Tonight I attended an excellent (although not terribly well attended event) opening event of this year’s Israeli Apartheid Week. I will post later with some notes and summaries on the talks. But first I want to post an example of how events like Israeli Apartheid week shift the discourse on critiques of Israel, and specifically on anti-zionism.
This article in y-net, a right wing publication in Israel, is a remarkably honest discussion of the nature of secular anti-zionism in the west. However, this honesty is balanced by an incredibly dishonesty in claims about the prosperity Zionism has brought to Arabs, both in ’48 Israel and in the West Bank (it simply ignores what Zionism brought to the refugees). Still, you have to give some credit for recognizing the basis of anti-zionism in anti-colonialism! The whole piece is amazing, it would be a crime for me not to cite it in full.
It is a curious paradox that despite its many achievements in all fields, Israel has yet to craft a convincing strategy to combat anti-Zionism. One of the reasons for this is that the roots of this phenomenon have been misdiagnosed.
Leftist anti-Zionism is not bred by anti-Semitism. The secular intelligentsia that supports Palestinians abhors Christian anti-Semitism and Nazi racism. Their favorite thinkers are Jewish intellectuals like Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, and Noam Chomsky. These anti-Zionists gladly rally against neo-Nazis and have no qualms about socializing with or marrying Jews.
Contrast this to the genuine anti-Semitism of pro-Israel evangelical Christians who believe that Jews are doomed to burn in hell or of xenophobic politicians who court Zionists to wage war against Islam, and we understand why the roots of anti-Zionism are usually not to be found in anti-Semitism. More crucially, the remedy prescribed to anti-Semites must not be prescribed to anti-Zionists.
The root of anti-Zionism must be sought elsewhere – in anti-colonialism. The belief that colonialism was an absolute evil is so deeply engrained in the contemporary Western psyche that all enterprises bearing any parallels to it are automatically censored. This explains why people whose heroes are Bolivar and Gandhi instinctively side with the Palestinians.
To these people, claims that God promised the Land of Israel to the Jews reek of religious fanaticism. To make the argument that Israel is the only liberal democracy in the Middle East invites allegations that it pursues apartheid policies. To counter all these claims is time-consuming and requires a taste for nuances. But why should anyone trade nuances for the facile certainty that colonialism is inherently evil?
Zionism will only cease being demonized in the politically correct corners of the West once our schools and film industry cease to demonize colonialism. The politically correct depiction of the colonialist as a racist and covetous brute must give space to the majority of well-meaning administrators that helped build roads, schools, and hospitals for the natives.
It must be shown that colonialists administered law and justice far more fairly than most pre-colonial chieftains or post-colonial despots. It must be taught that human development indicators plummeted in the majority of African and Asian countries following independence.
Once an honest discussion about colonialism is tabled, hostility to Zionism will wane in leftist circles. Not because they will shed the belief that Zionism is a form of colonialism, but because it will be possible for them to appreciate the merits of Zionism.
Indeed, the unprecedented peace and prosperity that Arabs enjoy in Israel and enjoyed in Judea and Samaria prior to the Oslo Accords is perhaps the best evidence of the morality of Zionism. Yet nowadays this reality cannot be trumpeted. Why? Because it might imply that Palestinians flourish wherever they are not ruled by fellow Arabs. And in a world where self-determination is still viewed as the ultimate good, this is a sacrilegious truth.