The State of Zionism | The Nation


The State of Zionism

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For forty years, Israel's occupation has dominated the national agenda and the international perception of the state. In one way, this has been a distraction from the deeper question of the national myth and how the state defines itself. But ultimately it concentrates the mind, for as Avishai argues, it is "the persistence of Zionist principles--or at least over-simplified versions of them--which engendered the political climate in which the West Bank settlers took up their cause."

About the Author

Brian Klug
Brian Klug is senior research fellow in philosophy at St Benet's Hall, Oxford and member of the Faculty of Philosophy...

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In 1879 the German journalist Wilhelm Marr, a former socialist and anarchist, founded an organization that was novel in two ways.

Zionism is not all of a piece. There are Zionists strongly opposed to the settlers and the occupation. But the momentum of the movement has brought it to this pass; the line that began in Basel has led to Nablus. It is time to cut the cord and begin anew. For the sake of everyone concerned, whether there are two states or three states or one, Israel needs to shed the burden of Jewish fears and hopes and become its own state pursuing its own good for its own people--all of them equally.

Jews around the world need Israel to do this too. They certainly do not need the kind of "protection" given by Olmert, who during the Lebanon war last summer said, "I believe that this is a war that is fought by all the Jews." He implicated the whole of Jewry in a military campaign that inflamed the opinion of millions of people around the world. Is this the "solution" to "the Jewish question"? Is this Israel coming to the rescue of Jews in distress?

The Zionist doctrine that the State of Israel must be the "center" of Jewish life, or that "every Jew in the world" (as Olmert said to the World Zionist Congress) must make aliyah, or that Jews are self-hating if they do not show "solidarity" with the Jewish state, or that Jewish identity in the Diaspora is incomplete--all of this prevents a normal conception of life, as a Jew, outside Israel. The very term "diaspora" is misleading. Israel certainly has one: At least 350,000 Israelis living in the New York area are part of it. But I (a British Jew or Jewish Brit), for example, am not.

At the heart of the crisis of Zionism is the axiom that Israel and the Jewish people are central to each other's identity. How do you pry apart a knot as closely knit as this--a Gordian knot that has no ends? Partly by remembering the venerable idea of the Jewish people as centered on a book--the Torah--and not a state; partly by observing how Jewish life, secular and religious, is flourishing in ways that are not focused on Israel; and partly by looking in an unexpected place: The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, where the principle of equality, like a shining light, burns a hole through the middle of the document.

The text proclaims "complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants." If someone wants to say that this is what they mean by Zionism, they are welcome to the word. To adapt a remark of Wittgenstein's: Say what you choose, so long as it does not prevent you from seeing the light. But on the whole, it is better to let go of the word along with the illusion. Jewish ethnic nationalism is no solution to the problems we face today, while the name "Zionism" evokes as much fear and loathing as love and pride. We cannot formulate today's questions in yesterday's language.

It is time to move on. I like to think that forty years from now, under the aegis of full civil equality, Arab and Hebrew cultures will thrive and mingle together in the area currently called Israel and Palestine. It seems like a pipe dream. But a phrase of Herzl's comes to mind: "Wenn ihr vollt, Ist es kein Märchen"--If you will it, it is not a dream. His motto gives us hope.

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