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How The UCU Reminded Me That I Am A Zionist

This is a guest post by S.O.Muffin

Had, in those happy years when I was young and easy under the apple boughs, somebody asked me or my mates in that small town on fringes of Tel Aviv whether we are Zionists, we would have laughed. “Zionists” were the founding fathers, with their faintly ridiculous attire and even more ridiculous language, with hifalutin’ phrases, a sepia photograph from a different age.

Had anybody asked me the same question a decade ago, I would have probably answered back (a bad Jewish trait) “and what exactly do you mean by `Zionist’?”.

If you ask me today, however, the answer will be an emphatic “Yes”. And for this I have to thank assorted members of the UCU executive, SWP, Respect and several posters on this blog. Jean Paul Sartre once said that Jews are defined by anti-Semites and by their persecution. Although I never liked this definition, I must confess that, at least in my case, Zionists are defined by the hatred of the anti-Zionists. (Not all anti-Zionists – I don’t believe that being an anti-Zionist makes you automatically into an anti-Semite. But by those vocal anti-Zionists that we hear these days in UK.)

Zionism is – and always was – the creed that seeks national solution to the “Jewish problem”, a solution that has at its heart Jewish political presence in a historical Jewish homeland. Its justification – and here I am harking back to the fathers of Zionism, to Herzl and Ahad Ha’Am – is no more and no less than the justification of any nation and ethnic group to political presence, at the first instance in a nation-state. Jews do not deserve more because of some “chosedness” (which, anyway, is a foreign concept to Judaism), not because of divide promises, not because of anything. Jews don’t deserve more. The main precept of Zionism is that they deserve as much as any other ethnic group. And, as long as the standard solution to national problems is in the form an a nation-state, they deserve it. Full stop.

There are several obvious consequences to this (some would say, minimalist) definition of Zionism.

Firstly, the right by which Jews deserve national home in their historical land is precisely the same right by which Palestinians deserve a national home in their historical land. No more and no less. Navigating between these equal rights is not easy, but the conflict will never end, and injustice will never be assuaged, unless we can find a way to do so.

Secondly, whatever the rights and wrongs of Israeli policies, whatever the deeds and the misdeeds of the Israeli state, it would be ludicrous to punish Israelis and Jews, uniquely in annals of modern history, by withdrawing their right to national home.

Thirdly, this whole business called “Israeli–Palestinian conflict” is not one-of-a-kind, not a clash between Good and Evil (no matter how you allocate good and evil to the two sides). It is a sordid ethnic conflict, of a kind sadly popular in the last two centuries. Of course, it attracts emotions out of all proportion, hits a raw nerve of all concerned, being at the nexus of so many emotive threads: the Holocaust, centuries of Christian and Muslim anti-Semitism, Western imperialism in the Middle East, “clash of civilisations”, “war on terror”,… Emotions, however, do not assist understanding.

Fourthly… I have been, openly and often vocally, critical of Israeli policies since my political puberty. I have been active in the Israeli peace movement since soon after the 67 war. I can give chapter and verse on all the missed peace opportunities, on the wrongs of occupation, the iniquities of settlers, the misbehaviour of IDF, the moral turpitude of Israeli political class. Just to assure you, nothing has changed. I am still critical, I am still vocal. But I am critical precisely because I love the place and the people. I am critical because, no matter where I happen to find myself, this is the real home. I am critical because I want kids on the street in Tel Aviv not just to grow up in peace and security, but also, once they grow up, to be able to look in the mirror and be proud of what they see.

But once people come spewing hate, Holocaust-baiting about “ZioNazis” and “Israeli apartheid state”, throwing ludicrous accusations that are the very caricature of reality, judging Israel by criteria they apply nowhere else, boycotting, using “Zionist” as a code name for “Jew” in classical anti-Semitic screeds, my immediate reaction is to forego all criticism and simply to affirm that yes, I am a Zionist.