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VCU Menorah Review Winter/Spring 2011
Number 74
For the Enrichment of Jewish Thought

Post-Zionism ... Post-Holocaust

By ElhananYakira. New York: Cambridge University Press.
A Review Essay by Steven Windmueller

Professor Elhanan Yakira’s essays on the “uses and abuses of the Holocaust as an ideological arm in anti-Zionist campaigns” appear for the first time in English. This volume follows an earlier edition of Yakira’s work that appeared several years ago (2007) in Hebrew.

The first essay focuses almost exclusively on a group of French left-wing Holocaust deniers. The substance of the arguments generated by these writers has generally been documented elsewhere, but the depth and scope of the research here is revealing and clearly disturbing.

The second piece seeks to study the ideas of a number of Israeli intellectuals who are identified with the post-Zionist movement. The primary focus here is on how elements of the Israeli intellectual community have sought to introduce the holocaust into their criticism of that state’s policies and political practices. 

The third essay deals with Hannah Arendt and her relationship with Zionism and the State of Israel; in this piece Professor Yakira specifically references how the anti-Zionist camp seeks to apply Arendt's ideas to their anti-Israel agenda. For the author, a Palestinian agreement that leaves a two-state solution in place represents a reasonable and achievable outcome, despite the claims of some in the post and anti-Zionist camp to move toward a one-state plan.

The author offers a post-script that encompasses more recent events, examining how the enemies of the Jewish State incorporate these same negative anti-Israel concepts to the contemporary scene. He introduces in this essay several overarching themes. One notion suggests that the Jews do not deserve a state of their own. “Religions simply do not have states, it was argued.” Yakira also points to a “campaign of delegitimation and vilification that is fueled by this anti-Zionist ideology.” Similarly, the systematic use of the Holocaust is designed to confirm that the existence of the State of Israel is “illegitimate and must cease to exist.”

An accomplished author, who has published extensively over the past fifteen years, principally in French, Dr. Yakira holds the Schulman Professorship in Philosophy at Hebrew University. His work in this edition adds to his significant body of work covering a lifetime of research and reflection.

One cannot help to appreciate the comments offered on this particular body of work by leading academics from both the United States and Israel, who uniformly praise Yakira for his in-depth and challenging work. Dina Porat of Tel Aviv University summarizes this work in the following manner: “Yakira takes the reader on a stage-by-stage intellectual journey, in the course of which he demonstrates how, without scholarly honest research, his protagonists use the Holocaust as a political tool to delegitimize the Zionist movement and Israel.”

Michael Walzer of Princeton finds Yakira to be “an engaging writer” and his work to be “brilliant, disturbing, provocative, and engrossing...” Calling the text “a luminous intellectual history”, Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins suggests that this volume “takes us deep into the consuming debate between Zionists and post-Zionists.”

The data and substance of these essays has significant value in highlighting the subtle and comprehensive ways that the enemies of Israel seek to ideologically and politically deny the Jewish State’s credibility and legitimacy. As Yakira noted, “one of the things that make the anti-Zionist movement so effective is that it is on the offensive. It is also strengthened by powerful academic and intellectual trends in the West? The movement has succeeded to a large degree in putting Israel on trial.”

This book is an uncomfortable but essential read, as the material here is both particularly relevant as well as alarming.

Dr. Steven Windmueller holds the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Chair in Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College, Los Angeles.

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