Monday, May 25, 2009

The Three-Legged Monster

by Gilad Atzmon for Paletine Think Tank

Unlike her cosmopolitan brothers and sisters who spread Zionism and tribal racism using a liberal and progressive disguise, Melanie Philips is open about it all. The other day she defined what Zionism is in a very clear manner:

“Zionism,” writes Philips, “is simply the movement for the self-determination of the Jewish people. And its significance is greater than any other movement of national liberation because Judaism itself rests upon three legs — the people, the religion and the land. If one is lopped off by having its legitimacy denied, the whole thing collapses. That is why anti-Zionism is far more than an unpleasant political position. It is a direct attack on Judaism itself.”

Philips doesn’t leave much room for speculation. For her, not only is Zionism a legitimate national movement, ‘its significance is greater than any other movement’ because it rests upon ‘three legs’. Thinking about it for a second, it is indeed significant for something to rest upon three legs, I myself rest upon just two legs and a bit. Occasionally when I stand naked in front of the mirror I wish I were Zionism.

As Philips maintains, Zionism is indeed an amalgam of three Jewish ingredients: the people, the land and the religion. It is this very composition that makes Zionism into an epic victorious narrative. It is this very mixture that made Zionism into the 20th century collective symbolic identifier of the Jewish people. It is Zionism that has managed to reinvent the Jewish people as a nation with a lucid ideological, spiritual and geographical aspiration. Yet, as much as Zionism makes a lot of sense to very many Jews around the world, it makes less and less sense for those who fail to be chosen i.e., the rest of humanity. The reason is simple, Jews may be welcomed to celebrate their symptoms collectively but they are not exactly entitled to do so at the expense of anyone else.

Zionism has managed to interpret Judaism as a brutal license to plunder and kill. It transformed a spiritual text into a land registry. It primarily invented the Jews as nation. It then set for the newly born nation a task of immoral geographical aspiration with some devastating racist colonial implications.

One may wonder, how did Zionism managed to be so successful, how did it manage to get away with murder, and how has it done so for so long? At the end of the day, the lethal mixture of ‘land’-‘religion’-‘people’ stands in complete opposition to the post-war Western cultural and political narrative (cosmopolitan / multi-cultural / multi-faith / open borders).

I tend to believe that Philips’ equation Zionism = Judaism is the most effective Zionist tactic of them all. It leads towards a severe paralysis of most humanist opposition of Zionism. The reason is obvious, ordinary ethical beings do not know how to comb the knots out of this shattering formula that leads them to criticism of a religious belief system.

In fact one way around it is to dispute Philips’ equation. Zionism doesn’t equal Judaism. Zionism is a mere radical narrow interpretation of Judaism. It takes the biblical plunderous narrative and turns it into a daily practice. It takes the Judaic moral notion of chosenness and turns it into crude supremacist agenda. Rather than Judaism, Zionism is in fact the true genuine face of Jewish ideology. It is racist, it is chauvinist, it is seeking power; but it is different from Judaism, for Judaism is centred around the fear of God and Zionism is totally fearless. Accordingly, It will be right to argue that to oppose Zionism is to oppose Jewish ideology or what I myself define as ‘Jewishness’.

It must be said that Zionism regards itself as an enlightened rational movement. To a certain extent, as an ideology and praxis, it tries to understand itself, it seeks explanations or at least justifications in rational and historical terms (rather than ethical ones). Melanie Philips, it must be said, is offering a coherent argument. She says, ‘this is what we are’, taking this from us is a dismissal of our right to be.

I believe that Philips framework is correct, it is her terminology that is slightly confusing. It is not Zionism = religion but rather Zionism and Jewishness that are intrinsically connected. If we want to oppose Zionism for real, we set ourselves into an inevitable conflict with Jewish ideology. To oppose Zionism is to admit that we have a serious issue with Jewish nationalism, with Jewish tribalism, with Jewish racist ideology, with Jewish supremacy and Jewish collectivism. To oppose Zionism is to admit that we have a problem with the ‘Jewish thing’.

However, it may be noted that if Zionists such as Philips are entitled to suggest the equation between Zionism and Judaism, the opponent of Zionism should not be reluctant to do the same and to extend the critique of Zionism to Jewish ideology and beyond.

I mentioned numerous times in the past. As it happened, it is actually Zionists and Israeli dissidents who seem to push the anti-Zionist discourse ahead. The reason is pretty simple. Israeli dissidents are far from being reluctant to expose or reflect on their collective past. Unlike the tribal Diaspora Jewish left activists that are quick to dismiss any complicity in Israeli crimes by shouting “not in my name,” some Israeli dissident voices tend to take direct responsibility. They understand the notion of guilt and they turn it into responsibility.

A month ago Haaretz published an article by Uri Avnery in its ‘Israeli Independence Day Special Edition. ‘Living With The Contradiction’ was an attempt of an Israeli humanist to face his own original sin within an historical perspective.

Avnery is an astonishing writer. Though I tend to disagree with him on various issues, the man is no doubt a leading voice of reason in that doomed state. Unlike Melanie Philips who supports Zionism from afar, Avnery was a commando soldier in 1948. He was himself personally involves in the creation of Israel. “We knew that if we won the war, there would be a state and that if we were defeated there would be no state - and that we would not be around, either.”

Unlike Melanie Philips who speaks about ‘a land’, Avnery was one pf those who invaded the land and expelled its habitants.

“We left no Arabs behind our front line, and the Arabs did likewise,” and yet, Avnery, unlike Phi;ips, realises that the Zionist amalgam People / Land / Religion leads towards disaster. Israel’s original sin is not is not exactly a recipe for peace.

“How then is it possible,” asks Avnery, “to reconcile the contradiction between our intentions and feelings at the time, when we established the state and paid for it with our blood, pure and simple, and the historic injustice we inflicted on the other side?”

He continues, “It is necessary for our mental health as a nation and as human beings, and it is the first step toward future reconciliation. We must admit and recognize the consequences of our actions and repair what can be repaired, without disavowing our past and youthful innocence.” Avnery goes out of his way to explain rather than justify the 1948 sin, yet he is searching for reconciliation. He understands that the Jewish state will be doomed unless it faces its past.

I wish that those who contribute to the Palestinian solidarity discourse would have the courage exhibited by Philips and Avnery. I wish that like Philips, we would have the courage to equate Zionism with Judaism yet to use it as a critical shift. I wish we could look at the Nakba like Avnery with fear and yet to draw the necessary conclusion, to demand the right of return.