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Poster designed by Marc Rudin published by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) circa 1988. (Source- Palestine Poster Project Archives)

A guide to principled anti-Zionism

Originally published: Mondoweiss by Steven Salaita (October 1, 2018)   | 

An optimal anti-Zionism supersedes Palestine’s geography. It likewise transcends ethnocentric interests. Anti-Zionism is a politics and a discourse, sometimes a vocation, but at its best it is also a sensibility, one attuned to disorder and upheaval. It is a commitment to unimaginable possibilities—that is, to realizing what arbiters of common sense like to call “impossible.”

What, then, does a principled anti-Zionism look like? And what might it accomplish? Here are some suggestions:

  • It is internationalist in the classic Marxist sense of the term; as such, it informs and absorbs liberation movements around the world.
  • It is anti-capitalist because Palestine will be free only when nobody within its borders is exploited. (You can agitate for something less perfect, yes, but the language should reflect the limitations of that approach.)
  • It recognizes that mass extinction is earth’s immediate forecast. Israel has destroyed Palestine’s environment with an array of bulldozers, munitions, and chemical weapons, along with overdevelopment to accommodate settlers. It is, in short, an ecological catastrophe requiring what Anthony Galluzzo terms a “decelerationist socialism” to avert or at least mitigate our “literal gothic nightmare.”
  • It moves beyond opposition to military occupation. Decolonization is key. The difference may appear semantic, but it’s actually significant. In addition to disrupting the colonizer’s physical and political control, decolonization aims to abolish the settler’s psychic influence.
  • It is feminist in both theory and practice. There’s no pre-patriarchal history in Palestine to satisfy our nostalgia, but this shouldn’t prevent us from pursuing a post-patriarchal future.  It’s critical to decouple visions of this pursuit from Western orthodoxies around sex and gender.
  • It opposes all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. This principle on its own decisively rebukes Zionism.
  • It is anti-imperialist. While anti-Zionism and anti-imperialism are coterminous, some elements of the pro-Palestine crowd yearn for a world the USA can dominate without Israeli interference.  Other elements of the crowd have a bad habit of supporting U.S. interventions that either benefit or directly involve Israel (as in Syria). Imperialism executes colonial fantasies of redemption; it has no place in any serious political community.
  • It doesn’t reduce Palestine to a branding device that can be invoked or ignored depending on the mood of editors and prize committees, or an instrument of celebrity to be calibrated according to market fluctuations in the pundit economy.
  • It doesn’t give progressive politicians a pass when they suck up to the Israel lobby.

These suggestions, I realize, risk transforming Palestine into a utopian tableau, perhaps a search for some kind of “Palestinian Wakanda,” as a prominent activist put it at a recent event I attended.  There’s much to be said about the benefits that would come from basic freedoms (travel, medical care, civil rights, housing, and so forth). I see no appreciable conflict between efforts at short-term relief and long-term emancipation. Upholding principles that maintain the dignity of struggle foregrounds an effective material politics. We oughtn’t surrender notions of possibility to people who adore a stunted imagination.

Moreover, the suggestions don’t simply appeal to Palestine solidarity activists; they also demand that progressive formations take up anti-Zionism. We’re well past the point where it’s acceptable to dispose of Palestine as a matter of choice or necessity. There’s significant opposition to Israeli brutality on the U.S. left, but hardly any consequence in electoral culture for cosigning or ignoring that brutality.

Done without care, opposition to Israeli brutality can reify other forms of oppression, or it can conceptualize Israel as an aberration from honorable American values. Israel doesn’t corrupt the United States—nor does the United States corrupt Israel. Both states originated through corruption—as paragons of foreign settlement, land theft, environmental degradation, racial inequality, and labor exploitation—a condition they mutually reproduce within and beyond their borders. Israel doesn’t distract the United States from its otherwise noble mission in the world; it helps the United States manage a world order beneficial to its ruling class.

Disrupting those benefits is easier than it might seem. We shouldn’t voluntarily concede to the oppressor, first of all. The needs of power aren’t our guidepost for liberation; our notions of justice aren’t derivative of colonial logic. At its best, a principled anti-Zionism understands that freedom isn’t merely an optimal byproduct of struggle, but its only acceptable outcome.

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