Is Zionism a Manifestation of Jewish Identity and if so What Does That Say About Being Jewish Today?
This is Zionism – Destroying Palestinian Water Wells with Concrete and making them Water Poor
Everyone knew that Apartheid in South Africa was a system of racial domination by the White minority over the Black population. Likewise everyone knew that Unionism in Northern Ireland meant Protestant supremacy over the Catholic population, although in both cases apologists for Apartheid and Unionism suggested that it was not so much about racism as much as questions of identity and culture. [see for example Graham Walker’s Old History: Protestant Ulster in Lee’s “Ireland”, The Irish Review, No. 12 (Spring – Summer, 1992]
Supporters of Zionism, both the ideology and the movement, have long denied that there is any comparison between Israel and Apartheid South Africa. However the reality on the ground suggests otherwise. Every human rights group of note – Amnesty International, B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch – has produced detailed reports describing how the mechanisms of Jewish supremacy work in Israel.
The IHRA ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism, whose sole purpose was to conflate criticism of Zionism and Israel with anti-Semitism, says that to even call the establishment of a Jewish state racist is anti-Semitic. Since Israel is clearly a racist state, what the IHRA is really saying is that something can be true and still be anti-Semitic.
So what is Zionism? Is it a synonym for being Jewish? Is it a form of cultural or personal identity? And furthermore who should get to define it? Is it the Zionists or their victims?
The Chakrabarti Report
In her Report of 30 June 2016 into racism and ‘anti-Semitism’ in the Labour Party Shami Chakrabarti wrote that:
it is for all people to self-define their political beliefs and I cannot hope to do justice to the rich range of self-descriptions of both Jewishness or Zionism, even within the Labour Party, that I have heard. What I will say is that some words have been used and abused by accident and design so much as to blur, change or mutate their meaning. My advice to critics of the Israeli State and/or Government is to use the term “Zionist” advisedly, carefully and never euphemistically or as part of personal abuse.
This was a good example of the meaningless verbiage that advocates of the diversity agenda and identity politics indulge in. Should we accept without question people’s self-definition of their political beliefs? Do we accept neo-liberal assertions that they are believers in economic and political freedom rather than blood sucking vampires feeding off the NHS at the expense of health budgets?
If self definition is the end of the matter then there is no way of distinguishing between the bogus and fraudulent and the truthful. Evidence is irrelevant. Every exploiter becomes the exploited. Everything is subjective and metaphysical. As David Feldman pointed out this leads to “conceptual chaos”.
Should we accept that the Nazis were merely German patriots who were led astray? That is certainly the view of those ardent supporters of Zionism, Germany’s Alternative for Germany which is currently at 20% in the polls.
Members of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, including party leader and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir as well as Negev, Galilee and National Resilience Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf hold a party meeting at the illegal West Bank settlement outpost of Evyatar, February 27, 2023. (Courtesy: Otzma Yehudit)
According to Chakrabarti’s vacuous wittering every political charlatan can hide their corruption under the badge of cultural and personal self-identity. Chakrabarti is right that anyone can self-define, but no one has the right to expect someone else to accept that self-definition.
People defining themselves as Zionists in the belief that they are merely expressing their ethnic and cultural identity are no different from someone defining themselves as a Jeddi, which thousands do. Except that the latter are harmless whereas Zionists are anything but.
A good example of this method was Horatio Bottomley, who hid his frauds under the badge of patriotism. The Editor of John Bull, in 1922 he was gaoled for defrauding his electors and expelled from parliament.
Chakrabarti didn’t have a clue about Zionism and saw it as a form of personal identity, part of a ‘rich range of self-descriptions.’ One wonders whether other racist ideologies could be so described? And isn’t the definition of Zionism best left to the Palestinians who have experienced it at the sharp end? Unfortunately Chakrabarti did not possess the intellectual equipment to interrogate her Zionist witnesses as to what Zionism meant in practice.
Why should some dim-witted middle class kid from Golders Green or a Jewish American Princess, who believes she is suffering holocaust trauma, be endowed with an insight into Zionism that the villagers of Masafer Yatta are denied? Who has the greater experience of Zionism in practice? The spoilt Jewish brat or the bereaved relatives of the children murdered in Jenin?
Yet illusions in Zionism persist. Neil Caplan in an article Talking Zionism, Doing Zionism, Studying Zionism, wrote that
Zionism is also a multi-faceted ideology that evolved into the modern State of Israel and has also produced a voluminous historiography.
This is historic nonsense. Zionism did not ‘evolve’. The State of Israel came about as a result of the the planned ethnic cleansing of three-quarters of a million Palestinians. Nor was there anything multi-faceted about it. All wings of Zionism, ‘left’ and ‘right’, agreed that the goal was a Jewish State which inevitably meant the expulsion of the Palestinians. Yet thousands of people believed this nonsense.
Nor is it simply bourgeois ideologues who believe that Zionism is a movement with a left and a right. Many otherwise good socialists also do so. Gilbert Achcar, who leads what remains of the Fourth International in Britain, criticised the equation of Zionism and racism for its
totalizing nature. There is Zionism and there is “Zionism”… we can hardly treat all Zionists … as birds of the same racist feather. [The Arabs and the Holocaust (p.274)].
According to Jonathan Shamir in Zionism: the history of a contested word:
Anti-Zionism is a negative ideology, and is therefore contingent on the definition of its positive counterpart. The word Zionism, however, is so ambiguous and varied in its meaning and so imbued with emotion, so firmly tied to identity, that invoking it stifles any productive conversation.
Could you expect a Holocaust survivor who found succour in Israel to disavow Zionism entirely? Could you expect a Palestinian expelled from their home and prevented from ever entering it again to be anything but an anti-Zionist?
To move forward, we need to abandon these terms when it comes to discussing Israel-Palestine.
What this verbal flatulence means is that Palestinians should abandon their opposition to Zionism in order to satisfy the tender consciences of liberal Zionists like Shamir.
So the question persists. What is Zionism? I hope that I can at least provide the outlines of an answer and explain why Zionism is irredeemably racist and colonist.
What is Zionism?
Zionism began as a reaction of Jewish intellectuals and the petit-bourgeoisie to anti-Semitism and in particular the Odessa pogroms of 1881 after the assassination of Czar Alexander II. A section of Jewish society despaired of ever achieving equality with non-Jews and yet they feared the working class.
Zionism was a reaction which accepted the framework of debate that the anti-Semites set, namely that Jews did not belong in non-Jewish society. This led to the setting up of the first Zionist organisation, The Lovers of Zion in 1882.
Why did Zionism believe that Jews did not belong in non-Jewish society?
Firstly they held that anti-Semitism was inherent in the non-Jew. Anti-Semitism could not be fought and if it couldn’t be fought then the only option left was escape. Leon Pinsker of Hovvei Zion (Lovers of Zion) expressed this best:
Judeophobia is then a mental disease, and as a mental disease it is hereditary, and having been inherited for 2,000 years, it is incurable.
Why fight something which was incurable? Fifteen years later, during the battle to exonerate Captain Dreyfus, Herzl expressed similar ideas:
In Paris… I achieved a freer attitude towards anti-Semitism, which I now began to understand historically and to pardon. Above all, I recognise the emptiness and futility of trying to ‘combat’ anti-Semitism.
Secondly, because Jews were ‘exiled’ 2,000 years ago from their homeland, they lacked an attachment to the soil of the country they lived in. As a result they had developed anti-social qualities. It was only by re-establishing a Jewish state that Jews could take their proper place in the world.
Intrinsic to the Zionist idea was that Jews, wherever they lived, formed a single Jewish nation. In essence this was a belief in a Jewish race. How could Jews who lived across the globe and who spoke a variety of difference languages, be members of the same nation? As Moses Hess, an early Zionist, wrote:
The Germans hate the religion of the Jews less than their race… The Jewish race is a primary race which… accommodates itself to all conditions and retains its integrity. The Jewish type has always remained indelibly the same throughout the centuries.
According to David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister and the pivotal figure in post-Herzlian Zionism, ‘exile’ (Galut) had been ‘a prolonged interlude in the history of Israel’. The diaspora represented a historical void.
Ben Gurion and the Zionist movement held that until Emancipation in the 19th century, Jews knew that the countries where they lived were only a temporary exile, and it did not even occur to them that they were a part of the peoples among whom they lived. That this is patent nonsense is borne out by the fact that it took a long fight by the Jewish bourgeoisie before they achieved emancipation in the UK and elsewhere.
The Zionist left, Poale Zion, which called itself Marxist, subscribed to the idea that Jewish diaspora society could never be ‘normal’ until a Jewish Palestine was created. Its founder Ber Borochov, had been expelled from the Russian Social Democratic Party in 1901 for his Zionism.
Borochov had a theory that the social structure of the Jews in the West resembled an inverted pyramid. There were too many rich Jews at the top and too few Jewish workers at the bottom.
The creation of a Jewish State, which was what marked out Zionism, would rectify this problem. In order to form such a state the Zionist movement sought an alliance with an imperialist power. Without an alliance with Britain or another power, Zionism would have been just one more harmless messianic movement.
Everything else is post-hoc justification. The myth has grown up that Zionism sought to create a Jewish state as a refuge for Jews living under persecution. That their goal was in essence humanitarian, even if their methods were not.
It needs emphasising that the original Labour Zionist pioneers saw themselves as an elite and held the diaspora in contempt. They were creating a new society and dispensing with the old.
Zionism realised from the start that without anti-Semitism there was no Zionism. The Zionism movement needed the ‘push’ of anti-Semitism. As Herzl wrote in his Diaries,
The anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the antisemitic countries our allies.
Zionism was not simply an escape from an anti-Semitism that couldn’t be fought. The Zionist pioneers saw themselves as elitists, the ‘new Jew’. Arthur Ruppin, the most important figure in Palestinian Zionism after Ben Gurion, was an ardent believer in the racial sciences and eugenics. This is not surprising since the claims of Zionism to Palestine are at root a form of biological racism. Zionism believes that European Jews were descended from the Hebrews tribes.
Chaim Weizmann, the President of the Zionist Organisation, said in 1919 that ‘Alas, Zionism can’t provide a solution for catastrophes.’ The ZO ensured that Palestine was closed to thousands of survivors of the Ukrainian pogroms. Professor Gur Alroey described how
‘Weizmann preferred productive immigrants over needy refugees and thought the Land of Israel needed strong, healthy immigrants, not refugees weak in body and spirit.’ [Ha’aretz 3.12.21]
Ben Gurion, the Chairman of the Jewish Agency, the pre-state government-in-waiting, explained that the purpose of Zionism was first and foremost to establish a state that would perpetuate the Jewish nation/race. Saving Jews as individuals was secondary.
The Kindertransport of children 1938-1940
When, after Kristallnacht, the British government agreed to allow 10,000 Jewish children into Britain, (Kindertransport)the Zionists were furious. Ben Gurion, in a speech to Mapai’s Central Committee on 9 December 1938 explained why:
People are horrified by the desire of Ben Gurion to save half the children as long as they went to Palestine, in preference to saving all of them in the diaspora. The final sentence, counterposing the life of the children to the history of the Jews, is often ignored. Ben Gurion’s reason for opposing the emigration of Jews to anywhere but Palestine was his view of the ‘history of the People’. Jewish history meant, above all, a Jewish state.
Redemption of the land
Zionism sought to ‘redeem’ the land of Palestine. Zionist propagandists argue that ‘redemption’ of the land simply meant bringing back land into productive use. Another Zionist myth. Most land in Palestine was already in use. In Zionist mythology they were ‘making the desert bloom.’ Ahad Ha’am, the principal figure in Cultural Zionism wrote in Truth from Eretz Yisrael in 1891, at the time of the First Aliyah (wave of emigration) that:
From abroad, we are accustomed to believe that Eretz Israel is presently almost totally desolate, an uncultivated desert and that anyone wishing to buy land there can come and buy all he wants. But in truth this is not so. In the entire land it is it is hard to find tillable land that is not already tilled. Only sandy fields or stony hills, suitable at best for planting trees or vines and even that after considerable work in clearing and preparing them – only these remain unworked, because the Arabs don’t like to exert themselves today for a distant future. [Alan Dowty, Much ado about Little – Ahad Ha’am’s “Truth from Eretz Yisrael,” Zionism and the Arabs, Israel Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Fall, 2000)
So what did Zionist redemption of the land really mean? Israeli historian Jacob Talmon referred to
‘extremely nationalistic and certain religious persons… who state that the Holocaust was a necessary stage in the Jewish historical drama, as a type of suffering prior to redemption. The price of redemption’
The Zionist leaders conceived the destruction of European Jewry as a ‘final apocalyptic vindication of Zionism.’ [Yechiam Weitz, Jewish Refugees and Zionist Policy during the Holocaust, p. 351]
This messianism resembled the Evangelical belief that Jews must die in order to achieve salvation through Rapture. Zionism was a form of political Messianism, hence its description of its colonisatory project as one of ‘Jewish Redemption’. [Days of Redemption, Allan Arkush, Jewish Review of Books, Spring 2022],
Arkush quoted Nahum Sokolow, President of the Zionist Organisation as explaining that
“Zionism is the direct heir to the biblical promise and to Jewish messianic expectations.”
Ben Gurion wrote that one of the three principal tasks of Zionism was
Deepening the attachment to the Messianic vision of redemption that is the vision of Jewish and human redemption held by prophets of Israel.
Redemption was not merely a religious or messianic idea but a practical programme of colonisation. Ben Gurion, at a meeting of Yishuv’s Vad Leumi, 5 May 1936. argued that:
If we want Hebrew redemption 100%, then we must have a 100% Hebrew settlement, a 100% Hebrew farm, and a 100% Hebrew port.
I remember being one of the first of our comrades [of Ahdut Ha’avodah] to go to London after the First World War…. There I became a socialist….[in Palestine] I had to fight my friends on the issue of Jewish socialism, to defend the fact that I would not accept Arabs in my trade union, the Histadrut; to defend preaching to housewives that they not buy at Arab stores; to prevent Arab workers from getting jobs there…. To pour kerosene on Arab tomatoes; to attack Jewish housewives in the markets and smash the Arab eggs they had bought; to praise to the skies the Kereen Kayemet [Jewish National Fund] that sent Hankin to Beirut to buy land from absentee effendi [landlords] and to throw the fellahin [peasants] off the land — to buy dozens of dunams — from an Arab is permitted, but to sell, God forbid, one Jewish dunam to an Arab is prohibited. (my emphasis)
The 1930 Hope-Simpson Report, set up in the wake of the 1929 riots found that:
Actually the result of the purchase of land in Palestine by the Jewish National Fund has been that land has been extraterritorialised. It ceases to be land from which the Arab can gain any advantage either now or at any time in the future. Not only can he never hope to lease or to cultivate it, but, by the stringent provisions of the lease of the Jewish National Fund, he is deprived for ever from employment on that land. Nor can anyone help him by purchasing the land and restoring it to common use. The land is in mortmain and inalienable. It is for this reason that Arabs discount the professions of friendship and good will on the part of the Zionists in view of the policy which the Zionist Organisation deliberately adopted.
Zionism today doesn’t refer to itself as a colonising movement. It purports to be a national movement of the Jews, even a national liberation movement but its founders were very clear that it was a colonizing movement. On January 11 1902 Herzl wrote to Cecil Rhodes after whom Rhodesia was named, asking:
“How, then, do I happen to turn to you since this is an out-of-the-way matter for you? How indeed? Because it is something colonial… I want you … to put the stamp of your authority on the Zionist plan…’
Baron Maurice de Hirsch founded the Jewish Colonisation Authority [ICA] in 1891 to settle European Jews in Argentina. After his death in 1896 the ICA began funding colonisation in Palestine. In 1923 it changed its name to Palestine Jewish Colonisation Authority. [PICA] Because it didn’t subscribe to a policy of Jewish Labour, which meant a Boycott of Arab Labour, it came under continual attack from the Labour Zionists and Histadrut.
The Zionist idea of redemption of the land meant redeeming it from the Palestinian Arabs. The Jewish National Fund, founded, in 1901, had a policy laid down in its constitution that land once purchased could never be sold back or let to Arabs. Its leases stipulated that Arabs could not even be employed on the land.
There are those who believed that Zionism was a form of scaffolding that would be abandoned once a Jewish State was established. One such is Avraham Burg, a former Chair of the Jewish Agency and knesset member of the Israeli Labor Party, who saw Zionism as
a kind of scaffolding that was supposed to enable the Jewish people to move from [exile]to sovereignty.” In the past 150 years, that mission was accomplished, he says. Now it’s about time to remove the scaffolding. [The man who would tear down ‘scaffolding’ of Zionism, 9.12.08]
Zionism is not about to change its spots. The Israeli state was never going to be normalised after the ethnic cleansing of 1948. Once it set out down along that road it would continue, until we reach the present Israeli government, with their open desire to transfer all Palestinians in the West Bank into Jordan.
Clause7 of the Jewish Nation State Law of 2018 stipulates that
The State views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value, and shall act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.
This is a basic, quasi-constitutional law. Clause 1(c) states that:
The realization of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is exclusive to the Jewish People
Jewish Settlement means Jewish only settlement. So Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court accepted the Israel Land Authority’s claims requiring the residents of the unrecognized Bedouin village of Ras Jrabah to evacuate by March 2024. Why? In order that Israel could build a new Jewish neighbourhood for the city of Dimona. [Ha’aretz, July 28, 2023] There has never been an eviction of an illegal Jewish settlement for the reason that no Jewish settlement is illegal whereas half of the Arab villages in Israel are ‘unrecognised’.
When people think of Israeli settler-colonialism they think in terms of the West Bank but there has also been a continual process of internal colonisation within the borders of pre-1967 Israel. It goes by the name ‘Judaisation’, which is the ‘thinning out’ of the Arab populations of the Galilee, Negev and East Jerusalem. It is no different in principle to the Nazis’ Aryanisation of German towns. These plans went under the name of the Prawer Plan and the Koenig Memorandum.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s Jewish Nazi Police & Security Minister
Judaisation did not originate with the Judeo-Nazi Ben-Gvir. It was the brain child of Mapai and it came in the form of the Koenig Memorandum. The Koenig Memorandum first became public in September 1976 when it was printed in Al Hamishmar, paper of the then leftist Zionist party, Mapam.
Israel Koenig, the Report’s author was a senior member of Mapai and District Commissioner for Northern Israel in charge of Israel’s Arab citizens who, for the first 18 years lived under military rule.
A month ago the Knesset approved an amendment to the Admissions Committee Law 2011. The original law gave the right of Jewish communities of up to 400 families to set up admissions committees which could exclude people based on their perceived ‘social suitability’. In practice this meant that no Palestinian Israeli could be accepted. The amendment increases the number of families to 700.
The amendment passed the Knesset by 42-11 with a number of the ‘Opposition’ voting for it. Just 2 members of the Israeli Labor Party voted against it. The original law was passed in 2011 in order to circumvent a Supreme Court ruling in 2000 (Kadan) that prevented the Israeli Lands Authority from selling to Jews only.
The Medal the Nazis Struck to Commemorate the visit of the Head of the Gestapo Jewish Desk, Baron von Mildenstein, to the Kibbutzim of the Labour Zionists in 1933
Ben-Gvir, Netanyahu and ‘Zionist Values’
Ben-Gvir and Netanyahu set the cat amongst the Zionist pigeons when they proposed a resolution in the Knesset advocating that ‘Zionist values’ must inform Government policy.
One indication of what these values are is Ben-Gvir’s statement that:
“We are losing the Negev and the Galilee. This resolution will enable [us] to prioritize values to Judaize the Galilee with settlement, and IDF soldiers and the security forces,”
What you might wonder is happening in the Negev and Galilee that they are in imminent danger of being lost? Are they about to float away in the Mediterranean? Not at all. I am reliably informed that they remain in the same position that they’ve always been in!
Yitzhak Wasserlauf – Israeli Government Minister
What Gvir means by lost is that they are ‘lost’ to the Jewish people. In other words there are too many Arabs living there. According to the Times of Israel Yitzhak Wasserlauf, the Negev, Galilee and National Resilience Minister, and Otzma Yehudit wants to Judaise the Negev and Galilee because of ‘the large Arab populations in those regions’.
Imagine that the British government decided, in the light of the fact that ethnic minorities make up the majority of Londoners, that they were going to adopt a British First policy increasing the number of White Britons in London. Racist? How could anyone doubt this yet in Israel ‘Judaisation’ is normal consensual Zionist politics.
The Times of Israel reported that in April ‘during a tour of illegal Bedouin villages in the Negev’ Ben-Gvir stated that one of his goals as minister was “activities to increase Jewish settlement and its foundations in the Negev and Galilee.”
This state of affairs exists in no other western country. Because Israel is a state of the fictional ‘Jewish People’ this racial engineering is not commented on. In the words of Netanyahu
This was in response to criticism by Israeli actor, Rotem Sela, who protested against the racist incitement of Culture Minister Miri Regev who, in the election campaign, had accused other Zionist parties of being willing to form a government with Arab parties. Sela wrote:
“When the hell will someone in this government convey to the public that Israel is a state of all its citizens and that all people were created equal? Even the Arabs – believe it or not – are human beings,”
Netanyahu was right. Israel is not a state of all of its citizens. It is a state of its Jewish citizens only. Within Israel only Jews have the right of self-determination. Arabs have no such rights because they aren’t nationals of the state they live in. They live in Israel on sufferance. I, who have never lived in Israel, have more rights as a diaspora Jew than a Palestinian born there even if they possess Israeli citizenship.
In February Wasserlauf, lamented that just 14 percent of the population of the Galilee was Jewish and even worse “an extra 135,000 Bedouin and Arabs” had been added to the region’s population over the last decade, compared to “just 1,200 Jews.” In a state based on race, it is important that the dominant or master race is in a majority everywhere. It is a racist counting of heads.
The explanatory text of Wasserlauf’s resolution states that considerations used by the government and its various branches sometimes “ignore basic Zionist values,” including “in [the field of] settlement, security, culture, and immigration.” The resolution states:
“We determine… that the values of Zionism, as they are expressed in the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, will be guiding and decisive values in the formulation of public administrative policy, internal and foreign policy, legislation and government activity and all its units and agencies… first and foremost in the fields of settlement and in giving benefits to those who served in the army and the security services, or civilian service, with priority for those who performed combat duty,”
The Zionist ‘opposition’ rushed to oppose the latest proposals, even though they agree with them. War criminal Tzipi Livni declared:
“This is not Zionism, this is the continuation of the nationalistic insanity and another spit [in the face] for the values of equality in the Declaration of Independence, which states that ‘The State of Israel will strive towards the development of the land for all its inhabitants,’”
Yair Lapid, the last Prime Minister, argued that the resolution was discriminatory against the Druze, who alone amongst Israeli Arabs, serve in the Israeli army. Lapid said that ‘rather than the decision representing Zionism, it represented racism.’ But Zionism is a form of racism. This is the same Lapid who said
The Israeli Labor Party has always declared that it wishes to see a separation between the Palestinians and Jews which was its reason for supporting a Palestinian ‘state’ (in reality a Bantustan) in the West Bank. It did not want a Palestinian majority in a ‘Jewish’ state. Apartheid too was defined by its authors as ‘separate development.’
When Netanyahu, Wasserlauf and Ben-Gvir talk about Zionist values they are talking about the values of the Labour Zionist movement and successive ILP governments. They are the values of ethnic cleansing, land confiscation, discriminatory treatment, wars of expansion and colonisation. It used to be called Jewish Labour, Land and Produce. What the ILP started Ben-Gvir is finishing.