When attempting to redefine the word Zionism, the way Israel tries to rebrand its occupation of Palestine as a well-intentioned attempt to restore peace, one should at least avoid leaving out the details.
Last week, a blogger at The Daily Beast ran a brazen article in which she declares herself a Zionist who openly “fight[s] for Palestinian rights”. Her argument is that contrary to public opinion, Zionism is a nationalist rather than an oppressive movement that holds just as much merit as the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. A captioned photograph reads, “Jews deserve a flag, and a nation, just like everyone else”. But even at the expense of others?
In the author’s hasty attempt to rebrand Zionism, she fails to identify how, historically-speaking, Zionism has sought to achieve its end goal and how, logically-speaking, Zionism continues to achieve this end goal. Instead, she writes, “‘Zionist’ doesn’t mean ‘fascist,’ or an ‘imperialist,’ or ‘running dog.’ It doesn’t even mean ‘Israeli.’ It means, very simply, ‘Jewish nationalist.’”
Defining herself as an “American-Israeli writer who has studied and written about the contemporary Middle East since the early 1990s”, I’m sure she is well-versed in the history of Zionism. But just so that it’s out there, let me remind everyone that Zionism isn’t just a form of Jewish nationalism. It is a form of politically-motivated nationalism that incorporates select elements of Jewish history to establish a Jewish state in a land already populated by others. Upon the inception of the movement in the late 1800s, well before Israel ever existed, Theodor Herzl called on Jews to move to Palestine to lay the framework for a future Jewish state. The indigenous population’s legal claims to the land were to be ignored, a strategy enforced by Israel today.
Essentially, Zionism is and has always been a national movement that exists at the expense of Palestinian nationalism. The more traction Zionism gains, the more rights Palestinians are denied. The more rights Palestinians are denied, the less they stand in the way of Zionism’s ultimate goal: an exclusively Jewish state predicated on the expulsion of those who don’t fit the state’s criteria.
What you are left with, then, is not two equal or justified nationalist movements that give rise to one another. Instead, you have an oppressive Zionism (which I prefer to call a nationalist movement that deceptively uses the Jewish faith for its political gains) and a Palestinian movement for self-sovereignty. One is a response to another. I’m sure even the author can figure this one out.
But how can she be a supporter of both? She writes:
“If I support and advocate for Palestinian nationalism (and I do), how can I deny my people ours? If I believe that Israel has no right to tell the Palestinians to what they may aspire (and I do), how can I accept that others have the right to tell me and mine?”
Nobody, including myself, can ever deny an individual his or her right to self-determination and an identity. In this sense, she is partly right: Israel has absolutely no right to determine how Palestinians live. But Israel is a product of this Zionism that she supports and, again, logically-speaking, it is contradictory to support Palestinian rights while also supporting the movement and its entity as it proactively squelches those rights.
Any definition of Zionism requires a contextualization of what it’s done and what it sets out to do. It is not just a national movement. It is a movement actively defying human rights standards. This is what makes Zionism inherently problematic, not a mere misunderstanding of the word’s dictionary definition.
I will not claim to know the author’s intentions but the logic behind the article is so obviously contradictory that I wonder if it was written solely for page hits. Granted, it’s a nicely written piece that appeals to the senses of those who blindly search for the middle ground without acknowledging, say, six-and-a-half decades of reality. But this is where liberal Zionism, which is essentially what the author rebrands traditional Zionism as, fails. There is no middle ground, no point of concession between the oppressor and the oppressed.