November 01, 2008

So what is zionism then?

I just found myself looking at Normblog, the blog of an academic called Norman Geras. He seems to get quoted or linked to approvingly on the Engage website quite a lot and he was one of a trio of Israel/zionism defenders (Harry's Place, Engage) that attacked, or at least tried to, Martin Shaw over his opposition to a boycott of Israel but for the wrong reasons. For my money Shaw skewered them all.

The post I first looked at is titled Another thought about zionists in which Norm refers to a Guardian columnist, Michele Hanson, who tells us that
She attended the launch of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network: "Which shows that not all Jews are Zionists. And about time too."
Norm's not happy with this, look:
Now, this is plainly not the usage of 'Zionists' I was referring to the other day in which it is a prejudicial code word for 'Jews'. The context makes that clear. But note two things about it. First, anyone who knows anything about this subject will know that it is nothing new for there to be Jews who aren't Zionists; it is a very old distinction within the Jewish diaspora. Hanson suggests it might be news. Second, and worse, the remark suggests that a Zionist is a bad thing for a Jew to be. But why so? A Zionist is someone who supports the existence of an autonomous Jewish homeland in Israel - so a Jewish nationalist if you like. We do not know why Hanson thinks that it's bad for Jews to be nationalists; it's just an offhand remark of hers without explanation or elaboration. Yet it indicates how, far beyond the ranks of the out-and-out Jew-haters, comfortably esconced now within any average assembly of well-meaning liberals, there are expectations on Jews that aren't placed upon others - who may, for their part, legitimately be nationalists and attached to the self-determination of their peoples.
Alas, Norm gives no examples of other nationalisms nor of how they define their peoples but to define a zionist as a person "who supports the existence of an autonomous Jewish homeland in Israel" is in a way brave and in a way cheeky. He could have been really tiresome and got into things like cultural zionism, linguistic zionism, even zionism "with seasickness". But "bravely" (for want of a better word) he opts for so-called "modern political zionism". Cheekily he places the desired homeland "in Israel" which in a stroke erases the history, indeed the fact, of the place known to so many and for so long, as Palestine.

But of course if a zionist is a person "who supports the existence of an autonomous Jewish homeland in Israel" then that person must also be someone who supports whatever it takes to transform a predominantly Arab territory into an "autonomous Jewish homeland". So should we not say that a zionist is a person who supports colonial settlement, ethnic cleansing and racist laws? Can we say this in a way that is non-pejorative?

Now, what about these "others - who may, for their part, legitimately be nationalists and attached to the self-determination of their peoples." Who are they? How do they compare to zionists? Which people can "legitimately be nationalists" whose nationalism involves the dispossession of another people? Norm doesn't say. I wish he had because Israel apologists are fond of invoking what looks like comparison without actually doing any real comparing. If they did they would see that the kinds of nationalism most readily comparable to zionism are the Afrikaaner kind, the Rhodesian kind, even the nazi/fascist kind. Legitimate nationalisms are those that seek independence, self-determination, autonomy for all of the people of a given territory. There are no legitimate nationalisms that call on the members of communities from around the world to converge on one territory, eradicate as many natives as is necessary to transform the settler minority into the armed ethnic, religious or, since it's making a comeback, racial majority.

Coincidentally, earlier I referred to people who I would usually call zionists as "Israel/zionism defenders". I did that because two of the people, I had in mind, David Hirsh and David "everyone knows me" Toube, call themselves, rather implausibly, a non-zionist and an anti-zionist respectively. The coincidence is in the fact that in the Normblog post I have been discussing here, Norm refers to a previous post of his where he suggests that since some people use the word "zionist" to mean "Jew" they should use another expression to make clear the fact that they do not necessarily mean Jew.
it might be said that many Jewish supporters of Israel are happy to call themselves Zionists, so demonstrating that the word is not necessarily tied to any anti-Semitic connotation or intent. No, it isn't. But context makes a difference. Those identifying themselves as Zionists obviously don't use the word pejoratively. Others do, some of them in an odious way. And it is not as if there aren't alternatives. A critic of Israel could refer to his or her opponents as 'supporters of Israel' or even, if it comes to that, 'apologists for Israel'.
As it happens this may well be helpful when it comes to avoiding the pedantic time-wasting tactics of the self styled "non-zionist" and "anti-zionists" who devote so much energy to attacking Israel's critics but I don't see how it will make Israel's apologists any more likely to admit that support for the State of Israel as a state for Jews is in no way comparable to those who can "legitimately be nationalists".

Now you can only really "legitimately be nationalist" if your brand of nationalism includes sovereignty for all of the people of the "national" territory. Like say Irish republicanism where the movement was for the independence of the island of Ireland from the United Kingdom. The republican movement pledged to establish a state for "Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter" or put another way, a state that "cherishes all of its children equally". Zionism is the official ideology of a state which cherishes only the children of Israel. That is not a legitimate nationalism.

All of which brings us to the extraordinary outpourings on zionist websites against the inclusion of zionism in
Volume 3 of the “Encyclopedia of Race and Racism,” which carries the names of both Macmillan Reference USA (now owned by the Michigan-based Gale, Cengage Learning company) and the Macmillan Social Science Library
The charge has been led by the so-called American Jewish Committee and the blog that it sponsors called Z-Word. The article is by a chap called Ben Cohen who was once upon a time a declared anti-zionist who signed the Return statement calling for the abolition of Israel's Law of Return and for the right of Palestinians to return to their homes to what is now called Israel. Mr Cohen is particularly put out by the fact that a Noel Ignatiev penned the entry. But that's all for another post, especially as the book costs at least $399 new or used and this post is too long already.

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