The First Aliyah and Historical Memory of Jewish Settlement in Israel/Palestine with Liora R. Halperin

Liora Halperin joins us to discuss her book The Oldest Guard: Forting the Zionist Settler Past, and the broader issues it raises about the history of Zionist settlement in Israel and Palestine, historical memory, and why it all matters. Listen in as we dive into the history and memory of the early Zionist movement, and the ways in which it has shaped the discourse and debates over more than a century.

You can read an excerpt of The Oldest Guard here.

Liora R. Halperin is Associate Professor of International Studies and History, and Distinguished Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies, at the University of Wshington in Seattle. THE OLDEST GUARD is her latest book, published in 2021; and she is also the author of BABEL IN ZION: JEWS, NATIONALISM, AND LANGUAGE DIVERSITY IN PALESTINE, 1920–1948.

One comment

  1. That’s a very interesting interview. However, I just don’t think that the mere use of the word “colonization” (which is not the same as “colonialism”) proves the colonialist intentions of the Zionist movement (at least not by the time of the 2nd aliyah). The meaning of words changes over time. The word “Islamist” was used in the 19th Century to refer to all Muslims. It obviously has a different meaning nowadays. The term “social democrat” was used to refer to Marxists at the beginning of the 20th Century. It is now used to designate the centre-left of the political spectrum.

    Both Borochov and Katznelson (the leading thinkers of the 2nd and the 3rd aliyah) stressed that Zionism was a colonization movement devoid of colonialism (colonization + imperialist ideology). The Jewish Colonization Association purchased land in many countries, including the US, Canada, and Argentina to establish “colonies”. What’s more, the NYT referred to the “Jewish colony” of New York. People still talk about colonizing the moon!

    There is good reason to argue that Zionism has many colonial features. However, the terminological argument is rather moot.
    In the debate over the colonialist nature of Zionism (or lack thereof), there are usually three schools of thought: 1) those who argue that Zionism is a pure form of colonialism 2) those who reject this claim outright, and 3) those who reject this binary dichotomy and argue that this claim is both partly true and partly untrue, as there are many similarities between Israel and European settler colonies, but also significant differences.

    Zionists settled in a land inhabited by other people, but they did not wish to establish a master-slave relationship with the Arabs (except for the 1st aliyah). In 1913, the Zionist movement sent a representative to attend the First Arab National Congress in Paris. Zionist authorities officially advocated “parity” in government (which is a form of binationalism) between Jews and Arabs until the mid-1930s, and later, they called for partition. It shows that they had no desire of establishing a “hierarchical” relationship with the Palestinians. Even Jabotinsky wanted the Jewish state to have a binational structure with a rotation between a Jewish Prime Minister and an Arab deputy. There was no power sharing system in European settler colonies between settlers and natives.

    I’m currently reading Halpern’s book that I find fascinating. But while I think that the concept of settler-colonialism is adequate to depict the mindset of the 1st aliyah, it is quite simplistic (although not 100% inaccurate to depict that of the Second aliyah).


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