewish state, and I understand that you become angry when rockets fall [in Sderot] or when a suicide bomber takes needless life. But that has to be seen in proportion. I try to appeal to the experience of Jews, the experience of the Holocaust, by saying, if it’s never again, it’s not just never again for Jews, it’s never again for anybody. I also try to present facts that are hard to put aside. Rockets from Gaza killed three Israelis; Israelis retaliated with an enormous bombardment that killed 1,000 people. You can’t simply write that off or say, well, they’re morally equivalent or it was bad on both sides. Or the Lebanese send rockets into Israel, killing a number of people, and the Israelis invade Lebanon in 1982 and there are 14,000 civilian casualties. These are horrors inflicted by a Jewish state. As a Jew I feel ashamed when I read these things…I [also] try to appeal to what I think are the best legacies of the Jewish people—people like Albert Einstein and Martin Buber, who cannot be simply written off, because they’re Jewish heroes. And these are people who were critical of Israel and sympathetic to Palestinians.
Do you think that Zionism was a mistake?
I think the Jewish State was a mistake, yes. Obviously, it’s too late to go back. It was a mistake to drive the Indians off the American continent, but it’s too late to give it back. At the time, I thought creating Israel was a good thing, but in retrospect, it was probably the worst thing that the Jews could have done. What they did was join the nationalistic frenzy, they became privy to all of the evils that nationalism creates and became very much like the United States—very aggressive, violent and bigoted. When Jews were without a state they were internationalists and they contributed to whatever culture they were part of and produced great things. Jews were known as kindly, talented people. Now, I think, Israel is contributing to anti-Semitism. So I think it was a big mistake. more link
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