A debate: Is Zionism today the real enemy of the Jews?
International Herald Tribune, 4 February 2005
These articles are based on remarks delivered in a debate in London on
Jan. 25 organized by Intelligence Squared. The motion was: ``Zionism
today is the real enemy of the Jews.'' The other speakers were
Jacqueline Rose and Amira Hass, for the motion, and Melanie Phillips
and Raphael Israeli, against. After the debate, the audience voted 355
to 320 in favor of the motion, with 40 abstentions.
YES: Avi Shlaim
Zionism is the national
liberation movement of the Jewish people and the state of Israel is its
political expression. Israel used to be a symbol of freedom and a
source of pride for the Jews of the Diaspora. Israel's mistreatment of
the Palestinians, however, has turned it into a liability and a moral
burden for the liberal segment of the Jewish community. Some Jews,
especially on the left, would go even further by linking Israel's
behavior to the upsurge of the new anti-Semitism throughout the world.
occupation of the Palestinian territories since 1967 is the underlying
problem. Occupation transformed the Zionist movement from a legitimate
national liberation movement for the Jews into a colonial power and an
oppressor of the Palestinians.
By Zionism today I mean
the ideological, ultra-nationalist settlers and their supporters in the
Likud-led government. These settlers are a tiny minority but they
maintain a stranglehold over the Israeli political system. They
represent the unacceptable face of Zionism. Zionism does not equal
racism, but many of these hard-line settlers and their leaders are
blatant racists. Their extremism and their excesses have led some
people to start questioning not just the Zionist colonial project
beyond the 1967 borders but also the legitimacy of the state of Israel
within those borders. And it is these settlers who also endanger the
safety and well-being of Jews everywhere.
Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon personifies this xenophobic, exclusive, aggressive and
expansionist brand of Zionism. One of the greatest accolades in Judaism
is to be a rodef shalom, a seeker of peace. Sharon is not that by any
stretch of the imagination. He is a man of war and the champion of
Sharon's purpose is
politicide: to deny the Palestinians any independent political
existence in Palestine. His plan for withdrawal from Gaza is called
"the unilateral disengagement plan.'' It is not a peace plan but a
prelude to the annexation of large chunks of the West Bank to Israel.
Sharon, the unilateralist par excellence, is a Jewish Rambo - the
antithesis of the traditional Jewish values of truth, justice and
Sharon's government is
waging a savage war against the Palestinian people. Its policies
include the confiscation of land; the demolition of houses; the
uprooting of trees; curfews, roadblocks and 736 checkpoints that
inflict horrendous hardships; the systematic abuse of Palestinian human
rights; and the building of the illegal wall on West Bank, a wall that
is as much about land-grabbing as it is about security.
It is this brand of cruel
Zionism that is the real enemy of what remains of liberal Israel and of
the Jews outside Israel. It is the enemy because it fuels the flames of
virulent and sometimes violent anti-Semitism. Israel's policies are the
cause; hatred of Israel and anti-Semitism are the consequences.
There has been much talk
in recent years about ``the new anti-Semitism.'' The argument, in a
nutshell, is that the resurgence of anti-Semitism has little or nothing
to do with Israel's behavior. Anti-Zionism is merely a surrogate, so
the argument runs, for bad, old-fashioned anti-Semitism.
These arguments need to
be addressed. First: What is anti-Semitism? Isaiah Berlin defined an
anti-Semite as ``someone who hates Jews more than is strictly
necessary!'' This mischievous definition has the merit of applying to
all anti-Semitism, old as well as new.
But we need to look
beyond the labels. Is there a lot of classic anti-Semitism about? Yes.
Is anti-Semitism spreading in Europe? Yes, at an alarming rate. Do some
people use anti-Zionism as a respectable cover for their despicable
Judeophobia? Alas, yes again. What is the relative weight of hatred of
Israel on the one hand and Judeophobia on the other in the making of
the new anti-Semitism? I don't know.
What I do know is that a
lot of decent people, without any anti-Semitic baggage, are furious
with Israel because of its oppression of the Palestinians. There is
simply no getting away from the fact that attitudes toward Israel are
changing as a result of its own shift towards the Zionism of the
extreme right and of the radical rabbis. During the years of the Oslo
peace process, Israel was in fact the favorite of the West because it
was willing to withdraw from the occupied territories.
Israel's image today is
negative not because it is a Jewish state but because it habitually
transgresses the norms of acceptable international behavior. Indeed,
Israel is increasingly perceived as a rogue state, as an international
pariah, and as a threat to world peace.
This perception of Israel
is a major factor in the recent resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe
and in the rest of the world. In this sense, Zionism today is the real
enemy of the Jews. It is a tragedy that a state that was built as a
haven for the Jewish people after the Holocaust is now one of the least
safe places on earth for Jews to live in. Israel ought to withdraw from
the occupied territories not as a favor to the Palestinians but as a
favor to itself and to world Jewry for, as Karl Marx noted, a people
that oppresses another cannot itself remain free.
Avi Shlaim is a British
Academy Research Professor at St. Antony's College, Oxford, and author
of ``The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World.''
NO: Shlomo Ben-Ami
The argument that "today"
Zionism is a threat to the Jews is a convenient pretext for a wider
challenge to the legitimacy of the state of Israel. Zionism was put in
the dock by its detractors many years before the current intifada.
Nobody recalls that an earthquake was registered among the Western
Intelligentsia when, 30 years after the Holocaust, an infamous UN
resolution equating Zionism with racism was passed. In 1975, one should
recall, there were hardly any settlements in the territories, and the
Palestine Liberation Organization had not yet endorsed the two-state
The now fashionable
ivory-tower nonsense about a one-state solution to the
Israeli-Palestinian dispute still draws its rationale from the old
topic that "religion is not a proper basis for statehood,'' as if the
European states were not historically born as Christian republics, and
as if the Arab states surrounding Israel are a monument to religious
Israel has faced in
recent years a political and moral crisis that is circumstantial, not
built in or written into its genetic code, for it is a predicament that
affected most Western nations in the modern era. It responds to a
conflict that is solvable between two competing nationalisms. Europe,
which too frequently looks at us with the air of a sanctimonious
finger-wagger, knows from experience how bitter can such conflicts
This is exactly the crux
of the matter: the intriguing attitude that turns what may be the
reproachable policies of a government into the trigger for a discourse
whose underlying meaning is the negation of the right of existence of a
state and now of the entire Zionist idea. The vilification of Israel
has long superseded what may be defined as legitimate criticism, for it
has turned into an international bacchanalia of character assassination.
The Holocaust should not
give the Jews and Israel any moral immunity from criticism, nor is it
proper for Israelis to conveniently dismiss all and every attack
against their reproachable policies as anti-Semitism. But it is
likewise indecent that Israel should be treated as a state on
probation, and singled out for international opprobium in a way that
leads eventually to its delegitimation as a state.
Those who claim to be
good-faith critics of Israel should be the first to lead the outcry
against the monstruous absurdity whereby more UN resolutions are
devoted to human rights abuses in Israel than to abuses in all other
nations of the world combined. They should likewise be more ready to
repel obscenities like the writer Jos' Saramago's comparison of Jenin
to Auschwitz. A fierce urban battle in which 23 Israeli soldiers and 52
Palestinians, many of them terrorists who excelled in blowing up buses
and kindergartens, died - compare this to Grozny, to the Kasbah of
Algiers, or to Najaf and Falluja - has been likened to a death factory
where 30,000 Jews were murdered daily; and Israel's "good-faith
critics" kept silent.
Zionism is not a
religious dogma, for it has always been a broad and democratically
diverse movement. A bitter internal struggle has been going on for some
time now on the boundaries of the idea. All and every study of Israeli
public opinion today shows that the overwhelming majority of Israelis
assume that the territorial phase of Zionism is over.
Nor have its ethical
defences been put to rest. As Justice Itshak Zamir - not exactly a
friend of the policies of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - has explained,
Israel is the only nation whose civilian courts have such a broad
jurisdiction on military actions. Israel's Supreme Court ruling on the
wall in the West Bank, which forced the government to change the wall's
route, is a case in point.
Israeli human rights
organizations, such as Betselem, which relentlessly draw attention to
the moral price of occupation, and independent columnists who force us
to look daily at the Palestinian tragedy and into our own share of
responsibility for it, are a moral lighthouse for a nation in an always
desperately difficult quest for balance between security and ethics. I
am equally reinforced in my trust in the sanity of the Zionist idea by
what now looks as the political and moral defeat of the settlers
movement in the Gaza Strip and beyond.
None of the parties to
this conflict has a monopoly on suffering and martyrdom. But we, the
Jews, have not survived the horrors of extermination only to entrench
ourselves behind the walls of our own convictions and remain there
immobile. What brought Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to Oslo and the
government where I served as a minister to Camp David and Taba was the
need to devise a solution that would make Jewish statehood legitimate
in the eyes of those who consider themselves its victims.
Now that Abu Mazen
(Mahmoud Abbas), the Palestinians' new leader, has finally interrupted
his predecessor's compulsive surfing on the waves of death and suicide,
a political process has again become a possibility. The former French
foreign minister Hubert V'drine might be right after all: Like the
French and the Germans we shall also reach a reconciliation, only that
it will take us far less time and much less bloodshed than it took
these two most civilized nations to settle their differences.
Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former
Israeli foreign minister, took part in the Camp David summit meeting
and led the Israeli team in the Taba negotiations.