Zion­ism is not a dirty word

The Jewish Chronicle - - & Comment Analysis -

Zion­ism has, in re­cent years, be­come an in­creas­ingly pe­jo­ra­tive term. It was, for ex­am­ple, un­re­mark­able for Alexei Sayle to write in the In­de­pen­dent: “If the Zion­ists wanted a home­land, why didn’t they take a piece of Ger­many? The an­swer is, of course, that Arabs, then and now, were not con­sid­ered fully hu­man by the Zion­ists… and there­fore could be mur­dered with­out qualms.”

Sayle’s day job is stand-up co­me­dian and his po­lit­i­cal views are there­fore of less sig­nif­i­cance than his jokes, but his com­ments rep­re­sent a pro­found and prob­a­bly wide­spread ig­no­rance.

Peace Now, the grass­roots mass move­ment which has a long his­tory of protest against Is­raeli gov­ern­ment sup­port for Jewish set­tle­ments on the West Bank, is em­phat­i­cally Zion­ist — though never char­ac­terised as such. Yossi Beilin, the ar­chi­tect of the Oslo Ac­cords and the Geneva Agree­ment, has un­equiv­o­cally stated he is a Zion­ist. Mem­bers of “Courage to Refuse”, the con­scripts who re­fused to serve in the West Bank and Gaza dur­ing the in­tifada, also do not dis­avow Zion­ism.

Zion­ism is a defin­ing fea­ture of a large sec­tion of the Is­raeli peace camp, yet is of­ten por­trayed in the west­ern me­dia as syn­ony­mous with oc­cu­pa­tion, vi­o­la­tion of hu­man rights and mil­i­tary ag­gres­sion.

Even within the Jewish peace camp, there is in­suf­fi­cient at­tempt to re­spond to the fre­quent his­tor­i­cal dis­tor­tions. This is partly due to fear of up­set­ting re­la­tion­ships with Pales­tini­ans and partly in­dica­tive of that peace camp’s frag­men­ta­tion.

In the 1980s, Bri­tish sup­port­ers of the Is­raeli right would la­bel those who dis­agreed with Be­gin and Shamir as “self-hat­ing Jews” or as Cham­ber­lain-like ap­peasers. Oslo changed all that. It also per­suaded Likud sup­port­ers that they, too, could crit­i­cise an Is­raeli gov­ern­ment.

On the eve of the in­tifada, the late Chief Rabbi Im­manuel Jakobovits, and a for­mer Is­raeli am­bas­sador to the UK, Moshe Ra­viv, spoke on a Peace Now plat­form to a packed, well-heeled au­di­ence from Jewish sub­ur­bia. To­day, the Bri­tish peace move­ment is dif­fer­ent again.

There are those who ex­clu­sively sup­port the Pales­tini­ans and turn a blind eye to sui­cide bomb­ings. Oth- ers are con­cerned solely with Is­raeli hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions.

Some con­fuse at­tack­ing “the Jewish es­tab­lish­ment” with fight­ing for peace. Yet oth­ers have given up on the pet­ti­ness of “shtetl pol­i­tics” and con­fine their ef­forts to help­ing the Is­raeli peace camp di­rectly.

Fi­nally, there are those who are dis­turbed by Is­rael’s mil­i­tary prow­ess — used for good or ill — since it con­trasts dra­mat­i­cally with the self­im­age of the “civil” di­as­pora Jew.

In Bri­tain, a clear point of di­vi­sion within the Jewish peace camp has been the emer­gence of Is­lamism and its fel­low trav­ellers within the Bri­tish left. Some have cho­sen to ig­nore the rise of Ha­mas and Hizbol­lah as if this was still the era of Arafat. Some be­lieve that Is­lamism is ei­ther pro­gres­sive or will be short-lived. Other Jews be­lieve that, on the con­trary, the Is­lamic world has en­tered a new pe­riod of re­li­gious in­ten­sity and that the hatches should be bat­tened down un­til this the­o­log­i­cal storm passes.

Mean­while, the Is­raeli peace camp has re­mained in­ef­fec­tual be­cause the cam­paign of sui­cide bomb­ing by the Is­lamists has un­der­mined its stand­ing among the Is­raeli pub­lic.

In th­ese cir­cum­stances, does not blan­ket crit­i­cism of Is­rael, far from hurt­ing the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment, aid the cause of those who wish to dele­git­imise the state? With this in mind, some sug­gest we should keep our col­lec­tive mouth shut. But isn’t this in­tel­lec­tu­ally dis­hon­est and a den­i­gra­tion of our com­mit­ment to Is­rael? There is a dif­fer­ence be­tween spe­cific crit­i­cism of the use of clus­ter bombs in Le­banon and gen­eral, naive talk of a one-state so­lu­tion with­out con­sid­er­ing how Is­raelis might re­spond to such a pro­posal.

Most peo­ple like to deal in black and white. The Is­rael-Pales­tine con­flict, how­ever, is com­plex. This con­di­tions crit­i­cism of Is­raeli pol­icy, but it does not mean that it should be avoided.

With the state firmly es­tab­lished, the task of post-revo­lu­tion­ary Zion­ism is to cor­rect the dis­tor­tions that have oc­curred over the years; to strive for an agreed and just so­lu­tion to the con­flict with the Pales­tini­ans; and to re­sist those who would re­verse his­tory and con­fine the Jews once more to the ghetto.

Zion­ism is a dy­namic, flexible but ma­ligned and mis­un­der­stood con­cept. It is time to re­store some clar­ity, res­cue it from its pariah sta­tus, and dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween im­pla­ca­ble en­e­mies and crit­i­cal friends.

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