“Inconvenient Truths” & Zionism

From Inconvenient Truths About ‘Real Existing’ Zionism by Jacques Hersh at Monthly Review:

Coping with the Jewish question in general and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular has been and still is a dilemma for progressive opinion in the West. While it is acknowledged that Arab politics and political culture were affected by the intrusion of a Jewish state in the area and its alliance with the United States, the same consideration was not given to the transformation of Jewish political culture, both in Israel and in the Diaspora, as a result of the creation of the Zionist state and its patron-client relationship to the United States. Pro-Israel Jews of all political stripes have been duped by the ideological discourse of Zionism, which has hailed the existence of the Jewish state as the guarantor of the security of Jews everywhere.

Having captured the “commanding heights” of morality by usurping the mantle of the victimhood of European Jewry, the Zionist state, in a seldom-seen example of chutzpah, transformed the Holocaust experience into political capital. In this context it is interesting to note that the Holocaust did not become a universal point of reference in the Western worldview until after the decade of the 1960s. The reason for the time lag is related to the convergence of strategic and ideological currents in the postwar period. After the defeat of Nazi Germany, the antifascist coalition gave way to the Cold War between East and West. The German question played a central role in the establishment of the Western alliance system under the leadership of the United States. Under these conditions there was little interest on the part of the U.S. foreign policy establishment and indeed the U.S. government to alienate Germany by dwelling on the Nazi responsibility for the extermination of European Jews. In addition, looking closely at the Holocaust would have revealed the profiteering of U.S. industrialists in the arming of Hitler’s war machine. As far as the American Jewish elite is concerned, it acquiesced to the public silence on this monstrous crime and accepted the U.S. policy of rearming a barely de-Nazified Germany. Motivated perhaps by the concern of not reactivating American anti-Semitism and putting their improved situation in jeopardy, U.S. Jewry followed an opportunistic strategy.33

In the case of Israel, the Shoah question reflected the complex relationship of Zionist ideology toward non-Israeli Jews. The extermination of European Jews legitimized the cause of Zionism, to the extent that the Holocaust confirmed that Jews could not survive and prosper in the Diaspora and that integration and assimilation in these nations was an illusion. At the same time, there was a widespread feeling among Israelis following the Second World War that European Jews had themselves to blame for their fate, because they had not resorted to armed resistance. In contrast, Israelis saw themselves as rejecting the past and creating a new kind of Jew, capable of defending his or her people and the Jewish state.34 As the focus on the Holocaust evolved, it came to be seen as related to the transformation of the struggle for a secure Israel into one of an expanding and conquering state. The Shoah-paradigm became useful in reminding public opinion of the justification for the creation of the Jewish state and for the deflecting of criticism of Israeli policies, especially in the occupied territories of Palestine.

The Holocaust discourse, however, was more important in the Diaspora than in Israel itself and it introduced an element of confusion within the ranks of progressive politics. The sixties had been a decade of youth activism in the West that had included some leading Jewish participants. Many active anti-imperialist Jews in the Diaspora were caught off-balance by the realization that Israel, as the embodiment of the victimhood of the Jewish people, could be capable of victimizing another people and of following a pro-U.S. imperialism foreign policy. In Churchill’s terminology, the “bad Jews” (internationalist and anti-imperialist) had to be turned into the “good Jews” (pro-Zionist and well established in the West). Some of them became figureheads of neoconservatism!

The desperation with which the Holocaust paradigm is projected by modern Zionism and Western (especially U.S.) political establishments is not kosher. The attempt to pre-empt criticism of Israeli and U.S. policy and strategy in the Middle East will hardly be feasible in the longer run. Besides the dissidence toward the dominating ideology in Israel, the success of Zionism in the establishment of a modern Jewish capitalist state contains the seeds of its own societal “post-Zionism.” From an initial projection of pioneering social-nationalism, Israeli society in recent years seems to be affected by an identity and material crisis accentuated by the implementation of neoliberalism. From having been originally one of the most egalitarian Western societies, Israeli society has since the 1980s become one of the most unequal. The poverty rate in Israel is one of the highest of advanced capitalist countries with approximately 22 percent of the population living below the poverty line.35 The socio-economic prospects are bleak for a sizable number of Israelis and this seeping crisis translates into a crisis of identity for the Israeli-born generation who does not relate to Jewishness. “It is ideologically indifferent, secular, petit bourgeois in lifestyle and outlook, apathetic to world Jewry, and concerned with self-fulfillment only.”36

The Israeli dissident politician, Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Knesset, fears that the Zionist experiment will lead to a tragedy for the Jewish state. Without having become anti-Zionist, he nevertheless feels that the original principles of Zionism and the values of the declaration of independence have been betrayed and that Israel has been transformed into a colonial state led by a corrupt clique of outlaws. In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot in 2003, he foresees a bleak future for the entire project of Zionism: “The end of Zionism is at our door…it is possible that a Jewish state will survive, but it will be another kind of state, ugly because of being foreign to our values.”37

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One thought on ““Inconvenient Truths” & Zionism

  1. Pingback: “Inconvenient Truths” & Zionism « mirabile dictu | Israel Today

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