Renouncing Zionism, Reclaiming Humanity

It is about time that Jews spoke out strongly and decisively against Zionism, and the newly announced International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) is trying to do just that.

IJAN is moving towards an “offensive” against Zionism rather than the customary “reactionism,” responding to outrages, which characterizes most solidarity work.

This offensive takes two routes:

  1. A practical route through the ambitious project of establishing popular tribunals for major Zionist individuals and establishments that contributed to the cause of Zionism, especially towards establishing and supporting the material manifestation of Zionism (i.e. Israel).  One of this route’s main targets is the Jewish National Fund, which has a notorious role in the killing and uprooting of the Arab population in Palestine and in supporting Zionist colonization.
  2. A theoretical route aiming to establish a new rhetoric of liberation and to destroy “common” myths that have found their way into the everyday comprehension and language of people around the world as normal constants.

By declaring their commitment “to the dismantling of Israeli apartheid, the return of Palestinian refugees, and the ending of the Israeli colonization of historic Palestine,” the Jews of IJAN acknowledge the illegitimacy of Israel and bring back to the discussion the actual roots of how this colonial-settler enclave was established and for what reason.

This is a huge step forward, especially when the mainstream memory in Europe and the U.S. can’t remember — in historical terms — what was going on before 1967 and tends to forget the long history of Zionist colonization in the Arab region that started in the second half of the 19th century and climaxed with the establishment of Israel in 1948, after perpetrating massacres and mass expulsions of the Arab inhabitants.

Moreover, by designating Zionism as responsible for “the extensive displacement and alienation of Mizrahi Jews (Jews of African and Asian descent) from their diverse histories,” and arguing that, “[a]s Zionism took root, these Jewish histories were forced from their own course in service of the segregation of Jews imposed by the State of Israel,” the Jews of IJAN confront one of the central myths of Zionism, that of Jews being a “people,” a “nation,” and a “race.”

In this sense, Zionism portrayed itself from its onset as a “national liberation” movement.  We still have echoes of this myth even in “progressive” language: describing Zionist acts in Palestine as ethnic cleansing, racism, and comparing it to the race-based apartheid of South Africa, as if Judaism were an ethnicity or a race.

The main claim of Zionism is that Jews are “one people,” or one race of people, dispersed all over the world, eternally alienated everywhere, and therefore badly in need of a national homeland.  IJAN dismantles this false claim by identifying Jews as integral members of their original communities (from Europe to the Middle East, from Asia to Australia, from Africa to the Americas) and surpasses even the most “progressive” of Israeli organizations over the years, MATZPEN, which uses the term “Israeli-Jewish nation” in Point 12 of its Fundamental Principles.

Yet IJAN quotes Moshe Machover, a founder of MATZPEN, who lauds the initiative as part of the struggle for “the establishment of a progressive commonwealth, in which Arabs and Israeli Jews live together in peace and equality.”  Is that the vision IJAN itself wishes to project?  Its charter is unclear.

Nonetheless, IJAN in its charter calls for the “the extrication of Jewish history, politics, community, and culture from the grip of Zionism,” seeing Jewish history and culture as having been in effect ‘hijacked’ by Zionist myth and Zionist action.

The Jewish struggle for liberation should be acknowledged as part of larger, collective struggles for liberation, the human struggle for liberation, not a separate or unique struggle.

This argument redirects the Jews back into their own societies.  This is the ultimate anti- anti-Semitic position — one of Jewish integration within the societies of the world as opposed to the anti-Semitic character of Zionism identified in the IJAN charter:

“Zionism is not just racist but anti-Semitic.  It endorses the sexist European anti-Semitic imagery of the effeminate and weak ‘diaspora Jew’ and counters it with a violent and militarist ‘new Jew,’ one who is a perpetrator rather than a victim of racialized violence.”

Thus, IJAN refuses the intentional isolation and segregation of Jews adopted by Zionism and its designation of Israel as the global ghetto for the Jews.

Despite these positive moves towards a clearer diagnosis of Zionism and Israel, still a deeper understanding and analysis should be adopted by IJAN if they are to go to the end of the road of clarity and justice:

  1. IJAN must see NO particularity in the process of liberation for the Jews, except in Palestine, in which several particularities emerge, which I will mention below.  The liberation of the Jew is simply consistent with, and part of, the liberation of all humans, there is nothing particular about it, and it should be made along the lines of class struggle.  Thus the traditional antagonism of Jew/Gentile (which is profoundly exploited by Zionism) is abolished objectively.  Within a class struggle, the Jew is no longer a Jew as the Gentile in no longer a Gentile; it all melts into “class” as the mechanisms of class struggle kick in.  The establishing of a specific Jewish anti-Zionist group has a positive and a negative aspect.  The positive one is discrediting Zionism and eliminating its claim of being representative of the Jews.  The negative one is that it again sets the Jews apart as an isolated group outside the general perspective of an integrated global struggle. IJAN must find a formula that solves this paradox.
  2. The IJAN charter fails to diagnose Mizrahi Jews (Mizrahim, Jews of Asian and African descent in Israel) as colonial settlers as well.  Second-class colonial settlers, to be sure, but colonial settlers all the same.  On the contrary, IJAN diagnoses them as an oppressed population with whom alliances are to be built, disregarding the fact that many of the ultra-orthodox Zionist parties, such as Shas, are those of Mizrahi origin and/or membership, in addition to their being part of the Israeli colonial matrix: the settlements, the army, the identity, and so on.
  3. The IJAN charter, although mentioning dismantling “Israel” as a prerequisite towards destroying Zionism and its accompanying project in the Arab region,
    1. fails to stress that Israel is an illegitimate entity.  This is a key point in addressing people who take Israel for granted on the basis of UN recognition and the current state of world affairs and power balances.
    2. fails to stress that Israel is a colonial settler project that should not be reconciled with, as previous experiences in human history (the US, South America, Australia, Canada, etc.) have been.  Humanity has reconciled itself with the disastrous and most horrific acts of colonial-settlerism.  Palestine should not be another shameful addition to the list.
    3. fails to stress that Israel is the materialist manifestation of Zionism, therefore fighting Israel and decolonizing it are the two most important actions that can lead to the end of Zionism.
    4. Moreover, it does not

    5. mention that Israelis, whether they know it or not, are an active part in this colonial-settler oppressive project by being Israeli citizens, thus legitimizing directly or indirectly the Zionist dogma.  By taking up the Israeli identity, one is unifying himself/herself with the material manifestation of Zionism.  Just as the anti-Vietnam-war youth burned their draft papers as a symbol of complete rejection of the US aggression and as a symbol of clear and irrevocable separation from the US war machine, Israeli citizens (Jews especially, but not only Jews) should be encouraged to burn their Israeli citizenship as a symbol of rejection of the Zionist project they are drafted into.
    6. speak out boldly and forthrightly in support of military resistance as one of the most effective mechanisms in confronting the military-based colonial project.  The IJAN charter clearly sees Israel as a militarized aggressive entity.  Experiences with Israel (especially the defeats of Israel in Lebanon in 2000 and 2006) clearly show the centrality of the language of force against an aggressor.  The military resistance against Nazism illustrates the same lesson, but one should remove his/her white supremacist blindfold to comprehend that the people of the South are no less people and have the natural right to resist via all means necessary, at the top of which (since we’re talking about resisting an imperialist-supported, armed-to-the-tooth watchdog) comes the military resistance of the people that has and will evolve in different formsover time.

The IJAN Charter also fails to propose and push for practical steps towards dismantling the Zionist project, such as:

  1. Calling upon all the Jews in Israel to de-colonize Palestine, thus dismantling the Zionist project from within.
  2. Setting up a network of action groups/offices all over Europe, the US, Asia, Africa, and even the Arab World, to help Israeli Jews in decolonization and to integrate them back into their original societies.
  3. Calling upon the Israeli Jews to burn the Israeli citizenship documents and declare themselves non-Israeli, thus materially detaching themselves from Zionism and its horrific profoundly unjust manifestations.
  4. Calling upon Israeli Jews not to turn toward the pseudo-progressive formula of a ‘single democratic bi-national state’ in Palestine but to consider breaking that settler bond with Palestine totally and completely, relocating elsewhere.  Emigration from the Israeli state should become a major focus for the concrete overcoming of Zionism.

IJAN’s founding charter was publicly launched in the U.K. on 2 October 2008, the same day the University of California Press published Neve Gordon’s path-breaking study Israel’s Occupation.   This book looks in depth at how the very structures of the Israeli Occupation dictate its reproduction and consequent brutality, projecting a “genealogy of control.”   Yet Gordon, a professor at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, characteristically does not call for the dismantling of the settler community of which he is a part, nor the colonial-settler university which is his academic home, and which is inextricably bound up with the structures of colonial control he illuminates and decries.  The Negev (al-Naqab) is itself under colonial control, not just the Occupied Territories.

IJAN is a positive step forward, and people in IJAN should complete their march towards the end of the road of political and historic clarity.  Only there is true revolutionary change possible.  It is about time that the Jews renounce Zionism — physically, bodily, not simply verbally — reclaiming their humanity by divestment themselves of the physical presence of a settler society on conquered and colonized land.

Hisham Bustani is a Marxist writer and activist.  He is the Secretary of the Socialist Thought Forum in Jordan, and a member of the coordination committee of the Resistant Arab People’s Alliance.  The author wish to thank Bill Templer and Ebtihal Mahadin for editorial assistance.

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