It is often the case that the Israeli Zionist state engages in actions that horrify the average layperson. The most recent flotilla incident — called an “act of piracy” by the Turkish Foreign Minister — which resulted in the deaths of at least nine human rights activists, is one such instance. It is also the case that when Israel does something abhorrent, ordinary Jewish people around the world are forced to be defensive. Holding ordinary Jewish people morally responsible for the actions of the Israeli Zionist state is not only wrong, it is racist. That’s because while Israel purports to be the Jewish State, it is in fact only the Zionist state.
Israel does not represent the Jewish people. Israel represents people who believe that Jewish people should have a state in Palestine/Israel to the exclusion of the Palestinians. Those people are Zionists. Many Zionists are Jewish, but not all of them.
Some prominent Jewish Americans rally to the defense of the Zionist state as a matter of reactive allegiance. Rabbis and lawyers are just some members of the American Zionist Jewish establishment who have an atavistic attachment to Israel. And Rahm Emmanuel doesn’t help things either; he volunteered with a non-combat division of the Israeli army during the first Gulf War. And he unwisely toured the occupied Golan Heights with an Israeli army escort while visiting Israel for his son’s bar mitzvah last week.
But there are many Christian Zionists, too. Pastor John Hagee (who funds Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer — who recently delivered an address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — are only two such examples.
And yes, there are Muslim Zionists, too. Fouad Ajami, best known for his foolish prediction that Iraqis would greet Americans as liberators, is one notable example.
And while it is true that Israel automatically grants citizenship to any Jewish person in the world who desires it, many Jewish people don’t desire it. In fact, polls have shown that more and more American Jewish people are finding it hard to identify with Israel at all.
Furthermore, there is a long and vibrant tradition of American Jewish people speaking out against Zionism. For instance, when on April 9, 1948 Zionist terrorist groups — the Irgun and Lehi — infiltrated a Palestinian village near Jerusalem and massacred some 240 villagers, American Jewish leaders spoke out.
Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt and others took to the pages of the New York Times on December 4, 1948 to protest Menachem Begin’s visit to the United States (he was the head of the terrorist Irgun organization and would later go on to become Israel’s sixth Prime Minister). Comparing Begin and his party to the Nazi and Fascist parties in Europe they wrote:
Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the “Freedom Party” (Tnuat Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties. It was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine… It is inconceivable that those who oppose fascism throughout the world, if correctly informed as to Mr. Begin’s political record and perspectives, could add their names and support to the movement he represents.
A shocking example was their behavior in the Arab village of Deir Yassin. This village, off the main roads and surrounded by Jewish lands, had taken no part in the war, and had even fought off Arab bands who wanted to use the village as their base. On April 9, terrorist bands attacked this peaceful village, which was not a military objective in the fighting, killed most of its inhabitants (240 men, women, and children) and kept a few of them alive to parade as captives through the streets of Jerusalem.
Menachem Begin’s ideological descendents still exist in Israel. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party seeks to ban commemoration of the Nakba – a form of thought policing. One Yisrael Beiteinu minister seeks to strip whistle-blowers of their Israeli citizenship; heaven forbid anyone should know about the extrajudicial assassinations of Palestinians by Israel.
But Albert Einstein’s legacy has also persisted. In Israel, writers like Amira Hass have long documented the mutilating effects of political Zionism on Palestine/Israel’s human landscape. Other Israelis like Eitan Bronstein seek to document and commemorate Zionism’s geographical scars on the biblical landscape. His organization Zochrot promotes commemoration of the Nakba (Catastrophe in Arabic) by organizing tours to some of the 531 Palestinian villages destroyed by Zionist paramilitaries.
Members of the Diaspora Jewish community have also come out forcefully against the Zionist crimes Israel claims to perpetrate in their names. Philip Weiss, founder of the influential Mondoweiss blog, is the most visible of today’s American non-Zionist Jewish people. Meanwhile, just as Theodor Herzl organized the First Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland 113 years ago, a group of anti-Zionist Jewish people has organized The First National Jewish Anti-Zionist Gathering in Detroit this summer.
And Emily Henochowicz, the young American woman whose eye was destroyed by an Israeli soldier yesterday is also a Jewish American. She was attacked while protesting the attacks on the flotilla at a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank.
The forces for justice in Palestine/Israel are growing. Moral Jewish leaders like Naomi Klein have joined with Palestinians under the banner of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement led by Omar Barghouti to work for justice. It’s true that a sustained and principled Palestinian and Jewish focus on the right of return for the refugees of 1948 and 1967 and their descendents threatens to undo the Jewish-only state. But in its place, many Palestinians and Jews hope to see a democratic state for all of her people emerge. Only then will Palestine/Israel truly be an equal and responsible member of the world community, maybe even a light unto nations. And it all begins with the understanding that Zionism is not Judaism, and that justice-loving people exist everywhere.