Reflections on Zionism From a Dissident Jew

So it’s official. The

U.S. has withdrawn from the World Conference on Racism, being held in Durban,

South Africa. And though the cynical and historically observant might suspect

that this decision was merely in keeping with our longstanding unwillingness to

deal with the legacy of racism on a global scale, the official reason is more

circumscribed. Namely, the mid-conference pullout was intended to register

displeasure at various delegates who are pushing resolutions condemning Israeli

treatment of Palestinians, and Zionism itself: the ideology of Jewish

nationalism that led to the founding of Israel in 1948. As the conference speeds

towards a no doubt controversial conclusion, perhaps it would be worthwhile to

ask just what all the fuss is about?

Although one can argue

with the claim made by some that Zionism and racism are synonymous–especially

given the amorphous definition of "race" which makes such a position forever and

always a matter of semantics–it is difficult to deny that Zionism, in practice

if not theory, amounts to ethnic chauvinism, colonial ethnocentrism, and

national oppression.

For saying this, I can

expect to be called everything but a child of God by many in the Jewish

community. "Self-hating" will be the term of choice for most, I suspect: the

typical Pavlovian response to one who is Jewish, as I am, and yet dares to

criticize Israel or the ideology underlying its national existence.

"Anti-Semite" will be

the other label offered me, despite the fact that Zionism has led to the

oppression of Semitic peoples–namely the mostly Semitic Palestinians–and is

also rooted in a deep antipathy even for Jews. Though Zionism proclaims itself a

movement of a strong and proud people, in fact it is an ideology that has been

brimming with self-hatred from the beginning. Indeed, early Zionists believed,

as a key premise of the movement, that Jews were responsible for the oppression

we had faced over the years, and that such oppression was inevitable and

impossible to overcome, thus, the need for our own country.

Having never read the

words of Theodore Herzl–the founder of modern Zionism–or other Zionist

leaders, most will find this claim hard to believe. But before attacking me,

perhaps they should ask who it was that said anti-Semitism, "is an

understandable reaction to Jewish defects," or that, "each country can only

absorb a limited number of Jews, if she doesn’t want disorders in her stomach.

Germany has already too many Jews."

While one might be

inclined to attribute either or both statements to Adolph Hitler, as they are

surely worthy of his venomous pen, they are actually comments made by Herzl and

Chaim Weizmann, eventual president of Israel, and–at the time he made the

second statement–head of the World Zionist Organization. So in the pantheon of

self-hating Jews, it appears criticism, for Zionists, should perhaps begin at


Going back to my days

in Hebrew school, I never understood the dialysis-machine-like bond that most of

my peers felt for Israel. On the one hand, we were told God had given that land

to our people, as part of His covenant with Abraham. This we knew because

Scripture told us so. But this never carried much weight with me. After all,

many Christians–with whom I had more than a passing acquaintance growing up in

the South–were all-too-willing to point out that the Scriptures also said (in

their opinions) that I was going to hell, Abraham notwithstanding.

As such, accepting

Zionism because of what God did or didn’t say seemed dicey from the get-go.

What’s more, this was the same God who ostensibly told the ancient Hebrews never

to wear clothes woven with two different fabrics, and who insisted we burn the

entrails of animals we consume on an alter to create a pleasing smell. Having

been known to sport a wrinkle-free poly-cotton blend, and having not the

fortitude to disembowel my supper and incinerate its lower intestines, I had

long since resolved to withhold judgment on what God did and didn’t want, until

such time as the Almighty decided to whisper said desires in my ear personally.

The Rabbi’s word wasn’t going to cut it.

On the other hand, we

were told we needed a homeland so as to prevent another Holocaust. Only a

strong, independent Jewish state could provide the kind of unity and protection

required of a people who had suffered so much, and had lost six million souls to

the Nazi terror.

Yet this too seemed

suspect to me. After all, one could argue that getting all the Jews together in

one place–especially a piece of real estate as small as Palestine–would be a

Jew-hater’s dream come true. It would make finishing the job Hitler started that

much easier. Better, it seemed then and still does, to have vibrant Jewish

communities throughout the world, than to put all our dreidels in one basket, by

pulling up stakes and heading to a place where others already lived, hoping they

wouldn’t mind too terribly if we kicked them out of their homes.

In the final analysis,

accepting Israel as a Jewish state for Biblical reasons made no more sense to me

than to accept a self-identified Christian or Islamic nation: two configurations

that understandably raise fears of theocracy in the heart of any Jew. And to

in-gather the Jews to Israel for the sake of safety made no sense whatsoever.

The only logic to Zionism then, seemed to be the "logic" of raw power: that of

the settler, or colonizer. We wanted the land, and getting it would provide an

ally for European and American foreign and economic policy. So with pressure

applied and force unleashed, it became ours.

Nearly 800,000

Palestinians would be displaced so as to allow for the creation of Israel:

around 600,000 of whom, according to internal documents of the Israeli Defense

Force, were expelled forcibly from their homes. At the time, these Palestinians,

most of whose families had been living on the land for centuries, constituted

two-thirds of the population and owned 90% of the land. Though some Zionists

claim Palestine was a largely uninhabited wilderness prior to Jewish arrival,

early settlers were far more honest. As Ahad Ha’am acknowledged in 1891:

"We…are used to

believing that Israel is almost totally desolate. But…this is not the case.

Throughout the country it is difficult to find fields that are not sowed."

Indeed, the large

presence of Palestinians led many Zionists to openly advocate their removal. The

head of the Jewish Agency’s colonization department stated: "there is no room

for both peoples together in this country. There is no other way than to

transfer the Arabs from here to neighboring countries, to transfer all of them:

not one village, not one tribe, should be left."

Herzl himself conceded

that Zionism was "something colonial," indicating again that we were not

discovering or founding anything. We were taking it, and for reasons we would

never accept from others. As Shimon Peres–seen as one of the most peace-loving

Israeli leaders in memory–said in 1985: "The Bible is the decisive document in

determining the fate of our land." Such is the stuff of fanaticism, and we would

say as much were a fundamentalist Christian to make the same statement about the

fate of the U.S., or anywhere else for that matter.

That most Jews have

never examined the founding principles of this ideology to which they cleave is

unfortunate. For if they were to do so, they might be shocked at how anti-Jewish

Zionism really is. Time and again, Zionists have even collaborated with open

Jew-haters for the sake of political power.

Consider Herzl: a man

who believed Jews were to blame for anti-Semitism, and thus, only by fleeing for

Palestine could we be safe. In The Jewish State, he wrote:

"Every nation in whose

midst Jews live is, either covertly or openly, anti-Semitic…its immediate

cause is our excessive production of mediocre intellects, who cannot find an

outlet downwards or upwards. When we sink, we become a revolutionary

proletariat. When we rise, there also rises our terrible power of the purse."

He went on to say, "The

Jews are carrying the seeds of anti-Semitism into England; they have already

introduced it into America." Were a non-Jew to suggest that Jews were to blame

for anti-Semitism, our community would be rightly outraged. But the same words

from the father of Zionism pass without comment.

Worse still, early in

Hitler’s reign the Zionist Federation of Germany wrote the new Chancellor,

noting their willingness to "adapt our community to these new structures"

(namely, the Nuremberg Laws that limited Jewish freedom), as they "give the

Jewish minority…its own cultural life, its own national life."

Far from resisting Nazi

genocide, some Zionists collaborated with it. When the British devised a plan to

allow thousands of German Jewish children to enter the U.K. and be saved from

the Holocaust, David Ben-Gurion, who would become Israel’s first Prime Minister

balked, explaining:

"If I knew that it

would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to

England, and only half of them by transporting them to (Israel) then I would opt

for the second alternative."

Later, Israeli Zionists

would again make alliances with anti-Jewish extremists. In the 1970′s, Israel

hosted South African Prime Minister John Vorster, and cultivated economic and

military ties with the apartheid state, even though Vorster had been locked up

as a Nazi collaborator during World War II. And Israel supplied military aid to

the Galtieri regime in Argentina, even while the Generals were known to harbor

ex-Nazis in the country, and had targeted Argentine Jews for torture and death.

Indeed, the argument

that Zionism is racism finds some support in statements of Zionists themselves,

many of whom have long concurred with the Hitlerian doctrine that Judaism is a

racial identity as much as a religious and cultural one. In 1934, German Zionist

Joachim Prinz, who would later head the American Jewish Congress, noted:

"We want assimilation

to be replaced by a new law: the declaration of belonging to the Jewish nation

and Jewish race. A state built upon the principle of the purity of nation and

race can only be honored and respected by a Jew who declares his belonging to

his own kind."

Years later, David

Ben-Gurion acknowledged that Israeli leader Menachem Begin could be branded

racist, but that doing so would require one to "put on trial the entire Zionist

movement, which is founded on the principle of a purely Jewish entity in


Laws granting special

privileges to Jewish immigrants from anywhere in the world, over Palestinians

whose families had been on the land for generations, and measures that set aside

most land for exclusive Jewish ownership and use, are but two examples of

discriminatory legislation underlying the Zionist experiment. As the

International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial

Discrimination makes clear, racial discrimination is:

"any distinction,

exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national

and ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the

recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and

fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other

field of public life."

Given this

internationally recognized definition, we ought not be surprised that at a World

Conference on Racism, some might suggest that the policies of our people in the

land of Palestine had earned a place on the agenda. As such, we should take this

opportunity to begin an honest dialogue, not only with Palestinians, but also

with ourselves. Neither the chauvinism so integral to Zionism, nor the ironic

self-hatred that has gone along with it are becoming of a strong and vital

people. Just as a dialysis machine is no substitute for a healthy and

functioning kidney, neither is Zionism an adequate substitute for a healthy and

vibrant Judaism. Surely it is not for this ignoble end, that six million died.

Tim Wise is an

antiracist activist, writer and lecturer. He can be reached at

[email protected]





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