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Zionist Neutral? The Sardonic Zionism of Yeshayahu Leibowitz and Ovadia Yosef

Netta Schramm discusses the (non-ideological) "think Zionism" stances of two leading Israeli figures.


From the Oxford University Israel Studies Seminar, December 29, 2022.



Back in the days when the Israeli labour party enjoyed its dominance, two prominent agenda-setters in Israel shared an unpopular position: Zionism does not define nor embody Judaism. Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, two Orthodox Jews affiliated with different social and religious milieus, were unhappy about the theological overtones existing in most, or even all, streams of Zionism. They devoted their lifework to shaping and critiquing Israeli social and p olitical policies because of religious sentiments. But Leibowitz and Yosef also refused to turn their “thin” Zionism into a strong ideology. In previous accounts of their positions, Leibowitz is hailed as the first post-Zionist, and Yosef is signaled as the architect of a Mizrahi, Haredi, and Zionist statism. However, turning to their sermons, lectures, and interviews and paying attention to the vocal registers of Leibowitz’s irony and Yosef’s parody shows both these assumptions seem inaccurate. The Iraqi-born Chief Rabbi and the Ostjuden science professor preferred to stick to sardonic statements and even used the same line of arguments (“we are fed up of being ruled by goyim,” as Lebowitz put it) to walk the tightrope between adamant Zionists and anti-Zionists. To sum up, their “pro-zionist” talk was closer to “Zionist neutral” than was previously supposed.


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