Friday, January 18, 2013

Zionism .... Nuances and .... Mr. Morsi

Zionism means different things to different people. To most Egyptians, Arabs, Muslims and certainly Palestinians. Zionism is all about dispossession of the Palestinians, about the expulsions of the natives, about occupation, about the settlements and the cruel  eradication of Palestinian villages and history. For the vast majority of Jews, Zionism is about a national identity, of pride in their Jewishness. Jews can't understand how others can view Zionism as racist, when Zionism welcomes Jews of all colors, origins and converts too. The pro Palestinian camps see Zionism as the ultimate form of racism and bigotry, an ideology that usurps the rights the Palestinians to their homes, to their land, to their history based on a superior claim of the Jews, just by virtue of their Jewishness, their "race".

My attempt at making sense of this huge gulf, between the interpretations, leads me to see Zionism as a nationalist movement, with some religious wrappings. Zionism allows an atheist "Jew" to  belong to the Jewish people; so clearly an alternate non-religious identity. This, very point, causes stress in Israel itself, the secularists see Judaism and Jewishishness  more of an overarching identity that accept people of Jewish origins regardless of their religious beliefs or adherence. Whereas, many religious Jews clearly see it differently, for them, faith and the Jewish Law are at the center of their lives.  Other religious Jews accept religion in a fashion that accomodate secular Zionism.

It may be helpful to look at Zionism in three parts, first being the rise of the Jewish people and their identification as a nation, second is the desire for a homeland, third is the choice of Palestine for a homeland. 

With the oppression, the Jews suffered throughout their history, at the hands of whichever majority they lived under, it is hard to stand against their desire to be considered as a nation. The way I see it, what right do I have telling the majority of Kurds or South Sudanese people, they are not a distinct nation? If the majority of Corsican or Basques people wanted to be a separate nation, then that is ultimately, their right. The Jews have plenty of reason to want to proclaim their own identity even before the Holocaust.

Second is the claim to a homeland, where never again Jews can become a minority living under the whims of another majority, at times accommodating and friendly, and at times oppressive but almost always suspicious and watchful. That too is understandable and again if the majority of Jews want it, I am all for it. Even if a minority wants it and don't wish to impose it on others then power to them.

The third, and most troubling aspect is really in what I term "applied Zionism" rather than in Zionism itself, is the choice of Palestine for the homeland. Zionism, a secular nationalist movement, needed to capture the imagination of the non secular, religious Jews and hence the introduction of Palestine rather than East Africa, Tasmania or other relatively unpopulated piece of real estate. In doing so, applied Zionism undermined some of the basic foundations of Zionism, itself.

So today’s' applied Zionism has to wrestle with a sad contradiction, of being a liberation movement and a colonial movement; of being a movement that is race blind towards Jews yet racist towards non Jews!

The Secular advocates of Zionism betrayed their liberal principles to attract more Jews, to protect more Jews, and to liberate more Jews; they mixed their secular vision with biblical history and focused on Palestine and thus gained a great deal of success, that would probably never been possible, had they opted for any other piece of real estate apart from Palestine. The price of this success has to be either giving up the vision of never again facing the possibility of becoming minority, or giving up Zionism as a moral liberation movement and turning it, into a colonial supremacist movement that aims to subjugate the natives forever. This is a moral battle, the Israelis, the Jews, the Zionists must fight, an internal struggle that will forever remain a weight on their conscience. The history of the suffering of the Jews does not actually waive that moral responsibility as some have suggested.

Naturally, the evolution of the meaning of Zionism, both, to Jews and non Jews, does not occur in a vacum, was and continues to be, influenced by events. It is instructive to see, what Zionism mean to a critical player such as Egypt's new democratically elected president  Mr. Mohammad Morsi. Mr. Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood have a long history of both animosity to Israel and support for Palestine, but has vowed to respect and protect Egypt's peace agreement with Israel.

Mr. Morsi appears to make little distinction between Israelis, Jews or Zionists when he talked of the need to instill "hate of Jews and Zionists" into "our" children. Reflecting on the choice of words "Jews and Zionists", does this come from the tendency to use multiple repetitive words to describe the same thing in Arabic or did Mr. Morsi view Jews as a distinct category from Zionists? My guess is that Mr. Morsi agrees with the first aspect of Zionism, that the Jews are an indeed a nation, regardless of of their beliefs and practices, in a way, he is re-affirming a central aspects of Zionism by projecting his feelings against Jews, all Jews, as distinct identity and as a nation! Mr. Morsi's call for hatred did not leave room for the exclusions of pro Palestine Jewish advocates or even the small fringe of religious Jews who are passionately anti Zionism and anti Israel, so the call clearly shows an all encompassing hate for Jews beyond just support for Palestine.

It may surprise Mr. Morsi to learn that, his own country had several Zionist associations from late in the 19th century and Zionist newspapers operated freely, whereas the lone anti Zionist publication was shut down by the Egyptian Government in the early 1930's as anti Jewish Palestinian propaganda. The president of Egypt may also wish to re-examine how his rhetoric and that of his Muslim Brothers organization and its Palestinian counterparts may have played a role in strengthening the hands of the "RevisionistZionists who worked for an exclusive Jewish state in Palestine. A study of the roots, of topics never discussed in Egypt, such as the massacres of Hebron or Safed may help him understand how hate begets hate. The massacres of Jews and anti Jewish hate may explain how the course of history may have changed but offer no excuse of brutality by of Jewish gangs and Israel, since its founding.

Finally, I wish more Egyptians, Palestinians,  Muslims,  Jews, Israelis, Americans etc. stop using this highly confusing and emotive word "Zionism" as it is shorthand for many contradictory meanings that leads to more confusion and misunderstandings, not clarity. Show, if you must, your hate for Jews directly, like Mr. Morsi did, without having to hide behind the word Zionist, it certainly said more about him than it did about the Jews. Perhaps better still if you are pro Palestinians, express your support and convictions, without falling into racist hate that fuels, yet more hate and fire. For Jews, perhaps, time to re-examine the use of the word Zionism and come to terms with how, what may have started as a nobel vision, operates as violent, oppressive, racist and bigoted reality on the ground.

January 18, 2013
(updated from earlier work)

1 comment:

mwahba said...

The Jews of Israel need to resolve the issue of the Israeli Arabs who happen to live in Israel proper and are increasing in numbers. One day Their population will exceed the Jews in Israel which will lead the Jews to be a minority in their own country. When this happens Israel as a democratic state will have to deal with two possible scenarios, Either transform into an apartheid state like the old South Africa or allow the democratic process of one man one vote to take effect and lose control over their own country. Both of these options are very devastating to their nation.