What a bed of nettles! Firstly, one should make clear their intentions in dealing with such a sensitive issue; I happen to largely disagree with Israeli foreign policy and would like to discuss some of these disagreements in writing with you, dear reader. Yet in disagreeing with Israeli foreign policy one must not be thought of as anti-Semitic, as is often the case when conversing with those who support Israel’s violent militarism.
Israel’s most effective critics are Jews themselves! Let’s look at some of the (best known) names that come to mind; Avi Shlaim (The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World), Ilan Pappè (The Israel/ Palestine Question), Norman Finkelstein (Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History) and Ahron Bregman (A History of Israel). Are these authors anti-Semitic? Of course they are not. What these authors are doing is critically assessing the history of Palestine and concluding that Israel (as far as the national narrative goes) ain’t all that it claims to be.
Is this a unique occurrence; where an academic with an Israeli passport decides to criticise his own nation’s foreign and domestic policies? Of course not! I myself am a British citizen, and fully exercise my right to criticise British actions and activities both at home and abroad. It is perfectly normal and acceptable for someone living in a democratic society to be able to criticise their government’s actions, this is simply democracy at work; the power of the people to raise objections over how their political representatives represent them on the world stage should not be taken away from them. Others have and do try to take away this inalienable right by labelling such people as the authors mentioned in the previous paragraph anti-Semites. This simply does not make sense.
To be anti-Semitic, one must have an irrational hatred of Jewish people. Shlaim does not hate Jews; neither does Pappè or Finkelstein et al. There is a big difference between a Jew and an Israeli, the same goes for Palestinian and Arab. Alan Dershowitz (The Case for Israel) confuses those who express their concern over Israeli foreign and domestic policies for anti-Semites, which is a damn shame because, had he not attempted such an illogical argument during the introduction to his book, he might have retained some credibility when putting forward his interpretations and beliefs about Israel in later chapters. The fact that Dershowitz has been accused of plagiarism and for trading on his academic status in order to lend his argument a greater degree of credibility is a matter to consider elsewhere.
So what is Zionism to me and why do I hate it so much? Avi Shlaim best describes my thoughts and feelings when he writes; ‘Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories since 1967 is the basic problem… occupation distorted the natural course of mainstream Zionism. Zionism was, above all, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people but it also upheld universal values like freedom, equality, socialism, and peace. Post-1967 Zionism, however, both in its secular and in its religious varieties, developed a territorial obsession. It is not about values; it is about land. The obsession is to keep the whole of the Land of Israel in the hands of the Jewish people. This transformed the Zionist movement from a legitimate national liberation movement for the Jews into a colonial power and an oppressor of the Palestinians.’
The First Zionist Congress that took place in Basel, Switzerland (1897) declared that ‘the aim of Zionism is to create for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public law.’ Who could disagree with this statement? Not me. What I do vehemently disagree with is Israel’s violation of the democratic right of the Arab population to national self determination in Palestine. Post 1967 Zionism is an ugly ideology that legitimizes tyranny. ‘Part of the definition of being a Palestinian’ comments Eyad Sarraj in the Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture, ‘is being a refugee, living in exile, having your home destroyed, having to leave your land.’ There are those Zionists who argue that Palestinians are incapable of state-building and democracy as they do not represent a united front; inherently tribal in nature. Yet the tribal structure, argues Sarraj, exists today as a necessity rather than as a tradition; ‘It’s a kind of moral duty that people come together… the tribal structure gives you a sense of belonging and a sense of security. In the absence of a functioning state and the rule of law, there is no security except the tribe.’
To argue that Palestinians are incapable of state-building due to their tribal nature would be like arguing that Mr X always suffers from headaches as you continually whack him over the head with a hammer. Unfortunately, Israel has been whacking the Palestinians for over forty years now. Speaking about the former Prime Minister, Shlaim opines that ‘Ariel Sharon [personified] this xenophobic, exclusive, aggressive, and expansionist brand of Zionism… one of the greatest accolades in Judaism is to be a rodef shalom, a seeker of peace. Sharon is not that by any stretch of the imagination.’ Today, if one were to identify himself as someone who supports Zionism, one would also be making his peace with Mr Sharon. This is why I self-define as an anti-Zionist. Who can excuse this tyrant of his war crimes? Certainly not me. Sharon led (as an Israeli military officer) an attack on the West Bank village of Qibya in 1953, in which 69 civilians were murdered, and masterminded Israel’s brutal 1982 invasion of Lebanon. That invasion led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, massive displacement of the civilian population, and culminated in the infamous massacre of civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. The number of victims of this massacre, Palestinians and Lebanese alike, has never been officially documented. Israeli military intelligence estimated that 700 to 800 persons were slaughtered, but others put the count of the dead much higher, up to 3,000 people.
Contemporary zionists often accuse those who criticize Israel’s actions as anti-Semitic for focusing exclusively on the actions of Israel and no other state’s past crimes against humanity. I would argue that comparing Israeli war crimes to, say, the crimes committed by the British Empire against a multitude of its colonial subjects, does neither issue any good. It ought to be enough for you to know, dear reader, that the author is sadly not blissfully ignorant of his own nation’s past exploits and will tackle them in another article, on another day.