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The Zionism debate: When colonialism is embedded in liberalism

A response to Larry Derfner’s defense of liberal Zionism

By Abir Kopty

A piece posted earlier today by Larry Derfner, written in response to Joseph Dana, contains typical Zionist arguments, which normally do not prompt me to respond, except that this time, he called them “liberal Zionist” arguments. Honestly, I don’t know what is liberal about them.

What Larry fails to see is that there is no such thing as extremist and liberal Zionism, or hard-core and light Zionism. Zionism is not about what you choose to think. Zionists are part of a colonialist ideology and movement that operates through institutions. Make no mistake, it’s not a vague term. It’s an ideology that has committed crimes against Palestinians and continues to inherently give Jews elite privileges over Palestinians, whether inside Israel, or in the West Bank – including East Jerusalem – and Gaza. Even in exile.

No matter how hard you try to lend it a degree of liberalism, what matters is the implementation of this ideology on the ground.

The reason people like Larry find themselves obliged to defend Zionism is that he and many others view it as “the right to exist” on this land. Larry assumes that if Israel stopped being a Jewish state, this “will bring on the exodus of the Jews.” Anything uttered against Zionism feeds right into this paradigm – a threat to Jewish existence. It takes a lot of courage and effort to disconnect the two concepts.

On the right of return, Larry was honest in expressing the attitude of Zionism as practiced in concrete ways: neither on a practical ground nor on moral ground would he agree to the right of return. (The moral ground here being related to the Zionist narrative of what happened during the Nakba in 1948.)

I won’t argue with Larry’s narrative on why the Palestinian right of return should be denied, because I’m not in favor of turning the argument into one between competing narratives. I would rather argue on the moral ground.

While Larry admits in his piece that the Palestinians are the native people of this land, he defies universal values in his position on the right of native people to return to their homes.

Larry is actually telling us that because they “started the war,” Palestinians deserve to live for the rest of their lives in exile. Amazing hypothesis! Let us assume that is true. Shall we go through history and examine the many cases of nations who were at war, but were allowed back to their homes when it ended?

In addition, I would like to ask Larry directly: what will you do if a given country decides today that the land of “Israel” belongs to its nation, and brings its people to occupy and ethnically cleanse those who have lived here for 60 years. Would you, your friends and colleagues stay home?

I respect the honesty of Larry. He puts it very clearly and straightforwardly. The “Jewish majority has to stay solid.”  I will maintain the same honestly and reject his generous offer to allow for only a limited number of refugees to return.

Zionism has created a constant obsession with demographic calculations, when it’s better to be obsessed with creating a moral ground that is good for all. Unfortunately, morals and Zionism do not go together.

Abit Kopty is a political and feminist activist and blogger. Her blog, where this piece was initially posted, can be viewed here. Follow her on Twitter at @abirkopty.

Related posts on +972:
Response to Joseph Dana: A case for liberal Zionism
A sad commentary on the state of liberal Zionist discourse
+972 readers weigh in on Zionism debate

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    1. Bosko

      It is even apparent from the attitudes of people like you who seem to want to parrot THEIR narrative. It worked and still works like this…
      You guys (and they) accuse the Jews of being interlopers.
      You (and they) then use that as an excuse for them to try to stop (or nowdays – to reverse) the idea of the Jewish state.
      A war ensued which cannot be ended as long as you guys persist with the idea of denying the Jewish people their state.
      Only bad things arise out of that for both peoples.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Berl

      Your wrote the following: “There was no such thing as a “Palestinian” identity”. It is written. And I answered that this is a lie. And I was speaking about the PAST, like you did, not the about present. So please, be more careful when you claim baseless theories.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Berl

      if you can answer to my points with arguments. Keep personal considerations for yourself.
      I don’t have anything against Israel. I am against people that try to downplay the price that the Palestinians paid.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ben Israel

      If it makes you happy for me to say that there was a “Palestinian” idenity in the past, so be it. It is totally irrelevant to the point that I was making about them not having exclusive sovereign rights over the country. I have no idea why this whole matter is so sensitive that people fly off the handle when it is raised. One could argue that there is no unique Palestinian national identity and still claim Israel should not control the West Bank. Obviously this touches some very raw nerves somewhere in some people, both Jews and Palestinians.
      Howver, you did not related to my question as to why the Palestinians objected to being separated from Syria after World War I.

      Reply to Comment
    5. BERL

      I don’t know if you do it on purpose or if you really don’t know these issues. In any case I provide you the answer and I stop here because i don’t have time to loose:
      “During the war [WWI], Arab nationalists cooperated with Sharif Hussein and his sons in order to have an Arab kingdom. The Palestinians, who were part of this ideology, thought at that time, tactically, that it would be in their interest to be part of the Faisal kingdom in the Bilad al-Sham. That’s why it is the only two years [1918-1920] during which they speak about Palestine as Southern Syria or the kingdom of Faisal. After Faisal is kicked out of Damascus, the next conference doesn’t speak about being part of Syria or the kingdom of Feisal. In the summer of 1920 the episode is finished”.

      Reply to Comment
    6. BERL

      PS for BEN ISRAEL,
      “I have no idea why this whole matter is so sensitive that people fly off the handle when it is raised”.
      I tell u why. Because if you claim that there was not any palestinian identity you can also state that the Palestinian could just move in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, because they are just the same people. So please, don’t behave as if you come from the moon.
      Israel has all the right to exists and the Jewish people has all the right to feel safe in its own state. But this cannot justify your attempt to deny the rights and the sufferance of the Palestinian people. They paid the price so that your dream could become true. They don’t deserve also to be treated as if they did not exist

      Reply to Comment
    7. Bosko

      Berl …
      “I am against people that try to downplay the price that the Palestinians paid”
      I am not one of those people. However, I am a person who does say that the Palestinian Arabs paid that price because of their unwillingness to accept a Jewish state in part of Palestine. Instead of unjustifiably claiming ALL of Palestine and making war, they should have recognized the rights of the Jewish people too.
      Oh and by the way, the Jewish people too paid a heavy price because of the war that the Palestinian Arabs have been waging against the Jewish Palestinians.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Dan Kelso

      IN 1948, no Palestinian state was invaded or destroyed to make way for the establishment of Israel. From biblical times, when this territory was the state of the Jews, to its control by the British army at the end of World War I, Palestine had never existed as a entity.
      In 1948 if the Jews had lost the war, their territory would not have been handed over to the Palestinians.
      Rather, it would have been divided among the invading Arab forces, for the simple reason that none of the region’s Arab regimes viewed the Palestinians as a distinct nation. The Arabs viewed the Palestinians are recent Arab immigrants from Syria and Egypt.

      The real Palestinians are the Palestinian Jews. The Palestinian Jews lived there before the Palestinian Arab Moslems came invading, murdering Jews in Medina and everywhere en route.

      Zionism is not racism. Zionism is a political movement against Moslem racism.

      The Jewish land mass of Arabia which 1/640 the size of the land mass of Arabia on which it sits, absorbed about 700,000 Jews from Arab countries is among the most significant yet little known injustices against humanity of the past century.

      Reply to Comment
    9. BERL

      DAN KELSO,
      Please read the previous comments and don’t write baseless arguments:
      The fact that there was not a “state” or that Jerusalem was not the “capital” of this state…ect…ect.. is simply because these are concepts that had a value in the Western world and no one in loco. Indigenous people identified themselves in other ways. Should I write you which ways or you can do a research by yourself?
      There was for sure a Palestinian identity although not fully developed. If you read Filastin, al-Munadi, al Karmil in the first years of the XXth century you will find that identity. You can find them in the Moshe Dayan Center of Tel Aviv: don’t loose time and go to check.
      “FILASTIN BILADUNA” (Palestine our land): this was what you will read in the books of the jurist Al Din al Ramli in the XVI century.
      History is not what you wish that it would be.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Berl

      Ps for Dan Kelso,
      Maxime Rodinson:
      “A foreign people had come and imposed itself on a native population. The Arab population of Palestine were native in all the usual senses of that word. Ignorance, sometimes backed up by hypocritical propaganda, has spread a number of misconceptions on this subject, unfortunately very widely held. It has been said that since the Arabs took the country by military conquest in the seventh century, they are occupiers like any other, like the Romans, the Crusaders and the Turks. Why therefore should they be regarded as any more native than the others, and in particular than the Jews, who were native to that country in ancient times, or at least occupiers of longer standing? To the historian the answer is obvious. A small contingent of Arabs from Arabia did indeed conquer the country in the seventh century. But as a result of factors which were briefly outlined in the first chapter of this book, the Palestinian population soon became Arabized under Arab domination, just as earlier it had been Hebraicized, Aramaicized, to some degree even Hellenized. It became Arab in a way that it was never to become Latinized or Ottomanized. The invaded melted with the invaders. It is ridiculous to call the English of today invaders and occupiers, on the grounds that England was conquered from Celtic peoples by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes in the fifth and sixth centuries. The population was “Anglicized” and nobody suggests that the peoples which have more or less preserved the Celtic tongues – the Irish, the Welsh or the Bretons – should be regarded as the true natives of Kent or Suffolk, with greater titles to these territories than the English who live in those counties.”

      Reply to Comment
    11. Dan Kelso

      The bottom line is, The Palestinians refused to end the conflict with Barak and Olmert as long as it meant that they would have to accept the legitimacy of Israel as a sovereign, permanent country and neighbor.
      Only when the Palestinians extremist/rejectionist/supremacist attitude changes will peace really be possible.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Berl

      Thank you DAN KELSO,
      It is such a well-rounded academic article, full of so many primary sources and also references to unbiased authors such Joan Peters and Mark Twain. Now I opened my eyes. Enjoy your Disneyland

      Reply to Comment
    13. Dan Kelso

      This man (Mahmud Abbas) has only demands…
      He doesn’t want to negotiate on anything, only to get more and more and more.

      Reply to Comment
    14. aristeides

      Ben Israel – “naqba” is a common noun, as is “holocaust.” Of course it would be used to describe many catastrophic situations. It has taken on the sense of a proper noun among Palestinians. You can’t get a “gotcha” out of this point. Better move on.

      You tend to be honest about these matters, unlike most Zionists posting here. Why not simply admit that the Palestinians developed legitimate national aspirations for self-determination following WWI, which the Jewish settlement has denied them in the interest of their own national aspirations.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Dan Kelso

      Berl, tell me one Palestinian President before 1993? Keep thining and thinking

      Reply to Comment
    16. BERL

      Dan Kelson,
      wow this is really a great argument. Now I opened my eyes and my ears. Once again thank you so much

      Reply to Comment
    17. Dan Kelso

      aristeides, The Jews’ willingness to compromise on territory was demonstrated not only by their acquiescence in the UN’s 1947 partition plan, which gave them a small state, but even by their earlier acceptance of the 1937 Peel Commission partition plan, which gave them nothing more than a part of the Galilee and a tiny strip along the coast. Yet the Arab nations, refusing to accept no Jewish sovereignty, even if it was the size of a postage stamp, unanimously rejected the 1937 Peel plan, and nine years later they violently rejected the UN’s partition plan as well.
      They also rejected the peace offers in 2000 and 2008.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Dan Kelso

      Berl, poor Arabs with 22 countries.

      Reply to Comment
    19. aristeides

      I have to wonder why people like Dan Kelso waste their time posting irrelevancies from the standard hasbara script, as if these comments had not already been made a thousand thousand times, as if they meant anything.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Dan Kelso

      Must see: Ron Prosor’s UN speech

      This is a must see. This is the speech given in the UN General Assembly on Tuesday by Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor. The occasion was the General Assembly’s annual bash Israel fest, which takes place every year on the anniversary of the UN resolution approving the partition of Britain’s Palestine Mandate in 1947.

      Let’s go to the videotape.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Looking through the comments I have to agree with with Dan. As an American who has Joan Peters book on my desk, and as a Christian Evangelical I am sure Israel is where it should be + it should have more territory–some of Jordan.

      Jeez the audacity of me to think such

      The author does not seem to recognize the anger the Arab world has toward Israel and that Israel should just give all the land away to these “Jordanian-“Palestinians”, is this logical…?

      From what Ethical Moral high ground is she trading on when she says,… “It’s an ideology that has committed crimes against Palestinians and continues to inherently give Jews elite privileges over Palestinians.”…

      Zionism = Colonialism …..How so? Because she says so i guess. We can all say inflammatory untruths. Is the writer not Jewish..? Does she wish to help saw the branch that gives her cover.

      If Zionism is colonialism to her then Liberalism is Fascist Totalitarianism to me–because that is the type of treatment the Jewish people will recieve if they continue to cow-tow to these sorts of well-intended, but naive folks, that dont see the hate that exists in the Arab world and mankind.

      I applaud her for trying to be a peace-maker for sure though….I know, ‘real consolation brother’.

      As to Palestine–this to me is a Jordanian issue. Where are the Jordanians on this subject, it was going to be the partition in that Trans-Jordan where Israel would get part of her boundary right? …And why did Jordan expatriate so many of her own people to match the population with Israel–so that we now have a “Palestinain problem”….

      Ok, now the registered Independent political part of me: The “Palestinians” are human beings–whatever term we use. They are too children of Abraham and ultimately God. So I do care what happens, and my frustration is with Jordan and those who do not point to them and confront their “leadership”

      ‘Let us divide their Kingdom in two. Move West-Bank to Jordan, and Gaza as well–ok’….says me–in my frustrated moments.

      It is wrong to ask Israel to shrink anymore.
      Silly American that I am.

      I am sure the gal means her best–and so does all that have spent time, but some things just defy logic and the sin-nature of mankind– which I bet she does not believe in Evil–Well I do–and those will separate our political worldviews and strategic ideas.

      Reply to Comment
    22. Hello again. I see now Abir Kopty is not Liberal from within the Jewish community, but a Palestinian Feminist as she put it. Does not change my argument/concerns for the most part, although I was so curious of the ferociousness of her article–ok.

      Reply to Comment
    23. Bosko

      Aristeides …
      “I have to wonder why people like Dan Kelso waste their time posting irrelevancies from the standard hasbara script, as if these comments had not already been made a thousand thousand times, as if they meant anything”
      Another well reasoned argument, full of logic and delivered with panache (NOT!!!). But seeing that you are willing to dismiss other’s views with such tactics, surely your own tactics can be applied against you too. How about arguing your case with facts and logic without ‘put downs’? Is that too hard?

      Reply to Comment
    24. Bosko

      Those who insist to equate Zionism with Racism should at least be honest and equate all forms of nationalism, including Arab nationalism, as racism.
      Personally, I view Zionism more as a reaction to racism against Jews. At least partially because of course Zionism is much more than that. But let’s be very honest. Had the Jews been treated fairly while they were minorities in Europe AND in Arab countries, even in Palestine, it would have been much more difficult to persuade ordinary Jews to uproot themselves from their diaspora and return to their ancestral home lands.
      Now there is something for those of you who want to be in blame mode all the time. Do a bit of soul searching before you throw more mud at Zionists. And yes, I am aware that many of you who blog on this site are Jewish as well (not all of you) but it does not matter. You do need to contemplate that aspect too because it is relevant.

      Reply to Comment
    25. Dan Kelso

      As Ambassador Ron Prosor said, find me one Palestinian leader that wants 2 states for 2 people, instead of the Palestinians wanting 2 Pal states. There own state that is Jew free and to swamp Israel with millions of Arabs for the 2nd Pal state.
      There is no Palestinian leader, cause the Pals want all of Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    26. Dan Kelso

      If Israel defending itself is racism, then yes Zionism is racism.
      The Arabs continually initiate the violence.
      The Israelis have not fired the first shots.
      Do the Palestinians expect not to be fired back on?
      Its ok for them to blow up school children and civilians intentionally?
      Please explain to me how the Israelis could possibly live next to such a violent people. I personally don’t see how it can be done at this point.
      All I see is the Palestinians provoking war and using any method they can to get all of Israel.
      How can there be peace among a people that strap bombs on their children for 72 virgins.

      Reply to Comment
    27. Berl

      Robert Leonardo,
      Evangelicals bear important responsabilities for what we are facing in the Holy Land. Evangelicals are one of the first danger of Israel, similar, mutatis mutandis, to the danger represented by the London Jews’ Society in the XIX century.
      The fact that you have on your desk a book universally considered a forged work (from an academic point view), confirms the misleading perception that you have about this region

      Reply to Comment
    28. Henry Weinstein

      By the way Bosko, how does it feel to be on the same side than Dan Kelso?

      Reply to Comment
    29. Bosko

      It feels great Henry. I feel much closer to him than to his opposites although I am sure we don’t agree about everything.
      Regarding our little exchange on that other thread, read my latest post to you. While I was critical of what you said earlier, I certainly did not accuse you of what you think. Sure, I gave a somewhat long winded historical analysis because I felt it was necessary. But I never accused you of being against the existence of Israel.
      I must say, I don’t understand why have you become so angry? Chill out man.

      Reply to Comment
    30. Henry Weinstein

      Bosko, you don’t understand why I have become so angry?
      Wasn’t in the mood for love. Read again Dan Kelso’s comments: blind bigotry, xenophobia. And when I didn’t fall on this, I fell on Neo Nazi stuff (cf The IDF: We’re broke, send more money’s thread). So I had some reasons to be angry, I’m neither a mellow man nor a coward.
      So “Leave me alone!” was rather polite, considering the context; anyway, it wasn’t against you: you were the unlucky one who took the blame for all the others. But you’re not the innocent one, you didn’t address my concern, and that infuriated me. I will answer to you about this on the other thread, where my previous comment is.

      Reply to Comment
    31. Teri

      Why can’t the land be divided? It is in everyone’s best interest.

      Reply to Comment
    32. Dan Kelso

      Lets also divide the 22 Arab countries too.

      Reply to Comment
    33. Siren

      What a vacuous, pointless piece. I’ve met Abir a few times- had no idea that she’d jumped off the diving board into the sea of self-righteousness and delusion.

      I’d venture to Abir (if she was willing to listen) the same starting premise as I use when discussing politics with Israeli right-wingers- that nobody, Palestinian or Israeli, is going anywhere and the first step is to accept that.

      +972, please start publishing articles which are relevant to the conflict, and are not simply exercises in verbal preening.

      Reply to Comment
    34. DB

      There has been a Jewish presence in the current land of Israel for over 4000 years. This is an historical fact supported by archeology and documentation from a variety of civilizations. Arab presence came about in the 7 century with invasions from the Arabian peninsula.

      To deny this is to deny Jews of their historical claim of their land—not even all of their land, but some of them.

      Attempts to vilify the Zionist movement as a colonial one choses to view history from a certain starting point that is inconsistent with historical fact.

      Reply to Comment
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