If I Am Not For Myself is a passionate, thought-provoking exploration of what it means to be Jewish in the twenty-first century. It traces the author’s upbringing in 1960s Jewish-American suburbia, his anti-war and pro-Palestinian activism on the British left, and life as a Jew among Muslims in Pakistan, Morocco, and Britain. Interwoven with this are the experiences of his grandfather’s life in Jewish New York of the 1930s and 40s, his struggles with anti-Semitism and the twists and turns that led him from anti-fascism to militant Zionism. In the course of this deeply personal story, Marqusee refutes the claims of Israel and Zionism on Jewish loyalty and laments their impact on the Jewish diaspora. Rather, he argues for a richer, more multi-dimensional understanding of Jewish history and identity, and reclaims vital political and personal space for those castigated as “self-haters” by the Jewish establishment.
Marqusee's account of his formation as an anti-Zionist most earns readers' interest when recounting the activist life of his grandfather Edward V. Morand, a progressive, and largely pro-Zionist, Jew, active in New York City politics from the 1930s through the early 1950s. Marqusee (Anyone but England), an American-British journalist, is less successful in addressing his antipathy to Zionism. The author repeatedly invokes the shibboleths of the anti-Zionist left, such as the idea that Zionism is marked by a "settler-colonial ideology." Marqusee addresses Zionist history and Israel's conduct as though Zionism were a monolithic movement concerned only with dispossessing Palestinians of their land. His reading seems equally one-sided: he cites works by other anti-Zionist Jews, but nothing by a major Zionist thinker or even by revisionist Israeli historians like Tom Segev. He also characterizes the PLO as "building a nation on the ground, reaching across a diaspora, reaching out to the victims of colonialism everywhere" a "stunning achievement" that, he says, not even internal corruption could stain. In critiquing his grandfather's pro-Zionist stance, Marqusee writes that Morand's views were "rooted... in a network of unexamined assumptions." Some would consider Marqusee's writing on Zionism and Israel guilty of the same.