Zionism, in certain parts of the world, is a dirty word that people associate colonialism, hatred, and racism to name a few. On December 10, 1975, the United Nations, an organization that created the State of Israel as a “Jewish State,” declared that “that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.1” Claims like this from the UN, the Arab world, and other various groups are false representations of the movement of Zionism. Zionism is the Jewish national movement for a Jewish homeland. In order to understand the Zionist movement as we know it today, we need to look back at the founder of the modern Zionist movement, Theodore Herzl. Herzl's idea has come under attack from Jewish thinkers themselves and we shall look at what they say; however, something we need to look at before is that we need to look at who Herzl was and what influenced him in his thinking.
The Jewish people that have been around for about 3,000 years2. Throughout the history of the Jewish people they have been the target of various forms of Jewish hatred, or anti-Semitism. This form of hatred is something that caused a reaction in a reporter named Theodore Herzl covering the case of Alfred Dreyfuss in what is known today as the Dreyfuss Affair3. In 1894, Alfred Dreyfuss was accused of sending information to the German embassy. Through the streets of France, Herzl, himself a secular Jew, heard anti-Semitic chanting by the citizens of France. However, this was not the first time Herzl has experienced this type of hate. At the age of 15, according to a biography based on the work of Alex Bein, when his teacher defined the word “heathen,” he said “'such as idolaters, Mohammedians, and Jews.'” This event played a role in removal from this school. When he was 18, after the sudden death of his sister, his family moved to Vienna. Here, he enrolled in law school and once again found more anti-Semitism. He read the book The Jewish Problem as a Problem of Race, Morals and Culture by Eugen Duhrings. This book said that the “Jewish Race” has no worth whatsoever. Even Herzl's own fraternity had taken part in an anti-Semitic demonstration. He withdrew himself from the fraternity. In his writings, he notes that “[Duhring's book can unite] so much undeniable intelligence with so much universality of knowledge, can write like this, what are we to expect from the masses?” (26).
The event of the Dreyfuss Affair, finally lit the fire in him that led to his writing of a pamphlet that has changed the course of how Nationalism, the Middle East, and political thought. That pamphlet is The Jewish State. In this pamphlet, Herzl argues for the creation of a Jewish State because of the rise of anti-Semitism. He writes that he believes he understand anti-Semitism but that we cannot live in peace, as much as the world tries to tell us that we should believe it and rely on our host country for help. He says this because, since we are in the Ghettos but relied on a lot for finance services, the upper class has to deal with the pogroms that have been going on against us, the lower class has to suffer, and the middle class has to deal with proclamations against their stores that say to not buy from Jews. He therefore concludes that, no matter how hard we try, even if we were to assimilate into our surrounding or separate us from the rest of the world, we will still be hated and hostilities against Jews would still go on. Therefore, he concludes that we need to create a Jewish State. He offers two places for this state to take place, either Argentina or ) (the territory known as) Palestine because “it is our ever memorable historic home. The very name of Palestine would attract our people with a force of marvelous potency” (96). He then continues that the other religions holy sites would be protected and proposes a possibility of some agreement between the Sultan that controlled the land and the Jewish people so that way they would allow this state to created. He then continues with his thesis and proposes how the state will run, which institutions should be created and what they should do.
In an essay titled “People and Land of Israel” by Abraham S. Halkin4,he writes that after the Jews were freed from the ghettos, he says that, if anything this increased the number and created a different type of anti-Semitism. He says that “anti-Semitism is an ineradicable disease, an inescapable concomitant of Jewish and non-Jewish co-existence” (32). He says that the only logical conclusion was that if they were “not to assimilate and eventually disappear into the general society, the only alternative was to emigrate to a land of their own” (33). He continues that Zionism was the answer to this problem and points out that Herzl was not really interested in settling in then Palestine but more concerned about getting a land (as shown by the Uganda situation, in which he felt Uganda would be the best choice right now as a place of refuge for the Jewish people). This is where Herzl and the Zionist Congress differed in that they made that they wanted the land to be where home has been for so long for the Jewish people, Israel. And, once again, the Zionist movement took a different turn than that of the Messianic movement which would lead to a return to Israel. The congress believed that, not God, but man would be responsible to make sure that this change would come about.
However, at the end of the day, we need to ask this about Zionism, what exactly is it and how does it constitute Nationalism, if at all? Based upon my readings I would conclude that Zionism is a form of nationalism that takes its roots in Perennialism. These group of theorists “accept that nationalism is modern, and that the nation itself has gone undergone significant changes in the modern period, but that the nation is continues with an older community, which may have an ethnic, linguistic, or cultural basis: nationhood can be 'forgotten' but it can also be 'recovered5” (115). This applies to the Jewish people because we exhibit all of those characteristics. The Jewish people, from the time of the destruction of the second temple to the times today, have undergone a tremendous transformation into a nation with many different ways of thinking. There are now other strands of Judaism because of this thinking (Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist to name three), but we managed to keep certain traditions together. We may not all speak Hebrew but we all, to a large extent, know that is the main language that Jewish people pray. We all know of the concept of Shabbat, or Sabbath as the Jewish day of rest on Saturday, and various other customs were kept throughout the diaspora no matter what Jewish way of thinking, we managed to keep all of this together. What Herzl essentially was doing was reminding us we are a nation and, with the ideas of nationalism still alive among other people, we were reminded that we are a people and that now is the time to create a state.
So who are the Jewish people as a nation, or are Jewish people even a nation? When I first looked at these various definitions, it occurred to me why this topic of arouses so much passion, mainly because depending on who you asked, you would get different answers. If one were to ask Otto Bauer, a political thinker, what who he sees as a nation, he defines it as “the totality of people who are united by a common fate so that they possess a common (national) character. The common fate is... primarily a common history; the common national character involves almost necessarily a uniformity of language” (264). How is this to be connected with Zionism? Zionism, as mentioned before, is a modern form of Jewish Nationalism. Now, one of the key components of any nationalist movement, as Montserrat Guibernau defines nationalism, is there is a “sentiment of belonging to a community whose members identify with a set of symbols, beliefs and ways of life and have the will to decide upon their common destiny” (266). Therefore, in many words, based upon these two definitions, the Jews are a nation and, especially post-Herzl, that the Jews have a right to a national home land. How so?
The Jewish people, after the destruction of the Jewish temple and Israel was conquered by the Roman's in 135 ACE, Yaakov Lozowick notes something interesting happen after the destruction. He says “Afterwards, the survivors turned themselves into something quite unusual: a national community without the geographic or political trappings of a nation” (40) He continues with this his description of this unique nation that this gave the Jewish people a type of longevity that most other nations, including the Romans, did not have. He notes that this unlikely survival strategy created a common culture among the Jewish people. He notes that this community would be based primarily on religion. The Torah, the holy book for the Jewish people, gives an outline how to live, act, behave, educate, etc. This new culture, although the Torah expounds on the proper type of warfare, this was not necessary after the destruction of the Jewish state. Overall, Lozowick notes that “the Jewish way of life was common to Jews wherever they were, so ultimately a Jew felt at home,” and “what had once been a nation on its land with a common religion had evolved into a religion that was persevering a nation – in very unusual conditions” (41).
What we have just explored helps define the Jewish people as a nation. They have a common culture that they can point too, a common language that they could use (Hebrew at first, then other languages came in, but Hebrew continued to be a part of a Jew's life) and, through Guibernau, we have the set of symbols, beliefs and ways of life. The only thing that was missing was the will to decide upon their own destiny. What ensued would be a debate regarding what should be done with the Jews. Herzl stated that the Jews should create a Jewish state in Palestine; however, not all Jews were willing to buy into this debate. One such Jewish individual (but he would never say he himself was a Jew) is Karl Marx.
Karl Marx is the author of the famous Communist Manifesto and his ideas have helped shaped Eastern Europe and influenced world leaders as well as political theory. In one of his essay's “On the Jewish Question7,” he provides how one Jewish thinker responds for the cry for emancipation. Overall, what he is saying to the Jewish people in this essay is that in order to be emancipated from Judaism. He basically says that Jews are different because we ourselves make ourselves different and that the only way we shall be given equal rights is if we abandon our religion, because religion is what pushes us down from freedom.
Another Jewish thinker discussed in an essay about “Progressive” Jewish thought8 is Jacqueline Rose and her book The Question of Zion. One of the main points of this book is he thinking in what led to the thinking of Herzl. She, according to the essay, makes a connection between him and Shabbatai Zvi, a seventh century “messianic pretender and apostate from Judaism (to Islam)” (9). She feels that the connection between the two individuals is that she feels what led these two was the idea of Jewish messaianism, which she equates with madness. Her thought on Zionism as a form of messianic thinking is, and he quotes her, saying “'we take Zionism to be a form of collective insanity. (p. 17)'” (10).
Another Jewish thinker is Tony Judt, who calls Israel “everything from arrogant, aggressive, anachronistic, and infantile to dysfunctional, immoral, and a primary cause of present-day anti-Semitism” (15). He writes in an article that appeared in the New York Times Review of Books on October 23, 2003, in an article titled “Israel: The Alternative,” says that “Israel today is bad for the Jews” (15). He solution to this is to create “a single, integrated, bi national state for the Jews and Arabs” (15). Another Orthodox religious group of Jews called the Neturai Karta9 says that the state should be abolished because it is against the Torah and the messiah hasn't come, therefore it is sacrilegious to do such a thing.
Uri Avneri, an Israeli critic, says regarding Jewish Nationalism today that “For generations the Jews were persecuted in many countries and developed the consciousness of victims. It could almost have been said that most of the Jewish culture created during the last two or three centuries revolves around this axis” (Lozowick 42). According to this, Jewish identity is based lately on the idea of victim hood and many others, including Norman Finkelstein say this, that we have played this up in order for the creation of the state of Israel to take place. Finkelstein, in particular plays up how Israel has played it up. He says in his book The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, he says “Given its proven utility, organized American Jewry exploited the Nazi Holocaust” and that the Holocaust “proved to be the perfect weapon for deflecting criticism of Israel” (30). According to both of these men, with Uri being an Israeli and Finkelstein being a Jewish individual (whose mother is a Holocaust survivor) says that Jewish people exploit their victim hood so that was we cannot take any blame from anyone for anything actions Israel takes.
This is very disturbing on many different levels. The first level being educational. Such thinking about the Jewish people as exploiting tragedy for personal gain is disturbingly familiar to claims made against the Jews as exploiters is disturbing in feeding into false libels against the Jews. Second, on a historical level. Yes it is true that Jews have had a very rough history (to put it lightly), but from my understanding of history, other groups have had similar histories. Were not the Indians, when the colonists arrived in America, came under attack from various sicknesses as well as other bloody incidents? Did we forget the massacre at Wounded Knee? How about the Armenians and the massacres that took place? Finally, on a personal level this disturbs me. When Jewish people talk about the Holocaust it is not about deflecting blame for actions Israel takes where criticism is due, but because of the circumstances surrounding it. While it is true other minorities were targeted in the Holocaust (Roma/Gypsies and Homosexuals to name to groups targeted) what makes the Jewish extermination during the Holocaust unique (and this I learned during my time in Hebrew school) is the amount of planning and precision and amount of time the Nazi's gave to the extermination of the Jewish people is something that is startling.
Another way that this is disturbing is that it seems that they are basing Jewish/Zionist ideology as something that emerged mainly after the Holocaust. First, a general definition of the term “ideology.” Ideology, as defined in Terry Eagelton's Ideology. In this essay, he gives six different ways to define ideology. In terms of Zionism as a political thought, there are three that fit. His first definition of ideology is “the whole complex of signifying practices and symbolic process in a particular society” (28). The second definition that fits is, he says, “turns on ideas and beliefs (whether true or false) which symbolize the conditions and life experiences of a specific, socially significant group or class” (29). The third definition fits which, he says ideology is “the promotion and legitimation of the interests of such social groups in the face of opposing interests.”
These three fit into Zionism in the following way. The first is, does this ideology of Zionism have practices and symbolic processes that are part of a society? The answer, as mentioned before, is yes. The Jewish people have common practices that we all do that almost all Jewish people know (prayer, going to synagogue/temple, religious holidays and holy days to name a few). In terms of the symbolic, we have Bar/Bat Mitzvah's (Jewish ritual of right of passage into Manhood or Womanhood) and the Jewish Star of David known throughout the Jewish world and the world in general as one of the big symbols of Judaism. The second definition fits because we have turned in our history to various leaders within the Jewish communities for guidence in difficult situations. Whether it was the Holocaust, the expulsion of Jews from Spain during the Inquisition, or even a disputation between Christianity and Judaism10, we have always turned to our leaders and to the Torah for guidance during difficult times. In terms of Zionism, Herzl just returned to, as he says Zionism is “a very old idea” (69) as a response to the rise of anti-Semitism and pogroms (attacks on Jews, sometimes organized, other times it is a sudden event that happens) going on in Europe. The third definition fits Zionism, and is something that is still having to be defended. This idea was first promoted and led to the creation of the Zionist Congress that declared its intentions to “create for the Jewish people a home in Palestine by Public Law” (Laqueur, Rubin 9). This idea has been debated back and forth; however, it is undisputed that this idea was promoted in an attempt to legitimize the movement.
However, after all that has been said about Zionism and nationalism as well as Zionism as Jewish nationalism, the main question that should be answered is what do I believe, is Zionism a form of Jewish nationalism? Before I address my views on all of this, I wish to respond to those Jewish critics about Zionism and Israel. In my mind, there is only one thing that can bind all of these things together, and that is the level of emotions outweighed over the facts themselves. One of the many things I have read (and have had various discussions with those Jewish individuals who describe themselves as “anti-Zionist”) is that Zionism is evil, makes no sense, and is against the, at the very least, the holy text of the Jewish people who adhere to it (this depends on which stream of Judaism the individual decides is the correct one, with each stream giving its own interpretation of the Torah); however, there are some things within Judaism that, at the very least, almost all streams agree on. For example, I have yet to find a Jewish group that says the ten commandments are something that is open to interpretation.
One of the big ideas within Judaism is the concept of “Tikun Olam.” This Jewish teaching is, according to the literal translation, of “repairing the world.” From my mind, individuals such as Finkelstein, Chomsky, and the others from what I believe is trying to adhere to this concept. I am basing this on the fact they these individuals attempt to be the protectors of the Palestinian people because they are, as they claim, are victims by people who have been victims their entire history (the Jewish people). The problem with this though, as I have mentioned above, is the mentioning of emotions over the facts. When discussing the plight of the Jews who were, in essence, kicked out of the Arab lands shortly after the State of Israel was created11, I sought out and quoted documents, conversations I heard from various Muslims and Arabs who believe in Israel's right to exist, and talked about Jewish history in Israel. The general response from various respected political thinkers down to a regular person is the stressing on how terrible Zionism is and how it promotes hatred of others. Based on my reading, this is not the case with Zionism. If anything, this idea is peaceful and simply asks the other nations to not hate them. Basically we'll take care of ourselves and you'll have nothing to worry about. It is a movement that simply asks their right to reclaim a land that was taken away from them a long time ago and to return to it. Zionism does not ask for land, but for simply letting us back into Israel to live in it. Over time this idea has adapted (as other ideas do) to mean the creation and protection of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
This was not like when the European countries divided up the remaining lands of the Ottoman empire. This was just a proclamation of a return to our historical land. What makes the Jews a people? We have a common history, a common culture, and a common religion (followed by various degrees). This modern form of Jewish nationalism was formed not by any European entity but by a people who have managed to keep themselves together over time in a way not many other groups on the planet can say they have. That movement was Zionism.
2According to Yaakov Lozowick in his book Right to Exist
4From the collection Great Jewish Ideas edited by Abraham Ezra Milligram
5Chapter 5, titled Nationalism
7The essay was found at the following website: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/jewish-question/
8“Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism by Alvin H. Rosenfeld, professor of English and Jewish studies and director of the Institute of Jewish Culture and Arts at Indiana University.
10 I refer mainly to the Nachmanides, aka Ramban, in his account of a disputation between him and Pablo Christiani in Barcelona in 1263. What made this disputation unique was that freedom of speech was granted to the Rambam to defend Judaism, something that was unique during this time in history.
11 Two documentaries that explore this rather unknown refugee issue is “Silent Exodus” and “The Forgotten Refugees”