1 November 2016

Why Zionism is important & why we must reject attempts to sanitise it

This is an important article in Israel's online +972 Magazine that is required reading for anyone who wishes to understand Zionism, the movement that dispossessed the Palestinians and now rules over 6 million of them.

Ephraim Mirvis, Britain's Chief Rabbi, argues that Zionism and Judaism are inseparable.  His predecessor Rabbi Herman Adler was an anti-Zionist
This is because there is a pressure building up from the Zionist movement and Israel lobby in this country to equate the use of the word ‘Zionism’ when used in a pejorative context, to anti-Semitism.  The Home Affairs Select Committee Report on Anti-Semitism [HASC] of 14 October 2016 recommended that: [para. 32]
For the purposes of criminal or disciplinary investigations, use of the words ‘Zionist’ or ‘Zio’ in an accusatory or abusive context should be considered inflammatory and potentially antisemitic. This should be communicated by the Government and political parties to those responsible for determining whether or not an incident should be regarded as antisemitic.
Likewise the Jewish Labour Movement, which has teamed up with the Right and Progress in the Labour Party in order to unseat Jeremy Corbyn, proposed a rule change to the Labour Party’s disciplinary code, whose Supporting Argument and Rationale states that:
Zionism is no single concept other than the basic expression of the national identity of the Jewish people, a right to which all people are entitled. This rule change would recognise that it is not acceptable to use Zionism as a term of abuse or to substitute the word Zionist for where the word Jew has been commonly used by antisemites, such as alleging Jewish political, financial or media conspiracies and control
Theodor Herzl, the founder of Political Zionism found his main opponents were Jewish and his main supporters were anti-Semites such as Edoard Drumont
As the following article shows, this is nonsense.  There is a very specific meaning and definition to Zionism.  Zionism is the settler colonial movement formally established in 1897 by Theodor Herzl at the 1st Zionist Congress at Basel.  It was originally scheduled to have met in Munich but the Jewish community there objected fiercely to what they saw as an anti-Semitic conference whose purpose was to tell them that they didn’t belong in Germany.  As the Jewish Virtual Library explains:
The first Zionist Congress was to have taken place in Munich, Germany. However, due to considerable opposition by the local community leadership, both Orthodox and Reform, it was decided to transfer the proceedings to Basle, Switzerland.
This why the idea that Zionism is the ‘national identity’ of the Jewish people is nonsense.  There is no Jewish people, since Jews are members of all nations and given the extent of opposition to Zionism among Jewish people, historically and today, the idea that it is synonymous with being Jewish is not only absurd but anti-Semitic.  It is the fascists and anti-Semites who use the term ‘Jew’ and ‘Zionist’ interchangeably. 
The Chief Rabbi of Britain, Ephraim Mirvis, a man who it should be said isn’t particularly well endowed intellectually, came out with the absurd statement that:
One can no more separate it [Zionism]from Judaism than separate the City of London from Great Britain.
Likewise Mick Davies, who was Chair of the Jewish Leadership Councillor, gave evidence to the HASC (para. 21) that ,criticising Zionism is the same as antisemitism, because:
Zionism is so totally identified with how the Jew thinks of himself, and is so associated with the right of the Jewish people to have their own country and to have self-determination within that country, that if you attack Zionism, you attack the very fundamentals of how the Jews believe in themselves.
It has to be  stressed that when Zionism first arose as a political movement it was opposed by not only socialist and revolutionary Jewish parties but by both the Reform and Orthodox wings of Judaism.  If in fact it had been part of the Jewish religion for millennia then why should they oppose it?  The reason was that the idea of a Jewish state was of recent origin.  It was born in the age of colonialism and it sought to achieve its objectives through an alliance with colonialism, which it did in 1917 with the issuance by the Lloyd George War  Cabinet of the Balfour Declaration.
But according to today’s Zionist propagandists, if you attack someone’s identity you attack them as a person and that is racist.  It is a very curious definition of racism.  Presumably it is racist to criticise those for whom female genital mutilation is bound up with their religion?  Or criticising the Niqab/Burka, which is seen by many as integral to the Islamic faith is anti-Islamic?  This conflation between Zionism and Jewish identity and the argument that it is racist to criticise or attack the former is part of the pernicious nonsense that identity politics has brought forth.
It is also an example of the dishonesty of Zionist propagandists and the Home Affairs Select Committee (though in the latter case stupidity may also play a part) that they accepted a definition of anti-Semitism from the International Holocaust  Remembrance Alliance which states that ‘Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel’ is an example of anti-Semitism.’ (para. 17) whilst simultaneously accepting that Zionism and being Jewish are synonymous.  So you are damned if you do and you are damned if you don’t.  Whatever you do you are anti-Semitic!
If it were true that being Jewish and being a Zionist is one and the same thing then clearly Jews worldwide are responsible and answerable for the actions of ‘their’ state.  This is the same with any people.  British people are responsible for the actions of the armed forces  abroad and the war they waged against Iraq unless they take steps to dissociate themselves from the actions of their state.  But the Board of Deputies of British Jews, far from dissociating Jews from Israel’s actions does its best to claim that Jews support Israel’s barbarous and genocidal attacks on Gaza.
Published October 22, 2016
Zionism today is the fence that encircles the Jewish people, granting it supremacy over the other people of this land. 
By Noam Rotem
A man holds an Israeli flag during a march in support of the city of Jerusalem at the Western Wall, Jerusalem’s Old City on October 22, 2015,
  following a wave of attacks by Palestinians. (Mendy Hechtman/Flash90)
The State of Israel is a Zionist state. All of us graduates of the Israeli educational system know this. Israel’s first prime minister said it, Ehud Barak said it, even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said it. This declaration can be found in our educational curriculums, and even in the IDF’s educational curriculum. That is all good and well, but nowhere have I been able to find a formal definition for the term “Zionism”put forth by the Israeli government.
Is the goal of Zionism to ensure a Jewish majority in the State of Israel, as former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon claimed? Is Zionism “Israel’s heritage over the generations,” as Netanyahu stated. Or perhaps it is a political goal, as the prime minister argued elsewhere? Or maybe Netanyahu was right when he said that “Zionism is the return to Judaism, which preceded the return to the Jewish state.”
Or maybe Zionism is the “outlook that believes in the Jewish people’s sovereignty in the Land of Israel and the obligations of the believer to take part, all while working toward the common good,” as is written in the IDF’s educational curriculum?
Or perhaps Zionism is actually a race, as members of Knesset Yuri Stern and Esterina Tartman claimed?
Or maybe “the essence of Zionism,” according to Netanyahu, is loyalty to the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state? Or is a Zionist, according to the Education Ministry, a person who believes that we are growing ever closer to redemption?
Even the Jewish Agency, the oldest Zionist establishment in the world, which was founded at the behest of the “father of Zionism,” Benjamin Ze’ev Herzl, admits that, “it is difficult to define Zionism, but in general one could say that Zionism is the love of the Land of Israel, loyalty to the state, and an aspiration to live in it.”
An empty slogan
Zionism began as a national awakening of Jews in Europe, part of the same awakening that was taking place in other nations. The leaders of this national awakening anchored it in religion, thus tying a modern national liberation movement to ancient, theological traditions. Everything was fine until that point: Zionism, like other national liberation movements of its time, called for establishing a nation-state for the Jewish people. The problem began with its implementation, and the pesky problem that the promised land was already populated by hundreds of thousands of people.
The very fact that the Zionists declared that the land belongs to one nation, despite it being populated by another people, is an expression of privilege on the basis of religion and nationality. The very fact that the state is based on Zionism means that it excludes large portions of the population, whether or not they are Jewish — and whether or not they are Zionists.
Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism (the main ideology of the ruling Likud party), understood the problem. Thus he decided that the term “Jewish state” is clear: a Jewish majority. These ideas were not just empty rhetoric — they are quoted still today by the heads of the Israeli government. Only through the establishment of a Jewish majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean does Zionism have a right to exist. 
Prime Minister Netanyahu takes part in the annual day to commemorate Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founder of the Revisionist Zionist movement, in the Knesset, August 3, 2016. (Kobi GIdeon/GPO)
A state that privileges one nation among its population over another nation is not one based on equality. A state that views some of its citizens as a demographic threat is not a free state. A state that grants rights on the basis of religion is not a democratic state.
Modern Zionism is a nebulous axiom so deeply rooted in Israeli society, that one could mold it into whatever fits the current political moment. Zionism today is the fence that encircles the Jewish people, isolating it, granting it supremacy over the other people of this land.
It is time to recognize that Zionism has become an empty slogan used only to grant Jews rights over non-Jews, and to say goodbye to it forever. Israel’s Zionist citizens’ fear of losing these privileges is, of course, understandable. But it should not be taken into consideration. We cannot continue to allow Zionism to deepen the discrimination against Palestinians.
As long as the Israeli Left continues to depend on Zionism for the sake of fitting into the consensus, it will continue to chase the Right, which only seeks to further entrench discrimination. The Left must reclaim Israeli identity and disconnect it from religious elements. Only then can it present a different vision — one that people can follow. A vision based in humanism, freedom, justice, and equality.
Noam Rotem is an Israeli activist, high-tech executive and blogger at Local Call, where this article was first published in Hebrew. Read it here.

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