Zionism as a Failed Project

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The tricks used by Israel’s fans are both familiar and fallacious

The recent UN General Assembly vote recognising Palestine as a state with observer status requires a more complex analysis, but it does reveal Israel’s utter isolation in the world community. So thoroughly exposed is Israel that the most eager Zionists today must first acknowledge its crimes. Thus, Jonas Moses Lustiger, in his response to Aditya Nigam’s and my posts on (‘In Defence of Israel’, Open, 3 December 2012), concedes fully and several times that ‘Israeli society is turning more racist, intolerant and ignorant of the suffering of… Palestinians’. But then, in a familiar move, he deftly displaces the discussion to:

» What about The Holocaust?

» Israel is the only democratic state in West Asia.

» If land is to be returned, then Palestinians are not the only claimants, but merely the most recent.

I have written a longer response to Lustiger’s article (being circulated by the Israeli Embassy in Delhi to media people) on Kafila. Here, I will quickly address these three familiar sleights of hand, drawing on detailed information we provided in our earlier posts on Kafila, which Lustiger has not bothered to read before launching his attack.

First: to be anti-Zionist is not to be anti-Semitic. Yes, the Jewish people suffered in Europe for centuries on account of anti-Semitism and faced multiple horrors under the Nazi regime, including gas chambers, as we know in India, having grown up crying over Anne Frank’s diary and reading Leon Uris. But how is that suffering so easily translated into Zionism that dispossesses Palestinians of their land? How does that justify methods of ethnic cleansing perfected by the Israeli state that even the Nazis could learn from?

As Edward Said poignantly puts it, Palestinians have been ‘dispossessed by the very people who taught everyone the importance of not forgetting the past. Thus we are the victims of the victims, the refugees of the refugees.’

Second: Israel’s democracy, socialism and secularism are entirely internal to its Jewish citizens. Non-Jewish people of Israel/Palestine—Muslims and Christians—are excluded from all these ideals.

Did the ‘egalitarian socialist communities’, the Kibbutzim that Lustiger celebrates, include the dispossessed Arabs whose land was stolen to set them up?

Israeli secularism has to do entirely with internal debates in Jewish society—whether a good Jew is one who follows God or one who serves the state of Israel, the latter being the ‘secular’ position. The co-existence of different religious denominations and the neutrality of the state vis-à-vis them is irrelevant to this debate, for Israel is a Jewish state.

As for the claim of equal citizenship for ‘Arab Israelis’, we cited an Israeli government report that states that Arab citizens of Israel experience discrimination as Arabs. This inequality, says the report, ‘has been documented in a large number of professional surveys and studies, has been confirmed in court judgments and government resolutions, and has also found expression in reports by the state comptroller and in other official documents’.

Our posts, in addition, revealed the everydayness and ubiquity of this discrimination and humiliation that ‘1948 Palestinians’ (as they prefer to call themselves) experience.

Finally, Lustiger pulls out the gay rights card: ‘Israel is the only country in West Asia with a vibrant homosexual culture.’ In my earlier post, I had already shown how queer voices, both in Israel/Palestine as well as globally, have reacted to this claim, terming it ‘pinkwashing’ of Israel’s crimes. The global queer movement opposed to Israel’s Occupation and Apartheid holds that pinkwashing not only manipulates the hard-won gains of Israel’s gay community, but also ignores the existence of the Palestinian queer movement. The understanding that the oppression of Palestinians crosses the boundary of sexuality also exists among sections within Israel. For instance, Rabbi Alpert, a member of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinic Cabinet, has spoken out publicly against Israel’s pinkwashing. She holds that gay people historically have known dispossession and being stripped of rights as human beings, and therefore, she said, they identify with those who have similar experiences, like Palestinians.

Third: posing the question as ‘who this land should be rightfully returned to’ is the other well-honed Zionist strategy to prevent any real discussion of justice for Palestine. In this framework, the claims of innumerable peoples over the centuries who have conquered and/or settled the land must all be taken seriously, not merely the claims of Palestinians. Meanwhile, the only people with an unbroken history stretching for millennia are ‘Jews’, who, Lustiger says, have been in Europe since the ‘Exile of first century CE’. Twenty centuries afterwards, they are still ‘In Exile’ and must ‘return’ to the land promised them by no less than God, as Golda Meir asserted. The Jewish people have a history that can be traced back for millennia, Palestinians did not exist until 1948.

For us, and for all sane voices in the region, both Israeli and Palestinian, the question is no longer to ‘determine who this land should be rightfully returned to’. The question is of how to ensure justice today in that chequered land, with its history that has already happened, and in this context we had explored the emerging voices that envision a new bi-national one-state solution, with the right-of-return for Palestinians.

Two other questions to be attended to, much beloved of India’s own Hindu rightwing, who feel very close to Zionists for reasons too obvious to recount:

» Isn’t Hamas terrible?

» Why don’t you boycott Pakistan/China?

The Hamas is very much a product of Zionist backing, much as Al-Qaida is of the US. The early activities of Hamas included attacks on leftwing and secular activists, including those of the Fatah party, and Israel fully supported it. However, when the Hamas won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections, Israel, the US and EU imposed sanctions and suspended all foreign aid, which has been crucial for Palestine’s survival. Today, Hamas rules in Gaza like any other Islamist outfit, but all dissent to and criticism of Hamas within Palestinian society obviously takes a backseat in the face of the pitiless blockade and bombing of Gaza. History has shown us that prolonged violent oppression has the power to fragment resistance, and it is only the most politically naïve or most politically motivated who will see this as reflective of the unethicality of the resistance rather than of the oppressive regime.

As for boycotts, if there is a call for the boycott of any state from those oppressed by it in some way (and this could include calls for the boycott of India), it must be debated and understood on its merits. (Of course, I don’t see as tenable any claim of Indians, especially non-resident Indians, to be ‘oppressed’ by Pakistan). We need to remember that the call for the boycott of Israel comes not only from Palestinians, but is supported by dissident Israeli voices such as Ilan Pappe. Israel has with impunity transgressed all international conventions, protocols and laws. The other state that did this on a large scale was Apartheid South Africa, against which we know the strategy of a boycott was used to good effect.

Zionism is fundamentally a failed project, and there is every likelihood we shall live to see a new democratic state resembling post-Apartheid South Africa in Palestine/Israel.

Nivedita Menon is a professor of International Studies at the Centre for Comparative Politics and Political Theory at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi