Zionism, Nationalism, and Morality

Elias Baumgarten

 [Published in Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict, ed. Nenad Miscević, Open Court Publishing Company, 2000.]

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No topic causes more acrimonious debate between Jews and Arabs, even among those who favor a “two-state solu­tion,” than the morality of Zionism. Israeli Jews from the “Peace Now” movement often astound Arab audiences when they call Zionism “the national liberation movement of the Jewish people.” And Arabs infuriate even many left-wing Jews when they label Zionism a form of racism. Part of the debate is due to confusion about the meaning of Zionism, the relation­ship of Zionism to other forms of nationalism, and the extent to which partiality toward “one's own” is ethically justifiable. I will try to untangle some of that confusion and to con­struct a frame­work for assessing the morality of Zionism.

One source of confusion is the failure to distinguish between Zionism as a pure concept and Zionism as an historical reality associated with the state of Israel. The concept of Zionism does not imply the partic­ular way that Israel has implemented it. One can oppose the policies of Israel, yet defend the idea of Jewish nationalism and even of a (radically changed) Jewish state in Palestine. In this essay I first address the morality of Zionism as a concept, apart from its implementation by Israel. I then discuss the implementation of Zionism and argue for two claims applicable to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I conclude by suggesting a moral requirement for Zionism today, one which has larger implications for the ethics of nationalism.

I stipulate two principles as central to Zionism:

·        Jews have a moral right to self-determina­tion or a Jewish state somewhere in the world.

·        Jews have a moral right to self-determina­tion or a Jewish state somewhere in Pales­tine.

The first claim addresses something close to the pure idea of Jewish nationalism completely apart from its implementation in Palestine. The second claim includes a consideration of the competing claims of Jews and Arabs to the land of Palestine. For those who do not think that these principles capture what is essential to “Zionism,” this essay can be considered an evalua­tion of the two principles, which are themselves interesting, controversial, and suggestive of larger issues in the ethics of nationalism.

One further preliminary point. Each claim refers to “self-determination or a Jewish state.” In this paper I will assume that political self-deter­mination means statehood because in the modern world nations typically achieve full self-determination by gaining a state of their own. Both Palestin­ians and Jews—not to mention Kurds, Kosovars, and Croatians—under­stand their own self-determina­tion in terms of statehood. Moreover, the more general moral debate on the ethics of nation­alism focuses on the exis­tence of contempo­rary nation-states. [1] Perhaps a homeland for Jews would have been possible without statehood, and there are good reasons for the world to develop means by which political communi­ties can achieve self-determination in some form other than that of the nation-state. But I will not tackle that question here. There­fore, in dis­cuss­ing nationalism and Zionism, I will assume that Jewish self-determi­na­tion would express itself through statehood.

I will discuss three criticisms of Zionism: (1) Zionism is immoral because it is a form of cultural nationalism; (2) Even assuming that some forms of cultural nationalism are morally acceptable, Jewish nationalism is unaccept­able; (3) Even assuming that Jewish nationalism is in principle accept­able, Zionism is immoral because, insofar as it includes a claim to a Jewish state somewhere in Palestine, it necessarily violates the moral rights of indigenous Palestinians. I will try to show that the first two criti­cisms are flawed and that the third criticism is more complex than is generally assumed. However, I will also argue that the third criticism is an important challenge to contemporary Zionism and demonstrates that if it is to be morally defensible, it must radically transform its relationship both to its own past and to the Palestinian people.

Zionism and Cultural Nationalism

The first criticism of Zionism is that it is immoral because it is a form of cultural nationalism. And this invokes a larger challenge: can any nationalism that acts with a preference for members of a particular cultural group be ethically acceptable? On the face of it, any national­ism violates the standard ethical view that all persons should be treated equally and impartially. For people, or for governments acting in the name of people, to grant special consideration to others who share a certain nationality but not to “foreigners” requires justification. On first view “being French” would not seem to be a morally relevant criterion for receiving special benefits. How can it be morally acceptable for people to establish a “French government” that makes precisely this distinction?

Of course the matter is not that simple. There are forms of partiality that are reasonably accepted, such as an individual’s entitlement to give greater weight to the interests of one's own family than to strangers and perhaps also to favor close friends, even in the absence of contractual agreements. [2] In contrast, racism, the favoring of a people simply because of their race, is widely condemned. Nationalistic partiality is more controver­sial; some expres­sions of nationalism may be ethically acceptable while others are not.[3] As with other forms of partialism, we must evaluate nationalisms with respect to both the degree of partialism and the kind of partialism that they sanc­tion. The first criticism of Jewish nationalism is that it sanctions the wrong kind of partialism because it is a nationalism which favors a particular culture.

What might be an appropriate form of nationalism for the critic of cultural nationalism? The division of persons into nations might be justified purely as a matter of administrative conve­nience, a way in which our general obligation to protect welfare can be efficiently distributed. The French government is assigned special responsibility for French citizens because they are within the borders of the administrative unit known as “France.” Robert Goodin[4] endorses this approach and argues that one implication of this model is that if there are people who have not been assigned protectors, then all states have a responsibility to them, just as all doctors in a hospital would have some residual responsibility for patients who had not been assigned to a particular physician.

If administered democratically, this kind of “administrative nationalism” will serve not only to promote economic welfare but also to satisfy the claim of a group of people to govern themselves, which may itself be viewed an one element of human welfare. It allows the nation to fulfill what Yael Tamir refers to as the “democratic version of the right to self-determination”[5] and what Muhammad Ali Khalidi calls the “right of political participation.”[6] Just as it would be too cumbersome to administer economic welfare globally, democracies function best when divided into separate jurisdictions.

To the critic of cultural nationalism, the partiality involved in administrative nationalism is relatively unproblematic. Of course even the state organized for administrative convenience will favor its own citizens and not view every person in the world as having an equal moral claim on its resources or an equal claim to influence its policies. But the ultimate justification for adminis­trative nation­alism is impartial, and its defense of par­tiality within each nation is merely instrumental. [7] It sees the preferential treatment that states offer their citizens as a means toward achieving an impartial goal, the welfare of all people. Under administrative nationalism the state is bound by impartial principles both in the justification for the original establishment of state boundaries and in matters of immigration, a continuation of the process of dividing up people into jurisdictions.

Cultural nationalism is a bolder challenge to the impartiality principle and, to the critic, a more disturbing one. It corresponds to what Tamir refers to as the “cultural version of the right of self-determination,”[8] to Khalidi’s “right of national self-expression,”[9] and to Michael Walzer’s conception of the right of people to a “common life.” [10] Whereas under administrative nationalism each state's respon­sibilities are the same but simply cover differ­ent groups of individuals, for cultural nationalism the state's role goes beyond protecting the life, liberty, and welfare of individu­als; it must also protect and promote (and hence “favor”) a particular “way of life” which typically includes customs and traditions that have evolved for a particular group of people over time and which generally is embraced by most—but, significantly, not all-- of the people currently residing in the state’s territory.[11] Hence a French state will have a responsibility to protect “the French way of life” that will distinguish it from an Arab state; the obligations of a German state will be different from those of a Turkish state. And these differences may be reflected in a state's immigra­tion policies.

Zionism, which aims to promote a distinctively Jewish society, is clearly a form of cultural nationalism. As such it is subject to the criticism that it is oppressive, even racist, and in general incompatible with the impartial standpoint of morality.[12] In response, I will offer a qualified defense of cultural nationalism; first, by distinguishing it from racist and other oppressive nationalisms; second, by pointing out, positively, ways that cultural nationalism may be justified; and third, by arguing that the criticism of Zionism for being a form of cultural nationalism comes from an inappropriately idealistic moral standpoint.

First, the promotion of a culture is clearly different from the promotion of a race. It is the existence of a shared way of life that is judged worth defending that distinguishes partialism on behalf of a culture from racist partialism. Anyone, regardless of race, may choose to participate in the common life of a culture. Insofar as the common life that defines a “people” is not based on race, it leaves open the possibility for all persons to choose (if they wish) to identity with the country’s predominant national culture. Though difficult, it is possible for minorities, those who were once “outsiders,” eventually to share in Danish or French peoplehood. An Algerian can “become” French (just as Armenians and Jews have become Turks), whereas it was not possible for a black person in apartheid South Africa to “become” white. A second difference between cultural and racial nationalism is that cultures or ways of life evolve, and a chang­ing population may, over time, enrich and alter a culture. A nation­alism based on race is less open to this kind of evolu­tion. Finally, racist nationalism typically denies equal citizenship rights to “alien” races, whereas cultural nationalism may grant full citizenship rights to members of minority cultures.

Even if cultural nationalism is not based on race, its partiality is, according to the critic, still unacceptably exclusionary. To the extent that the “way of life” is based on particular values such as socialism, Islam, Judaism, or Christianity, and that way of life is part of the nation’s core identity rather than an issue open to democratic debate, it will exclude those who choose not to embrace it. To the extent that it is based, as is generally the case, on a shared history and identification with particular cultural symbols, it will exclude those who are not members of the dominant culture and who do not wish to assimilate into it. Thus, even if partiality toward a culture is not the same as racism, a state’s promotion of a “way of life” may be, critics argue,  no less oppressive for those who do not wish to share it.

Though the critic can point to many examples where cultural nationalism (or Zionism in practice) has oppressed minorities, we should not concede that it necessarily does so. The acceptance of cultural national­ism does not imply acquiescing in the exclusion of people or in discrimi­nation against minori­ties. A culturally based state will express its way of life officially through its language, its holidays, and its national symbols, but this does not mean that all people's basic human and citizenship rights will not be respected. Indeed, reasonable conditions for the acceptability of a state based on cultural nationalism are that it develop constitutional procedures to protect the citizenship rights of minorities, that it guarantee all residents the right to emigrate, and that it include provisions to ensure that all who wish to join the majority culture’s national life may do so. More than that: a morally defensible cultural nationalism should seek ways to protect and encourage the expression of minority cultures; for example, through funding schools, museums, and other cultural institutions that express the arts, language, and history of minority cultures. A small minority cannot expect to have its cultural symbols offi­cially acknowledged by the state, but to deny a people official expression of their culture’s symbols is neither to oppress the people themselves nor to deny them the right of cultural expression. Few would argue that Muslims are necessarily oppressed in Scandinavian countries merely because the cross and not the crescent is on each country’s flag.

Aside from not being inherently racist or oppressive, cultural nationalism includes positive features that may justify its existence even from an impartial standpoint. Cultural nationalism responds to some basic human needs, and there are good reasons to want to see these needs satisfied for many people even where they cannot be satisfied to the same degree for all. Though it is beyond the scope of this paper to develop the relationship between individual human needs and national self-determination, many authors—in particular, Michael Walzer and Yael Tamir—have argued that persons need, and have a right to, the “common life” (Walzer) and “shared public space” (Tamir) afforded by being a member of a self-determining nation.[13] For Tamir,

Membership in a nation is a constitutive factor of personal identity. The self-image of individuals is highly affected by the status of their national community. The ability of individuals to lead a satisfying life and to attain the respect of others is contingent on, although not assured by, their ability to view themselves as active members of a worthy community . . .Given the essential interest of individuals in preserving their national identity…the right to national self-determination should be seen as an individual right.[14]

One problem with this argument as a justification of cultural nationalism is that it is not obvious that the human needs served by cultural nationalism, when considered impartially, will outweigh other human needs that may compete with it. But if the value of cultural nationalism can be established, then the burden of proof is on the critic to spell out those competing needs and to demonstrate both their importance and their incompatibility with any form of cultural nationalism.

A second impartial justification for cultural nationalism is the desirability of preserving a diversity of “ways of life.” We regret the loss of an indigenous culture, just as we regret the loss of a species or ecosystem, and one might attempt to argue that cultures or ecosystems themselves have interests and can be bearers of rights. But even if cultures themselves do not have rights, individual human beings have an interest in the preservation of a diversity of cultures, each making actual some of the possibilities of human consciousness through distinctive forms of expression. It is reasonable to view the loss of an indigenous culture’s language and way of life as a loss for humanity in general. And it is also reasonable to think that those cultures have a better chance of surviving if they enjoy the protection of national self-determination or, if that is not possible, if they come under the protection of a state that is committed to an enlightened form of cultural nationalism.

Though these are reasonable arguments for cultural nationalism from a purely impartial standpoint, they may not be decisive. Perhaps the most important reason that the criticism of cultural nationalism fails as a challenge to Zionism is that, insofar as it insists on pure impartiality, it adopts an inappropriate standpoint, that of idealistic rather than a more realistic morality. The distinction, introduced and discussed by Joseph H. Carens in relation to the ethics of migration,[15] is crucial for discussing the ethics of nationalism. In an idealistic approach, we evaluate behavior in light of our highest ideals, disregarding whether there is any chance that those ideals will actually be met. This is certainly appropriate in discussions of ethical theory that are concerned with fundamental justification. But in discussions of public policy, a more realistic approach is the appropriate one. It would require that (1) what we say ought to be done “should not be too far from what we think actually might happen,” and that (2) we avoid  “moral standards that no one ever meets or even approximates in their actual behavior.”[16] These are rough but nonetheless useful guidelines. Carens suggests that in discussing the ethics of public policy, we want to avoid a “large gap between the ought and the is,” but he is careful also to warn of the danger of a purely realistic approach that makes no distinction at all between them and would acquiesce in the worst injustices. This concern also applies to the morality of Zionism, and at the end of this paper I will propose a requirement for Zionism that is far from its current practice but which is consistent with “realistic” morality, given the above guidelines. More work needs to be done formulating a continuum of possibilities between idealistic and realistic approaches and specifying in some detail how much realism is appropriate to different moral inquiries into nationalism. But even postponing that more exacting project, I think it fair to claim that criticizing Zionism merely because it is a form of cultural nationalism is to adopt an unfruitful kind of ethical idealism.

A more realistic approach is particularly appropriate in assessing Zionism as a form of cultural nationalism for two reasons. First, if Zionism is flawed simply because it is a culturally based nationalism, then it is only flawed in the same way as British nationalism, Lithuanian nationalism, or, most significantly, Palestin­ian nationalism. Those criticizing Zionism on moral grounds do not intend their condem­nation to be so sweep­ing. Though Palestin­ians protest at being stateless and express an urgent desire for “a passport,” they are not indiffer­ent with respect to which passport they receive. Were the right to belong to a state based purely on a right to be part of some administra­tive unit that protects individuals, Palestinians might work to become full Jordanians or Israelis. Though the “one-state” solution (one secular democrat­ic state in all of Pales­tine) approaches this demand, it is doubtful that Palestinian national aspirations would be met if the name of the single state were “Israel” or even “Southern Syria,” if its language were Hebrew (or English), and if only Jewish holidays (or no holidays at all) were officially celebrated.

Second, a more realistic approach is especially appropriate for evaluating both Jewish and Palestinian nationalism because the failure of other nationalisms to meet the most ideal ethical standards is the urgent historical context within which their movements for self-determination have developed. In a world where other people achieve freedom and independence through cultural nationalism and where states have recently used their power to oppress them, Jews and Palestinians may be able to gain security in the present only through a state of their own.[17] Their histor­i­cal experi­ence appears to confirm this. Jews resid­ing in Poland, Russia, and Germany failed to receive the full protection prom­ised by simply being under the jurisdic­tion of a state. And no Palestin­ian in the occupied areas (and few in Israel itself) would claim that the state adequately considers the needs of individual Palestinians.

One might argue that the historical experience of Palestin­ians and Jews is due to the failure to implement the ideals of administrative nationalism (or even of morally acceptable cultural nationalism) and that it is through advocating and working toward the achievement of those ideals that both Palestinians and Jews can overcome oppression. However, this is not an effective argument against cultural nationalism for contemporary Jews or Palestinians. Though ethnic bigotry and discrimination are morally wrong and should be opposed wherever they are found, the actual framework in which both Jews and Palestinians must make moral choices includes a continuing history of victimization and a lack of success, as minorities, in “persuading” those in power to change their behavior. A realistic morality that aims to assess the behavior of a people and the character of their national movement cannot ignore that their choices are made in the context of actions by others that they cannot control.

A Critique of Jewish Nationalism

Many critics of Zionism accept culturally based national­ism—indeed, most Palestinians enthusiastically embrace it—but they challenge Zionism on the grounds that it is morally different from other forms of cultural nationalism for at least three reasons. First, Jewish nationalism is unacceptable because Jews are not a “people”; that is, there is no distinctly “Jewish” culture or way of life, or—a more moderate claim—there is no Jewish culture sufficiently distinct to justify national self-determination. Second, Jewish nationalism is unacceptable because its criteria for membership are overly exclusive. Third, Zionism is unacceptable because Jews lacked a necessary ingredient for national self-determination, a contiguous territory on which they were already residing.

The claim that “Jews are not a people” is difficult to defend (or to refute) because there are no agreed-upon criteria for what constitutes a distinctive “people.” The arguments used against Jewish peoplehood are often almost ludicrous: “they don't look alike,” “they don't eat the same foods,” “they don't speak the same language.” While each of these may be one relevant criteri­on of peoplehood, no one of them seems necessary. What unites a “people” is a complex matter and obviously differs from nation to nation; Americans and Canadians would meet few of the traditional criteria. Palestinians, dispersed throughout the world like Jews, no longer share a language and never shared one common religion. Yet it would be presumptuous to tell someone who experiences herself as Palestinian that she is really an “Ameri­can” or a “Jordanian” or even, as Israeli leaders used to insist, simply an “Arab” with no more distinctive identity. Ultimately, whether or not someone is a member of a “people” seems most reasonably answered by whether she is a member of a group that experiences itself as sharing an identity. Those who do so experience themselves have certain characteristic qualities: they feel part of a shared history (perhaps a history of victimization), they feel pride when their group (or perhaps even a member of their group) is recognized as having performed in a noble or distinguished way, and they feel shame, not merely anger, when something ignominious becomes associated with their group.[18] If these feelings are combined with a general desire to achieve self-determination and a will­ingness to sacrifice for it, the existence of “peoplehood” cannot reason­ably be doubted. There may be pragmatic reasons for regarding the achieve­ment of statehood as undesirable or impossi­ble—insuf­ficient economic resources, for example—but unless someone can rationally demonstrate objective criteria for people­hood, one cannot deny in such cases that there does indeed exist a people that is striving for self-determination.

A second argument directed against Jewish nationalism is that it is “closed” or exclusive, in contrast to the more “open” or inclusive nationalisms espoused by “genuine” liberation move­ments. Though this criticism is directed against Zionism in principle, I will focus mainly on the form it takes by those who defend Palestinian nationalism. I will argue that if Palestinian nationalism is not to become a merely administrative nationalism, then it will include the same exclusionary features as the Jewish nationalism it criticizes.

Palestinians often stress that their opposition is not to Jews but to Zionism, and many emphasize that Jews who come from Palestine are also Palestinians and can share in the fruits of Palestinian national liberation. This view bases national identity on a shared attachment to land. It claims to be an inclusive nationalism, and it considers Zionism closed or even racist because it excludes people simply because of their ances­try.[19] The old PLO formula of one “secular democratic state” in Palestine was one attempt to implement this view. While this approach denies Jews recognition as a distinctive people entitled to a state of their own, it offers a positive justification for nationhood that can include Jews. This can be looked at in two slightly different ways: (1) a state of Palestine that recognizes the existence of two different “common lives,” Jewish and Arab, but claims that their shared attachment to the same land implies that they should live together under one jurisdiction; (2) a state of Palestine in which a shared attachment to the land is itself regarded as the basis for a single “common life” uniting Arab and Jew. The first form denies the “one nation, one common life” approach, while the second accepts that each nation pro­tects one “way of life” but broadens its conception of what a “way of life” includes. Both conceptions can give some content to being Jewish or being Palestinian Arab and yet both oppose an “exclusive” nationalism based on the culture of only one group or the other.

The idea of a single secular state based on attachment to the land of Palestine probably best captures the deepest Palestinian aspirations and is proposed as an alternative both to a “closed” cultural nationalism and to a mere “administrative” nationalism. The Palestinian dream of a secular state has always been more substantial than a desire for some administrative unit that would issue passports or for a bureaucracy, any bureaucracy, that would promote the health and welfare of Palestinians. The dream includes the use of the Arabic language, the freedom to practice the Muslim or Christian religion, the teaching of Palestinian history, and the commemoration of that history in national holidays. But, according to the proposed challenge, there is no reason why these elements of a “common life” cannot coexist in a single state with a second, Jewish “common life” or that the two together cannot be thought to make up a common life more broadly conceived.

However, to base nationalism on attachment to the same land seems to undermine the whole substantive justification of nation­al boundaries, reducing it in the end to a matter of administra­tive convenience. There are two possibilities: either Jews and Palestinians are thought to have somewhat separate common lives but tied together into one nation by living on the same land, or else the fact that Jews and Palestinians live on the same land is itself thought to give Jews and Palestinians one common life. But if Jews and Palestinians have separate “common lives” and two such different common lives are to coexist in one country, why not include Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt as well? Why not the whole Middle East or even Europe? Why divide the land of the world into separate nations unless doing so is judged to be efficient or administratively convenient as a way of distributing responsi­bility? Once we concede that Jews and Palestinians have differ­ent ways of life and once the administrative convenience model of nationhood is rejected, there seems no good reason to group Palestin­ians with Jews rather than with Jordanians and no basis for grouping Jewish Israelis with Arabs rather than Ameri­cans.[20]

If, on the other hand, Jews and Palestinians are thought to constitute a single way of life based on a shared attachment to the land, then again it is not clear where to draw the boundaries of “the land” to which they are attached. How is it different from the land of Lebanon or Egypt or Jordan? Do not all people in the region share an attachment to “the land” a bit more broadly conceived? Or, going in the other direction, why should not Jerusalemites be considered attached to a “different land” from those living in Tel Aviv? Their relation to what they regard as a holy city is dramatically different from that of people living in secular Tel Aviv.[21]

Once we purge considerations of “culture” or “way of life” of the more traditional kind in order to create a more “open” nationalism, drawing national boundaries based on an attachment to one land rather than another would seem to reduce us to defining political units purely in terms of administrative convenience. If “attachment to land” is interpreted to include anyone who happens physically to reside in a given area, then it will indeed be open and inclusive, but it will justify only an administrative nationalism. On the other hand, if “attachment to land” means something more than this—a shared history of attach­ment, a bonding of people who are “from” the same place—then it will be a cultural nationalism that will be at least as exclusive as Jewish nationalism. Though the Zionist movement does not embrace Palestinian Arab culture (but could in principle, and should, protect its expression as a cultural minority inside Israel), a Palestinian nationalism based on a common historical attachment to the land of Palestine will also exclude (or at least similarly fail to “embrace”) the culture of Russians, Austrians, Jews and anyone else who does not share Palestinian ancestry. If what is thought morally problematic about a Jewish nationalism is that it promotes a culture based (largely) on ancestry, a matter over which people have no control, then Palestinian (and many other forms of) national­ism must be seen as no less exclu­sive. Even when nation-states respect the basic rights of minorities, their failure fully to “embrace” minority cultures seems to be an inevitable element of cultural nationalism; the Palestin­ian idea of a “shared attach­ment to land,” if interpreted as more than an administra­tive division, is no exception. Though the implemen­tation of Jewish national­ism may have involved unique forms of exclusion, there seems to be nothing in principle about Jewish nationalism that makes it any less inclusive than other forms of cultural nation­alism.

A final argument against Zionism, attempting to distinguish it from acceptable forms of cultural nationalism, is that it lacked one of the ethical requirements of a national liberation movement, residence on contiguous territory on which to construct a nation-state. National movements typically work to control territory on which they are currently suppressed or from which they have recently been expelled, but in its inception Zionism envisioned a state for people scattered throughout the world.[22]

The tie between a people, a national liberation movement, and particular territory is a complex one that, in its most theoretical dimension, is beyond the scope of this paper. I will limit myself to three brief comments. First, although it is fair to say that those already living in an area have a presumptive claim to its territory over those not living in the same area, there may be some advantage to demystifying the connection between people and land. A group has a better chance of creating a morally acceptable form of nationalism if it sees territory simply as the necessary physical space in which their people can live and express their national culture rather than as the soil where their ancestors’ blood has been shed. Some of the greatest problems of nationalism, Jewish nationalism included, derive from an excessive rather than an insufficient tie to a particular territory of the world.[23]

Second, if one questions whether a particular people—in this case, the Jews—are truly a “people” of the kind qualifying for national self-determination, the existence of a strong will to create a homeland even in the absence of the close natural ties afforded by physical proximity would seem to be unusually powerful evidence of the experience of a shared identity. And if, as argued above, the qualities of peoplehood depend upon the subjective experiences of its members, the sense of peoplehood is the most important evidence of its actual existence. That this shared identity derives in part from a history of persecution at the hands of countries widely separated from one another strengthens rather than weakens the case for Jewish nationalism.

Third, there is no good moral reason in principle to disqualify people from building a state on territory merely because most (or even all) of them had never lived there before.[24] Had there truly been a “land without people” and Jews had settled and built their state there, I would see no good reason to consider Jewish nationalism less legitimate because it needed to find a homeland rather than to try to “reclaim” one. What is problematic in practice about settling in areas where people have not previously lived is that other people have a claim to the land. This is the most crucial challenge to Zionism and the subject of the next section.

Zionism as a Violation of Palestinian Rights

If the first two arguments against Zionism fail, then the idea of a morally defensible Jewish national liberation movement is conceivable. From the standpoint of a more realistic (even if not from a purely impartial) morality, people are entitled to form states to defend a particular culture or “way of life,” and if Jews experience themselves as sharing a way of life and are willing to sacrifice to achieve self-determination, their aspirations to national libera­tion must be respected as much as those of any other people. The final criticism of Zionism concedes all this but argues that though there is nothing inherently wrong with the idea of Jewish nationalism, Zionism, by definition, infringes the rights of Palestinians. Another way of putting the criticism is to say that if Zionism were fully represented by its first principle, that “Jews have a moral right to self-determi­na­tion or a Jewish state somewhere in the world,” it would be defensi­ble. But since Zionism did not choose a so-called “land without people,” since it claims for Jews (under its second principle) “a moral right to self-determination or a Jewish state some­where in Palestine,” it necessarily infringes the moral rights of the indigenous people in the area and is for that reason morally indefensi­ble.

That the actual establishment of Israel infringed Palestinian rights is hard to dispute. Zionists must confront the disposses­sion of Palestin­ians, the devastation of a Palestinian way of life, and the intentional destruction of four-fifths of the Arab villages that once existed in what is now Israel.[25] Similarly, it would be hard to dispute the claim that Israel's current policies infringe Palestin­ian rights. Israel's infringement of human rights in the West Bank and Gaza has been widely document­ed in both international and Israeli sources.[26]

Several argumenta­tive strate­gies are open to the contemporary Zionist, however. One would be to claim that Zionism in principle does not imply the infringement of Palestin­ian rights that has actually occurred (and continues to occur). A second would be to concede that Zionism infringes Palestinian rights but to argue that this infringement is morally justified by more weighty considerations. Finally, the Zionist might concede the moral flaws inherent in Zionism but argue that a morally acceptable form of Zionism is still possible today. I will discuss each of these in turn.

That Zionism in principle does not imply any particular course of events, any particular historical infringement of rights, is clearly true, just as any concept does not imply a particular instantiation. However, even if the Zionist movement could have minimized the infringement of Palestinian rights more than it actually did, it is unlikely that any movement to establish a Jewish state “somewhere in Palestine” could have totally avoided infringing the rights of the indigenous people. Unlike the romanticized view of most American Jews and Christians, some leading Zionists have been more forthright in acknowledging the moral costs that were unavoidable elements of Jewish national liberation in Palestine. Three years after famously calling Palestine “a land without people for the people without land,” Israel Zangwill reversed himself in a little-known 1904 New York speech:

There is, however, a difficulty from which the Zionist dares not avert his eyes, though he rarely likes to face it. Palestine proper has already its inhabitants. The Pashalik of Jerusalem is already twice as thickly popu­lated as the United States, having fifty-two souls to every square mile, and not 25 percent of them Jews, so we must be prepared either to drive out by the sword the tribes in possession as our forefathers did, or to grap­ple with the problem of a large alien population.[27]

And in 1969 Moshe Dayan said to a group of students:

We came to this country, which was already populated by Arabs, and we are establishing a Hebrew, that is, a Jewish state here. . . .Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I don't blame you, since these geography books no longer exist. Not only the books do not exist—the Arab villages are not there either.[28]

The second Zionist argument is more forthright and philosophically more interesting. It concedes that the infringement of Pales­tin­ian rights is inherent in estab­lishing and maintaining a Jewish state in Palestine. It claims, however, that this alone does not show Zionism to be in principle morally unacceptable. The infringement of others' rights is not always morally wrong since even strong rights claims are not absolute. On an absolut­ist view, there can never be consider­ations that justify infringing a right. For example, if freedom from unwanted experimentation were regarded as an absolute right, then it would be immoral to use a person in an experiment against her will even if the fate of the rest of the world were at stake. Most ethical theorists shrink from such absolutism.

In the same spirit, Zionists might concede the infringement of Palestinian rights but defend Zionism on the grounds that the infringement of rights was (or is) necessary for the protection of morally more weighty rights, such as the saving of human lives and the preser­vation of a culture threatened with destruc­tion. Determining the “weight” of rights is a notoriously diffi­cult matter, of course. I will not attempt to argue for or against the Zionist case but instead will set out what I think it needs to involve and then argue for two conclusions that are relevant to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, whether or not the Zionist defense is successful.

The Zionist argument appeals to two rights, the right of people to protect their own lives and the right of people to defend their own culture when it is threatened with destruction, as Jewish culture was threatened by European persecution culmi­nating in the Nazi genocide. The Zionist argument is that these rights outweigh the Palestin­ian rights that Zionism necessarily sacrific­es.

Even assuming that the two rights invoked by defenders of Zionism exist and have moral significance, the argument needs further clarification. First, there is the factual question of exactly which Pales­tin­ian rights Zionism infringes. Some argue that it is the right of Palestinians to live where they choose and suggest that the Jewish right to exist must take precedence. However, Palestinians would respond that Zionism, by defini­tion, implies not just the “transfer” of Palestinians from one place to another but the destruc­tion of the whole Palestinian way of life, partly because Palestinian culture is based on ties to a particular land. If Zionism implies the destruc­tion of Palestin­ian culture, its defender will need to show why the right of Jewish culture to survive outweighs the corre­spond­ing right of Palestinians.

Second, the right of Jews to protect their lives, to which Zionists appeal—even assuming that this right was (or is) at stake—is not identifiable with the right of self-defense as that right is generally understood. The right of self-defense is generally invoked to permit action to protect oneself from harm against the source of danger, not against a third party. Jewish lives and culture were originally threatened primarily by Europe­ans, not by Arabs, so Jewish actions against Arabs were not ordinary acts of self-defense.[29] In self-de­fense it is often thought that one may inflict slight­ly greater damage than the harm that is threat­ened.[30] However, when one argues in favor of action against a third party rather than against the original source of danger, one's burden of proof is significantly greater. A Zionist who depends on the claim that the Jewish rights at stake are “more weighty” than the Arab rights is in fact acknowledging this greater burden of proof.

The Zionist appeal to “more weighty” Jewish rights may take either an impartial perspective or rely on cultural partialism. In either case, a first premise might be:

1.   The infringement of Palestinian rights is necessary for satisfy­ing the rights of Jews to preserve their lives and their culture” (i.e., for fulfilling the Zionist project in Pales­tine).

The argument could then proceed in one of two ways.

Impartialist version

2a. Rights of other people may be infringed when it is necessary to do so in order to satisfy rights that are, objectively and impartially, more compelling.

3a. The rights of Jews to preserve their lives and their culture are, objectively and impartially, more compelling than the Palestinian rights that must be infringed.

Partialist version

2b. People in one's own culture are objects of special moral concern; therefore, the rights of people in other cultures may be infringed when it is necessary to do so in order to satisfy rights of one's own people that are impartially of at least nearly equal impor­tance.

3b. Jews are a culture, and the rights of Jews to preserve Jewish lives and Jewish culture are, impartially, at least of nearly equal importance to the Palestinian rights that must be infringed.

Again, for either of these arguments to be devel­oped, defenders of Zion­ism would need to show that the infringement of the Palestinian rights in question is necessary, and they would need to spell out which Palestinian rights are in fact infringed and to argue that the Jewish rights are either “more compelling” than the Palestinian rights (in the impartial version) or “at least of nearly equal importance” (in the partialist version).

Obviously the Zionist argument will be easier to make if some form of partialism can be defended, perhaps as part of accepting a “realistic” approach to morality. The partialist argument advanced here is a conservative one, permitting only a slight preference for people in one's own culture. And it is possi­ble that there may be sound, ultimately impar­tial arguments for a moderate partial­ist principle such as 2b above. For example, it is conceivable that people in a Rawlsian original position would choose such a principle.

Of course even if this Zionist defense is successful, it would justify only a conceptual Zionism, not the one that has actually been (and is still being) implemented. In fact, of course, many Jews have displaced Palestinians when neither their own lives nor their culture were at stake (especially since 1967). And much Palestinian land has been taken not in order to save Jewish lives or Jewish culture but to preserve a higher standard of liv­ing.[31] But the defender of the concept of Zionism need not defend these or any other particular actions any more than a defender of Christian­ity or Marxism needs to defend everything that has been done in its name. A contempo­rary Zionist can concede moral failings in Zionist history and current practice, yet defend a Zionism that “might have been.” More significant for the current crisis, a contemporary Zionist might concede even inher­ent flaws in Zionism but claim that a morally acceptable form of Zionism—that is, a morally acceptable form of Jewish statehood “somewhere in Palestine”—is still possible.

A Morally Acceptable Zionism

I would like to argue for two claims that apply directly to the contemporary conflict between Jews and Palestinians. First, even if the Zionist defense fails, some Jews may nonetheless now have a stronger moral claim to live in the land of Israel/Palestine than some Palestinians. Second, even if the Zionist defense suc­ceeds, Palestinian rights still have moral force and cannot now be ignored. This final claim leads in a direction that may help contribute to the development of a morally acceptable Zionism and holds larger lessons for nationalism in general.

First, imagine that the Jewish rights at stake do not out­weigh the Palestinian rights; for example, because it was (or is) not necessary for Zionists to infringe Palestinian rights in order to protect their lives and culture. Even if we inferred from this that Zionism is inherently flawed, it would not prove what some Palestinians want to claim, that all Palestinians and no (non-indigenous) Jews are morally entitled to live on the land of Palestine. Many Pales­tin­ians, including those who now favor “two states” as a political solution, want to claim that any Palestin­ian has a right to return to the land where his parent (or grandparent) was born, at least if his ancestors did not leave willingly. Yet there is an implied “statute of limita­tions” on this claim since they do not grant that Jews, who were forced out centuries ago, have the same moral right.

Clearly there is a significant moral difference between the claim of some Palestinians whose ancestors lived in Palestine for many recent centuries and the claim of Jews, most of whom must go back 2,000 years to establish a tie to the same land. But this difference does not establish that all Palestinians who want to go to Palestine have a right to do so and that no Diaspora Jews have that right.

The Palestinian argument for a right of all Palestinians to the land of Palestine is based on a special kind of tie, “being from” the area. But even assum­ing that moral claims to land are based on “being from” an area, there is no reason to think that Palestin­ian ancestral ties always give individual Palestinians a stronger claim than individual Jews to live in the land of Palestine. A typical Palestinian analogy goes like this:

Imagine that you live in a house, and someone comes from another place and takes your house by force. You have a moral right to reclaim the house that was taken from you.

Our intuitions are fairly clear in a case of this kind. But now imagine the following variation, which corresponds to some instances of conflict between Palestinian Arab and Jewish claims to land:

Your grandfather lived in a house. Someone from another place took that house by force, and your grandfather went to another place and established a house there. You were born in this other house. In the meantime, the person who took your grandfather's house maintained the house, farmed its land, and perhaps continued to improve it.

Whether or not you have a moral right to your grandfather's old house would seem to depend on a number of further considerations. Have you and your parents consistently pressed for a return to the house? Have you established a home elsewhere? Do you consider yourself a refugee or are you thriving in your present home? Are any of the current residents of the house responsible for the original theft and continuing to benefit from it?[32] One might conclude that there are some circumstances where the present resident of the house, who may know no other home, has a greater tie—and a greater moral claim—to that land than you do, even if it is granted that his ancestors acted wrongly in taking your grandfather's house. Thus, even if the defense of Zionism fails, that would not imply that Jews currently living in Israel have no right to do so or that all Palestinians have a right to return.

If the failure of the Zionist argument would not negate all current Jewish claims to live in Palestine, neither would the success of the Zionist argument negate all Palestinian claims. Though some descendants of Palestinians are thriving in other parts of the world, many Palestinians whose ancestors were forced off their land remain refugees, have not established new homes, and have made continuous efforts to reclaim their ancestors' land. These Palestinians, at least, do seem to have a strong claim based on “tie to land.” Moreover, though Jews currently living in Israel cannot be held accountable for human rights violations committed by their ancestors, many have not only failed to acknowledge those infringements but are implicated—especially in the occupied territo­ries—in infringements of Palestinian rights that are not unlike those of their ancestors.

If the moral defense of Zionism succeeds, it does so on the grounds that moral rights are not absolute and that what is at stake for Jews and Jewish culture outweighs the Palestinian rights that must be compromised. But just as it is reasonable to reject an absolutist view of rights and to be open to the possi­bility that rights infringements sometimes may be justified, another extreme view of rights also seems unacceptable. This is the view that when rights are overridden by morally more compel­ling consider­ations (such as other rights or avoiding truly disastrous conse­quences), in these cases rights lose all their moral force. This view would claim not only that it is morally right to experiment on a person against her will in order to save the rest of the world but would deny that the person experiment­ed on was in any way wronged or that any failure to respect a right even occurred. On this view, when it is necessary to override a moral right, there is nothing to regret and the person who acted is immune from moral criticism because she “did the right thing,” all things considered.

Judith Jarvis Thomson and Nancy Davis suggest a middle course between these two extreme views of rights;[33] namely, that there may be cases where it is appropriate to in­fringe a right, but infringing a right does not fully negate it. Thus even where the circumstances are such that it is morally appropriate to wrong people and to infringe their rights, these justifiable rights infringe­ments still leave “moral traces”; the infringement of rights, even in a morally permissible act, is not immune from serious moral criti­cism or the need to make redress. This view respects the com­plexity of moral life and has special relevance to the possibili­ty, today, of a morally acceptable Zionism.

Zionists might insist that a key to overcoming the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is for Palestinians to recognize that even if they will not concede the moral acceptability of past Zionist actions—indeed, even if those actions are not morally defensible—Palestinians should focus on the present and future and acknowledge the right of Jews to live as citizens in a state of Israel. But this second argument, which addresses the infringement of Palestinian rights, points to the challenge Zionists themselves confront both to achieve peace with Palestinians and to create the possibility of a morally defensible Zionism today. A morally defensible Zionism needs to acknowledge that even if the infringement of Palestinian rights can be justified (a difficult task, as discussed above), those rights are not totally negated, the in­fringement of those rights leaves “moral traces,” and restitution is due to those whose rights have been infringed.

The lesson is a larger one with important implications for nationalism in general. Even within the framework of a realistic approach to morality, states and peoples may reasonably be required to come to terms with the dark episodes of their histories. Probably all nations have them, and in his classic statement on nationalism, Renan suggests that collective amnesia has been endemic to nationalism:

Forgetting, I would even go so far as to say historical error, is a crucial factor in the creation of a nation, which is why progress in historical studies often constitutes a danger for [the principle of] nationality. Indeed, historical enquiry brings to light deeds of violence which took place at the origin of all political formations…[34]

Renan claims, further, that a heroic past and the memory of past glory are “the social capital upon which one bases a national idea.”[35]

For any people, especially a people with a long history as victims of persecution, to acknowledge having also been victimizers requires a transformation of national identity that may be even deeper than Renan imagined. But if Zionism and nationalism generally are to be morally acceptable, they must overcome Renan’s dicta. There is much that can be said, still in the spirit of a realistic morality, about the need to develop institutions and practices to remember and teach the truth about the less glorious—indeed, the most shameful—elements of a nation’s past.[36] Many countries, including Germany, South Africa, and the United States, have made efforts toward this end.

For Israel and for Zionism there are two kinds of requirements that come with acknowledging infringement of Palestinian rights as part of Israel’s history. One is to make restitution to the Palestinians; for example, by paying reparations to Palestinian refugees, perhaps by means of grants to a Palestinian state. The other requirement is for Israeli Jews to engage in public acts, using the results of recent historical studies to overcome forgetting. These would be acts of national self-examination, but they would also have great significance for Palestinians, including Palestinian Israeli citizens. They include teaching in Israeli schools the truth about the destruction of Arab villages in Israel after its War of Independence[37] and creating public memorials and commemorative holidays for Palestinian victims.[38] Through such acts Israel can take an important step toward a morally acceptable Zionism by transforming its relationship both to its own past and, in the present, to the Palestinian people.


I presented versions of this essay at the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and at Philosophy Colloquia at the University of Colorado-Boulder and the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. I am grateful for the comments of Anton Shammas, Carl Cohen, and Holly Arida (University of Michigan-Ann Arbor); Paul Hughes (University of Michigan-Dearborn); Sanford Kessler (North Carolina State University); Nancy Davis (University of Colorado-Boulder); Ibrahim Dawud (Jerusalem); and Bashshar Haydar and Muhammad Ali Khalidi (American University of Beirut).

Author Information

Elias Baumgarten is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Michigan-Dearborn; Research Associate at the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; and a member of two ethics committees at the University of Michigan Health System.

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[1] However, this is a legitimate topic of ongoing debate. Margarit and Raz accept the assumption that in the current international system, self-determination is achieved through statehood. Yael Tamir (and others) suggests the need to develop more local associations. See Avishai Margalit and Joseph Raz, “National Self-Determination,” Journal of Philosophy 87 (September 1990 ), p. 441 and Yael Tamir, Liberal Nationalism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993),  pp. 140-167.

[2] The ethical literature on partiality and impartiality is extensive. See, for example, John Cottingham, “Ethics and Impartiality,” Philosophical Studies 43 (1983): 83-99 and “Partiality, Favouritism and Morality,” The Philosophical Quarterly 36: 357-373.

[3] Jeff McMahan and Thomas Hurka both discuss the ethics of nationalism in the context of different forms of partiality. See Jeff McMahan, “The Limits of National Partiality,” The Morality of Nationalism, ed. Robert McKim and Jeff McMahan (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 107-138, and in the same volume, Thomas Hurka, “The Justification of National Partiality,” pp. 139-157.

[4]“What Is So Special about Our Fellow Countrymen?,” Ethics 98 (July 1988): 663-686.

[5] Tamir, Liberal Nationalism, p. 69.

[6] Muhammad Ali Khalidi, “Formulating the Right of National Self-Determination,” Philosophical Perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, ed. Tomis Kapitan (Armonk, NY and London, England: M.E. Sharpe, 1997), pp. 71-2.

[7] Charles Beitz distinguishes between an intermediate level and a foundational level for justifying the claim that “compatriots take priority.” See “Cosmopolitan Ideals and National Sentiment,” Journal of Philosophy 80 (1983): 593-599. Alan Gewirth argues for certain forms of particularism on ultimately impartial grounds in “Ethical Universalism and Particu­larism,” The Journal of Philosophy 85 (June 1988): 283-302.

[8] Tamir, p. 69.

[9] Khalidi, p. 72.

[10] Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, (Basic Books, 1977), pp. 53-74 and 86-108.

[11] Hurka, p. 148, considers important the distinction between partiality toward the good of one’s fellow nationals and partiality toward the “impersonal” good of a flourishing culture, apart from any effects on individuals. Cultural nationalism generally sees the role of the state, and of people acting on behalf of the state or of a movement to gain a state, as favoring one culture over others because of the benefits that the flourishing of a particular culture has for individuals participating in it.

[12] Paul Gomberg argues for the related claim that individual action favoring co-nationals is morally equivalent to racism. See “Patriotism is Like Racism,” Ethics 101 (October 1990): 146-150. In contrast Andrew Oldenquist, attempts to defend civic loyalty and to distinguish it from racism and illegitimate nationalism in “Loyalties,” 146-150 Journal of Philosophy 79 (April 1982).

[13] Walzer, 53-73; Tamir, Liberal Nationalism, p. 72-77. Also see Tamir, “The Right to Self-Determination,” Philosophical Perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, pp. 59-60.

[14] Tamir, p. 73.

[15] “Realistic and Idealistic Approaches to the Ethics of Migration,” International Migration Review 30 (Spring 1996): 156-170.

[16] Carens, pp. 157-8.

[17] From the standpoint of a realistic approach to morality, protection from persecution is a powerful argument for a people’s claim to self-determination. Alan Gewirth argues that the long history of persecution of Jews provides the justification for the idea of Israel as a Jewish state. See “The Moral Status of Israel,” Philosophical Perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, ed. Tomis Kapitan (Armonk, NY and London, England: M.E. Sharpe, 1997), p 101.

[18]Stanley Bates discusses how experiences of pride and shame connect a person to a community. See “My Lai and Vietnam: The Issues of Responsibility,” in Peter A. French, ed., Individual and Collective Responsibility: The Massacre at My Lai (Cambridge, MA: Schenkman Publishing Company, 1972), pp. 156-57.

[19]In fact, Zionism excludes those who fail to embrace Judaism, which is usually, but not always, a matter of ancestry.

[20]My own personal view, based on travel in Israel/Palestine, is that there are three main “ways of life” in the area: Jewish fundamentalism, Muslim fundamentalism, and secular, democratic Arab-Jewish “Palestinianism” (for lack of a better term). Since the majority in Israel/Palestine share the third way of life, my own ethical ideal would be for it to be the basis for a unified national liberation movement. However, it is crucial to point out that people in the area do not experience themselves this way, and it is the people's own experience of their identities, not that of an outsider, that is the appropriate basis for determining “peoplehood” and the boundaries for genuine political self-determination. It would be a pointless form of “idealistic” morality to disregard the actual way people experience their national identities.

[21] Muhammad Ali Khalidi considers several other possible ways for drawing territorial boundaries, including the idea that certain geographical regions form "natural" autonomous units. He criticizes this notion and treats more sympathetically the principle that "every region should be independent in which a majority of the population so desire, and in case of dispute, the group inhabiting the smallest such geographical region is the one that is given priority." See Khalidi, pp. 79ff.

[22] This point was raised by Bashshar Haidar of the American University of Beirut.

[23] It is perhaps interesting to speculate about the course of Jewish history had Jews settled on land to which they felt no special ancestral tie. Jewish settlers might have wanted more of Uganda than they originally possessed for its minerals, water, or other resources, but they would not claim it as the land given to their ancestors.

[24] In fact Jews had lived continuously in the land of Palestine, although often as a small minority.

[25]A thorough treatment of the dispossession of Palestin­ians and of the decision to destroy Arab villages can be found in Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987). Benny Morris, an Israeli journalist and historian, based this study on declassified Israeli, British, and American documents. Also see, by the same author, Righteous Victims : A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1998 (Knopf, 1999).

[26]See, for example, U.S. Department of State, Israel and the Occupied Territories
Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998
<http://www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/1998_hrp_report/israel.html>; Human Rights Watch, World Report 1999: Israel, The Occupied West Bank, Gaza Trip, and Palestinian Authority Territories, <http://www.hrw.org/worldreport99/mideast/israel.html>; and publications of B’tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories <http://www.btselem.org/btselem/>.

[27]Israel Zangwill, The Voice of Jerusalem (London: William Heinemann, 1920), p. 88. But Zangwill did  not advocate that Jews imitate their forefathers’ behavior. In fact he assumed that Jews, as an ethical people, would never do so.

[28]Reported in Ha'aretz, April 1969.

[29]See, for example, Amos Elon (a mainstream liberal Zionist), The Israelis: Fathers and Sons (Tel Aviv: Adam Publishers, 1981), p. 22: “The Arabs bore no responsibility for the centuries-long suffering of Jews in Europe; yet, in the end, the Arabs were punished because of it.”

[30]See, for example, Jane English, “Abortion and the Concept of a Person,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 5 (October 1975): 237-239. “How severe an injury may you inflict in self defense?. . .our laws and customs seem to say that you may create an injury somewhat, but not enormously, greater than the injury to be avoided. To fend off an attack whose outcome would be as serious as rape, a severe beating, or the loss of a finger, you may shoot; to avoid having your clothes torn, you may blacken an eye” (p. 237).

[31]See, for example, Martin Buber, “A Protest Against Expropri­ation of Arab Lands,” letter to Joseph Sprinzak, Speaker of the Knesset, March 7, 1953, in Paul R. Mendes-Flohr, ed., A Land of Two Peoples: Martin Buber on Jews and Arabs (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), p. 262. “We know well, however, that in numerous cases [Arab] land is expropri­ated not on grounds of security, but for other reasons, such as expansion of existing settlements, etc. . . .In some densely populated villages two-thirds and even more of the land have been seized. As Jews and citizens of the State of Israel, we find it our duty to cry out against a proposed law which will add no honor to the Jewish people.” [The law was adopted 3 days later.]

[32] See Khalidi, p. 92.

[33]See Nancy Davis, “Rights and Moral Theory: A Critical Review of Judith Thomson's Rights, Restitution, and Risk,” Ethics 98 (July 1988): 806-826. Davis is not herself an advocate of a theory of rights and claims that the requirement to compensate those injured may apply more generally to actions that are, “all things considered,” the right ones.

[34] Ernest Renan, “What Is a Nation?” in Becoming National: A Reader, ed. Geoff Eley and Ronald Grigor Suny (New York: Oxford Univeristy Press, 1996), p. 45.

[35] Renan, p. 52.

[36] See, for example, Martha Minow, Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History After Genocide and Mass Violence (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998).

[37] New school textbooks are beginning to do exactly this, relying on work of historical studies of the kind Renan warned may threaten nationalism. According to The New York Times, “instead of portraying the early Zionists as pure, peace-loving pioneers who fell victim to Arab hatred, the new historians focus on the early leaders’ machinations to build an iron-walled Jewish state regardless of the consequences for non-Jews living here.” “Israel’s History Textbooks Replace Myths With Facts,” August 13, 1999, p. A5.

[38] The “Deir Yassine Remembered” project is one such attempt. See <http://www.deiryassin.org/>