As long as there has been Zionism, there have been anti-Zionist Jews. Indeed, decades before it even came to the notice of non-Jews, anti-Zionism was a well-established Jewish ideology, and until the second world war commanded wide support in the diaspora. Today, as cracks show in the presumed monolith of Jewish backing for Israel, increasing numbers of Jews are interrogating and rejecting Zionism. Nonetheless, the existence of anti-Zionist Jews strikes many people — Jews and non-Jews — as an anomaly, a perversity, a violation of the first clause in Hillel‘s ethical aphorism: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?"
Zionism is an ideology and a political movement. As such, it is open to rational dispute, and on a variety of grounds. Jews, like others, might well view the Jewish claim to Palestine as irrational, anachronistic, and intrinsically unjust to other inhabitants. They might consider the Jewish state to be discriminatory or racist in theory and in practice or might object, on political, philosophical, or even specifically Jewish grounds, to any state based on the supremacy of a particular religious or ethnic group. As Jews, they might reject the idea that Jewish people constitute a "nation", or at least a "nation" of the type that can or should become a territorial nation-state. Or they might have concluded on the basis of an examination of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians that the underlying cause of the conflict was the ideology of the Israeli state.
Any or all of the above should be sufficient to explain why some Jews would become anti-Zionists. But that doesn’t stop critics from placing us firmly in the realm of the irredeemably neurotic. In their eyes, we remain walking self-contradictions, a menace to our fellow Jews.
Whenever Jews speak out against Israel, they are met with ad hominem criticism. Their motives, their representativeness, their authenticity as Jews are questioned. For only a psychological aberration, a neurotic malaise, could account for our defection from Israel’s cause, which is presumed to be — whether we like it or not — our own cause. We are pathologised. So we are either bad Jews or Jews in bad faith.
Of course, being an anti-Zionist Jew is a negative identity. It’s a disavowal of a politics commonly ascribed to Jews. And if one’s anti-Zionism is made up exclusively of a rejection of Zionism, then it’s not worth much. But for myself and for the anti-Zionist Jews I know, anti-Zionism is part of a larger opposition to racism and inequality, an expression of a positive solidarity with the Palestinians as victims of injustice and specifically of colonialism.
It should go without saying, but unfortunately cannot, that being an anti-Zionist by no means implies a desire to destroy the Jews who live in Palestine. On the contrary, anti-Zionism is founded on a refusal to countenance discrimination on racial or religious grounds. The Jews of Israel have every right to live safely, to follow (or not) their religious faith, to adhere (or not) to their cultural heritage, to speak Hebrew. What they do not have is the right to continue to dispossess and oppress another people.
An edited extract from Mike Marqusee’s new book, If I Am Not for Myself, appears in The Guardian. Click here to read it.