"On the right side of the Barricades": Walter Benjamin, Gershom Scholem, and Zionism

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The main intention of this essay is to use Walter Benjamin's insights in his "On the Concept of History" as a critical tool for examining Zionist discourse. Specifically, the theses provide a vector for reading the perception of Zionism as reflected in the writings of Benjamin's close friend Gershom Scholem, the great scholar of Jewish mysticism and messianism. Scholem may be seen both as the object of the critical reading offered in this essay and its inspiration. On the one hand, Scholem was among those who participated in the construction of the Zionist metahistorical narrative, even if his contribution took a uniquely complex and sophisticated form. I read Benjamin's theses against Scholem's perspective, particularly his attempt to distinguish Zionism as a manifestation of "redemption," the "utopian return," and messianism. On the other hand, Scholem himself signals towards this critical stance. His writings from the 1920s, in which he advanced the idea of bi-nationalism in Palestine, suggest an alternative discourse that gives a concrete meaning to Benjamin's reflections written more than a decade later. An exilic perception of Benjamin can be actualized according to Scholem's early principles, for a process of remembrance oriented towards the Palestinian victims of redemption. In this context, the way to reveal the Jewish exilic consciousness is through the words of the victim of the "utopian return," through the words of Mahmoud Darwish, the great Palestinian poet.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)363-381
Number of pages19
JournalComparative Literature
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


Dive into the research topics of '"On the right side of the Barricades": Walter Benjamin, Gershom Scholem, and Zionism'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this