Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin: The negation of exile

The Negation of Exile and Zionist Consciousness

by Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin

In Israel, the negation of exile is the central concept behind the major characteristics of consciousness, the conception of history, collective memory, and politics. This concept should be considered in the context of its corollary, ‘the return to history’, as claimed by the ‘Zionist enterprise’. These two concepts are not identical, but they combine with and complement one another in defining the self-perception of Zionism and the State of Israel.

The negation of exile is not the negation of the diverse forms of Jewish existence over the course of history, but the negation of their historicity. It comes from the desire to define the collectivity of Jews as a national collectivity in the modern sense of the term, to present Jewish history as a national history, and to write the national history of the Jews. Jews obviously do not have a common history – even if they shared many things in common: it might be said that they form an ‘imaginary community’. However, this community was formed on the basis of a law: not on the basis of a common history, but – on the contrary – on the basis of a denial of history.

To write the history of the Jews as a national history, as the history of the victors, they had to be isolated from the context they lived in – in other words, from the languages, cultural systems, and cultural representations that had allowed for the elaboration of their lives: these were all reduced to an unimportant shell. What was defined as the historicisation of Jews was in fact their de-historicisation, a process of contextual eradication that stems directly from an adherence to the anti-Semitic concept of a Jew lacking in context.

The negation of history was applied to the history of all Jews, to both their history in Europe and in the Islamic world, but the implications for Jews from Muslim countries were much more serious because Zionist discourse, by defining itself as European, took on a distinctly Orientalist aspect. The transformation of Jewish consciousness brought about by the negation of exile adapts Jewish concepts to the modern concept of history through an explicit identification with the West and an opposition to the East.

Paradoxically, when a Jew left Europe to settle in the East, this expressed his transformation and the fact that he belonged to the West. Zionism adopted principles that allowed European culture to define itself by maintaining a distance between itself and the Jews. In general, all aspects of the concept of the negation of exile constitute the negation of anything considered Oriental in the Jew. If Eastern Jews were included neither in the Zionist perspective nor in the definition of the Jewish people, this is because Zionist ideology was born in Europe and its objective was the de-Orientalisation of the Jews.

The notion of Orientalism (in the sense coined by Edward Saïd: the East viewed by the West) is fundamental for understanding both Zionism and the potential that lies in connecting concepts of exile and bi-nationalism. Since Israeli national consciousness is based on a combination of theology and Orientalism, its critique is grounded in the search for an alternative to these two dimensions. The concept of bi-nationalism, that is, of the aspiration to form a bond between Jews and Arabs, is directly opposed to the foundations of a consciousness that sets them up as two sides of a contradiction.

From: Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin: „Exil et souveraineté. Judaïsme, sionisme et pensée binationale“, La fabrique, Paris, 2007