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Getting beyond Zionism and anti-Zionism

People discussing the Israeli-Palestinian issue must choose whether they are Zionists or not, whether they reject Jewish self-determination or embrace Jewish supremacy. This is the way things are and have always been, but it is not how things have to be in the future

Some people believe that Zionism is no longer relevant. Its historic purpose was for Jews to immigrate to the holy land and found a sovereign state there; and this mission, by and large, has been accomplished. This, however, is the view of a minority within a minority. For both its supporters and its opponents, Zionism is not only relevant; it has become the ultimate criteria for acceptance or rejection of people, groups and even positions.

The Old Testament tells of a civil war between Jews, in which one faction took control of the crossing over the Jordan River. In order to tell friend from foe, all who passed were forced to pronounce the word Shibboleth. Those who pronounced it in the rival faction’s accent were killed. Although the sanction is milder (in most cases), today, the closest thing to a Shibboleth is one’s allegiance or opposition to Zionism.

Fervent Zionists often say that they can accept any heretical position, as long as it falls within the Zionist camp. For them, labeling someone as non-Zionist is the ultimate pejorative. Anti-Zionists, for their part, often see anyone identifying with Zionism as beyond the pale. But what is much more worrying is that both sides of this debate agree not just on Zionism’s importance, but also on its meaning and implications.

Zionism is associated with two ideas. First, Jews have the right of self-determination as a nation. Second, Jews should enjoy supremacy over all other groups within a Jewish state. Remarkably, Zionism’s adherents as well as its detractors believe that these notions are inextricably tied together. Zionists will argue that anyone who believes all Israelis should be equal, without any preference for Jews, is thereby rejecting Jews’ right for self-determination. And anti-Zionists warn that anyone who endorses Jewish self-determination is legitimizing discrimination of non-Jews.

You are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. But you are also damned if you neither do nor don’t. If you believe both in the right of Jews for self-determination, and in full equality within Israel, you will be shunned by all sides. They will ask: are you a Zionist or are you not?

One can point to Israel’s declaration of independence, which formally embraces both notions. Alternatively, ways can be shown in which equality and Jewish self-determination can be combined. Nonetheless, the way this debate is structure is not arbitrary. The connection between Jewish self-determination and Jewish supremacy is historically and factually valid.

From the first moment Zionists came to the Holy Land and “discovered” Palestinians there, to their dismay, they have been convinced that predominance is the key to attaining their national goals. This has been enshrined in myriad Zionist and Israeli policies ever since. Palestinians, on their part, were certain that Jewish self-determination would spell their ruin. And these mutually reinforcing beliefs have proven both of them to be correct.

Maybe it could have been different. I would certainly like to think so. But I have no doubt things can be different now. Jews are a majority within Israel. The country will always reflect their national character, and will always express their symbols and national identity. A variety of policies can be changed, in terms of symbolism as well as regarding concrete distribution of resources, to end discrimination and give a prominent place to Palestinian national identity, without casting aside the Jewish one.

Jews, as a group, will lose their privileged place. But in this process of iconic and material redistribution, most Jews can actually benefit, because right now the Jewish cultural and economic capital is concentrated in the hands of a small minority within the Jewish population. Democratizing Jewishness should and can be a part in democratizing the country for both its national groups.

Does this make me a Zionist or a non-Zionist? I don’t think so. It does, however, make me an incurable optimist. Tar me in feathers for that, and not for some Shibboleth that stands in the way of serious debate.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Raed Kami

      The only way to cut the gordian knot is for people like you to repudiate your citizenship and move. The act of retaining israeli citizenship is by itself an aggressive act against the Palestinian people. It is not enought to say you are not a zionist. Live the anti-zionist dream

      Reply to Comment
    2. Kibbutznik

      Raed that is not going to happen no matter how many times you suggest it .
      Learning to live together.. now that we can do .

      Reply to Comment
    3. Shahaf Ifhar

      The concept of true importance in a discussion about Zionism today is not self-determination, but democracy. In the context of nation-states, Zionism is by definition and consequence anti-democratic for any society that is not purely-Jewish (i.e. any and every society), and therefore the solution you are suggesting is well within the framework of what I would call Anti-Zionism. I would question the idea that this term and position creates a binary of extremes responsible for political stagnation in the Israeli public – however, that we need to move beyond the language of Zionism so that a democratic movement can prosper, I can concede.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Raed, if all who agree with Roi remove themselves from Israel, there will be much less holding back aggression against the Palestinians. We wouldn’t gain much from that.
      Israel’s politics in recent years shows that even while racism grows and democracy is weakened, public opinion about policy can still shift in a positive direction (take, for example, the two-state solution being embraced by the mainstream). It’s vital to engage in public discussion about these things from within Israel, as well as internationally.

      It’s not easy to be in favor of equality in Israel. I respect Roi and everyone like him tremendously for sticking to it and not just giving up and leaving.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Waleed

      Judasim is a religion , you dont inherent your religion.I am sorry to say that but the majority of Jews arent even semite.
      Any “group” of people have the right of what you call “self-determination”, but not at the expense of others.
      Zionism is a jewish movement , but Judaism is a religion , two different entities .

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ex Israeli

      The trouble is no one really knows (or wants to know) what is the real meaning of the term ‘Zionism’ today. Its just too scary to find out.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Arlosoroff

      Why is it scary ex-israeli.

      the terms “real” meaning is open to be shaped by any who appropriate it.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Ex Israeli

      Arlosoroff,
      I disagree. This is a basically a logical, observable, factual question, therefore should yield a pretty objective answer.
      (A similar question might be, for example: What is really the meaning of the RSPCA today? However the expected answer in this case is not a scary one)

      Reply to Comment
    9. Rabbi Tony Jutner

      As a staunch anti-zionist, I must agree with Raed. There is no place in Palestine for both colonialist and victim. The land cannot sustain both populations. According to the tenets of NewJudaism, the most popular form of Judaism in the 21st century, we can all have our own personal Jerusalems wherever we live. San Francisco is my Jerusalem. Leave Palestine to the Palestinians

      Reply to Comment
    10. Waleed

      To Rabbi Jurner ,

      I am a Palestinian but I cant agree with you or Raed.
      Its impossibe to ask 6 million people to pack and leave,unless you want to handle it as Zionists did in 1948.
      However , its possible to resettle thousands of Israelis gradually , but the problem is those who maybe willing to leave are the ones who dont endanger the existence of Palestinians.The first biggest problem is the settlers and those who support them in Tel-Aviv.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Joe America

      You begin with a delusional logical fallacy, namely that Zionism represents “Jewish self-determination.”

      WRONG.

      It represents the self-determination of some Jews, but not all. While Zionists and their Occupation Government like to promote this idea of Zionism and Judaism being one and the same, all the hasbara in the world won’t make it so.

      So starting off with this logical fallacy shows that you haven’t cast off your inner Zionist; or to put it another way, your inner racist. Zionism is racism, simple and plain. Motherfuck Sharon and Meir Kahane.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Y.

      There is nothing equal or reasonable about here. Roi’s idea is basically to have a partition into a Palestinian nation state and a binational state. If he wants a binational state, than we might as well use the entire territory. If he wants a partition, than there’s little reason not to have two nation states, nor is there reason to believe what is allowed for one is disallowed for another (unless one is uncomfortable with Zionism). This “solution” comes close to giving Jews the worst of both “one state” and “two state” solutions.

      Reply to Comment
    13. O.Selsnik

      Joe, didn’t your mother hug you when you were little?

      all of your ideas are violent. no constructive solution at all. there is a new reality in Israel/Palentine of 2011, and its not the same one of 1948.

      So my suggestion to you is to wake up and smell the coffee – no one is going anywhere. 6 mil jews and 6 mil palestinians are sort of stuck together.

      let me ask you this – if we take it as an axiom that jewish population cant be moved (just for a thought exercise..) – what solution would you have for the conflict? or according to your logic there would never be an end to bloodshed?

      Reply to Comment
    14. Sharon

      I would suggest those who have written comments here educate themselves about the relationship between double standards regarding Israel and antisemitism. Particularly when one calls oneself “Joe America” and suggests that Israelis go back where their ancestors came from (the same thing I was told growing up in the US – ‘go back to Jewland’) and his refusal to consider doing the same thing himself.

      Reply to Comment

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