Zionism doesn't define Jews -
it divides us
December 12, 2002
Given its horrific 20th-century connotations, anti-Semitism is
a serious charge. It was levelled against critics of Israel on this
page [of the Globe and Mail] recently by three people who
have demonstrated a strong lifelong commitment to humanitarian values.
Lawyer Clayton Ruby, labour leader Jeff Rose and physician Philip
Berger wrote that they feel "anti-Semitism has emerged as a
powerful force" among some left-wing opponents of Israeli policy.
As a Jew and a former member of a Zionist youth movement, I understand
the affinity the three writers have for Israel. I can also see why
the blindly murderous attitudes and actions of some in the Palestinian
resistance trigger a powerfully defensive emotional response in
the Jewish community.
But the flaw in their argument is rooted in a confounding of Jewish
identity with the Jewish state. They write of an "artificial
distinction between Israel and Zionism, on one hand, and Jewish
identity on the other."
The modern identification of Jews and Israel emerged largely as
a reaction to the Nazi genocide. Although it may represent the majority
view today, it should be not taken for granted. Historically, it
never has been. It is unlikely to persist.
From its beginnings, political Zionism faced opposition within
the Jewish world. The Zionist identification of a people with a
state is incompatible with the real position of most Jews as freely
chosen citizens of other countries. Long before Roman times, Jews
formed widely dispersed religious, cultural and ethnic groups whose
commonality was not based on geography or politics. Only their spiritual
practices were centred on Palestine.
Some Jews saw in political Zionism a vulgarization of Jewish Messianic
tradition that would debase Jewish moral life. The Russian-Jewish
writer and "spiritual Zionist" Ahad Ha'am, who emigrated
to Palestine, was one of the first to recognize the ethical costs
of a project to establish a Jewish state at the expense of the indigenous
Arabs. "If this be the Messiah coming," he wrote in the
first years of the last century, "then I don't want to see
Zionist theory denied the legitimate presence of an emerging, indigenous
nation in Palestine. Zionist practice ensured its dispossession
and exile. "We may be a people without a home," said a
disillusioned German Zionist in 1925, "but alas, there is not
a country without a people. . . . Palestine has an existing population
of 700,000, a people who have lived there for centuries and rightfully
consider the country as their fatherland and homeland."
Ahad Ha'am's dark prophecy of an anti-Messianic future has been
fully realized. My medical friend and colleague Philip Berger would
be appalled if he saw with his own eyes, as I have, the disastrous
humanitarian and health consequences of a policy that grants settlers
from New York six times as much fresh water per capita as native
Human-rights lawyer Clayton Ruby would be outraged to witness the
proceedings of military courts where tortured Arabs are accused,
convicted and sentenced without the right to know the evidence against
Unionist Jeff Rose would be shocked at policies that de facto make
Palestinian labour groups illegal, exposing their organizers to
the threat of incarceration.
It owes nothing to anti-Semitism that Israel is the subject of
more critical scrutiny than are the neighbouring Arab autarchies,
dictatorships and pseudo-democracies. No one mistakes the true nature
of those regimes. No credible voices are raised in their defence,
nor do the abhorrent Palestinian suicide bombings have any serious
apologists. Only Israel's relentless and ultimately self-destructive
expansionism, militarism and state violence find many supporters.
The Palestinians continue to be disenfranchised, dispossessed and
humiliated. Mr. Rose, Dr. Berger and Mr. Ruby, were they to drop
their self-generated fear of leftist anti-Semitism, would be inspired
by the words of the Israeli officer who chose this week to join
dozens of his comrades in jail rather than serve in an army of brutal
occupation: "I will do my time in a visible prison for a few
months for refusing to enlist in Israel's academy for prison guards:
the IDF, Israel's 'Defense Forces' which have been imprisoning an
entire people for 35 years."
Gabor Maté is a Vancouver physician and writer.
who question Zionism are not racists
Threat from Within: Jewish Opposition to Zionism
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