Monday, November 22, 2010

Compromise, Delegitimise or Misunderstood

Is Zionism racism?

There has been an interesting discourse surrounding a couple of Jewish dominated blogs, the higher traffic being generated on Mondoweiss, which has a much higher following than the other, the Magnes Zionist, run by Jeremiah Haber. In fact, Haber got the inspiration to write his latest FAQ on Zionism as a response to an initial post by Jeremy Slater on Mondoweiss. Both had the main protaginist as Zionism and both defended the ideology from the accusation being flung around that it is a racist ideology that discriminates. Slater and Haber themselves both identify heavily with Zionism and both have strong ties to the state of Israel and Haber is an orthodox who lives both in the US and Israel. He admits to living in an ethnically cleanse city and recognises that fact that he lives in a former Palestinian residence. Slater I'm not up to detail with to his leanings or identification but it is not far to assume that he has strong ties to his religion, whether he practices or not is another thing.

Now as entertaining as it has been to reading all of this, and it really has sent me back to the laptop to get writing again in what has been a rather stagnate area of interest for myself, things really are at a point where the tinkering of what Zionism is or what it means to be a Zionist has been a lesser issue and one that is of little alarm that the talk of Zionism has become somewhat an exercise for intellectuals and scholars and students everywhere which detracts from the bigger issue of Palestinian justice and suffering. While it is important to battle where the battlelines are drawn, and Israel and its supporters everywhere tend to toe the ideological line fairly often as well as the hypocrisy line, that anti-Zionists and leftists and opponents of injustice everywhere tend to show up and give them the fight they deserve, it is definitely the lesser importance to undertake especially when homes are being razed and random Riad in Lebanon is feeding off the scraps in a refugee camp that UNWRA is running pathetically with no end in sight and poor Iya in Gaza has no clean water and little future to look forward to as another flotilla gets intercepted on its way to give fleeting relief. Because in the grand scheme of things, Palestinians will care little to grasp if Zionism was a legitimate project when cast into the light of history, nor will Israelis care if intellectuals worldwide have disdain at a state which privileges one over the other when there is injustice everywhere and Romas are being expelled and Tamils are being turned away from the border and Aborigines are being put in the slammer for petty crimes and the States increases its prison population with a giant black and Latino population behind bars all the while giving no rights or reparations to the Natives who live in squalor. It is just word acrobatics which only titilate to those who have the privilege to meander such topics as imperialism, capitalism, nationalism and Zionism. Danger looms ahead for the Palestinians and the action that is of dire consequence is Boycott, sanctions and Divestment. The dialogue is important and it is of necessity if we are to win the war, especially for those who are misinformed or just on the fence on what to do about it; but, although the key to understanding the conflict requires the knowledge of Zionism, it is less significant when lives are at stake. Undercutting Zionism is not a prerequisite to ending an occupation or giving people better lives; it only is when it becomes the sole factor in keeping the imbalance permanent.

With that said, the debate has re-sparked something within me and I found inspiration to finally return to the conflict at hand, and hopefully I have something more with a better outlook on what really makes power tick more attuned with a broader scope rather than the narrow focus of just the competing narratives of Israel and Palestine. Upon indulging in the matter, it must not be mistaken that there are bigger issues at hand and this talk is just that, talk. But Zionism provokes the most outrageous responses, both for and against it, that one such as myself cannot pass it up, even though it's best that you let it go since it is quite time-consuming and sometimes brain-draining.

So let's revisit: Is Zionism racism?

Typified above, it is either Yes with an "if" or No with a "but". Nothing in this world is ever as black and white which is easily answered with a Yes or a No, especially one as complicated and as historic as Zionism, which has over 100 years of history right about now. And if you ask a plethora of people you would get a plethora of answers, probably evenly tied down the middle on the yay or nay side. The thing is one needs to have studied it studiously in order to make the best informed comment on such a polarising question. One also needs to study not only Zionism, but other forms of nationalism AS WELL as racism itself. The ante just got upped somewhat since no bystander can come by and make an informed commentary on what Zionism was or what it means to so many who call themselves Zionist, or even to the opposite, anti-Zionist, since it would need to have existed before one can be opposed to it. Haber had to define what racism is for him so he could answer it, and I would have to do the same.

In my small time on this earth, I have always defined racism as discrimination pertaining to one's skin colour. Being of a minority myself, I experienced it many times growing up in a settler state which raped and destroyed a native population of its own and now residing in another country which did the same to its own natives (natives are really non-peoples, aren't they?), but of a much lesser extent since my background is of one which has probably the least of the negative stereotypes than others. Exclusion of one because of what they believed was of a different matter since one can be a Christian and be of a different colour altogether; on the one hand if one could be accepted as a white but could be excluded if that person was Jewish or a Muslim or sometimes just ugly, and another could be accepted if they were seen as part of them even though they could practice another religion but were of the same skin colour. It's not hard to see where this is going. And I think that is why the question of "Is Zionism racist?" makes it that much harder to answer IF this was not in a disclaimer to begin with as Zionists can be of all colours and races; I'm positive there are black Jews who are Zionists just like there are arab Jews who are ultra-Zionists; those transcend skin colour and therefore in my classic definition, it is not racist at all since one just needs to ascribe to one form of belief, Judaism. Hence this is where the confusion begins to most as Zionism is inclusive of EVERY colour as it places no emphasis on race at all and never has as long as the people being subjected to it were Jewish, practicising or not. In its simplistic and most banal form, Zionism was meant to be some kind of salvation, a Jewish self-determination, for a world where Jews were unwanted. How hard is that to fathom in a world where dictators and pogroms were so rampant?

But things do get a bit hazy when you look into its murky past. Herzl, the founder and father of Zionism, certainly was no saint, in my eyes anyway. Zionism in general originated in Eastern Europe, and try as you might but its founders, supporters and shapers were not those who were victim of pogroms but ones who were of a higher class, ones who were free enough to hold conferences and form groups such as World Zionist Congress and hobknob with heads of state and others who held sway with power. People like these were the ones running the Zionist show, not poor Nikolas in Lodz finding the self-life preposterous or Sigi in Dusseldorf pondering on the Jewish question in Western Europe and its fate. It wasn't refugees who fashioned a movement, although it did reach their coffers once Zionism took its form and build an enormous amount of capital around the idea of a Jewish state, but the bourgeoisie who had parties and drinks and committed themselves to the fight for a new state for their "nation". Hence, here lies the problem.

Any study of the attitudes of Europe in 19th Century and you would find not only latent racism but blatant racism and prejudice also. Colonialism was the flavour of the day. Policies were done in the prism of white domination, especially when you dealt with the likes of the Orient, as you were the ones to dominate the lesser beings of the rest of the world. One can even say linking the project of colonialism is related to the outcome of the Holocaust (Arendt). It's not hard to sift through the shit and find what is rotten here. Zionism, while not a classic form of colonialism in the form of exploitation and servitude to capital, its attitude to its unintended victims were of the same consequence as colonialism itself. Zionism, borne out in the 19th Century in the age of nationalisms, is now an anachronistic ideology in the age of post-nationalism and multiculturalism and pluralism. For the founders, despite the testaments for those who want to believe that Zionism's sole purpose was for Jews to run their own affairs, its exclusion of all things native is what hampered this construct from its non-discriminatory equation. For, how could you ever consider it to be non-racist when you hold your own affairs to be of higher importance than those you are living upon? How could you believe that the fate of your own "people" is of bigger proportion than those whose lives you intend to change forever? How could you ever live on a land of peasants and not think that the rights of the bourgeois European supersedes the minute rights of the fellaheen? To me, this is discrimination in its finest form. Would a pioneer not be racist if he believed in Manifest Destiny? Or is he just sympathetic to the rights of a pioneer to self-determine his way across the plains and damned anyone if they resist? Would an power-elitist, educated in the finest schools that Europe has to offer, not be inclined to thinking that brown/black/red/yellow people are lesser humans whose lives have little meaning, so little in fact, that they do not even register as people in the first place ("A land without people for a people without land.")? Can a racist not make racist policies when it comes to the fate of their "people"?

Haber, Slater and others would recite the many forms of Zionism that has existed and they would be correct to do so but that is irrelevant, personally speaking. Zionism has been supported and opposed by so many that anyone can add their two cents to what Zionism is and is not that the true form can become morphed into something that it really wasn't to begin with. As much respect I hold for Haber, and he has to be commended for the criticism that he engages in daily, especially where he lives where lives (can Australians, Americans and Canadians ever think as critically to where they live as he does?), his inclusion of Magnes and Buber and the binationalists of Zionism is really a red herring. I mean not that he does this on purpose in order to distort the reality but the usefulness of such figures as Magnes is akin to the usefulness of a binationlist Palestinian of the same era (yes, there were some who advocated such a proposal too); Magnes, while important, so much so that he has followers from the Zionist critical of Israel, registered such a little impact that I barely even remember reading his name in two of Tom Segev's anthology of the history of Israel (One Palestine, Complete and 1949: The First Israelis). In both of those books, together over 1000 pages long with endnotes, the main cogs in the machine were Zionists who excluded from the Arabs, who organised Jews against Arabs, and those who made legislation with Arabs as an enemy. In fact, so much so was the dichotomy that Ben-Gurion was viewed as a binationalist at first and even Chomsky expresses DBG as such, even though you can look at all his quotes in Palestine Remembered and you would know that one doesn't harden their opinion of Arabs just by living in the country with respect to their "rights" and then ethnically cleanse them later on. I'm sure you can ask any Palestinian living in Gaza right now about Magnes and they will furrow their brow but I'm sure the answer would be different if you asked them about Ben-Gurion, about Weizmann, about Jabotinsky, about Begin, about Rabin, about the Palmach, the Irgun, the JNF, the Histadrut, the kibbutz, the Haganah and who ran those outfits and you would find little, if any, binationalists who were sympathetic to the Muslims they wanted to expel. For it is these organisations and those behind it who eventually would definte what it meant to self-determine as Jews, and it meant doing it at the expense of another in the other's land and not even considered to the views of those they were usurping. Colonists they drank with, and colonialism they pissed out when it became a project to save their skin from tyranny. Zionism had the opportunity to show that they could do what it intended but its position when in power decided that it would expel, refuse and also resist any kind of non-discrimination when it came to the "enemy" ie the Palestinians. It welcomed the Mizrahim and substituted them for the Palestinians, becoming the lower class. It then brought in more whites from the ex-Soviets, funneling in more classes all the while the elite of Ashkenazim got drunk with their own idiocy as the lower started organising to get power they had been lacking. In another shocking non-racist Zionist turn, it flooded itself with plenty of slave-labour from the poor Asian nations to give themselves a serf-class. All of this while refusing to acknowledge the Palestinians all around them. No, this isn't discrimination at all. Funny, if the Magnes of years yore had ANY momentum at all, it has a weird way of showing its binationalism when the Israel idea of a one-state is one with a totally weak Palestinian politi-power that it cannot make any laws in such a state.

Could Zionism not have been racist? In a utopian world where they found a place bereft of people and they harmed not one single soul, then perhaps. But what state would have formed? One completely Jewish 100%? There would still be problems with such a state, as the interpretations of who is Jewish enough and who gets accepted to such a state would only lead to complications that should be saved for another post. As romantic as they want to make it sound, this form of nationalism did not mimick others that arised amidst the struggle against colonial powers. In fact, in a bitter twist of irony, Zionism, while suturing its Jewishness with independence, it could only do so with the help of colonial power and had no real grassroots struggle within it as Zionism was thrust upon many in light of the atrocities that were happening in the march towards World War II. It did not resemble the black struggles against white power in the US, nor the fight against the French in Algeria nor the African uprisings in Kenya, Ghana, Angola, Nigeria and South Africa. While provoked by tyranny of one, it did not attempt to emancipate but only one to escape, to another people's land, to find its own way. The nationalisms of those we have known has always been inclusionary, one that wanted to transcend hierachies that perpetuated the system of master and peasant, owner and the owned. Zionism's pre-determined subjects did not hold a common cause for the most part, and most did not even register in its radar, some were even opposed to it. There were so many spectrums it needed to mend but it just could not as a revolutionary struggle in Cuba of the lower class would no way find common cause with one that deciding the fate of the Jewish Question. As to my latest readings, Zionism had no revolutionary content to it at all. For its most part, it had NO qualm with the present system in Europe, sought not change from it but form its own way which benefited themselves in the same style as Europe, for Jews, in Palestine, without recourse to anyone who opposed it.

As stated above, this in no way has no bearing as to where things should go from now. Little will be determined as to what Zionism is, not by the UN, not by AIPAC and certainly not by blogs. The only reason why this is of any significance is because attempting to shape the narrative often makes for writing such as this and the claims of "hypocrite" can only go so far until you mark it out clear to that person that you care little for your choice to "self-determine", and that you do not DENY their people to determine their fate, it's just they should stop determing other people's fate too.But make no mistake about it, Zionism is not just any other form of benign nationalism. It is another form of colonialism conned with self-determination rhetoric.